The Implicit Creed
I’ll have some more updates on the war in Ukraine soon. For now, it’s looking like Russia has totally given up its drive toward Kyiv and is withdrawing from Northern Ukraine altogether, leaving behind evidence of mass shootings of civilians and other war crimes. Which is exactly what we expect from the goddamn Russians.
But saying you’re going to redeploy the troops who just got mauled up North and send them to Eastern Ukraine—well, it’s easier said than done. You can’t just take a unit shattered by defeat, with massive casualty rates and equipment failures, cart it a thousand miles around the Ukrainian border and throw it right back in again.
The growing consensus is that what Ukraine needs right now is not just a big supply of defensive weapons, like the anti-tank missiles we’ve been giving them, but also a massive supply of offensive weapons—tanks and missile systems and planes—that will enable them to drive into the East and destroy Russian forces there.
But like I said—more on that soon.
In the meantime, I want to direct your attention to an interview I just did over at Symposium, talking with Steven Pinker about his book, Rationality. I find Pinker interesting because he is making an honest and vigorous attempt to defend Enlightenment values, such as rationality, but he does so using conventional contemporary philosophical ideas. He shows just how far you can actually get, but he also reveals some very severe limitations. I’ll be spelling that out in the near future in a review of the book, but in the meantime, check out the interview.
Speaking of Enlightenment values, my latest column at Discourse discusses the collapse of religious belief and organized religion in America, and the challenge this poses.
As an unbeliever myself, I would be happy to just sit back and say “welcome” to all the new “nones,” but I must admit that this cultural shift poses a real challenge. Traditional religion served a function, providing its adherents with a worldview and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. If that is fading, we’re going to need something else to perform the same function. If America is being secularized, we had better learn how to deal with it.
I cover something I will probably revisit in this newsletter as well: the way in which secularization is playing out on the right.
The rallying of evangelicals behind Donald Trump could be viewed as a religious movement finding expression in politics—the last charge of the old Moral Majority, with a less-than-upright figurehead. But it is not clear how much of a religious movement this really is.
As David French argues, the Trump era has witnessed “the transformation of white Evangelicalism into a primarily political movement,” a “God-and-country branding exercise”….
This is not a case of a religious movement leading to political activism, but of political activism hollowing out a religious movement and offering itself as an alternative source of meaning.
I also present a somewhat new take on the “natural religion” philosophy of the Founding era.
I have often heard it said that the chief failure of the Enlightenment is that it searched for but never developed a secular morality. Yet my study of Enlightenment figures such as [Jonathan] Mayhew has convinced me that they did in fact develop a secular moral philosophy. It was hugely influential, particularly in America, where it shaped our uniquely individualist culture and provided the foundation of our form of government. It’s just that nobody saw it as secular because it was presented under the aegis of theology.
I end by calling for “arguments provided by philosophers” to “give substance and definition to the implicit secular morality most of us already live by.”