The View From 1776

Secular Religions

Liberal-progressivism and its subset environmentalism are both secular religions. They are, along with Lenin’s and Stalin’s Communism, Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazis), and Mussolini’s Fascism, merely denominations within the church of socialism.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/28 at 08:38 PM
  1. Let's identify the perps for this craziness: There's Saint-Simon, Russell, Compte, J.S. Mill, Holmes,Huxley, Lenin, Hegel, Nietzsche, Woodrow Wilson, Marx, Pol Pot, etc.,--just about all the Enlightenment philosophers and their brilliant and over-educated descendants. I don't see JD Rockefeller, Carnegie, Dave Thomas, Washington, Bill Gates, Lincoln, Eisenhower, Rickenbacker, Jonus Salk, the Wright Brothers, Dr. Mayo, or any of the ordinary people who rose up to make meaningful contributions to our comfort, health, and safety.

    Maybe it is the common people who build great nations and it's the intellectual elites who wear them down!?
    Posted by bill greene  on  03/29  at  10:05 AM
  2. Thomas,

    Your post raises several interesting questions:

    1) Do you distinguish between "real" religions and "false" religions?

    2) Isn't the term "religion" really a very nebulous thing? Isn't any group free to believe in a set of concepts to guide their thinking, which they are at liberty to describe as their religion?

    3) Is there an authority somewhere set up to decide what is and what is not a legitimate religion? Who gets to decide that?

    You appear to be under the impression that if you label something a religion (or a "secular religion") you have scored debating points against it. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we were to grant you that people who are deeply concerned about the degradation of the environment do, in fact, display behaviors common with fervent believers of more main line religions. What is the upshot? Does their fervor ipso facto somehow invalidate their positions and beliefs? If, with all my heart and soul, I went out and preached to the multitudes that 2 + 2 = 4, although my behavior might admittedly be silly (and I might be a nut job), your labeling me as having a "secular religious" belief in math would not in any way invalidate the claim I was preaching.

    in the past you have often labeled groups you disagree with as being "secularly religious" with the implication that if you can make that oxymoronic label stick, you will have therefore established that the positions of those groups is bogus.

    But this appears to be a facile argument without merit. Merely establishing that someone holds a position with religious fervor does not invalidate the position held.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/29  at  09:34 PM
  3. Mr. Jay, with regard to your first three questions, I’m with John Locke. Religious beliefs are matters of individual conscience, and the political sovereign has no right to command adherence to his (or the political state’s) established religion.

    By the same token, liberal-progressives have no right to label spiritual religions as medieval ignorance and thus to delegitimize them as, for instance, ObamaCare does. Nor do publicly funded educational institutions have any right to teach only liberal-progressive religious views.

    The post doesn’t deal with any of the points you raise. Its entire thrust is that a number of liberal-progressive beliefs, labeled as scientific truth, are in fact no more than secular religious catechismal, litmus-test doctrine.

    Its the particular beliefs, not the right to believe in liberal-progressivism, that I challenge.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/30  at  04:20 PM
  4. I think of these semantic distinctions as attempts to defibe the division between science and religion. Science seeks to determine and codify physical and mathematical truths that can predict actual observable phenomenon. Thus it deals with the real world and creates certainty in how we can control and modify results.

    Religion deals with the spiritual world and can never be reduced to scientific certainty but is based on a belief system dependent on FAITH. As such it has provided great comfort to many. Because science cannot explain every aspect of our lives, religion fills a void and in some cases encourages good social behavior, a positive outlook, optimism, and social cohesion.

    Science, to the extent it honors the scientific method is generally "ggod." Religions, as led aand shaped by their clerisy, can be good, bad, so-so, awful, or magnificent. Handel's Messiah, performed in a Gothic Cathedral is magnificent and inspirational. Throat cutting and genocide by Islamic extremists is awful. Most religions have evoled and morphed over time from bad to good, to so-so, etc., but in my opinion, only Christianity has shown a steady improvement in its concern for human rights and toleration.

    "Religions" can be either spiritual or secular: Most of the world's historic religions are spiritual and are based on some form of Divine or inspired teaching and revere a God-like figure. Secular religions are not spiritual; they are attempts to paste a spiritual fervor to secular matters. Thus, both Communism and Extreme Environmentalism have no traditional religious content, except for need to have Faith in them. Both are in fact subject to a degree of scientific observation and evaluation, but since they cannot pass muster with any degree of scientific scrutiny, their advocates resort to promoting a relighiuous zeal to gain converts. Stalin killed 20 million people to gain his peoples Faith! Al Gore asks the same but fortunately can't execute the skeptics!
    Posted by bill greene  on  03/30  at  05:53 PM
  5. Bill,

    I am with you on your initial points in describing the difference between religion and science and that actions of some, done in the name of their religious beliefs, are without question horrendous and criminal.

