The Uses and Abuses of Paranoia

 
In my daily newspaper columns, I have recently tried the experiment of writing directly about the postmodern explosion of scientism. This pertains to discussions of global warming, intelligent design, political correctness, and many other things — but it goes much deeper. Had I a book to fill (and perhaps I do), I would follow the argument back into history. For it seems to me the chief threat to Christianity in our era does not come from Islam, nor even from the moral decadence of our society, per se. It comes from a scientistic worldview that constitutes an alternative, atheistic religion — and the fact that we are caught in the middle between it and a resurgent Islam. No general could wish to battle on two fronts.
 
The key article of the postmodern atheist creed is that, in the world today, science has replaced religion as the commanding authority — indeed, the only possible authority — on all questions, great or small. In theory, only empirical inquiry is allowed, philosophical thought is disallowed, and if there are any questions that science can’t answer, they must not be asked. (In practice, many forms of empirical inquiry are also disallowed, if they offer a challenge to the atheist creed.)
 
Reviewers have noticed the religious zeal behind the angry atheist tracts that have been dominating the bestseller lists recently — by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Michel Onfray, Daniel Dennett, and so on. Yet the proposition that "God is dead" is hardly new. We have a visceral attack on all revealed religion, and even a program for an alternative scientistic religion — but one in which the destruction of all metaphysics and theology has been completed, and a bold step has been taken beyond "God is dead."
 
For the proponents of scientism are now effectively proclaiming that "Man is dead."
 
Of God, Jean-Paul Sartre could say, more succinctly than the authors listed above, "He does not exist, the bastard!" But implicit in Sartre, and in this very statement, was a continuing quasi-faith in the ontological uniqueness of man. The key point of philosophical Darwinism — that there is nothing special about man, that he is just one primate among many — is only today being fully absorbed. This is an attack upon even a "de-mythologized" form of Christianity. It is a declaration of war on the Catholic Church, which continues not only to uphold the doctrine that man is created in God’s image, soul by unique soul, but to pronounce this aloud and publicly.
 
Strange to say, we are harvesting today seeds planted by such as Francis Bacon and René Descartes nearly four centuries ago — the one by banning final causality from his scheme for "scientific method," the other by twisting several of the received terms of scholastic philosophy in a mechanistic way. It has taken all this intervening time for the full consequences of these accomplishments to be realized, through all of which time, I have come to believe, the final battle between scientism and Christianity has been developing.
 
Christianity will continue to retreat until we recognize the fight we are in, and the stakes for all men — for, if man is not ontologically unique, not only Christianity but every possible form of humanism is dead.
 
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Am I being paranoid?
 
This is certainly the view of several of my most intelligent and conservative non-Christian correspondents. I think of one in particular, the most articulate and outwardly reasonable, who says, apropos my worries about Darwinian scientism, and in light of my murmurings against those atheistical tracts, that Christians are paranoid. He says this good-naturedly enough, while assuring me he is not himself in the least afraid of Christianity, since it seems to him to be gently fading away. On the other hand, he admits to his own paranoia about the spread of Islam. How to answer him?{mospagebreak}
 
Christianity is a "paranoid" faith, as we are often reminded by our critics and persecutors. At the root of it you find the notion that, "If a man could be perfectly good, and show perfect love, and behave the way Jesus behaved in ancient Palestine, even among the people of his own religion — he will be crucified." That has been our unique sales pitch, from the beginning: "Come and get yourself crucified." There have been Christian martyrs in every century, and indeed, there were more of them in the 20th than in all the previous centuries combined.
 
The Muslims object to this most strenuously. Quite apart from having a different definition of what is a martyr, they hold that Jesus was, in fact, an emissary from God, and a prophet of some sort (they also venerate the Virgin Mary), but that he was never crucified. That was just some story put about by the Zionists and Yankee Imperialists of those days. In fact, he ascended directly into heaven, and will return at the end of days, quite possibly to slay all the Christians who have not converted to Islam. But underlying all this is the Islamic objection to the doctrine of original sin, and to the wild notion that God would allow Himself to be crucified.
 
Allah, as they understand him, would have responded to his arrest by laying waste all the Romans and Jews, just as he might soon lay waste all the Jews and Yankees of the present day. This was also the ancient Greek and Roman pagan view: that any definition of "god" must allow that he is omnipotent, and therefore the true God could not possibly allow himself to be crucified by a bunch of deadbeat Romans. Therefore the Christians are nuts.
 
Now oddly enough, the Christians also believe God is omnipotent. But they teach that in His omnipotence, God has granted man radical freedom, including, necessarily, the freedom to screw up. And men have the power even to crucify God, though not the power to prevent His resurrection.
 
Our job, as Christians, is most certainly not to seek martyrdom. Suicide is a terrible evil; it is self-murder. But we must accept martyrdom if that is our lot. For we must uphold Christ, regardless of consequences, following Christ’s example of faith unto death. Quite literally millions of Christians have done this, over the ages; and indeed, the spread of Christianity in the early centuries, and often later in remote places, has had a lot to do with how impressed people were by our martyrs. They didn’t think it was possible for people to behave with that degree of faith in a fairy tale. Now they know, and many of our worst persecutors changed sides and were martyred themselves.
 
But getting back to Christian paranoia in the modern world. We hold that there is a battle-royal happening on this planet between two irreconcilable sides. Rather than use sophistical terms, let us just cut to the chase: it is between Christ and Satan. We also hold that Christ is sure to win in the end. But meanwhile, down here on earth, simply by being Christians, we are going to attract attention from the enemy.
 
