The Wisdom of the Unenlightened
When a majority of that court decided that “homosexual marriage” is a constitutional right, it made many voters — well, it made them see red.
Thanks to this exercise of raw judicial power, 11 states had referendums defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and all 11 passed by thumping margins. There is no doubt that this issue brought to the polls church-going Christians who pulled the lever for Bush. Unlike the residents of Malibu or Greenwich Village, most Americans do not wish to commit cultural suicide.
They do not share what Malcolm Muggeridge called “the great liberal death wish.” They do not want activist judges redefining the one institution whose health fundamentally determines society's health.
Since the middle of the last century, there has been a “transvaluation of all values” among the cultural elites. And it has accelerated in recent years. These elites are hostile to religion and want to erase from public discourse any idea remotely connected with church or Scripture. (That the civil rights movement in the early '60s was “faith-based” is conveniently forgotten.) Starting with the 1972 convention that nominated George McGovern, these radical secularists have had a disproportionate influence within the Democratic Party. And the result is the electoral map we saw last week.
To see how smug and parochial this new elite can be, one need only read the Op-Ed piece that Gary Wills wrote two days after the election for The New York Times. Wills, of course, is the intelligentsia's favorite anti-Catholic Catholic.
Whenever the Times or the New York Review of Books needs a hit job on the pope or Catholic orthodoxy, Wills is the man. But he is also an example of a university professor who thinks that this country is overly populated with Bible-thumping swamp creatures who desperately need tutoring by enlightened persons like himself.
Wills claims that Bush won because of the Republicans' cynical mani pulation of religious fundamentalism. “[Karl] Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.”
Well, I recall hearing Mr. Wills tell Tim Russert not long ago on CNBC that he himself believed in the Virgin Birth. And I would be glad to discuss with him some of the thorny problems that scientists now raise about Darwin (although not about evolution per se). It is, as they say, a nuanced topic.
Be that as it may, the thrust of Wills remarks is that half of America has rejected the Enlightenment and is mired in religious obscuranticism. (This includes faithful Catholics.) They are at the same intellectual and moral level as Muslim fanatics. “Jihads are scary things,” Mr. Wills informs us. In his view, the fault of these benighted Bush-voters is that they do not share “Enlightenment values — critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.”
But to identify the Enlightenment with the absence of religious faith is, of course, an absurdity. Mr. Wills is an historian and ought to know better. It may be argued that the U.S. Constitution is the greatest political document produced by the Enlightenment. In 1789, the House of Representatives, after voting for the First Amendment, passed by a 2-to-1 majority, a resolution calling for a day of national prayer and thanksgiving. Even the least religious Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, thought religion essential to maintaining a just political order. It was the French who discovered just a few years later how horrific a government based on “reason” and the rejection of God can be.
But in the final analysis, political wisdom has little to do with how many books one has read about the founding fathers or the French Revolution. I know an elderly black woman who is Catholic. She has little formal education, but is wonderfully wise about the things that matter. We've never discussed politics, and I was surprised to learn that she had voted for Bush. I mean, after all: an elderly black Catholic. The Democratic Party used to have a lock on such people.
Why had she voted Republican? It all came down to having to choose between a candidate whom she thought represented real moral values and a candidate who seemed to function (if I may so express it) in a new post-moral, post-Christian world where suctioning out the brains of a half-delivered child is okay if the existence of that child is inconvenient.
Mr. Wills would no doubt consider this woman a candidate for some kind of Enlightenment education camp run by him and Michael Moore. But, on the other hand, maybe she knows something that he doesn't.
George Sim Johnston writes from New York.
- November 14-20, 2004