Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Millenarianism and intolerance

It is perfectly possible to believe that, in many aspects of life, things are better now than they once were [and, on the other hand, that in other respects they are worse], without believing in Progress with a capital "P." 

Melanie Phillips, former Marxist, English controversialist, is the author of, among other things, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power. From her essay, "The new intolerance":
...[A]theism has given us...a faith which repels reason. Ideologies such as environmentalism, or the belief in the innate harmony of the natural world; scientism, or the belief that everything in the universe has a scientific explanation; moral relativism, or the belief that everyone's value system is equal to everyone else's; multiculturalism, or the belief that no culture can take precedence over any other; egalitarianism, or the belief that everyone is entitled to identical outcomes regardless of their behaviour. These all repel reason because, instead of looking at evidence to reach a conclusion, they start with the governing idea and force the evidence to fit it.

All these ideologies are secular, undermining some aspect of Judaeo-Christian belief or ethics. But here's the strange thing: they all display characteristics not just of Christian religious belief — a body of doctrine, a belief that their story is the sole pathway to virtue, an instinct to evangelise — they also share a feature common to the religious fanaticism of previous centuries (and past and present Islam): millenarianism.

Millenarianism is a religious belief in the perfection of mankind and life on earth, often associated with an apocalypse. It is a doctrine of collective and total salvation, and it leads inescapably to a totalitarian mindset. Because it is an unchallengeable doctrine of perfecting the world, any dissenter must be evil and so must be destroyed.

It is generally assumed that the Enlightenment put an end to that kind of religious fanaticism which gave rise to the terrible religious persecutions in the medieval world. In fact, the Enlightenment merely served to secularise millenarian fantasies. This was embodied in the core idea, no less, of the Enlightenment itself: that reason would bring about perfection on Earth, and that "progress" was the process by which utopia would be attained.

In the 18th century the Enlightenment thinker Condorcet wrote: "No bounds have been fixed to the improvement of the human race. The perfectibility of man is absolutely infinite..." In the 19th century Herbert Spencer, the apostle of Social Darwinism, similarly believed that life would get better all the time. He wrote: "Progress is not an accident but a necessity. Surely must evil and immorality disappear; surely must man become perfect." It was reason that would redeem religious superstition and bring about the kingdom of man on Earth.

Just as Lenin believed, whatever fosters the revolution is therefore good; whatever hinders it is bad. In the millenarian and totalitarian mind, there is never any middle ground; and truth and reason are turned upside down to fit. .... [more]