Heirs of Voltaire?
On September 19th, a commenter going by the handle Voltaire had the following to say on a Dhimmi Watch post:
And that’s why I’m glad I’m not a christian.
I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but not only do I see Islam as a religious version of Nazism, I also see christianity as being equivalent to Mussolini’s fascist party.
Christianity will always want to hold hands with Islam, because they see a commanality (sic) with them. This is what we have to understand. Sure there are individual christians who speak out against Islam, but most christians don’t get it because they themselves believe in a “revealed” religion, just as Islam is supposedly a “revealed” religion.
Christians hate pagans more than they will ever hate Islam.
To christians, paganism is the very incarnation of evil, and yet how many people have pagans killed recently?
This is why I say that christianity is not going to save us. Turn your back on the whole lot, and start believing in humanity.
To which I replied, specifically to the last sentence:
Sounds swell in theory. In practice, secular humanism has a majority of Leftist, Islam-appeasing, West-blaming dhimmis.
As I always say to atheists and pagans whose heads on this war are screwed on right: you’re welcome to join with open arms, but don’t overlook the fact that most of your peers are still on the other side.
Some commenters after me attacked atheism and secular humanism, but I think that’s going off a tangent. My reply was not driven by the offense caused by Voltaire’s implication that humanity is on one side and religion is on the other, but by the wish to point out that in this war for freedom from Islamofascism, and any other kind of fascism, pitting one’s worldview against the other in this big tent is counterproductive.
This is the alliance of the wakeful and freedom-loving: wakeful to the danger to the world, and believing earnestly in the right of every man and woman to freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to change religion or leave it altogether—not for us the politically-correct racism that says some people are not entitled to our civil liberties, under the excuse that such would be “imposing our cultural values upon them”. We are opposed to totalitarianism in all its guises.
It is evident from the fact of such a big tent that the members may have conflicting worldviews. I’m already at odds with a lot of my allies in disbelieving Jesus is the Messiah, and a Hindu reader of my writings will no doubt take issue with my monotheistic viewpoint (that’s why those of my posts that are heavily oriented toward the Orthodox Jewish worldview don’t appear on the Infidel Bloggers Alliance). Of course, since political correctness is a tool in the hands of the enemy, members of this alliance cannot be expected to censor themselves just to avoid hurting feelings. But there are some beliefs that can be kept within each member’s inner circle—Christian talk among Christians, atheist talk among atheists, and so on—because the cause of fighting Islamofascism is not well served by touting one’s ideology above all the rest. It’s OK for an atheist to believe that secularizing the Muslims is the best way, but when he rejects the idea of Christianizing them as an alternative method, the big tent starts getting holes punched in it.
Back to Voltaire, both the commenter and his namesake. The problem with the commenter’s writing on Jihad Watch was, as I said, not the offense, but the myopia. I was not surprised at reading a thought that was probably true to his namesake, but if you take that name as your handle, and champion Voltaire’s struggle for the Enlightenment as something worthy for our time, then you ought to go the whole
unkosher mammhog in embracing his life’s work—to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
The secularist narrative with regard to Voltaire goes as follows: When he flourished, at the beginning of the 18th century, Christian Europe was as bad as today’s Islamic world in many respects, with critics of Christianity and apostates accorded similar treatment, such as imprisonment, torture at the hands of the Inquisition or execution, with the backing of the state. Voltaire was the Salman Rushdie and Danish cartoonist of his day, bravely sniping at the oppressive religion until, by his efforts, it became acceptable to criticize religion and to leave it, and the tyranny of the oneness of church and state was broken. We owe, they say, the West’s freedom to Voltaire’s heroic struggle.
How truthful is that narrative? Not having researched it thoroughly, I don’t really know. The fact that Benedict de Spinoza, in 17th-century Holland, did not find himself in mortal danger for his very unorthodox writings, either from the Christians or from his Jewish community (which excommunicated him, yes, but that is a far cry from the treatment accorded to apostates from Islam), makes me suspicious. But this debate is irrelevant for the focus of the post. The focus is, as the title says, how much the secularists of today can regard themselves heirs of Voltaire. Taking the narrative at face value, realizing at least its value as founding mythos for non-theists today, the question I wish to ask is: in the face of today’s greatest peril, namely the loss of Western freedom to Islamic shariah law, how well do the modern Voltaires bring their heritage to the breach?
My answer to the commenter Voltaire on Dhimmi Watch is the condensed form. Most of the Voltaires of today are still fighting Voltaire’s enemies, even though Voltaire, if he were alive today, would be far busier on the real battlefield of today.
The secularists say Voltaire succeeded in liberating Europe from the tyranny of Christianity. All right. But if so, then why are they still fighting Christianity? I expect to hear something along the lines of, “Look at the USA, the Talibaptists are chipping away at our freedoms, and soon the Christapo will be set up, bringing back the bad old days of the Inquisition!” To which I feel like saying, “Puh-lease!” I mean, you read the reports on the ACLU website, and they’re about displays of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, reciting the Pledge with the word “G-d” in it, prayer in schools and all that—things which secularists may be justified in paying attention to, but hardly the stuff of 18th-century theocracy that Voltaire had to contend with. In the meantime, the Muslim Lobby (that was for you, Walt and Mearsheimer), headed by the Council of American–Islamic Relations, moves to bring charges of “hate crime” against anything that might offend Muslim sensibilities, and those of their brethren who wear explosive vests instead of tuxedos give people briefing in cultural sensitivity in less diplomatic ways.
There’s the whole point: the modern Voltaires carry on with art, commercials and shows that put down every religion except Islam. They pat themselves on their backs for being so shocking, so brave, so taboo-breaking, so contending for freedom of thought and expression with their pictures of Jesus dipped in urine, with their models photographically manipulated to be shown with multiple arms like those Hindu sculptures, and so on, but when it comes to Islam… no voltage.
If Voltaire really was responsible for the current freedom of expression in the Christian world, then this means that most secularists are living off of his legacy, but doing nothing to emulate it, really emulate it. I said the story of absolute, Islamic-like religious repression in Voltaire’s Europe was debatable; but it’s not debatable that the Muslim world today is marked by religious repression. The Muslim world is in need of its Voltaires. In as much as blasphemous pictures of Jesus can be displayed today with no more than strong protest in reaction, Voltaire’s quest for the Christian world has run its course; while, as the Rushdie, Jyllands-Posten, Pope Benedict XVI, Idomeneo and Robert Redeker affairs show, Voltaire’s mission in the Muslim world has hardly even begun. That is to the shame of the professing Voltaires of today.
If religious tyranny reigned supreme in Voltaire’s time, then it follows that Voltaire did what he did at great risk, including mortal danger. Those who can easily bring themselves to publish satire on the level of The Life of Brian should stop a moment to imagine themselves making a similar feature on the founder of Islam. I can promise you the very thought would move their hearts away from the former enthusiasm and into beats of dread. That is perfectly rational. But then comes the next question to self: do you keep talking the talk against “the evils of all religion”, or do you start walking the walk of not making that single exception to them all? You can say, “Sorry, I don’t have the stomach for it”. But then you’re not being true to the heritage of Voltaire you so admire. Or you can go for being as fearless as Voltaire was, with the good chance that, a few centuries from now, people from Pakistan to Algeria will remember you as one who fought for their freedom.
After 9/11, quite a few secular humanists wrote articles critical of Islam. Most of these had to be critical against religion in general, therefore offensive not just to Muslims, but I say: no matter—at least they didn’t make an exception for one particular religion, and at least they didn’t exempt Islamic terrorism from charges of religious motivation altogether, blaming it instead on “Western oppression” or “US foreign policy”. But the initial self-confidence in the face of trauma has long worn off, and now, ironically, most of the Voltaires to be found are religious people, including many Evangelical Christians, with secularist Voltaires being so few, such as Ibn Warraq, the late and lamented Oriana Fallaci, and Andrew Bostom. For most of those who love to talk about how the values of the Enlightenment triumphed against the tyranny of religion, it seems that the one religion that hasn’t been touched by Enlightenment values is off limits. They’re much more likely to be up in the arms by expressions of President Bush like “This crusade…” and “Islamic fascists” than by cartoons of Mohammad or a medieval quote by the Pope taken out of context, to which their reaction would be to rebuke the cartoonists or the Pope for their “irresponsibility” in inflaming those who are expected to be inflamed, and understood for that, instead of seen as needing the same Enlightenment values that Voltaire is praised for spreading.
You can start with Voltaire’s idea, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. If you believe in that idea, and work toward the goal of having all people, including Muslims, accept it, then and only then can you truly call yourself an heir of Voltaire.