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October 18th 2010 print

Ray Evans

If God Goes, the West Goes

From time to time events occur which illuminate clearly the forces at work in the world. In 1988 Jesse Jackson organised demonstrations at Stanford University, one of the most expensive and prestigious centres of learning in the USA. Spearheading the multiculturalists’ crusade against Stanford’s Western Civilization core curriculum for freshmen, Mr Jackson led massed protestors in a march across campus chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!”

Mr Jackson and his supporters had argued that the required reading from the Bible, Marx and Greek philosophers was too biased in favour of Western culture. They eventually managed to have Western Civilization replaced with the Cultures, Ideas, and Values (CIV) program. After much controversy and negative publicity concerning the change, Stanford eventually replaced CIV with the current IHUM (Introduction to the Humanities) program.

In her new book The World Turned Upside Down Melanie Phillips is searching for a unifying theory which can bring together the various culture wars in which the defenders of Western civilisation are engaged, into one struggle. Instead of the history wars, the wars over Darwinism and Intelligent Design, the global warming scam, the deep hostility to the state of Israel now rampant in Britain, and within the churches the war over women priests and the legitimisation of homosexuality (amongst other deeper doctrinal issues), she seeks to describe and delineate the Great Culture War of our era; a war with various fronts, whose outcome will determine the fate of Western civilisation.

Seeking connections of such a kind is a fascinating undertaking. She takes four quite separate issues: the global warming scam; the rewriting of the history of the Iraq War; Darwinism and the attack on Intelligent Design; and in particular the attack on Israel from within the West.

The only one of these battlegrounds which is really familiar to me is the global warming scam. The essence of this scam is this. Governments and scientific institutions such as the Royal Society of London, in Europe particularly, but also in Australia and the USA, proclaim the belief that by reducing mankind’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the world’s climate can be controlled, in that global temperatures will be maintained at current levels, rather than rising by several degrees with catastrophic consequences.

There is no historical evidence to support this superstition. But those who question the faith of those who believe in this infantile fantasy are pilloried as denialists and climate criminals, and are refused preferment in their careers and access to professional journals. The Climategate e-mails describe in detail the mechanisms which are employed to achieve this result. Melanie Phillips has absorbed the large literature which is now available on the history of this extraordinary scam and has distilled it brilliantly.

The other battlegrounds in the culture wars which she describes are conflicts with which I am less familiar, although her counter-attack on Richard Dawkins and his fellow atheists adopts a line of argument which is centuries old and which to my mind is wholly convincing. (She mentions a stunt dreamed up in 2009 by the British Humanist Association and the Guardian, and backed by Richard Dawkins, when 800 buses around Britain sported for a time the advertising message, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Such a display of rampant hostility to religious belief and traditional morality would have been unthinkable a generation ago.)

The onslaught by the atheists on the proponents of what is called Intelligent Design (ID) is replicated by the attacks by the scientific establishment and the chattering-class media on climate sceptics. ID is an updated version of William Paley’s watchmaker argument, which Antony Flew cites in his book Yes There Is a God. In his book Test Everything: Hold Fast to What is Good, Cardinal Pell refers to what are called the fine tuning arguments; but Paley’s formulation (from his book Natural Theology in 1802) will suffice:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there … There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use … Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

That Melanie Phillips is impressed by the divine watchmaker argument in its current form is evident from her quotation from Andrew Parker’s book The Genesis Enigma which describes the “uncanny accuracy” of the Biblical account of what science now knows to be the precise order of events in the development of the universe. Parker says: “The possible explanations for this parallel between the Bible and modern science are clear cut: either the writer of the creation account of Genesis 1 was directed by divine intervention, or he made a lucky guess.”

Melanie Phillips adds: “Parker concludes that the ‘lucky guess’ scenario is incredible; and, therefore, ‘The true account of how we came to exist may have been handed to humans by God.’”

Melanie Phillips’s conclusion to her quest for a unifying principle is summarised in the preface thus:

The book explores the remarkable links and correspondences between left-wing “progressives” and Islamists, environmentalists and fascists, militant atheists and fanatical religious believers. All are united by the common desire to bring about through human agency the perfection of the world, an agenda which history teaches leads us invariably—and paradoxically—to tyranny, terror and crimes against humanity. Remarkably, all happen to be united also by a common and fundamental hostility to the central precepts of Jewish religious belief or peoplehood, the deep animosity against which is a phenomenon demanding explanation on its own account. While I do not believe this common thread constitutes any kind of conspiracy, the fact that it is common to such a range of apparent disparate issues suggests it is around this startling cultural replicator that we should be looking for the deepest clues to the global retreat from reason.