This war has a front line that passes through every human heart. Christ and Satan vie for each soul. It is thus a little more subtle than either the Islamic or the Hollywood idea of "white hats versus black hats." All the white hats are capable of evil, and all the black hats are capable of good. We are told to look for the good, even in the hearts of our worst enemies, and to love them somehow. (This does not imply forgetting that they are our enemies, or working tactically around the fact that they are trying to kill us, morally when not physically.)
 
Moreover, there is nothing in the world Satan cannot potentially infect and use to his purposes — including art, science, philosophy, and religion; to say nothing of politics, diplomacy, and war. He even makes incursions into the Vatican from time to time, and were it not for Christ’s protection, over time he would have it on a string, and the Catholics would all swing. Conversely, there is nowhere he can prevent Christ from entering, including the most remote prison camp, and He will enter the soul of even Hitler or Osama, if either will let him in. It is up to them, however. Radical freedom means radical freedom.
 
As the apostle — who was among the worst persecutors of Christians before he became St. Paul — assures us, Christ does not hold grudges: not against Paul who persecuted Christians, not against Peter who heard the cock crow. Satan, on the contrary, does hold grudges, and pursued Paul and Peter all the way to their martyrdoms at Rome, where, according to good historical testimony, Peter (the first pope) was crucified, and Paul was beheaded.
 
I am trying to explain the paranoid Christian worldview here. Note that we may infer from the existence of Satan that evil is a larger thing than the merely human. It is not just in our heads. Note that we must make sense of, and deal with, evil — even in nature, and supernature. That the rebellion against God was angelic, even before it was human. That it is built, theologically, into the creation accounts of Genesis — a very large point of the story. Our primeval enemy was waiting for us, even before our own human history began. That’s how paranoid we are (and the Jews, likewise).{mospagebreak}
 
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Scientism — the corruption of science to make it not only serve philosophical and theological ends that are not within its province, but to contradict the benign purposes of science itself — is not, of course, the ultimate enemy. Satan is that. But it would follow from the paranoid Christian worldview that Satan would try to have some fun with science, and with the scientific mindset. It would also follow that without some Christian grounding, the practice of science is bound to go wrong.
 
That Christian grounding could be, and often is, as simple as reason. We hold that reason is a form of revelation. That "whatsoever is true" is, in itself, of God. Conversely, whatsoever is false is not of God. From its beginnings the Catholic Church has legislated that the Christian is under no obligation to believe that which is contrary to reason. But we do not restrict the use of reason to analyzing what comes out of a test tube. For we hold that the entire universe is self-consistent, because God its creator is self-consistent, and does not contradict Himself. Therefore, if an apparent conflict exists between two truths, we must look deeper, and they will be resolved.
 
We hold further that our Lord is merciful: that He cannot possibly punish a man for sincerely failing to grasp Catholic claims, if that man has in every other respect sincerely tried to love God with all his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself. (This is another difference from Islam: Allah will most certainly punish people for failing to embrace Islam.)
 
Now, we read these nasty atheist tracts, and what do we find? That indeed, "scientific materialism" is being fashioned, yet again, as a deadly weapon against Christian belief, and thus against Christian believers. We read, for example, the early notebooks of Darwin, from before he thought of random mutation and natural selection, and find that he dreamed of making some scientific discovery that would expose the "stupidity" of Christian faith. (Why should we pretend that we have an ulterior motive, whereas he had none?) We read the intellectual history through centuries before that, of how the same battles were being fought long before Darwin. Not between science and Christianity — the Church was the greatest patron of empirical science, and almost all of the greatest scientific thinkers have been believing Christians, and most of those Catholics — but between a scientistic worldview and that of Christianity.
 
And we have experienced the triumph of an explicitly atheist, so-called "scientific" and "materialist" outlook: in the Revolutionary Terror of 18th-century France, in Hitler’s Germany, in the Russia of Lenin and Stalin, in Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Christians, and most numerously Catholic and Orthodox Christians, were slain by the thousands in each of these "enlightened" revolutions, and by the millions wherever the revolutionists prevailed for some time. Call us paranoid; we’ve been through this before.
 
So that when that uncompromising Darwinist Richard Dawkins declares that teaching Christianity to our children is a form of child abuse; or when that old socialist Christopher Hitchens says that there is no fundamental difference between a Christian saint and a Muslim suicide bomber; or when Sam Harris writes, "The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them" — we take note. And we take note when we’re told that, by taking note, we are exhibiting paranoia.
 
It may not be possible to prevent yet another triumph of the dark forces we see gathering around us through contemporary "political correctness" in all its many forms, including the increasingly aggressive propagandizing for the suppression of religion. But to my paranoid view, it would be wrong not to offer some resistance, now, when it is still possible to resist. And I do embrace, in principle, the project of offering that resistance: by showing, I hope, to any intelligent, fair-minded person who can cope with lively language what the connections are between a false view of the claims of science and a false view of the moral order.
 
What makes the future look exceptionally bleak is that the adepts of scientism are not our only enemy. They are just the enemy shooting at our backs, while radical Islamists are shooting at our heads. We have the Islamist enemy on one side, vowed to reduce us at least to dhimmitude, and the old leftists and "liberals" with their scientism on the other — and every evidence that the latter are instinctively prepared to ally themselves tactically with the former against their common enemy, which is us. Verily, we were wrong to assume that secular post-Christians would join with Christians to resist Islamicization, out of our common interest in freedom; for they hate Christianity more than they love freedom.
 
Of course, this, too, may be dismissed as a paranoid proposition. But I think it has the virtue of being true.
 


David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is www.davidwarrenonline.com.

David Warren

By

David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is www.davidwarrenonline.com.

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