How Dawkins got pwned (part 2)

After a brief period of vagrancy and reflection, mostly in a disconnected state, I got back the other day and actually hesitated for a couple of days to look at the comment thread on Chapter 1, which I had dispatched, with more than my usual rambling and carelessness, from Powell’s in Portland. (Mrs. Moldbug and I got on the R1100R and took a motorcycle pilgrimage to Chris McCandless’s bus, where we stayed up three nights in a row, just thinking, then did a bunch of acid and emptied our pistols maniacally into the woods. “Smoke dat moose!”, we were chanting. “Git dem maggots! Smoke dat moose!”)

Anyway. I didn’t expect many comments on Chapter 1. It’s really only the first part of the argument, and it would be charitable to call it a first draft. (Fortunately the practice known, in what calls itself the real world, as “editing,” is considered unethical on a blog—and rightly so.) So I was delighted to see the conversation that ensued. It strikes me as one of the best UR threads so far, and hopefully I don’t need to repeat my appreciation for the quality of discussion here.

The commenters have certainly done a fine job of figuring out where I’m going with this. If I started with any suspense, it is gone. But please indulge me when I restate the argument in my own words—if only for clarity of further discussion.

My hypothesis is that Professor Dawkins is not just an atheist. He is a Christian atheist. Or as I prefer to put it, a nontheistic Christian. His “Einsteinian religion” is no more or less than the dominant present-day current of Christianity itself—“M.42,” as commenter Faré so concisely put it:

There’s a good reason why the current dominant version of the Minotaur (to use the term by Bertrand de Jouvenel) shall use a previous version as its sparring partner: so as to win power, the previous version is precisely what it had to fight and win against, to begin with.

[Let us call the current Minotaur “M.42” and call its immediate predecessor “M.41.”] So that M.42 [could] win over M.41, it had to take on M.41, discredit it, win over it. And thus, for a while, M.41 is still dominant while M.42 is actually subversive; then M.42 gains dominance but still has M.41 as a serious rival against which to vie for power. When the victory is complete and irreversible, M.41 is a favorite sacrificial goat; it’s so much fun to hit a helpless victim, when your technique is perfected. Of course, by the time you’re there, the version of M.41 you’re kicking in the head has devolved a lot; it is no more the arrogant M.41b of your youth, sure of its power—it is the pitiful M.41y of today, near the end of the line.

If we accept this hypothesis, the conclusion that Professor Dawkins has been pwned strikes me as quite incontrovertible. He thinks he is attacking superstition on behalf of the armies of reason. In fact he is attacking M.41 on behalf of the armies of M.42. D’oh!

Of course, I’m sure Professor Dawkins is quite sincere in his beliefs. Hosts always are. However, he has devoted a remarkable level of ratiocinative attention to one phenotypically insignificant meme—the God delusion—in which M.42 conflicts with M.41. My view is that this behavior is best explained by memetic infection, i.e., pwnage.

I share Professor Dawkins’ preference for the derived M.42 meme, at least at this one spot on the chromosome. But I can’t help observing that (a) M.42 and M.41 are both large and intricate memeplexes; (b) it strikes me as by no means obvious that when M.42 and M.41 are compared in toto, M.42 is more reasonable or less morbid than M.41; (c) M.42 (like M.41) includes many other memes which replicate via the same arational indoctrination paths as the God delusion; and (d) while some of the M.42 (and M.41) memes are quite reasonable, others strike me as inadequately examined at best, transparently preposterous at worst.

Ergo, pwning Professor Dawkins is quite adaptive for M.42. It focuses potential hosts on the question of whether M.42 is superior to M.41 on this particular point—as it clearly is. This distracts them from considering the more general and interesting question of whether or not M.42, considered by itself, is stark raving bonkers, and if so constructing a reasonable perspective which is reassembled from scratch and which can correct both M.42 and M.41.

I would love to see Professor Dawkins rotate his impressive intellectual artillery to this angle. But if I’m right that his neocortex has been devoured and replaced by a foam of M.42 cysts, I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath. Megaloponera foetens to the white courtesy phone.

