Why Liberalism Is a Neurotic Response to Religion

Religion and Politics

The connection between liberalism and religion is discussed in Norman Podhoretz’s new book, especially the chapter titled “The ‘Torah’ of Liberalism.” The Torah is the Jewish name for the first five books of Moses, but in the title it refers to Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1818–1883):

According to a well-known remark attributed to G. K. Chesterton, “When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.” But this was not true of the Jewish immigrants who came to America from Eastern Europe. Almost all of the young intellectuals and political leaders among them had stopped believing in the God of Judaism, but it was not “anything” they now believed in—it was Marxism. (Norman Podhoretz, Why Are Jews Liberals?, New York: Random House, 2009, p. 280)

Liberals in the 19th century, who were not Marxists, advocated laissez faire capitalism. Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), for example, agreed with Marx about the irrationality of religion but had entirely different ideas about economics. Spencer was referring to human beings, not businesses or animals, when he coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe one of the benefits of capitalism. Liberals were responsible for the philosophical movement called the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason— a period when the Christian churches lost their influence to a considerable extent.

My theory is that liberalism is a neurotic response to the conflict caused by religion. Religious people by word and deed are summoning nonreligious people to believe in God. They are confronting nonbelievers with the message that their lives are meaningless because their goal in life is not to get to heaven. This produces anxiety in nonbelievers if only because they face being rejected by religious people or nonreligious people.

The psychologically healthy response to the conflict is to grasp the persuasiveness of the reasons for believing in the existence of a transcendent reality and hoping for salvation. Intelligent, reasonable, and responsible parents will give their children the gift of faith even if they don’t believe themselves.

In neurotic individuals, the anxiety produced by the conflict gives rise to the defense mechanisms of inhibition and repression. Inhibition and repression prevent the atheist, humanist, or liberal from being intelligent and rational about religion. That neurotic inhibition and repression can cause ordinarily intelligent people to have blind spots is supported by the literature of psychoanalysis and neurosis:

Let us consider for example, a person listening to a paper and having critical thoughts about it. A minor inhibition would consist in a timidity about expressing the criticism; a strong inhibition would prevent him from organizing his thoughts, with the result that they would occur to him only after the discussion was over, or the next morning. But the inhibition may go so far as not to permit the critical thoughts to come up at all, and in this case, assuming that he really feels critical, he will be inclined to accept blindly what has been said or even to admire it; and he will be quite unaware of having any inhibitions. In other words, if an inhibition goes so far as to check wished or impulses there can be no awareness of its existence. (The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, Karen Horney, M.D., New York: Norton, 1937, p. 55 )

Liberals create for themselves a fictitious world in which they are more rational than people of faith, as well as more compassionate. There are four areas where liberals exhibit such a lack of intelligence I feel justified in calling liberalism a situational neurosis. The four areas are 1) the mind-body problem, 2) cosmological proof of God’s existence, 3) evolution, and 4) the business cycle.

Mind-Body Problem

The following quote is from a biology textbook used by 65% of all biology majors in the United States. The quote is indexed under “mind-body duality,” which is a clue that the authors have a blind spot about what is called the mind-body problem:

And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. (Neil Campbell, Biology, Menlo Park, CA: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, 4th edition, p. 776 )

Human thinking (cognition) involves being 1) attentive to experiences, 2) intelligent in inquires and understandings, 3) rational in deciding what is true, and 4) responsible in actions. The mind-body problem refers to questions about thinking itself. These are some of the questions: 1) Knowing that this screen is black and white means more than that light is entering my eye and a signal is going to my brain. It means there is an awareness of the colors. What is this awareness? 2) What are the images and concepts that are created when I am thinking about something? 3) What is truth? 4) What is the relationship between my self and my body?

The passage from Biology mentions only two ideas about the mind-body problem. One bright idea is the “mechanistic view of mind” and the other is “dualism.” The author of the passage doesn’t understand that there are no answers to theses questions. We know what we mean by awareness, for example, but we can’t define it, say what it is, or explicate it. This is the insight that we can judge to be true when considering the evidence. There is no evidence for mechanism or dualism. The authors and editors of Biology are not exercising poor judgment. Rather, they have a blind spot or inhibition that prevents them from understanding the mind-body problem.

We can express this understanding of the mind-­body problem by saying that a human being is an indefinability that becomes conscious of its own existence. Another formulation is that humans are embodied spirits.

What is neurotic about the following quote is the author’s mention of his “private beliefs about souls,” and his unwillingness or inability to explain what he means by it:

Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement, for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue. (Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History, March 1997, 13th paragraph)

Metaphysics is a method of inquiry that is different from the method of inquiry called science. Body and soul are the metaphysical principles of matter and form applied to human beings. The soul (form) is the principle or incomplete being that makes humans equal to one another and superior to animals. The body (matter) is the principle or incomplete being that makes humans different from one another. The human soul is spiritual because humans are embodied spirits, though Gould many not grasp this. Gould’s private view might be that body and soul don’t refer to anything real but are only ideas or notions. This famous advocate of Darwinism, I suggest, is too inhibited and repressed to think and write intelligently about the human soul.

Cosmological Proof of God’s Existence

The mind-­body problem causes anxiety in the nonreligious because it leads to the metaphysical proposition that humans are finite beings and to the metaphysical theorem that an infinite being exists. In the West, the infinite being is called God. We know God exists because a finite being needs a cause. This is Wikipedia’s version of the proof or argument for God’s existence:

  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  2. A causal loop cannot exist.
  3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.

Wikipedia makes the proof hard to follow by failing to say that the “First Cause” is an infinite being. Also, Wikipedia assumes that the infinite being is at the beginning of a causal chain of finite beings. The infinite being can exist outside of the chain and give the entire chain its existence, whether the chain has a finite or an infinite number of beings. I think it is fair to say the authors of the Wikipedia entry don’t know what they are talking about.

There is also an entry on the proof in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The entry does not even come close to explaining the cosmological argument. Not once in the entry are the phrases “finite being” and “infinite being” found.

Evolution

According to Jean-Baptiste Lamark (1744–1829), giraffes have long necks because of stretching to get leaves high on trees. Charles Darwin (1809–1882) improved on this explanation with the theory of natural selection. Natural selection explains the adaptation of animals to their environment, but it does not explain how animals evolved from bacteria over a period of 3.5 billion years. The reason is that animals are so much more complex than bacteria. All PhDs in biology understand this and no textbook, peer-­reviewed paper, or scholarly book says otherwise. Nevertheless, many laymen think that natural selection explains the complexity of life. The subconscious motivation for this pseudoscientific delusion is to refute the argument for God’s existence based on design (the watchmaker argument). The following quote is from a science writer who thinks, like Darwin, that human beings—not just their bodies—evolved from animals:

They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all.

But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea,…Even Darwin said that it was hard to image how the eye could have evolved.

And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection—the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects…Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it. (Christine Kenneally, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, New York: The Penguin Group, pp. 59–60)

The Business Cycle

In the late 19th century, economics became a rational science with the development of price theory and the time-preference theory of interest. Unexplained was the business cycle, which refers to the occurrence of booms and busts, bulls and bears, depressions, recessions, banking panics, and stock market crashes. In 1912, Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) published The Theory of Money and Credit and explained that fractional reserve banking caused business ups and downs. This theory is called the monetary or Austrian theory of the business cycle. I consider the following short explanation of the theory to be intelligible: Banks increase the supply of money and lend it to businesses. This causes a shortage of consumer goods, not at first but at some later point in time. The subsequent increase in the prices of consumer goods causes many businesses to go bankrupt or lose money. The evidence that this theory is true is that there is no other intelligible theory of the business cycle. If it is not true, then economics isn’t a rational science.

An indication of how liberals dominate the political economy is that there are very few economists who agree with the Austrian theory. Except for Nobel laureate F. A Hayek (1899–1992), these Austrian economists are unknown to the general public. Most economic professors in the United States teach what they call “macroeconomics.” I don’t use the word explain because so far as I can see the macroeconomic theories of Milton Friedman (1912–2006) and John Maynard Keyes (1883–1946) are unintelligible. Economic professors and students must just memorize the terminology of macroeconomics without comprehension just like many laymen know E = mc2.

In the summer of 1979, I took a graduate course titled “Macroeconomics,” at Pace University. The instructor had a Ph. D. in economics from New York University. His thesis advisor was Israel Kirzner, who is an Austrian economist. At some point, I told the class that aggregate demand and the other concepts of macroeconomics are nonsense. The professor countered that all economists believe macroeconomics is useful and rational. I replied that Professor Kirzner didn’t think so. The teacher replied, “Oh, no. Professor Kirzner’s area of research was microeconomics. Professor Kirzner just didn’t do macroeconomics.” I suggest that the Pace teacher was repressed and inhibited.

It might be objected that I don’t understand macroeconomics, just as there are many laymen who don’t understand E = mc2. However, economists, politicians, and pundits give speeches and write articles about macroeconomics for laymen, not economists. Yet these laymen, listening to these speeches and reading these articles, think they make sense. As Karen Horney said, “the inhibition may go so far as not to permit the critical thoughts to come up at all.”

Conclusion

Liberals don’t always discuss religion in a way that shows a lack of intelligence. In the following quote, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) doesn’t deny God exists, but says only that the concept of God is contradictory. He also admits that without God life has no meaning:

Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ, for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. Man is a useless passion. (Jean-­Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, New York: Washington Square Press, p. 784)

The concept of God can be considered contradictory because of the question: What motivated the infinite being to create finite beings? Only self-love could motivate an infinite being to create finite beings. Finite beings exist presumably because God loved himself as giving. But God could just as well have loved himself without giving. Hence, the question has no answer. Maybe Sartre doesn’t understand that the solution to the mind-body problem is also a contradiction. The contradiction is that we know something because we know we don’t know.



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