    I disagree with your last point - drawing a distinction between "spiritual" and what you describe as "secular religions." There is obviously a difference between spiritual and secular, but the appellation "secular religion" is an invented facile trick of argumentation.

    "Secular religion" is a self contradictory term (often used by Thomas to deprecate some movement he disagrees with). Setting extreme environmentalism (your example) up as a quasi-religion is erecting a straw man that you can easily knock down because it is a false construct. Environmentalists (extreme or otherwise) typically do not claim that their activity is a religion. Critics may describe as such for argumentative purposes, but that is merely their outside attempt to defame the activities of a group they disagree with.

    Two other points confuse the intersection of environmentalism with religion:

    1) Many adherents of conventional Christian religions subscribe to environmental principles and believe that according to Genesis we are stewards of this earth and that it is our Christian duty not to despoil it.

    2) The principles embodied in environmentalism are founded in science. It is an easily demonstrable scientific reality that when you pollute a river, the fish die, and this is not good for the planet.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/03  at  08:52 AM
  6. Thomas,

    I agree with you that publicly funded institutions should not be in the business of supporting religions.

    However, your argument lacks rigor when, for example, you define the teaching of biology as a "secular religion," and then go on to claim that public schools therefore "support religion."

    Your cryptic claim that Obama-Care somehow "delegitimizes" religion appears to be an equally unfounded and extreme position.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/03  at  09:45 AM
  7. Jay--There is such a thing as secular religion. Perhaps environmentalism is not the best example because the term itself has become muddled. For example, I am, even as a dispassionate and rational man, an environmentalist. But I am not an "extreme environmentalist" which I described as follows: "Secular religions are not spiritual; they are attempts to paste a spiritual fervor to secular matters." The environment is a secular matter and the danger comes from those who would deal with it in a fanatical way. That is the point you should address.

    Extreme environmentalists leap from a concern about nature, which is understandable, to such conclusions that man has caused irremedial damage to the environment, that man has caused major changes to the climate, that man can somehow change the climate, and further that we in America must take extraordinary steps to reduce such damage with even the most minor impact, and that we must even take such steps when they lead to offsetting damage to our well-being. Thus while the original premise is justified, the follow up fanatacism can become one of a religious nature.

    Perhaps a simpler example was the 70 year love affair of the liberal left with Communism. Many Western intellectuals and their useful idiot followers actually made the Leap of Faith into Joe Stalin's arms and supported his atrocities because the end justified the means and they hoped it would lead to a better world! They kept that Secular Faith for 70 years, three generations of blind believers, and many still cling to the utopian vision. All this inspite of the obvious failure of the communist economic and political model. That type of Faith in an obviously failed real-world system is what secular religion is all about. It ignores and hides from any form of scientific objectivity or evaluation of results. It is religious faith pasted onto a secular issue.

    Most of these same people laughed at those of us who believe personally in some form of spiritual comfort, while they themselves adhered even more stubbornly and harmfully to an actual Faith in Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Communism. Lesson--Beware of fanatics. And beware of those intellects so enamored with abstract thinking that they can fall in love with a secular idea even when it defies reason, reality, and results.
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  04/03  at  02:40 PM
  8. Mr. Jay, a small point. You write, "...you define the teaching of biology as a "secular religion,"..."

    I don't think that you can find a single instance among my writings to support your assertion.

    It's true that I identify Darwinian evolution as a doctrine of the religion of liberal-progressivism.

    My wish is not to prevent teaching Darwinism, but to prohibit liberal-progressivism's materialists from banning equal scrutiny of intelligent design. As most people would agree, refusing to confront contrary evidence is not a scientific posture.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/04  at  06:28 PM
  9. Another current secular religion is the absolute FAITH in Keynsian type stimulus spending--that by the government printing a trillion dollars and spending it we can create boom times, and "jump start" the economy, as you might start your car with jumper cables! But, there is only a small grain of truth in this idea, as for most secular religious beliefs: It may be true that modest spending on real jobs to build up our physical infrastructure could help smooth over recessions, but in fact very little of the trillions of dollars are ever spent so wisely.

