True disbelievers

Dalrymple has often said, “I am not religious, but I am also not anti-religious.” In the last couple of years, he has begun to take on many fellow atheists for their warnings about the dangers of religion. His Fall 2007 essay in City Journal, “What the New Atheists Don’t See” argued that “to regret religion is to regret Western civilization” and that, although not religious himself, he nevertheless found that the Christian basis of Western civilization promoted a “more charitable, more generous, more just, more profound, more honest, more humane” outlook than that exhibited by the new atheists.

Now he has a new essay on the subject in New Humanist magazine, and I find this one to be more personal and direct.

Judging from the response to the City Journal essay and the comments to this one, I seriously doubt the extent to which most of his critics are driven by an objective pursuit of hard truths via the light of pure reason rather than by a desire to do away with the inconvenient moral restrictions that religion supports. And it’s hard for me to look at the world today and find any serious problems that can fairly be blamed on religion generally rather than on one religion in particular or on the desire to do away with religion.

10 thoughts on “True disbelievers

  1. Jackson

    Interesting. I recently had a debate with a militant atheist in which I expressed my surprise at his permanent adolescence and its related rage. He didn’t like this observation.

    At any rate, here are some related thoughts from another great mind:

    “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ (Eph. 4:14) seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

    -Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Mass Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, Vatican Basilica, 4-18-05

    “The real opposition that characterizes today’s world is not that between various religious cultures, but that between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on one hand, and from the great religious cultures on the other.”

    -Benedict XVI

    “Moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science; on the contrary, it has diminished, because the technological mentality confines morality to the subjective sphere. Our need, however, is for a public morality, a morality capable of responding to the threats that impose such a burden on the existence of us all. The true and gravest danger of the present moment is precisely this imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy.”

    -Benedict XVI

    “When the existence of God is denied, freedom is, not enhanced, but deprived of its basis and thus distorted.”

    -Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Truth and Tolerance

    “Peace, justice, and the conservation of creation – this trio of values have nowadays emerged as a substitute for a lost concept of God …”

    – Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, “Church on the Threshold of the Third Millennium,” Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith

    “The loss of transcendence evokes the flight to utopia. I am convinced that the destruction of transcendence is the actual amputation of human beings from which all other sicknesses flow. Robbed of their real greatness they can only find escape in illusory hopes.”

    -Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures

    “Wherever God is not, hell comes into existence: it consists simply in his absence. That may also come about in subtle forms and almost always does so under cover of the idea of something beneficial for people.”

    – Joseph Ratzinger, “Church on the Threshold of the Third Millennium,” Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, p. 285

  2. Jackson


    “The defect of the ecological movements: They crusade with an understandable and also legitimate passion against the pollution of the environment, whereas man’s self-pollution of his soul continues to be treated as one of the rights of his freedom….Instead of making it possible to breathe humanly again, we defend with a totally false conception of freedom everything that man’s arbitrary desire produces. As long as we retain this caricature of freedom, namely, of the freedom of inner spiritual self-destruction, its outward effects will continue unchanged.”

    -Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth

    “To the extent that man seeks in new ways to build for himself the world as a whole, thereby ever more perceptibly endangering its foundations, he also loses his vision of the order of creation with regard to his own life. He considers he can define himself as he pleases by virtue of an inane freedom.”

    -Benedict XVI, Address to the Second Group of German Bishops on their “Ad Limina” Visit, 11-18-06

    “Political correctness seeks to establish the domain of a single way
    of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it
    has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical
    achievements of the past. It prescribes itself as the only way to think
    and speak – if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. Being faithful
    to traditional values and the knowledge that upholds them is labeled
    intolerance, and relativism becomes the required norm. I think it is
    vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment,
    which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion. In
    Sweden, a preacher who had presented the Biblical teachings on the
    question of homosexuality received a prison sentence. This is just one
    sign of the gains that have been made by relativism as a kind of new
    ‘denomination’ that places restrictions on religious convictions and
    seeks to subordinate all religions to the super-dogma of relativism.”

    -Joseph Ratzinger, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity,
    Islam, p. 128.

    “To grow is always to suffer as well, because it means leaving one condition and passing to another.”

    -Benedict XVI, in Auronzo di Cadore, 7-24-07,

  3. AKB

    John Derbyshire’s response to the City Journal essay in National Review Online included the words “not satisfactory”. I thought at the time that Mr. Derbyshire’s response was itself “not satisfactory”, though still worth reading. I wish I could pull it up for you, but I have forbidden myself from visiting National Review this year.

  4. Steve

    That’s OK, I remember reading it, although I had forgotten about it. Thanks for jogging my memory. I don’t always agree with Derb, but when I do, he makes me want to stand up and cheer.

    He thinks the world of Dalrymple, by the way. He told my brother in an email that he is one of the funniest people he knows.

    Incidentally, may I ask why you have sworn off National Review?

  5. AKB

    Thank you for your response. I didn’t mean to disparage National Review. I was just trying to stop myself from spending so much time there when I ought to be getting my work done. My presence on this website is therefore hypocritical. Anyway, my recollection is that Mr. Derbyshire described Theodore Dalrymple as among a group to which Mr. Derbyshire claims he belongs: those who are non-religious but regret it. Although I am a member of that group, I don’t detect regret in Theodore Dalrymple or in John Derbyshire. Neither seems introspective enough for that.

  6. Jackson

    I think Dalrymple wouldn’t share any real dark night of the soul that he might ever have. This would smack too much of Oprahism, of the emotional exhibitionism for mass consumption that he rejects. In other words, I think he’d keep it to himself.

  7. AKB

    It looks like the link does work, and once again I do recommend reading Mr. Derbyshire’s remarks. One could write many paragraphs about why Mr. Derbyshire’s thoughtful criticism of Theodore Dalrymple’s article is nonetheless “unsatisfactory” (but this one will not, at least here and today).

  8. Steve

    AKB, thanks for the link. I just re-read it, and I agree that it’s unsatisfactory. He argues keeping quiet, and I think there are real costs to doing so.


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