In the summer of 1974, I went to Montana Boys State as a delegate from Fort Benton High School. Only one year earlier, I had become a Jesus follower after an existential and externally unverifiable set of events not worth hashing over at this time.
At Boys State, we were treated to Montana's Lieutenant Governor -- at least, that is who I recall it being -- speaking to us on the issue of morality in the public sector. Things were going along fine until he made the following statement, or something awfully close to it:
"As Americans, we need a moral glue to hold our social fabric together. Christianity serves as that moral agent." And he went on to explain why religion was important precisely because it was a sort of moral restraint and shaper of society.
After a bit of this, I'd had enough. Remember, I was only a teenager, and hormonally imbalanced. I lept to my feet and yelled, "BUT IS IT TRUE?!" at the top of my lungs.
You see, in my simplistic and young mind, I actually thought it mattered whether or not Christianity was based on history, particularly that history regarding Jesus Christ's existence, birth, life, death, and resurrection. To the speaker, whatever his personal thoughts, it didn't seem important enough to even mention.
At that moment, I now believe, I began the journey away from not only conservativism, but nationalism. I realized -- since I actually think I had a good handle on essentials back then -- that it was Christianity that governed all other questions of human meaning rather than societal considerations, or individual considerations for that matter, being the answer. As Jesus went, so I went. If he was a crock, then so was I, and I wasn't going to sit around playing house with dead moral codes written by deluded people thousands of years ago.
Neither would I pledge allegiance to the flag of twentieth-century religions whether fascist or marxist; they, too, were only worth confronting if in fact the God question had an affirmative answer. If the God question had no answer, or more appropriately, if the Jesus question had no affirmative answer, then there were no more questions really worth asking. Instead, I'd be a good little hedonist, breeding wildly or ingesting illicit substances until I was tired of either, and then perhaps blowing my brains out.
Oh, we'd ask them anyway, being the sad, lonesome creatures we would be without a Maker, Father, or Savior. We couldn't help but keep asking them. But they would never be answered. And some few of us might even have the guts to stop asking them. If I didn't believe I'd had a real encounter with God -- you know, that encounter I'm not going to offer as evidence since it wouldn't hold up as verifiable to the non-participant -- then I would have to believe, and act upon the belief, that no meaning at all exists in the universe.
Good grief, Trott, get to your point.
Okay then. Now it is 2005. James Wolcott's comments regarding conservative commentator Irving Kristol's apparently quite elitist viewpoint on God -- one which bears remarkable resemblance to that Boys' State speaker in 1974 -- bring up a nearly identical reaction in me. Now being fair, those comments (originally appearing on John Derbyshire's blog), stirred up a mini-controversy, and perhaps mis-represented Kristol as not believing in God when in fact he really might just think that whether or not he believes in God, religion is a social glue and worthwhile for that reason.
Either way (Kristol believing or non-believing), the idea of religion as social glue is one for those too timid to face the abyss. And he favors such social glue, since (like his mentor Leo Strauss), he fears what the results would be should religion's mitigating influence be removed from society:
"If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded, esoteric doctrine--for if the illusions of religion were to be discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized, with what uncontrollable anguish."
The above quote from Kristol is cited by Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey, in discussing Kristol's views on Darwinian evolution. That topic, like my salvation story, is not easily verified, and I'll leave it alone here. But Bailey, along with Derbyshire and Wolcott, seems baffled by that line of reasoning. As am I.
Either Jesus really did rise from the dead -- and the evidence of lives radically changed by him is one reality hard to argue with -- or he did not. Don't offer me your crapulous social glue theory of Christianity. Such arguments are an abuse of my faith in order to prop up your nationalist agendas, your political and financial power base. They may fool people, but they will not do so indefinitely. And in the end, this whole hypocritical, snot-nosed edifice is going to come down on the heads of evangelicals and other Christians who supported and abetted it.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
One final note on the idea of being afraid to debunk religion because it might undermine social order... I don't think most people can or will let go of the idea which transparently suggests itself to any conscious being capable of rudimentary thought. "What a wonderful, perplexing place! Someone must have made it!" Whether you believe or not, I don't think you have to fear that the mass of people on this planet will cease believing in God, at least as an Object.
Whether they believe in Jesus, and enough to follow his teachings and example, well...
That is another topic.