    The priests of this economic/religious Faith are, like the witch doctors of old, those people who benefit from its dogmas: The economists and executives from Wall Street financial institutions who are able to line their pockets by convoluted economic jargon and hocus pocus statistics. These people are supported by almost all academic economists who must rely on Wall Street for their money and consulting jobs. Yet, like many religions, the Wall Street priests do not for a minute believe in any of it.

    An entire industry has developed around these economic witch doctors who all live off the huge flows of cash created by their theories. Recent presidents have kept appointing the most verbally opaque practitioners of this cult to run the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve so they must have either been converted to the Faith or find it wise to pander to it for the political contributions to be gained. Their self-interest is so all-consuming that none of them warned us of the coming mortgage meltdown-- Believe me,from 2006-08 it should have been very clear to such masters of economic data that Fannie Mae was headed for bankruptcy!

    Unlike spiritual religions, secular religions create huge governmental waste and inefficiency. That is because their foundations are fundamentally flawed--maintaing faith or feverish support for failed ideas and programs in the real world is irrational, counterproductive, and rewards only their advocates.
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  04/04  at  08:23 PM
  10. Bill,

    Two points in response to your good arguments:

    1) Reaching back to the Joe Stalin era is a bit of a stretch to argue that liberals, in general, make poor decisions, since anyone of that generation has been dead for quite a while. It would be similarly illogical and unfair to link current conservative thinking to, say, the thinking of southern lynch mobs that were quite common in the age of Stalin.

    2) The use of Keynesian ideas to guide economic decisions is more a matter of observing clear evidence before our eyes than a question of mystical faith. Even you agree that spending on rehabilitation of national infrastructure has the effect of increasing economic activity. To maintain that spending of concrete and steel for highways and bridges is somehow unique makes no sense. The introduction of money into the economy by the government ("stimulus spending") is what generates the increased economic activity, and not the fact that the money is purchasing a particular commodity.

    I agree with you that certain expenditures by the government lack wisdom and what is purchased may be frivolous, but the economic result of the injection of money will still occur.

    It is interesting that many conservatives deny the effect of governmental spending, except for military spending! Then, suddenly, talk of jobs and economic activity is an obvious and laudatory effect of government spending. You might call such folks "military Keynesians."
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/07  at  10:38 AM
  11. Jay-- Re. your first point, liberals and conservatives are primarily defined by their attitude toward government activism, the liberals being for major government interventions in a broad swath of public policy, and conservatives generally being reluctant to have the government attempt to excessively regulate and manipulate the economy or peoples' lives. Neither group can be rationally compared to lynch mobs where the members were primarily interested in persecuting blacks. Those lynch mobs were periferal extreme factions not in any way meshed with those people advocating a "conservative" approach toward fiscal and monetary policy! (In fact, the lynch mobs were enabled by Democratic State politicians and governments in the Southern States!)

    Plus, it is possible to reach back" in time on these issues--There have been historic cycles with massive bank failures and panics for hundreds of years, usually funded by governments inflating land, providing easy credit, or pump priming some part of the economy. I believe it happened in the final days of Rome, Weimar Germany, etc. The activist/utopian belief, or FAITH, that governing elites can manage the economy based on a loosely defined theory is an essential part of the abstract thinking common to intellectuals and academic elites. It has always been so and will always be so unless Rand Paul can send them packing!

    On your second point, you seem to actually believe that "injection of money into the economy by the government" . . is beneficial even if it's sspent on frivolous things. Your idea is based on an apparent worship of "economic activity" for its own sake. In fact some such activity is helpful and some isn't. Investing in physical infrastructure is helpful--it represents an investment which will reap future benefits. Buying frivolous goods from China with the extra money helps the Chinese, and maybe a small margin goes to the importer, but there is no long-term or lasting benefit from the purchase. Consider also, that if the stimulus funds are actually banked in a person's savings account, which would be the wisest thing to do, rather than spent frivolously, there would be no "economic activity" involved, but the individual and the nation would be better off financially.

