invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look
forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.
The current generation of atheism advocates (apologists does not seem the appropriate term) hold the position that belief in a transcendent divinity is not necessary for the development of a human system of ethics. In this belief is an unspoken rebuttal to those who would argue that morality, as conjured in a space and time beyond transcendence, beggars most, if not all, likely probabilities. These advocates stress, as a substitute for a divinely inspired source of revelatory morality, the theme of human solidarity, the nebulous phenomena produced ex nihilo to promote the survival of the tribe and species. Crucial to this idea, which bases itself on scientific analysis of the human condition, is the study of that condition within the landscape of human civilizations.
At the end of a Western civilization class I was teaching, and after many months of examining Hammurabis Code, the strategies of Alexander at Gaugamela, and the republican Roman virtues of Marcus Cato the Elder, I assigned a final primary text to be read and discussed: the New Testaments Sermon on the Mount. The lesson was ostensibly to walk through Jesuss response to two major historical themes from antiquity. The first was the ancient law of reciprocal justice that was established in Babylonian law as elucidated by Hammurabi. The second was the seemingly inexhaustible lineage of would-be conquerors who, like the Homeric Agamemnon, sought to gain the world regardless of both physical and metaphysical prices paid.
As most readers will probably surmise, Jesuss admonition toward Pharisaic behavior extends to the Mesopotamian root of such concentration on legality for legalitys sake. If righteousness beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees is called upon and necessary for salvation, then one may ask the question, What is so unrighteous about following and keeping to the law? Though Hammurabi makes mention of ensuring that the strong not prey upon the weak, his legal entity appears more punitive than redemptive. If considered a lawful society, Babylon certainly was not egalitarian in its prohibitions and punishments in that slaves and nobles did not receive equal reciprocal justice for the same offenses. An individual could technically keep to the kings and the citys laws all his life, yet at the end of life not be considered righteous.
As C. S. Lewis points out, there is a special infernal quality particular to the Pharisee, or spoiled saintthe individual whose lawful adherence degenerates to disdainful pride. In a bitterly ironic sense, if an ancient code of laws (let us say, for the sake of argument, not divinely inspired, but necessitated for tribal survival) arose out of purely human need, its built-in checks to offenses would actually lead to further human estrangement: a society with neither hope nor solidarity.
In sacrificing Iphigenia at Aulis, the Mycenaean high king Agamemnon charted an oft-repeated course in the history of world conquest. Yet, if queried, he would probably defend his actions with the sentiment that the quest for empire is actually for societys betterment because it spreads a shared civilization throughout worlds known and unknown.
In this vein, Alexander sought to promulgate Hellenism as its champion, only to be later waylaid by this urge. Caesar followed the lead of the ambitious Lucius Catiline, who lusted beyond the balance of Romes republic. In order to avoid Catilines mistake in warring against his own city, Caesar split its population in two political blocs, winning the urban poor by seeking foreign conquests. The pax romana, wherein Virgil commanded Rome to rule the nations with thy sway, may have spread a form of unity through Roman civilization, yet this peace was initially won by sword and fire, hardly to be considered agencies that promote solidarity.
In contrast to the paradigm of Roman strength came the meekness and poverty of spirit spoken of in the Beatitudes, qualities not seeking to overcome, but rather to unlock. In laying down the earthly pride wherein desiring power seeks dominion, true solidarity is forged by acts of mercy, humility, and charity.
But the topic that easily garnered the most attention in the class and generated spirited debate was a seemingly unlikely product of the Beatitudes. Jesus warned his followers that they would be persecuted for righteousness sakewhich is, at the very least, an intriguing notion. If Jesuss followers began laying down the temptation of Agamemnon and all of those cut of the same imperial brocaded cloth, how could this lead to their being subject to ostracisman ostracism that is often performed by the atheism advocate du jour?
The students responses to this last question were not long in coming. The last tolerated prejudice, the predisposition against Christianity was maintained for a variety of reasons. They pointed to the apparent ubiquity of Christianitys flawed representatives. From picketers at armed-forces funerals to megachurch millionaires, there has been an abundant surplus of straw men for this line of criticism. Next came the argument regarding the hypocrisy that todays brand of congenital cynicism automatically assumes in persons of piety. Because those who aspire to the heavenly city are just people, their rhetoric and practice of self and worldly denial has become objects of mockery for the flippant humor that is our societys mark of sophisticated intelligence.
Two points of irony were soon evident in the midst of this Socratic discussion. First, the vigorous explanations, or justifications, as to why Christianity is thus treated in todays culture only served to prove the two millenniaold Beatitude right. There need not be any rationalization for the ostracism of a societal group if said ostracism is not taking place at all. Second, if Christianity is vilified because of some of its prohibitions as well as because of its aspirations, then one must accept what the British philosopher Roger Scruton said regarding societies whose chief value was tolerance. In such societies, it is vital to prohibit the prohibitor. However, this sentiment is not only illogical, but ambiguous enough to descend to the immoral. Agamemnon conquered because, simply, he could. So did the Athenians at Melos. Isolating the Christian ethos betrays a similar paradigm: the absence of a moral framework begets justifications for power. Along Socratic lines, strength prevails in the absence of truth.
the clever obfuscation by todays advocates of atheism. As the Athenian
sophists in mock piety charged Socrates with worshipping gods other than
those of the city (even though they in truth worshipped nothing), these
advocates claim Christianity is a source of division, but they themselves
perpetuate backhanded ostracism. The story of Western civilization tells
us that such souls, confused regarding where to search for righteousness
and disavowing such an idea and its source, are seldom if ever satisfied.
Maria J. Yulo is an Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute. He
received his doctoral degree in the philosophy of education from the University
of San Francisco and teaches philosophy and western civilization at the
Academy of Art University.
Donald A. Downs is Professor of Political Science, Law, and Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Research Fellow at The Independent Institute.
Mike Moore is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and author of the book, Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance.
John Semmens is a research fellow at the Independent Institute, a research project manager in the Arizona Department of Transportation Research Center, and contributing author to the Independent Institute book, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth.
S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist, is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and former founding Director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is author of Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warmings Unfinished Debate (The Independent Institute, 1997).
Dr. James L. Payne is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Director of Lytton Research and Analysis and author of numerous books, including A History of Force: Exploring the Worldwide Movement Against Habits of Coercion, Bloodshed, and Mayhem,and he has taught political science at Yale University, Wesleyan University, Johns Hopkins University, and Texas A & M University.
Ernest C. Pasour is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University, and author of Plowshares & Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture (with Randy Rucker) and Agriculture and the State from the Independent Institute.
Randal R. Rucker is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University, and co-author (with E.C. Pasour, Jr.) of Plowshares & Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture.
Charles V. Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.
William Ratliff is Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute, Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
For further information, see the Independent Institutes book on wasteful farm programs, Agriculture and the State: Market Processes and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr.