Conservatives for secular morality and cultural relativism

Not cool, Austin Petersen:

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This is from his public page. What’s a little Catholic bashing to establish your Cool Atheist bona-fides? It’s apparently news to Judge Napolitano’s former producer that the Holy Father isn’t quite on board with the liberal paradigm. I wonder if he’s told his former boss he’s a member of the “cult of Christ.”

Let’s reassure him by noting that there are some liberal Catholics trying to sanctify Charlie Hebdo, and claim that Western Civilization depends on the protection and dissemination of publications like it:

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an assault on Christendom. Magazines that publish sophomoric cartoons mocking religion are, paradoxically, part of the Body of Christ – if perhaps its lower intestine.

We also have conservatives like the neocon Herodotus Victor Davis Hanson engaging in a little moral relativism, which should cheer an atheist like Petersen:

Unfortunately, when we look to prominent defenders of the Western faith in free speech, we find too often offenders.

Start with Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League. He recently made a series of silly statements about the terrorist attack in Paris. The gist was that the slain Charlie Hebdo staffers were nearly as much to blame for their deaths as were their killers, given their gratuitous blasphemy against the Islamic religion.

Does Donohue believe that satirists who poke fun at Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism — and there are many, including the editors of Charlie Hebdo — are in similar mortal danger worldwide? Would Donohue wish such crass artists and writers to be?

These are both examples of the disturbing tendency after the Paris attacks of shutting down anyone who’s observed a cause and effect relationship between the cartoons and the murders. Indeed, against anyone who has dared to point out that words and pictures have consequences. Should the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have been murdered in the name of Islam for drawing stuff? No, of course not. But they were. Can we handle that?

What people like Pope Francis, Pat Buchanan, and Bill Donohue, in descending order of erudition and kindness, have pointed out is that disrespect for religion has bloody consequences. A defining feature of the revolution in France, which established the secular order under which Charlie Hebdo has been allowed to flourish, was the massacre of priests, for example.

Now, not even Donohue wants to go back to those bad old days of “theocracy.” He’s quite clear that he doesn’t support blasphemy laws; apparently he’ll make a big stink if you even ask him to. But if he did, who cares? Are we going to pretend Bill Donohue really has the ability to tip elections, enact massive speech-curtailing laws, call pogroms, or whatever it is that makes him haunt these people’s nightmares?

On the other hand, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, European self-abasement, whatever you want to call it, is not irrelevant. It’s directly related to France’s problems. Which is why it strikes me as cowardly and unreflective that conservatives and libertarians are jumping to the defense of a naked, value-free public square that has been useful for nothing so much as prioritizing Islam at the expense of Christianity.

Ultimately even free speech flows from the barrel of a gun. Secular liberal society undermines civilization’s defenses in a number of different ways, as we saw when the unarmed French police fled the Charlie Hebdo shooters. On a demographic level, a sterile, secular West will eventually be replaced by devout and irrepressibly fertile Islam. But instead of offering ways to invigorate the West so that doesn’t happen, in Hanson’s comments we see the neoconservative Manichaean worldview by which we’re free to criticize everyone but ourselves; bashing Charlie Hebdo is tantamount to siding with the terrorists. We’re supposed to defend blasphemy the same way we defend the pornography and video games that are the ostensible reason why terrorists hate us. Bad things become the indicators of good societies.

Perhaps a libertarian like Petersen really does see these as marks of a superior culture. I don’t know, talking culture with libertarians is like discussing Beethoven with a WWE fan. It’s more concerning that a conservative like Hanson, who presumably does care about these things, seems to think that the “Western Civilization” he’s always yammering on about is well represented by the greatness of Charlie Hebdo and its communist editorial staff.

It was Christianity that gave the West a respect for the dignity of the human person, from which things like the right to free speech flows. There is no reason to expect a right to free speech in a post-Christian society. If Charlie Hebdo criticized gay marriage or abortion, European leaders would not be marching on its behalf, and in all likelihood it would have been shut down in a flood of litigation. There are already hate speech prosecutions all over Europe. To ask the question whether there would be a case for accepting certain (perhaps foolhardy) abridgments on free speech for civic comity with respect to Islam, or others to rekindle respect for the only religion capable of challenging it, is to put yourself outside the bounds of even fairly right-wing opinion. I’ve probably said too much already.

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