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The irrational war on religion

29 May 2011

G K Chesterton once said that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. This adage applies to our own age where cults, conspiracy theories and irrational ideas attract millions of devotees across the globe.

Some of these irrational ideas have assumed a hallowed status, turning their critics into social pariahs who are scorned as the enemies of reason. Quite why this is happening in a supposedly enlightened age is the subject of The World turned upside down, a new book by Daily Mail columnist, Melanie Phillips.

In her powerfully argued polemic, she dissects some contemporary beliefs that appear to fly in the face of truth and rationality. Her targets include the theory of anthropogenic global warming, the contemporary demonisation of Israel and the emergence of scientific ‘triumphalism.’

She presents a wealth of compelling evidence that the received wisdom in these fields contradicts the available evidence and that reason, truth and justice have been replaced by ideology and prejudice.

The doctrines of environmentalism, scientism and anti Zionism, far from being disparate phenomena, are linked by a common thread. They are all utopian ideologies which repudiate the foundational values of Western civilisation.

What suffuses these secular movements, Phillips argues, is a millenarian belief in the final perfectibility of mankind. Their adherents believe that utopia lies just around the corner as long as the ‘right ideas’ prevail and others, such as Zionism or capitalism, are eradicated.

That is what makes these ideologies impervious to contrary evidence and what gives them a quasi religious, even fanatical character. Critics of global warming, neo-cons and supporters of Israel are not engaged rationally but labelled as heretics and pariahs. This tactic of demonisation are eerily reminiscent of a medieval witch hunt.

The cause of all this unreason, she argues, is the post Enlightenment assault on religious faith, in particular Judaism. The common belief was that the world could be re-made through the pure application of reason and the abolition of religious dogma. Yet Phillips shows how Judaeo-Christian monotheism provided a stable framework within which science, knowledge and genuine progress were possible.

In the absence of this framework, a “cult of reason” emerged that opened the floodgates to tyranny and bloodshed. First came the ‘liberation’ of the French Revolutionaries, followed by the repellent utopian fantasies of Lenin and Hitler.

Their murderous ambitions fuelled a loss of confidence in reason and created an impetus for other ideologies, such as anti Westernism, relativism and multiculturalism. These have unhinged the Western intelligentsia, allowing an ideological free for all where truth matters less than ideology. Worse, they have prevented us from confronting the Islamic jihad.

This book is an extended argument, incredibly wide ranging in scope, and with some fascinating commentary on history and ideology. Even though her conclusions on atheism, science and the Iraq war are questionable, it is impossible not to be fired up by her trenchant style of commentary. After reading this book, you may not see the world the same way again.

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