Smear an atheist for Christmas.
Jeff Jacoby is religious and Right-wing. And he is a pundit for the Boston Globe newspapers where he turns out screeds in defense of moralistic government, aggressive foreign policy and the like. All under the pretense that he supports freedom.
And every year at this time the Right pulls up the bugaboo of “banning Christmas”. It is as much a Christmas tradition with them as presents under the tree. They need to claim they are being persecuted in order to justify government involvement to promote their religion. Jacoby obeys the Right-wing tradition with a passion.
He starts with a lament that “Christmas Cards” in the U.K. don’t mention Christmas. Of course, Christmas is not the only holiday this time of year and a general holiday card could sell to lots more people. He at least acknowledges all the market does is provide what people want.
He referred to the “anti-Christian animus” that caused British Airways to order “an employee to hide the tiny cross she wears around her neck.” Typical distortion of the facts. B.A., which reveresed its policy, as is their right, had a ban on all jewelery worn on the outside of their uniforms. They did not ban crosses ,or any other symbol of execution. They banned jewelry. It was not anti-Christian, though again if BA wished to have such a policy it ought to be free to determine its own employment policies. It was a dress code regarding the corporate uniform which neither singled out crosses or other religious symbols.
To prove his point Jacoby quotes an editor at the UK's Daily Telegraph. This is like Al Gore proving a point by quoting Hillary Clinton. The Daily Telegraph is the most right-wing of the papers in the UK, a piece of information that Jacoby leaves out of his column.
The Telegraph’s editor is quoted as referring to an “an increasingly godless age” and a “rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values.” Which biblical values? Stoning people to death was a biblical value? Having hundreds of concubines was a biblical value. Conquering the land, killing all the men and children and raping the virgins was a biblical value. Having slaves was a biblical value as well. Jacoby, like all advocates of biblical values, likes to cherry-pick his biblical values.
He mentions “two recent best sellers” as proof of this attack on Christians. One is a book by Sam Harris, The End of Faith, (Jacoby refuses to mention the title of the book). Harris attacks faith in general and spend a great deal of time on Islam, a faith that Jacoby attacks with great relish himself. The other “recent best seller” he mentions was an article in the Journal of Religion and Society that showed (he says “claimed” implying it is false) that faith correlates with higher social dysfunctionality. Of course this second article was not a “recent best seller” at all. In fact, you can’t purchase it in bookstores. But what’s a little hyperbole between hysterical Right-wing religionists.
After this litany of distortions, falsehoods and exaggerations Jacoby gets to his main, and worst point:
What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judaeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord." Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judaeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones. The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.
The problem is that this a load of rubbish. The United States is far more religious than most Western countries and it has greater levels of dysfunctionality. And within the US we can, as we did here, divide the US between the religious, conservative states and the more liberal, secular states. Most social problems are greater in those states with the highest percentage of conservative religionists. Gonorrhea is higher in the Bible-belt than in New England or on the West Coast. The same is true for divorce rates, out of wedlock birth rates, rape rates, murder rates, etc. In other words there is no indication that morality is secured by religion. In fact the more secular areas of the world, and within the US, seem to be more moral!
Jacoby can’t think straight. He says that atheism leads to moral subjectivity which religion doesn’t. What rubbish. Religionists may be adamant about their own particular faith, but the group as a whole is utterly subjectivist. You have widespread disagreement between them about what is right or wrong. The basics they agree upon, such as not killing are held just as widely among secularists. And secularists are more likely to actually avoid killing others.
Jacoby says that what makes killing wrong is that God said don’t murder. Crime statistics in the US show Christians more likely to kill than their secular neighbors. He says “without God” the difference between right and wrong is blurred and subjective. Religion prevents killing. It caused centuries of killing and inspires many such acts of human destruction today. The attack on 9/11 was inspired by religion.
Martin Luther launched his attack on Jews in the name of Christianity. John Calvin put poor Servetus to death by the flames, in the name of religion. The Inquisition did its work in the name of God. The Salem witch trials lead to the executions of 20 innocent people and the incarceration of ten times as many. The Bible was used to justify this exercise in tyranny. American slavery was justified throughout the South by Christians and the largest Protestant church in the US was created in defense of slavery: the Southern Baptist Convention. Lynchings were more widespread in the Bible-belt than outside. Polls today show that religious Americans are more likely to support the use of torture than secular Americans.
Maybe Jacoby is right that it leads to “subjective” morality but it appears that the religious groups are the least moral on a host of issues. Secular Americans are more likely to live decent and upright lives than their religious neighbors by a host of objective standards (some mentioned above). The only thing the “clear ethical values” of Christianity and Judaism has accomplished is to turn believers into hypocrites and justify their persecution of others and intolerance. It has not made them more moral but less so.
Photo: the man with the smirk is Jeff Jacoby.