I’m reading Ann Coulter’s Godless : The Church of Liberalism. I actually didn’t intend to check it out of the library when I first saw it. I can take Ann in small doses, because I think she’s very clever, and her observations are often spot-on. I also think she’s very mean, so I always end up feeling both exhilarated and, well, dirty, after reading one of her books. (I’ve probably just described the porn movie experience, haven’t I?)
So, as I said, I wasn’t planning on reading that book, except for the fact that, immediately adjacent to it on the library shelf I saw Susan Estrich’s Soulless : Ann Coulter and the Right Wing Church of Hate. If you follow both the links I provided, you’ll see that the Estrich book is meant to look exactly like the Coulter book — same layout, same coloring, almost the same size. They’ve even dressed the brunette, pugnacious little Estrich in a blond wig and black dress, a la Coulter, and modeled her in Ann’s trademark pose.
I leafed through Estrich’s book because I do like to see what the critics have to say. The first few pages were just declarative statements about how mean and opinionated Ann is. I agree. She’s also right a lot of the time, sewing together facts — many of them that liberals would prefer to forget — to make a compelling argument. That you might not ultimately agree with her argument is entirely different from saying she’s too mean to be entitled to argue.
Anyway, I realized that the only way I could tell if Estrich’s book picked up steam and became a meaningful critique of Ann’s argument (as opposed to her argumentative style) was to read Ann’s book first. So I checked out both, and I’m reading them in order: Ann’s first.
As always, Ann makes a good point, all the while being as sarcastic and, sometimes, off-putting (as opposed to humorous) as possible. As you may have guessed from the title, and can certainly see from the reviews, Ann argues that liberalism is itself a faith, much as liberals would like to believe that it’s entirely grounded in reason, science and logic. As it happens, I used to attend the Church of Liberal and accepted its doctrine entirely. To me, it was a comprehensive universe and I, like a good medieval Catholic, could not comprehend the existence of alternative views. They were not equal, they were heretical and needed to be stamped out.
With this mindset, in the way back when, I was particularly baffled by the word “secularism,” which appeared as an Evangelical rallying phrase in the 1980s. What was this “secularism” they were all talking about? I knew that I was on the side of right, reason, logic and natural human progression; they represented everything dark. To me, secularism was a made-up concept that was simply intended to demonize everything that wasn’t fundamentalist Christianity.
And then, one day, it clicked. Sadly, I can’t remember what I read, but I do know it was a book about education. Whatever it was, reading it, I realized why the Evangelicals were so upset. I saw that, if you came from a home where the package deal was that marriage is sanctified, that abortion is wrong, that homosexual conduct is wrong, that America is a good place, that Communism is a bad thing, and that if your children were placed in a school that had as a package-deal a curriculum that didn’t just present the existence of opposing views, but that actively denigrated your views and preached a comprehensive and antithetical world view, then that school was teaching an opposing belief system. This is especially true where, as in public schools, the school system is advancing its belief system as ultimate facts, when it’s manifestly obvious that many of these facts are merely conclusions, to which believers retrofit supporting facts. As any good lawyer knows, you figure out your case first, and then find the facts to support it.
Further, if you are one of those traditionally religious people, a belief system opposing your belief system is, in fact, a religion. And since this oppositional religion slyly refuses to give itself a name, beyond pronouncing itself to be all that is right and good, you’re perfectly entitled to label it for your own convenience (perhaps selecting a name such as “secularism”), and to challenge it.
With this epiphany, the atheist (or am I an agnostic?) in me kicked in. If I’m not ready to believe in one belief system (traditional religion), why in the world am I so willing to believe wholesale in another belief system (secularism)?
Slowly, slowly, I started looking at the premises of my secular religion and not liking what I saw. I moved further and further away from it, the more I scrutinized my former unthinking faith.
Welfare as an unlimited right suddenly seemed like a pretty crude way to ensure that generations of poor people would remain poor, lacking all incentive to work. (An insight that was hastened when I learned that my Communist aunt, a believer ’til the day she died, lived in an East Berlin apartment with a broken sink for nine years, since no one had an incentive to fix it for her.)
To believe that America is a bad place importing its imperialism, as opposed to the purity of Communism, works only if one ignores the fact that Communism wherever tried has failed, not only because it fails economically, but because it can work only if people are reduced to absolute, unthinking servitude. Every one of my liberal shibboleths fell when I recognized the unthinking faith behind them, and looked beyond my faith-based blinders.
When I finally looked at the world as it was, and looked at people as they are (and as they should want to be), I didn’t want to be a liberal any more. And so I ended up amongst the conservatives, embracing their belief system, without embracing their beliefs. Funnily enough, although it should be an uneasy fit, it isn’t. This is so because one of the nicest things I’ve discovered is that, while my many conservative friends wish, for my own sake, that I could embrace faith, they don’t shun me, denigrate me, insult me, or harass me because I don’t. There’s a certain eternal patience here, as well as a willingness to accept that I’ve already made a pretty big intellectual journey in the past few years of my life.
UPDATE: Patrick has been blogging about the difference between fear based view of our world and a reason driven view of it — and you’ll have to read it yourself to find out on which side traditionally religious people, and secularly religious people fall.