Ross Douthat has emerged on the scene as the right's answer to the contemporary lack of conservative intellectuals. With a new book out, Bad Religion, criticizing the religious heresy of both the left and right, he has certainly made a name for himself. Often logical and passionate with hints of wonkishness (and even his own New York Times blog) he's not all that unreasonable.
Or so I thought.
In a recent argument on Slate with William Saletan, he goes on to claim that secular liberalism is nothing more than Christian heresy. By his definition heresy is "a form of belief that tends to emphasize certain elements of the Christian synthesis while downgrading or dismissing other aspects of that whole."
OK. So how exactly does a secular ideology independent of religion actually function as a heretical version of that religion?
He makes the case that:
Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities.
and even goes onto say that:
It insists that it is a purely secular and scientific enterprise even as it grounds its politics in metaphysical claims. (You will not find the principle of absolute human equality in evolutionary theory, or universal human rights anywhere in physics.)This should give anyone pause, he is actually saying that it is impossible to have secular "metaphysical" values outside of religion, which shows an incredible level of fundamentalism.
Lets take a look at one value he didn't mention, freedom of speech, an idea that emerged centuries prior to Christianity. How exactly is the right of freedom of speech, which has no scientific basis in evolutionary theory or physics, justified by religion? The fact is, it's a secular value which exists without scientific rationality.
His other examples are rather loose and unconvincing, for instance human rights developed from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which was written by secularists (Elenore Roosevelt in particular was attacked for being "anti-catholic").
By that same fundamentalist logic, I can say all of science is just heretical Christianity because it came out of Alchemy, a tradition praised by Martin Luther as being Christian. After all, wasn't Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientific minds in history, an avid Christian who indulged in Alchemy and spent his time predicting the Rapture?
Would Douthat then claim that without Alchemy or Christianity we would never have science?
Of course he wouldn't, and even Douthat sees some of the logical flaws in his argument. One is with sexual freedom in liberalism as opposed to Christianity which he says:
reflects a subconscious liberal knowledge that Christianity is their theological mother, and they’re its half-rebellious child. You can see in it the child’s characteristic desire to finally overthrow the last bastion of parental authority, joined to a continued desire for the parent’s approval for their choices and beliefs.
By the same token, I suppose science is just trying to overthrow the "parental authority" of Christianity with it's rebellious attack on faith. Keeping in mind of course that religion is the "theological mother" to science.
Perhaps even more interesting is the person who he is debating. He praise's Will's embrace of the Race and IQ debate as Will says regarding the issue:
If this suggestion makes you angry—if you find the idea of genetic racial advantages outrageous, socially corrosive, and unthinkable—you're not the first to feel that way. Many Christians are going through a similar struggle over evolution.Apparently Will has been asleep during the 90s when the Race and IQ debate hit its peak. First of all, no one denies that, on average, there is a slightly higher IQ for whites than blacks but the problem is of causation.
As people like Ned Block pointed out, genetics is a poor explanation, especially given countries like Holland and Germany, where no such IQ gap among blacks and whites exists or the Minnesota Adoption Study which showed that blacks raised by white parents achieve higher scores. What kind of a-pardon my language-complete idiot would bring this up in 2007 as if it was news?
But back to the main point, there is just no way Douthat is serious, the article has to be some kind of satirical or at least hyperbolic statement to enrage liberals.
And if people think I'm being unkind, then take a parallel. Imagine living in an Islamic society like Saudi Arabia and some religious intellectual makes a point to say that all science is heretical Islam because it relies on the scientific method which was discovered by Alhazen, who happened to be a devout Muslim theologist as well as the scientist who basically created science.
Or even worse, imagine a group like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt claiming that without Islam, the Arab Spring would have never happened since there's no scientific justification for freedom, dignity or equality. This is literally Douthat's argument with regards to Christianity and Secular Liberalism.
No matter how wonkish, polite and intellectual he appears to be, Douthat is either pulling liberals' legs or has a deep strain of fundamentalism.