Conversations with two secularists
|June 4, 2011||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Interrupting my serious of questions for atheists (3 down, 4 to go), I thought I would digress for a week and reflect on conversations I have had with colleagues recently.
As an English teacher living overseas, I generally run across people who are fairly educated and articulate. In the past year or so, I have had extended conversations two of my fellow teachers who have since left for greener pastures. Reflecting on those conversations, I find them illustrative of current dilemmas.
The first colleague was an American. He was undoubtedly a very nice guy – sociable, outgoing, and hospitable. Politically, he was typical of the American left.
First, he had a deep admiration for Barak Obama. He considered Obama to be highly qualified, even brilliant intellectually. He claimed that Obama’s stimulus program had saved the economy from depression, and stated that watching Obama’s State of the Union Address was deeply inspiring, and almost brought tears to his eyes. He thought Obama’s health care plan was excellent, and would save a lot of money by eliminating inefficiencies. I suggested as gently as possible that the program would not save money, but would cost far more than anticipated, and received a surprised expression.
He got most of his news from the New York Times – when he used the computer in the teacher’s office (which was often) that was the first and only news site I saw him access. It seemed that if it wasn’t in the New York Times it wasn’t true, or it wasn’t important. Any comments critical of Obama were greeted with a high degree of skepticism – “Who said that, what is the source, what’s their agenda?” – but news showing Obama in a favorable light was self evidently true.
He had a very hazy understanding of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and seemed not to know the most elementary historical facts about it. There was also a deep hostility to big business, an adversarial stance that made it seem as if the businessmen were to blame for corrupting the political system – never mind about their contributions in the way of goods and services, not to mention jobs.
Religiously, he was interested in Taoism, and said Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (I lent him my copy) most closely represented his own views. To my surprise, he was open to at least discussing Christianity, and was not hostile as many on his end of the political structure are.
His attitude toward pornography was quiet casual – he mentioned reading Playboy in an offhand way as if it were an ordinary magazine like any other.
There was a curious irrationality in his approach to politics. For example, he was angry with Bush for the Patriot Act, but was not angry with Obama for doing nothing to dismantle it, continuing to carry it out, and even for carrying out further encroachments on American liberties.
He to me represented the basic world view of America’s media, academic, and political elites. It is the dominance of his outlook that has helped so much to bring us where we are today.
The second colleague was British – also a very nice guy, personable, articulate, and capable of giving one a most enjoyable conversation over dinner. He too represented a world view that is dominant in the West, and promises to be so for some time.
One point was his hostility to religion. When I first brought it up he said angrily that religion was to blame for all of the problems of the world. I put religion on the back burner with him for a long time, but when I began to press questions about God and the ultimate meaning of life more forcefully, it contributed to the end of our pleasant chats.
A second point was a deep irrationality in dealing with religious questions, covered by a desire to just avoid them altogether. For example, he did not believe in Buddhist reincarnation; he did not believe in Islam, that Mohammed was a prophet of God, that the Koran was a holy book; he did not believe in Catholicism, or Protestantism – yet neither could he admit that all of those views were wrong, and he thought understanding was better. This would put him in the uncomfortable position of claiming to know what it was all about when so many others were in error.
I tried to press this point home – “You say there cannot be one right way, yet you believe all of the believers in those religions are in error and you have the right way” – and got nothing but a totally irrational inability to face the dilemma. The problem was solved, for him at any rate, by just refusing to think about the issue altogether and enjoying the ordinary things of life with no concern for larger questions.
Also, there was an obsession with the evils of America. He referred me to some American atrocities committed in the Philippines over a century ago, but was totally indifferent to atrocities committed by leftist governments. He had real admiration and respect for Castro, and seemed to think Cuba was a paradise of friendly people and free medical care. Any mention of Castro’s crimes, abuses, secret police, prisons, and overall dictatorship was met with a blank refusal to face well known facts. He was still offended years later by the abuses of Abu Ghraib in Iraq, but seemed totally indifferent to all of the other much worse atrocities routinely committed in prisons all over the world – except for those done by right-wing South American dictators.
He even stated that living in Mussolini’s Italy would not have been so bad. Of course, people lacked liberty, but they could still have a good life, and liberty was secondary.
Not insignificantly, he had a strong commitment to gay rights, though he didn’t seem to be gay himself, and was hostile to any suggestion that homosexuality was morally wrong.
Finally, he also supported Obama’s health care plan because it provided free medical care for the poor, and anyone who was against it was “against care for the poor.”
The views of these two men are quite common, and have deeper spiritual origins that need to be explored. With them, the deeper values of moral, political, and economic conservatism are alien and foreign, the problem rather than the solution.