    The problem with Keynesian economists is that they consider economic activity by itself as a good thing. It is true that when the economy is booming, there is a high measure of consumer spending. However, economists, using an abstraction only the most brilliant minds can muster, assume that if they give people money to spend, and they indeed do spend it, that will boost the next month's government statistics on "consumer spending." And if that measure goes up it will mean the economy is somehow booming! Thus they mistake cause and effect. High consumption is the result of good times, real earnings, consumer confidence, etc.; but handing out money to fake good times merely piles up the national debt to be paid for down the road. It's basically smoke and mirrors--like reducing unemployment by increasing disability rolls! If massive spending from easy money handed out freely was actually helpful, we should give more--give everyone $100,000 and see how much the statistics jump. Better yet, give everyone a million dollars and let the good times roll! (Maybe I should run for president-- half the population would vote for me)
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  04/07  at  03:20 PM
  12. Bill,

    I think you missed my point. I did NOT say that federal spending on frivolous things was good. Nor do Keynesians typically maintain that spending is, per se, either "good" or "bad."

    What I was trying to point out is that a cause-and-effect relationship exists between government spending and the rate of economic activity. This simple relationship (which I believe you do believe exists) is completely denied by those who scorn the Keynesian economic model.

    Whether or not you agree politically with the wisdom of government stimulus, I think you must agree that there will, nevertheless, be an increase in economic activity following a governmental injection of money.

    Once that argumentative hurdle is crossed, we can get down to the nitty gritty of whether government spending is "good" or "bad" or under what circumstances it makes sense to do it, and what effect such spending has on the deficit.

    While you maintain that it is axiomatic that deficits will rise with government spending, most economists do not make that assumption. If fact, the recent recession is a prime counter example. When we are in a recession (as in 2008-2009) government receipts fall and deficits expand. More recently, as we have begun to climb out of the Bush recession, government receipts have dramatically increased and the deficit has fallen precipitously (government bail outs of GM notwithstanding!) Deficits are at their lowest level in years (although you won't find many anti-Keynesian conservatives acknowledging the fact.)
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/10  at  09:47 AM
  13. Jay--You are still obscuring reality with vague abstract concepts--your use of the term "economic activity" for example. You make the mistake of thinking that economic activity--whatever that is-- is good and more of it is better. But nothing is defined! Plus you assume that there will be an increase in such activity following an injection of paper money by the government--but there isn't if everyone banks the money, or pays off debt.

    Further in your last paragraph you talk about government receipts--that they have gone up the last few years--which they may have but you establish no cause for that. Normally receipts go up when you increase taxes and emerge from a recession and that is all that has happened. It may have happened quicker without the trillion dollars of new debt.

    Finally, you did defend frivolous spending: "what is purchased may be frivolous, but the economic result of the injection of money will still occur." You are really hung up on loving "economic activity! What about all the housing "activity" from 1995- 2008 when the government was stimulating home ownership and creating the bubble that burst and left the Middle Class poorer? How did that stimulated economic activity work out?

    I can only ask you again: If massive spending from easy money handed out freely was actually helpful, we should give more--give everyone $100,000 and see how much the statistics jump. Better yet, give everyone a million dollars and let the good times roll! Maybe I should run for president-- half the population would vote for me. All you gotta do is increase economic activity! Talk about simplistic theory and hocus pocus economics, or I should refer to it as "Keynsian pump priming."!
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  04/10  at  12:05 PM
  14. Mr. Jay, with regard to your statement: "Nor do Keynesians typically maintain that spending is, per se, either "good" or "bad."

    Keynes himself wrote that it didn't matter what the government spent taxpayers' money to do. His famous example was paying men to put money in bottles and bury them, then paying other men to unbury the bottles. He believed that businessmen are like Pavlov’s dogs; pump a little fiat money into the economy and they will blindly ramp up production and hiring.

    It all comes back to the point made many times by me and commenters on this website that Keynesian economics treats the economy as if it were a mechanical device that will automatically and inevitably respond in predictable ways, once quantities of money are poured into the machine.

    Latest disappointing economic reports make abundantly clear that the only influence that government is having on economic recovery is negative: Obama's continual threats against anyone who doesn't accept his religious views about global warming, to threats to increase taxes, to threats to destroy the coal industry and regulatory threats to do likewise with all fossil fuel production, throttle the internet; the Fed’s fiddling with interest rates so that businesses can’t know what longer term interest rates may be for financing new production investments, etc.

    In the 1930s business went into hibernation because they were too uncertain about what the future held under FDR’s socialistic regime; exactly the same destructive political atmosphere under Obama is choking business today. In neither case was government intervention successful. As Henry Morgenthau, FDR’s Treasury Secretary, wrote in his diary: "We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. ... We have never made good on our promises. ... I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... and an enormous debt to boot!"
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/10  at  05:24 PM
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