10 April 2011

Secular Reaction

My musings on religion and authority from last week have gone round Vladimir to Foseti to Aretae.

There are two ways to look at the historical relationship between the reformation, the enlightenment, and the unfortunate rise of the concept of popular sovereignty.

One is that privilege can only be tolerated if it is seen as having divine sanction: that if man denies God, he denies that anyone can have rightful authority over him. The reason popular sovereignty followed atheism is that it naturally follows from atheism. I thought it was worth throwing that idea out there because it's plausible and some serious thinkers have proposed it.

There is an alternative view, however, that the old order had used religion to bolster itself, and when rationalism started to show religious beliefs to be questionable, the political system associated with it came under immediate suspicion. According to this narrative, the reactionary case must be made on a rationalist foundation, or else it is always in danger of being undercut again.

That's my own view; since I have been persuaded by the secular argument for authority, it's evidently possible.

The dangerous factor is that what I call "the secular argument for authority" is non-obvious. If you start from scratch to produce a political theory from philosophical foundations, you're not likely to hit it — it really helps to have the evidence of the results of a naive rationalist political system in front of you to lead in the right direction.

4 comments:

Vladimir said...

Interesting. Atheism, Enlightenment and political revolution are closely linked, you are certainly right about that.

As a response, I suggest that atheism may not actually be the natural state of mind for the masses - consider the surprising number of people who believe in superstitions, horoscopes and homeopathy. These are not Enlightened or rational beliefs, yet they are widespread.

I suggest there are many atheists not because atheism is necessarily right (although it may be), but because intellectuals have encouraged atheism to serve their own democratic and revolutionary ends. The inverse of a divine rights monarch whose supporters encourage belief in God.

I think that either is possible, and without losing anything learned from Enlightenment or subsequent science. For science and religion exist in separate domains, as future legitimist intellectuals would surely emphasize.

James A. Donald said...

Seems to me the order of events is wrong. Rousseau and Thomas Paine argued popular sovereignty, but God did not die till Darwin killed him.

So popular sovereignty came first, or at least advocacy of popular sovereignty came first, atheism second.

Darwin of course merely yanks the throne out from under a creator God. Other forms of religion are not so adversely affected - hence, for example, Gaia worship.

James A. Donald said...

Vladimir said:
I suggest there are many atheists not because atheism is necessarily right (although it may be), but because intellectuals have encouraged atheism to serve their own democratic and revolutionary ends.
This has only been true since the late 1940s. Used to be that they claimed to be progressive Christians, Christian socialists, and so forth, though the Christianity was in mighty thin doses.

Todays unitarian church is a remnant of what the movement used to be.

The New Testament contains some troubling socially conservative material, and is other worldly. Thus nominally Christian progressives tended to throw the Christ the redeemer overboard, demoting him to Jesus the progressive preacher, thus became indistinguishable from unitarians, and unitarians indistinguishable from atheists.

yago said...

East Asia never had a religious underpinning for authority (not a solid one anyway), so factionalism and tyranny was always harsher than in Europe.