She acknowledges that Christianity is the bedrock on which Western civilisation has been built, and that it is the so-called “religious right” in the USA, the evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists, which now constitute Israel’s vital support group within the US body politic. She also recognises the fierce opposition to Israel’s legitimacy which is found within American Jewry and elsewhere within the Jewish diaspora:

What such Christians both implicitly and explicitly acknowledge is that if Judaism were to fall, Christianity itself would suffer a terminal blow. Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilisation. The onslaught against Judaism thus also plays a tactical role in the attack on Christianity.

It is Judaism, the mother-ship as it were, of Christianity, that laid down the moral law that placed constraints on personal behaviour in the interests of others, and which forms the very foundations of Western morality. Although Christianity embedded the law into Western society, it is those tiresome Mosaic codes themselves that are the underlying target of the attack on sexual continence, duty and truth.

The attack on Christianity is centuries old. But what is new is the complete collapse of Christianity in Europe. The fierce debate over the EU constitution and whether it should contain a reference to Christianity or even to God was won decisively by the secularists.

We see the Church of England in complete and terminal disarray, bringing to mind Malcolm Muggeridge’s perceptive comment from the 1970s: “The Church of England is characterised by empty pews, crazed clergy, and total doctrinal confusion.” The Anglican Church of Australia, the Sydney archdiocese notwithstanding, is following rapidly behind. The Episcopal Church of America has been captured by a cabal of a few hundred homosexuals and lesbians who are now using the superannuation funds of the clergy to finance litigation over who owns church property.

But Anglicanism in Africa is a very different story. At the Lambeth conference before last, one of the African bishops said to the assembly: “During the last [nineteenth] century the missionaries of the CMS came to Africa with the Good News of the Gospel. Now you are telling us it was all a mistake.”

The heroism and orthodoxy of the African bishops is awe-inspiring and the numbers of African Christians increase rapidly. In China we simply don’t know how far Christianity has spread throughout the land but there are certainly over 100 million Chinese people professing the Christian gospel.

In the West, Rome stands her ground. Pope Benedict’s address at Regensburg in September 2006, on faith and reason, is a highpoint of Christian exegesis:

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history—it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

Melanie Phillips, then, stands her ground on Judaism and Christianity as the bedrock of Western civilisation and the unifying principle behind all the different theatres of the culture wars as the attack on these two religions. However, she describes herself in the preface thus:

I am an agnostic although a traditionally minded Jew. I have a deep concern for the security and survival of the Jewish people and for the security and survival of Western civilisation, which I believe are symbiotically connected.

And this raises a problem. James Franklin, in his review of Cardinal Pell’s book (Quadrant, July-August 2010), makes the following comment on non-theist conservatives:

Without some realist story about the metaphysics of morals, about the inherent as opposed to the conventional worth of persons, there are left only pragmatic arguments about what effects and side effects reforms might or might not have on our comforts, and political struggle. That leaves out something important, such as a solid sense of the reality of evil.

If I were to comment on the breakdown of theists and non-theists within the ranks of the climate sceptics, my off-the-cuff response would be probably about fifty-fifty. But it became apparent to me, early in the struggle, as I met a number of the leading players in the battle, that an unusually high proportion were serious about their religion, whether Jewish, Catholic or Protestant. Cardinal Pell has attacked faith in anthropogenic global warming as “pagan superstition”. The American evangelicals maintain a lively debate within their community on the issue, and attempts to rally them on the side of the warmists have failed completely.

The climate sceptics comprise a broad church. There are considerable differences among them as to explanations of how our climate is controlled, and what part, if any, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in particular have in influencing global temperatures. The supporters of Theodore Landscheidt, who forecast a period of sunspot minima after 1990, accompanied by increased cold, with a stronger minimum and more intense cold which should peak in 2030, which he described as the “Landscheidt Minimum”, are deriving great satisfaction from current climate trends, and within a few years, probably before the next federal election if it takes place in 2013, his predictions will be either confirmed or refuted.

But beneath these scientific arguments there is clearly a gulf between the theists and non-theists. For the time being, however, in the face of the common foe, these differences are glossed over. But in the battle over the future of Israel, and of course in the battle over the future of the established or quasi-established churches such as the Church of England (which seems to me to have been decisively lost) the issue of religious belief is at the very centre of the struggle.

Melanie Phillips, Jewish agnostic, brilliant writer and perceptive observer of these events, has made an important contribution to our understanding of them. 

Ray Evans, a regular contributor to Quadrant, wrote “The Rulers and Guardians of Industrial Relations” in the September issue