My interpretation makes sense if and only if the following claims are sensible:

  1. The concept of “nontheistic Christianity” is coherent.
  2. “Einsteinian religion” is best classified as a sect of nontheistic Christianity.
  3. This sect is the most successful version of Christianity today.
  4. It includes propositions which are inconsistent with reason.
  5. These propositions are associated with significant morbidity.

(This chapter examines claims 1–3; we’ll take a look at claims 4 and 5 starting in Chapter 3.)

Before considering these claims, let’s adjust our terms a little. Precise thinking requires clear, emotionally neutral, and aesthetically elegant terminology. While in general I buy the Dawkinsian model of “memetics,” I think it falls short on all these counts.

Let’s call a memeplex stable enough to propagate across generations a tradition. Not only is this an actual word in the actual English language, it also has the virtue of being nonjudgmental. Surely anyone who is not a complete, foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic, of whatever persuasion, can admit that the world contains both good traditions and bad traditions.

An individual infected by such a memeplex is a host who subscribes to the tradition. If the subject and object must be reversed, the tradition directs the host. An institution which propagates some tradition is a repeater of that tradition. The name of a tradition is its label.

Specific features of traditions can be called themes. For example, the God theme is a trait of many traditions. The Trinity theme is a trait of many Christian traditions. Traditions can be taxonomically grouped and classified, along the lines of Professor Dawkins’ biological analogy, and we can follow the analogy in calling a group of related traditions a clade.

Different versions of a single related theme are variants. A set of themes transmitted as a unit can be called a haplotheme (in analogy with a genetic haplotype). Any two themes which cannot simultaneously direct one individual conflict. We can also follow biology in referring to ancestral and derived variants, and borrow other terminology from cladistics. And the set of themes an individual subscribes to is that individual’s kernel.

Like many simple bacteria, traditions have no reproductive barriers. They can exchange themes across clade lines, or introgress. Thus their taxonomy is strictly speaking not a tree, but a lattice, dag, bush, etc. As in biology, however, introgression is often insignificant at the 30,000-foot level, and we can usually get away with ignoring it.

If a theme makes a substantive claim about reality (Hume’s “is”), we can call it factual or mundane. If it makes a moral statement about right and wrong (Hume’s “ought”), we can call it ethical. If it makes neither, we can call it metaphysical.

If a theme is not justified by reason, we can call it arational. Metaphysical themes are arational by definition. Mundane themes are arational if they depend on logical fallacies or violate Occam’s razor. No single ethical theme can be arational, but a set of ethical themes is arational if it ascribes mutually inconsistent ethical values to a single action. While any action can be either right or wrong, no action can be both right and wrong.

If a tradition causes its hosts to make miscalculations that compromise their personal goals, it exhibits Misesian morbidity. If it causes its hosts to act in ways that compromise their genes’ reproductive interests, it exhibits Darwinian morbidity. If subscribing to the tradition is individually advantageous or neutral (defectors are rewarded, or at least unpunished) but collectively harmful, the tradition is parasitic. If subscribing is individually disadvantageous but collectively beneficial, the tradition is altruistic. If it is both individually and collectively benign, it is symbiotic. If it is both individually and collectively harmful, it is malignant. Each of these labels can be applied to either Misesian or Darwinian morbidity. A theme that is arational, but does not exhibit either Misesian or Darwinian morbidity, is trivially morbid.

Thus, one might translate the part of Professor Dawkins’ argument I agree with as the claim that the God theme is arational, because the variant in which “God” interacts with earthly affairs is mundane and fallacious (being unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable), and the variant in which “God” does not interact with earthly affairs is metaphysical. At least in the latter form, I see the God theme as trivially morbid. Professor Dawkins disagrees—he associates various Misesian and Darwinian morbidities, parasitic and malignant, with various historical variants of the God theme. I see this as the result of confusing theme and haplotheme.

My counterargument is that Professor Dawkins’ “Einsteinian religion” is the most successful modern-day tradition in the Christian clade, that it includes many arational themes, and that this tradition, evaluated as a whole, exhibits Misesian parasitic morbidity and Darwinian malignant morbidity. Therefore I believe it needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. I am relatively unconcerned about other Christian traditions, as I consider them of negligible present-day political power and therefore negligible collective morbidity—though, of course, this situation could always change.

