It’s not exactly a new concept

Derbyshire dislikes Irving Kristol’s elitism:

“A year ago, I asked Kristol after a lecture whether he believed in God or not. He got a twinkle in his eye and responded, ‘I don’t believe in God, I have faith in God.’ Well, faith, as it says in Hebrews 11:1, ‘is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ But at the recent AEI lecture, journalist Ben Wattenberg asked him the same thing. Kristol responded that ‘that is a stupid question,’ and crisply restated his belief that religion is essential for maintaining social discipline. A much younger (and perhaps less circumspect) Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, ‘it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion.'”

Here we have a guy who plainly doesn’t believe in God, but who thinks that well-padded intellectual elitists like himself ought to evade the issue in public for fear of demoralizing the proles and perhaps jeopardizing some padding thereby. I can’t think of anything nice to say about that; and in fact, the only things I CAN think of to say would not be suitable for a family website.

I’m no neoconservative. But I do note that Kristol’s position is of a long and distinguished lineage, dating back to Socrates and including Voltaire, Joyce, and more recently, Eco among its adherents. And, as was implied in today’s column, there is something to be said for doing one’s best to remain on the side of that which has proven to build civilization instead of tearing it down, regardless of one’s private doubts.

Derb adds:

To your question: “And Derb, why is it wrong for atheists and agnostics to believe that religion can be a force for good?” If you can point me to anything I have ever said or written that suggested such a thing, I’d be obliged.

If you were to start a list of people who, while themselves atheist or agnostic, believed widespread religious belief to be a social and/or personal good, you would have to block out a weekend to get the job done. Confucius, Plato, the emperor Augustus, Ben Franklin…. This has been such a commonplace intellectual position that if you DID think it wrong you’d have to cross half the great thinkers & doers of history off your Christmas card list.

I always find this interesting, given how so many modern atheists and agnostics sneer at religion and will often even go so far as to insist that as a cause of war and general evil, should be stamped out. And yet, the brightest lights IN THEIR OWN CAMP would vehemently disagree.