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Monday, January 01, 2007

 

10 Questions for Heather Mac Donald http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/01/10-questions-for-heather-mac-donald.php

posted by Razib at Monday, January 01, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
Over at GNXP I have a 10 questions up for Heather Mac Donald, the atheist conservative who was recently the center of controversy because of her vocal secularity on the Right. Below the fold is the first Q & A.


1) OK, I'll get this out of the way. What prompted you to "come out" as an atheist in The American Conservative earlier this year? A friend of mine suggested that you might have become frustrated with the lack of a "reality based" conservatism during this administration, in particular in its attitude toward immigration. Is he going down the right track?

I wrote The American Conservative piece out of frustration with the preening piety of conservative pundits. I attended a New York cocktail party in 2003, for example, where a prominent columnist said to the group standing around him: "We all know that what makes Republicans superior to Democrats is their religious faith." This sentiment has been repeated in print ad nauseam, along with its twin: "We all know that morality is not possible without religion." I didn't then have the courage to point out to the prominent columnist that quite a few conservatives and Republicans of the highest standing had no religious faith, without apparent injury to their principles or their behavior.

Around that time, I had started noticing the puzzling logic of petitionary prayer. What was the theory of God behind prayer websites, for example: that God is a democratic pol with his finger to the wind of public opinion? Is the idea that if only five people are praying for the recovery of a beloved grandmother from stroke, say, God will brush them off, but that if you can summon five thousand people to plead her case, he will perk up and take notice: "Oh, now I understand, this person's life is important"? And what if an equally beloved grandmother comes from a family of atheist curs? Since she has no one to pray for her, will God simply look the other way? If someone could explain this to me, I would be very grateful.

I also wondered at the narcissism of believers who credit their good fortune to God. A cancer survivor who claims that God cured him implies that his worthiness is so obvious that God had to act. It never occurs to him to ask what this explanation for his deliverance says about the cancer victim in the hospital bed next to his, who, despite the fervent prayers of her family, died anyway.

As I was pondering whether any of these practices could be reconciled with rationality, the religious gloating of the conservative intelligentsia only grew louder. The onset of the Iraq war expanded the domain of religious triumphalism to transatlantic relations: what makes America superior to Europe, we were told by conservative opinionizers, is its religious faith and its willingness to invade Iraq. George Bush made the connection between religious beliefs and the Iraq war explicit, with his childlike claim that freedom was God's gift to humanity and that he was delivering that gift himself by invading Iraq.

I need not rehearse here how Bush's invocation of the divine gift of freedom overlooks the Bible, the persistence throughout history of hierarchical societies that have little use for personal autonomy, and the unique, centuries-long struggle in the West to create the institutions of limited government that underwrite our Western idea of freedom. Suffice it to say, the predictable outcome of the Iraq invasion did not convince me that religious belief was a particularly trustworthy ground for political action.

So in the American Conservative piece I wanted to offer some resistance to the assumption of conservative religious unanimity. I tried to point out that conservatism has no necessary relation to religious belief, and that rational thought, not revelation, is all that is required to arrive at the fundamental conservative principles of personal responsibility and the rule of law. I find it depressing that every organ of conservative opinion reflexively cheers on creationism and intelligent design, while delivering snide pot shots at the Enlightenment. Which of the astounding fruits of empiricism would these Enlightenment-bashers dispense with: the conquest of cholera and other infectious diseases, emergency room medicine, jet travel, or the internet, to name just a handful of the millions of human triumphs that we take for granted?

My hope in writing the piece was that the next time a conservative pundit, speaking for and to other conservatives, assumes that he is surrounded by like-minded believers because of course to be conservative is to be religious, that for just a moment a doubt might pass through his mind whether some in his audience may be without faith. And the worst part would be: he couldn't tell who they are.


Discussion

some diversity on the conservative right would be a welcome change - and be good for the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, the Republican tent is shrinking after the 2006 losses, not expanding.

At this point I think the game plan for 2008 is guaranteed to be more religion, more moralizing, not less. Sam Brownback is more likely to win the GOP primaries than Rudy Giuliani.

Reading the other questions, I am struck by how similar her answer to #5 is to the old adage, "Marxism didn't fail; it still hasnt been really tried"

And I find her answer to #9 to be either willfully ignorant or disingenous. She blames the liberal media for the association of moral values with conservatism? The media is basically doing the GOP's stenography on that particular marketing campaign. She seems to desire the media as messiah.

 

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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.