Fortified by this doxology, let’s get back to demonstrating pwnage.

Our first essential claim is that the concept of nontheistic Christianity is not, as most readers would probably assume at first glance, self-contradictory or meaningless.

This is very easy to see. In the biological analogy, nontheistic Christianity is a phrase in the same class as flightless bird or bipedal tetrapod. The adjective in this phrase is morphological, the noun is taxonomic. There is no contradiction at all.

Professor Dawkins is hoist by his own petard here. Since the biological analogy is his own invention, he cannot possibly object to the application of the modern cladistic method. If we classify traditions according to a single morphological feature, the God theme, we might as well classify both birds and bats as “flying, warm-blooded animals.” Perhaps this was good enough for Aristotle, but it’s certainly not good enough for Professor Dawkins.

We can watch Eliezer Yudkowsky, who for all his faults is certainly an intelligent young man, falling into this trap here. He implicitly classifies a wide variety of historical traditions as either theistic or nontheistic, just as a naive taxonomist might classify animals as flying or non-flying, bipedal or quadrupedal, etc. In Yudkowsky’s defense, this confusion—which is inherent in the usual modern usage of the word religion—is so common as to be conventional. But that doesn’t make it cogent. Overcome that bias, Eliezer!1 You can do it!

In my opinion, the only sensible way to classify traditions—as with species—is by ancestral structure. While the existence of introgression and the absence of reproductive isolation makes it technically impossible to construct a precise cladogram of human traditional history, we can certainly produce sensible approximations. Note that perhaps an even better analogy is to languages and linguistic history, in which cladistic classification is commonplace.

So: Professor Dawkins is an atheist. But—as his writing makes plain—atheism is not the only theme in his personal kernel. Professor Dawkins believes in many other things. He labels the tradition to which he subscribes as Einsteinian religion. Since no one else has used this label, he is entitled to define Einsteinian religion—perhaps we can just call it Einsteinism—as whatever he wants. And he has.

My observation is that Einsteinism exhibits many synapomorphies with Christianity. For example, it appears that Professor Dawkins believes in the fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community. These might be labeled as the themes of Rawlsianism, pacifism, fraternism and communalism.

Following the first two links above will take you to UR discussions of these themes, in which I outline their evolutionary history in the Christian clade and make a case for their morbidity. I have not yet discussed fraternism and communalism, but I’ll say a little about them later. If nothing else, they are certainly very easy to find in the Bible.

If Professor Dawkins were not a Christian atheist, but rather a Confucian or Buddhist atheist, or even an Islamic atheist (some clades of Sufism come daringly close to this rara avis), we would not expect to see these obvious synapomorphies with Christianity. Instead, we would expect to see synapomorphies with Confucianism, Buddhism or Islam, and we would have to construct a historical explanation of how these faiths made it to Cambridge. Fortunately we are spared this onerous task.

Nontheistic Christianity, therefore, can describe any tradition in the Christian clade in which the ancestral God theme has been replaced by the derived theme of atheism or agnosticism.

This is no more surprising than the replacement of the ancestral Trinitarian theme, which was part of all significant Christian traditions for a thousand years, with the derived Unitarian theme. Every variant of Christianity, by definition, considers itself orthodox. And as such it must question the legitimacy of any other Christian tradition which contains conflicting themes. To a good Trinitarian circa 1807, a Unitarian was simply not a Christian. Today, while most Christian traditions still officially conform to Trinitarianism, few spend a huge amount of time worrying about the Holy Ghost. If more examples are needed, denying the divinity of Jesus is another obvious intermediate form between Christian theism and Christian atheism.

We can also ignore the fact that Professor Dawkins does not classify Einsteinism as a form of Christianity, and nor do any non-Einsteinian Christian traditions. Clearly, accepting a tradition’s classification of itself, or of its competitors, is foolish in the extreme. These minor thematic features are best explained adaptively.

For example, it would be maladaptive for Einsteinism to self-classify as Christian. One of the most adaptive features of M.42 is that nontheistic or secular Christianity can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor and competitor, M.41 or theistic Christianity. Considering as this set includes the most influential repeater network in the world, the US educational system, it’s hard to see what could justify abandoning such a replicative advantage.

