An Ex-Orthodox Defender of Secularism Relies on a Leap of Faith of His Own

Jan. 13 2022

In a recent essay, William Deresiewicz—a former Orthodox Jew who claims that he “saw through the falsehood of faith . . . at the age of fifteen,” laments the effects of secularization on American society, and especially on the students and graduates of elite universities. Micah Mattix responds:

Secularism, “at its worst,” Deresiewicz writes, reduced everything to a commercial transaction, . . . “materialistic, individualistic, transactional, devoid of moral or spiritual content, hostile to ideas and ideals.”

But is this secularism at its worst—what would that mean exactly?—or secularism as secularism? What is the secular basis for not treating others like a pound of flesh? Deresiewicz is right, of course, that politics has become a religion, and he’s far from the first person to suggest so. But I’m curious as to why he is so convinced that secular humanism is true even though it “has not fulfilled the hopes that people had for it, and neither has secularism in any of its other manifestations.”

This is what he writes at the end of the essay, which has a religious ring to it: “No, secularism cannot reassure us that the universe is governed by a benevolent deity, or that the wicked will be punished and the good rewarded, or that our souls will be clasped after death in the bosom of Abraham. But in leaving us to our devices, it does something better, because it does something truer. It forces us into the search: for truth, for beauty, for justice.”

This seems rather close to claiming that secular humanism is true despite the evidence. It is true despite failing to give a coherent account of what is obviously a universal longing for transcendence, despite failing to provide any sort of definition for the very things Deresiewicz evokes here—truth, beauty, justice—as worthwhile objects of study, despite contributing to the decline of families and communities, and despite making many people much worse off (and, no, we don’t have secular humanism to thank for science).

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Spectator

More about: American society, Decline of religion, Education, Secularism

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter