Category Archives: The Old Religion

Book Review: C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters

C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1942).

I have almost no interest in theology, and actively dislike proselytizing. Yet, I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters. The book consists of 31 letters written by Screwtape, a senior demon, to his bumbling nephew Wormwood, who is having trouble tempting his “Patient” to sin and damnation. Lewis has a sly, avuncular humor throughout that makes his unsubtle didactic aims go down easier. And Screwtape is endlessly quotable. Lewis was a talented writer, and there is a reason people still read him.

That said, Lewis’ post-Victorian-Christian hangups about sex are as amusing as they are unhealthy. Most societies today, and throughout history, have less repressed norms that better fit human biology, and normal human behavior.

Less amusing is Lewis’ apparent belief that people cannot be morally good without religious belief. His frequent criticisms of materalism as immoral make no logical sense. Here, Lewis means “materialism” not in the sense of greed, but rather in the metaphysical sense of rejecting the existence of non-physical spirits.

The trouble with this argument is, well, almost everywhere. High-character people who are not religious are easy to find. In Lewis’ argument, X has no link to Y. And Lewis does not attempt to find one, arguing only by assertion. His broad-brush dismissal of millions of good people is arguably its own moral failing.

Much of Lewis’ other advice is on firmer ground. One need not share his theism to agree that the world would be a kinder place if people were a bit better at resisting temptation.


Dennis C. Rasmussen – The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

Dennis C. Rasmussen – The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought

A highly enjoyable dual biography of David Hume and Adam Smith that mixes the personal and the intellectual. Rasmussen spends too much time on their religious beliefs for my taste, but still gives plenty of attention to more interesting topics. Hume was famously gregarious while Smith was intensely private, though their friendship was a close one. Despite some differences, they were also close intellectual allies who repeatedly defended each other from their many critics.

Hume gets the lion’s share of the book’s attention, mainly because Smith asked that most of his papers be burned after his death. His wishes were mostly respected, leaving less material for the historian to work from.

CEI Podcast for May 16, 2013: A Controversial EPA Nominee

gina mccarthy
Have a listen here.

The bitter fight over Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee for EPA Administrator, is headed to the Senate floor under a potential filibuster threat. Myron Ebell, Director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, explains that the deeper cause of this political fight is a startling lack of transparency at the EPA that McCarthy is unlikely to fix.

Penn Jillette on Atheism, Libertarianism

The ever-loquacious Penn Jillette talks to Nick Gillespie about his new book, God, No! He doesn’t know if any gods exist or not, and he doesn’t know what’s best for other people.

His basic philosophical humility is a refreshing departure from right-wing religiosity and left-wing social engineering; they do know what’s best for other people.

Freedom of Religion Breeds Peace

Many conservatives believe that America is a Christian nation. True, there are many Christians in America. But that doesn’t make us a Christian nation. There is no official religion here. Nor should there be. Declaring one would be a misguided approach for anyone who values peace, as Voltaire noted many years ago. Freedom of belief and pluralism are good things:

“If  there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.”

Vulture Arrested for Espionage

Saudi Arabian police arrested a vulture that they believed to be a Mossad spy. Scientists at Tel Aviv University tagged the bird so they could study its migration patterns, which apparently include rural Saudi Arabia. Haaretz reports:

[R]esidents and local reporters told Saudi Arabia’s Al-Weeam newspaper that the matter seemed to be a “Zionist plot.”

The accusations went viral, with hundreds of posts on Arabic-language websites and forums claiming that the “Zionists” had trained these birds for espionage.

It is not clear if the bird’s guilt has been determined by Saudi authorities, or what its sentence will be.

Bin Laden Admonishes U.S. on Global Warming

The old religion meets the new religion:

Osama bin Laden’s latest reason to condemn the United States has to do with climate change.

The al Qaeda leader in a new audio message published by al Jazeera, bin Laden verbally attacks the U.S. and other industrialized nations for polluting the planet.

Putting Religious Intolerance in Proper Context

“It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but not at all important whether or not you believe in God.”

Diderot, in a letter to Voltaire (June 11, 1749).

Bumper Stickers and Bigotry

We’ve all seen those Jesus fish bumper stickers on cars. We’ve also seen the Darwin fish, sprouting little legs, that have emerged as a reaction to the Jesus fish.

National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg doesn’t like the Darwin fish. Let him speak for himself:

I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there’s the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

He goes on:

the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance; similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims.

Well, my trusty Buick happens to have a Darwin fish on its bumper. Turns out Goldberg is putting words into my mouth that do not belong there.

The Jesus fish is an expression of faith. The driver is saying to his fellow commuters, “this is what I believe.” It is a positive statement.

I am also making a positive statement. I am saying, based on the evidence I’ve seen, that I believe the universe is more than 6,000 years old. I am saying that it is possible for species to evolve over time.

That’s it.

There is no smugness. No mockery. No implication that people who disagree with me are less evolved. Nor do I have any animus toward any religion, Christian or otherwise; disbelief does not equal contempt.

Goldberg reads a bit too much into it, frankly. Evolution says nothing about whether or not God exists. It says nothing about the origins of life itself, let alone the divinity of Christ.

I certainly have my opinions on the matters. The Darwin fish has nothing to do with them. It says only that, as the eons pass, life changes. It evolves.

I get the sense that Goldberg’s faith is deeply held, and is for him a source of strength. That is wonderful.

What a shame then, that he a priori assumes ill motives of people who do not share his faith. My beliefs give me strength, comfort, and beauty, too. Even though they’re different from his.

Huckabee and the Constitution

Quoth candidate Mike Huckabee:

“I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

I’m getting a better sense of why Democrats view Huckabee as an easy kill in the general election.

People believe in some weird things, and that’s fine; freedom of thought and all that. I just wish people like Gov. Huckabee weren’t so eager to force their beliefs on others.