It would also be maladaptive for theistic Christianity to classify nontheistic Christianity as Christian. M.41 deploys the unchristian nature of its enemy, the dreaded “secular humanism,” as a rallying point for its dwindling band of followers. If Einsteinian religion were Christian, M.41 would have to define its (increasingly ineffective) counterattack not as a defense of faith, but as a mere theological spat. Once this may have had some resonance, but in a world where God Himself is under fire, it’s hard to excite anyone over such sectarian minutiae.

Therefore, I conclude that claim 1 is satisfied: nontheistic Christianity is a sensible concept.

As for claim 2, I’ve already described some of the links between Einsteinism and Christianity. Let’s sharpen this claim, however, by proposing a hypothetical chain of events that outlines the exact historical connection.

My belief is that Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvinist atheist. In other words, he can be also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc., etc.

This cladistic taxonomy traces Professor Dawkins’ intellectual ancestry back about 400 years, to the era of the English Civil War. Except of course for the atheism theme, Professor Dawkins’ kernel is a remarkable match for the Ranter, Leveller, Digger, Quaker, Fifth Monarchist, or any of the more extreme English Dissenter traditions that flourished during the Cromwellian interregnum.

Frankly, these dudes were freaks. Maniacal fanatics. Any mainstream English thinker of the 17th, 18th or 19th century, informed that this tradition (or its modern descendant) is now the planet’s dominant Christian denomination, would regard this as a sign of imminent apocalypse. If you’re sure they’re wrong, you’re more sure than me.

Fortunately, Cromwell himself was comparatively moderate. The extreme ultra-Puritan sects never got a solid lock on power under the Protectorate. Even more fortunately, Cromwell got old and died, and Cromwellism died with him. Lawful government was restored to Great Britain, as was the Church of England, and Dissenters became a marginal fringe again. And frankly, a damned good riddance it was.

However, you can’t keep a good parasite down. A community of Puritans fled to America and founded the theocratic colonies of New England. After its military victories in the American Rebellion and the War of Secession, American Puritanism was well on the way to world domination. Its victories in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War confirmed its global hegemony. All legitimate mainstream thought on Earth today is descended from the American Puritans, and through them the English Dissenters.

Of course, the tradition evolved over time. Its theology took significant steps toward modern secularism in the form of Unitarianism, which deleted the Trinity and other points of Calvinist doctrine, and especially under Transcendentalism, which elided the nasty idea of hell and declared that God loves everyone. Many of Professor Dawkins’ reveries about Einsteinian pantheistic natural grandeur are reminiscent of Emerson, who was trained as a Unitarian minister. During and after the War of Secession, New England Christianity established a cozy relationship with the Federal government, which it has continued to the present day, under labels such as liberalism and progressivism.

Two new histories of this process, though they are written by “conservatives” and thus become hopelessly confused after World War II, are David Gelernter’s Americanism and George McKenna’s The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. (I’ve only just started the latter, but so far I find it far superior, and I say this though I love Gelernter to death.) The same phenomenon was ably defined by Murray Rothbard as postmillennial pietism. For a snapshot of this terrifying militarist theocracy in action around WWI, try Richard Gamble’s The War for Righteousness. (Most people probably don’t know that the original noun which adjoined the adjective progressive was “Christianity.”) For an especially unusual M.41-flavored look at American Puritanism replicating in its favorite niche—government schools—check out R. J. Rushdoony’s Messianic Character of American Education. And for a primary-source view of this tradition at the last point in history at which it had the humility to classify itself as mere religion, rather than absolute righteousness and truth, see one of my favorite examples, the Time Magazine article “American Malvern” from 1942—written in the lifetime, as they used to say, of those now living. What’s so interesting about “American Malvern” is that it describes a recognizably progressive political program in religious terms, i.e., as “super-protestant.” Professor Dawkins would certainly qualify as a “super-protestant” by its definition.

Of course, Professor Dawkins is not American, but English. Sharing a language and culture, however, American Puritanism (and the broader clade of American mainline Protestantism) and the English Dissenters evolved largely as a single community. For example, in the War of Secession, Britain’s Anglican aristocracy tended to support the Confederates, and its Evangelical churchmen the Union. As American Puritanism won military victories and grew in political power, its British counterparts advanced as well. Everyone loves a strong horse.

After World War II, American influence ensured that the entire country was more or less surrendered to the Labour Party—the political organ of the Nonconformist tradition. The result is well described in Peter Hitchens’ über-reactionary, but quite cogent, Abolition of Britain, or somewhat more apolitically in Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom. New Labour is more or less a Cromwellian restoration, and one can only hope that its long-awaited comeuppance will be enlivened by the hanging of a corpse or two.

Professor Dawkins himself was raised as a high-church Anglican, an animal now essentially extinct on Planet Three. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is so low-church, it’s surprising he can preach anywhere but an underground parking garage. If he were any lower-church, he’d be in either Hell or China. And as of late, the so-called Tories have undergone the same degrading humiliation. In the UK, any significant resistance to “super-protestantism” is now a footnote of history. The country’s descent into sheer ecstatic barbarism, as long foretold by critics of the Nonconformist ascendancy, is now at hand.

(It’s worth noting that before 1945, anti-Americanism in Europe was essentially a right-wing tradition, primarily opposed to Yankee millennialist democratism. As I have written, postwar anti-Americanism is an entirely different animal, which might be more accurately described as “ultra-Americanism.” It is a consequence of the projection of American power, specifically of the New Deal, which represented the culminating triumph of the American progressive tradition, into a conquered Europe. These days, Europe has almost the same relationship to the US as the US, in the days when it was the refuge of Dissenter mania, bore to the UK.)

Moving briefly to the Continent, we encounter the strange phenomenon of the so-called “Enlightenment.” Of course, everyone is enlightened by their own lights, so this word tells us nothing. In my view, the “Enlightenment” and the similarly self-congratulatory “Reformation” are best understood as a continuum. But the former is notable because it may constitute the basal synapomorphy of nontheistic Christianity. Briefly, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a niche in France where it was more adaptive to be an unbeliever than a Protestant. The result was the rise of the philosophes, and eventually the terrifying Rousseauvian cult of Reason, which should have been enough to make everyone swear off atheism forever.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t. And there is no better demonstration of the ties between the English Dissenters and the French Jacobins, and thus of the connection between Puritanism and atheism, than figures such as Rev. Richard Price, whose pro-Jacobin sermon, Discourse on the Love of our Country, was so memorably ass-raped by Burke in his Reflections.

If we compare Rev. Price’s sentiments with those of the Rev. Harvey Cox, a modern exponent of secular theology—see The Secular City 25 Years Later, written exactly two centuries after the Discourse—the family resemblance is unmistakable. I can’t think of a single point on which either of these reverends could raise his voice to the other. Puritanism and secularism are simply the same thing. The existence of such modern sects as Unitarian Universalism demonstrates that there are zero thematic conflicts between the two. In UUism, the God theme is reduced to such irrelevance that congregants in the same church can simply agree to disagree on it. But you certainly won’t find them disagreeing on the proposition that, say, all men are brothers.2

Of course, I’ve discussed this phenomenon before on UR. The label I prefer for the modern version of the Puritan tradition—Professor Dawkins’ Einsteinism—is Universalism. I hope I’m not boring people by continually harping on the subject, but I’d like to take a few paragraphs to once again justify this terminology.

One criticism of “Universalism” is that this label is not used by any present-day Christian denomination to identify itself. I regard this as a virtue, not a vice. First, one of the main themes of Universalism is that it does not self-classify as a Christian sect. Second, one notes that most Christian sects in the past have wound up attached to labels which were originally composed by their enemies. This stands to reason. After all, if these traditions are parasitic, one can expect them to be a little bit deceptive.

Another criticism of the label “Universalism” is that the word is derived from—and easily confused with—the simple English word universalism. Earlier, I tested some artificial labels which did not have this limitation, but after a while they struck me as dorky. (However, they mean the same thing and you can use them if you like—if you don’t mind sounding dorky.) Suffice it to say that although Methodists are indeed often methodical, the Jurassic strata are indeed exposed in the Jura, etc., etc., the fact that most Universalists can indeed be described as universalist does not render these labels in any way, shape, or form equivalent or synonymous.

