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January 09, 2003

Of pietas, Roman and American

Jason Soon of Catallaxy Files links to this article in The American Conservative by neo-Luddite William Lind on the rising techno-paganism engulfing the West. Yeah, you read that right! Techno-paganism! (OK, I created the term, but that's what he's saying) I suppose I am a techno-pagan of sorts, a man of the Right that rejects the Old Time Religion (Christianity, or in my case Islam) and embraces the wild and uncharted future. On the other hand, I temper my enthusiasms with the maxim, "evolution, not revolution." Change is inevitable, as is heat death, but how we respond to it is in our hands.

In the vein of the article linked to below on the "secularists" and the Democratic party, I must remind everyone that there are those on the Right who aren't Christians or Jews, but secularists and pagans. Our numbers are minimal, and we are invisible at the grassroots level, but I remember reading years ago that Republican primary voters who did not consider "religion important in their lives" were all hyper-wealthy, in fact, the wealthiest of the different groups of primary voters (Republican and Democrat, all were rather affluent compared to the average American, but non-religious Republicans have stratospheric asset levels).

The most prominent of the Heathens of the Right was H. L. Mencken. Despite his anti-Semitism and racism (ah, but I must excuse him by reminding everyone that his views on Jews and blacks were no more offensive than Maggie Sanger's-they were even mildly progressive for their age, opposing lynching for instance, but vilely racist in today's context, with their skepticism of equality in fact if not before the law), he is a hero to libertarian leaning conservatives (myself included, though I might better call myself a conservative leaning libertarian). More machiavellian types who follow Leo Strauss are also often personally irreligious. There is a reason that Marvin Olasky called the Neo-Conservative followers of John McCain The Party of Zeus-he viewed them as pagan patriots, who would take the Christ out of the Right and replace it with the graven image of the Flag [1]. In England, Norman Tebbit, one of Maggie Thatcher's senior lieutenants has long mixed a combative atheism with a reverence for all things British.

I am no village atheist. I respect religion and enjoy exploring its ideas and history to better understand humanity. But in the end, believers and unbelievers shall part, each one pitying the other. The believer will assert that with the death of the gods so dies decency, all things would be permitted. The unbeliever would recoil, and wonder what sort of man is his believing brother that goodness may only be compelled by a deity's demands.

Let me end with a link to Roger Scruton's Decencies for Skeptics (I've linked to this before), he a conservative and a pagan unbeliever at that. I do not endorse everything he says, he is of an older generation, so the pieties of his youth are not those of mine, but the religious should never forget that there are those who believe that we walk in decency's shadow without trembling before the Lord.

[1] There is some irony in this-the Kristols have both been active in defending social and religious conservatives from the excesses of other New York intellectuals. Years ago Irving wrote what I thought was a very tendentious article asserting that Jews had done better under Christians than pagans (warning of the rising post-Christian paganism), while William has been at the forefront of attacking the New Bioengineering, defending ideas about the sacredness of the soul that are most prominent today in Christianity. The irony in William's position is that his Jewish religious tradition seems to be more in favor of a utilitarian approach to the New Bioengineering, while Christianity, intoxicated by the dualistic ideas of ancient pagan Neo-Platonism has evinced an almost mystical aversion to it.

Posted by razib at 11:47 PM




Great post, homie.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh at January 10, 2003 04:15 AM


How does one become on the right, on the left, or in the middle? What essence is there to any of these abstractions? I think there are those who would maintain that secularism is somehow fundamentally "left." In fact there are a great many of these yin/yangs - here’s a partial list inspired, in part, by Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed:

Generalist/ Specialist
Realist/ Idealist
Pragmatist/ Principled
Spirit of the Law/Letter of the Law
Optimism about human nature/Pessimism about human nature
Romantic/ Utilitarian
Moralist/ Rationalist
Scientific/ Artistic
Experimental/ Prudent
Outward looking/ Inward looking
Methodologist/ Ends oriented
Pagan/ Monotheist
Dog person/ Cat person
Dynamist/ Stasist
Judicious/ Proselytizer
Anointed/ Benighted
Egalitarian/ Meritocratic

What sort of alignment of these and other dualities is necessary to make someone right or left. What meaning or use is there of the right/left dichotomy.

Just curious.

Posted by: Steve at January 10, 2003 09:33 AM


"The irony in William [Kristol]'s position is that his Jewish religious tradition seems to be more in favor of a utilitarian approach to the New Bioengineering ... " -- Razib

I don't know about that. The Chief Rabbi of the nation of Israel has officially come out unequivocally against the cloning of people, and this was for purely religious/theological reasons. (I don't have the reference, but am certain that I saw it recently.)

Posted by: Cognassier at January 11, 2003 05:24 PM


yes, but the orthodox union of america favors stems cell research.

Posted by: razib at January 11, 2003 07:26 PM