As a term of technical theology, universalism also has a specific, although now much-disused, meaning: the belief that everyone is saved, and no one will go to Hell. Fortunately, Universalists in my sense of the word are certainly universalists in this sense—i.e., they don’t believe in Hell, and they do believe that every human is essentially good. Michael S. wrote very eloquently about this correspondence here.

Of course, if what you really mean is universalist in either English sense above, rather than Universalist as in a believer in Universalism the post-Puritan tradition, I can’t ask you to mean something else. But here at UR the former is a confusing term, and if you feel the need to use it, please at least consider searching for a synonym. Above all, if you mean Universalism with a capital U, please say Universalism with a capital U. You can deploy inverted commas, as in “Universalism,” if you have any residual skepticism.

How do we relate Einsteinism to Universalism? One easy approach is to look at Einstein himself. Einstein was an assimilated, non-observant Jew with a Reform background, Reform Judaism being essentially a Jewish version of Protestantism. (In Israel, Reform is not really considered Jewish at all.) A good summary of Einstein’s beliefs is here. Note his affection for Quakerism, the Cromwellian über-Puritan sect par excellence. I have no qualms at all about describing Einstein as a Universalist.

It’s also amusing to read Einstein’s 1939 time-capsule message to 6939, whose entire text is:

Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything.

Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.

Note the confession of faith in economic central planning, a common Progressive Era belief. I feel quite confident that the residents of 6959, whomever they may be, will read that one with a feeling of proud and justified superiority. If not quite in the way Einstein intended.

If you are a Universalist (I was certainly raised as a Universalist, so I sympathize), and you are having trouble believing in the existence of this tradition, its Christian heritage, or its involvement with the American political system, please allow me to recommend some books. Try George Packer’s Blood of the Liberals, Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground, Richard Ellis’s Dark Side of the Left, Arthur Lipow’s Authoritarian Socialism in America, Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, and Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution. What all these works have in common is that they were written by orthodox Universalists, not “conservatives,” and as such they will not set off the massively hypertrophied M.41 alarm that comes with your M.42 infection. The result will be a rather weird and eclectic picture of American Universalist history, with many gigantic lacunae, but it ought to at least get you started.

Let me step back and take one last look at this entire phenomenon. Again, I am arguing that the Enlightenment is not orthogonal to the Reformation, that secularism is best considered as a form of Protestantism. Moreover—though this is a separate discussion—the modern battle between “left” and “right” displays clear continuity with the Protestant–Catholic conflict. As an extremely rough approximation, when we factor out the God theme, what we see is that leftism is Protestantism and rightism is Catholicism.

One of the reasons this generalization is so rough—it’s easy to find counterexamples, such as modern Northern Ireland, in which Catholics are clearly “left” and Protestants are “right”—is that Catholicism and Protestantism are themselves extremely vague terms. Ultramontanism and liberation theology are both nominally Catholic, although I would certainly describe the latter as a Protestantizing “low-church” intrusion. Jansenism is another historical example of Protestantized Catholicism, which competed with the philosophes for the niche left open by the expulsion of the Huguenots. And the adaptive radiation of the Protestant clade needs no comment. Homoplasies and introgressions are legion in this gigantic bag of worms.

One way to produce a better generalization is to see this same conflict as not a competition between two clades, but between two adaptive niches. We can describe these niches very abstractly as pietist and liturgist. Pietist traditions in Christianity are abstract, ascetic, monastic, philosophical, and democratic. Liturgist traditions are ritualist, charismatic, materialistic, doctrinal, and hierarchical. Strains of Christianity going back well before the Reformation can be described as occupying the pietist or liturgist niche, often shifting between them.

With this adaptive taxonomy, atheism, secularism, laicism, etc., appear as extreme variants of pietism. The urge to tear down all ritual, to worship Reason and Man rather than Church and God, to whitewash the frescoes and melt down the candlesticks, is everpresent in pietism. Professor Dawkins’ entire shtick is perfectly consistent with the pietist niche. No wonder it’s so successful.

Whereas the “fundamentalist” American born-again Christians, whom Professor Dawkins so loathes and so longs to outlaw—as if they weren’t already quite thoroughly expelled from the official educational system, not to mention utterly eradicated in Europe—have developed a faith that, though its cladistic origins are thoroughly Protestant, is clearly settling in to the liturgist niche.

Indeed, Professor Dawkins seems to feel exactly the same way about these awful people that his Dissenter forebears felt about those scheming Papists. For literally centuries, fear of the Romish menace animated Protestant faithful on both sides of the pond. The fact that any serious possibility of an Anglo-Catholic restoration ended in 1746 was hardly a check on this rich, ever-flowing wellspring of demagogic paranoia.

The Kulturkampf in Germany and the Dreyfus affair in France (note that just because the anti-Dreyfusards were wrong about Dreyfus, doesn’t mean they were wrong about everything) are other, more recent outbreaks of the liturgist–pietist war—which Professor Dawkins seems so eager to resurrect. Essentially, Professor Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have planted the seed of a political movement which might well be described as neo-anticlericalism. I’d like to think that if they took a closer look at the past fruits of this particular vegetable, they might think twice and decide to backpedal with a quick dose of Roundup.

I believe that at this point I have adequately demonstrated claim 2. If you are not convinced, I really have no idea what I could say to convince you further.

As for claim 3—the claim that Universalism is the most successful Christian tradition today—this strikes me as simply obvious.

Some confusion may be afforded by the definition of success, by which I mean of course Darwinian, that is, reproductive success. The fact that the most influential repeaters of the Western world—the universities, state schools and the official press—are by any standards Universalist organs, is quite sufficient to demonstrate claim 3. It’s also worth nothing that Universalism is far, far more fashionable—that is, simply cooler—than any of its competitors. To find social situations in which it’s a faux pas to express Universalist sentiments, you have to dig very deep on the fashion scale, certainly well into Wal-Mart or yobbo territory (in the US and Britain respectively). The converse is not exactly the case.

Explaining that George W. Bush, who is at least nominally a salvationist (though the veneer is pretty thin and pretty transparent, I have to say), is president of the most powerful country on Earth, is not going to convince me that your anti-salvationist fears are justified. First, you might want to take a look at the actual power of the US President, and the achievements of a far more dedicated, powerful and popular salvationist—Ronald Reagan—in rolling back Universalism or promoting salvationism. Does the word “nada” mean anything to you?

Second, the reason the US has a president who is at least nominally salvationist is simply that the number of diehard salvationists and the number of fanatical Universalists in the US is roughly equal. Considering the fact that the latter control essentially all institutions by which traditions are installed in the young—not to mention the fact that Universalists are importing new voters like it was going out of style—we can expect the balance of power to shift toward Universalism. Which is pretty much what it’s been doing for about the last 150 years.

Where, for instance, is Anita Bryant today? What mainstream Republican even dares to oppose “affirmative action”? Where are even the pro-lifers, for God’s sake? You couldn’t get 5% of the vote in the US now for the bedrock shibboleths of the 1970s’ salvationist reaction.

I am certainly not a salvationist. Au contraire—I am a hardcore, deep-fried atheist. And my connection with Middle-American culture is not much stronger than that of Pauline Kael, who famously didn’t know anyone who voted for Nixon. I would certainly not enjoy living in an America which was dominated by salvationists, if we define dominance as the sort of power Universalism enjoys today.

But this possibility strikes me as remote to the point of absurdity. And quite frankly, I refuse to let myself be led around by the nose by kneejerk reactions of fear and hate. Selah. If you are not convinced on claim 3, again, there is little more I can say. Perhaps you should try washing your eyes out with a little soapy water.

1. This is a reference to Overcoming Bias, originally a group blog that included Yudkowsky and George Mason University economics professor Robin Hanson. Yudkowsky’s articles at Overcoming Bias were later moved to a different blog, Less Wrong.
2. Or, taking into account the Unitarian-Universalist fondness for gender-neutral terminology, “all humans are siblings.”