Dr Michael Novak

A small minority of Americans, about six or seven percent, mostly from the highly educated elite, have their reasons for despising Christianity, and they make their hostility to Christianity quite evident. They do not represent American culture, but they do represent a small, articulate, and potent voice in that culture. This elite seems to dominate the national voices of the legal profession (although not, I think, the local voices among most lawyers), a large segment of movie stars, and a significant number of opinion leaders in the media. Of course, feminists, gays, and the fanatical secularists who gather around People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union (although there are many good people in these organizations too) are also directly opposed to traditional Christian belief and practice, and therefore to orthodox Catholics and faithful evangelicals.

Curiously, even many mainstream Christians of the mainline, who tend to be rather more liberal in a number of areas, exhibit a strong emotional reaction when the subject of "the Christian Right" comes up. They seem to abhor being held to account regarding their own Christian values, at least from those people. Coming from those people, after all, is a point of view about Christian belief which liberals no longer share (although of course they once did).

Traditional Christian beliefs have always been counter-cultural; it was so in the days of ancient Rome, through the Middle Ages, in the early period of the Enlightenment, and it is so today. As the great sociologist Robert Nisbet once wryly noted, built into the name "Enlightenment" itself is a powerful form of bigotry, distinguishing the people of light from the people of darkness. Belief in Christianity is darkness; the rejection of it is light. Similarly, Elliott Abrams in his book on American Judaism points out that some high percentage of American Jews who do not consider themselves religious have a particular abhorrence of orthodox Jews, and are made uncomfortable by visible signs of Jewish devotion and traditional belief. They usually manage to keep this revulsion concealed from the public, but every so often it bursts through quite vividly. Perhaps some dislike "the religious right" for analogous reasons.

Many Americans may have a bad conscience about their rejection of the traditional views of Judaism and Christianity. They know deep down that something vital and true springs from those roots, and still moves them. On the other hand, they have "modernized" in certain parts of their mind, and they do not know how to put this modernization together with their traditional longings. They hate those who exacerbate this tension in their own souls.

You will note, for instance, the difference between American atheists and European atheists. The Americans who reject religion do so with a kind of emotional violence, and at the same time are quick to boast about their own moral superiority, honesty, compassion, idealism. In other words, they have to protect their own self-image by insisting that they are even more deeply religious than those who might seem to be so just by going to church or synagogue. "Anything believers can do/I can do better."

By contrast, the European atheist is much more self-assured in his atheism, and often manifests the sly smile of the complete cynic and nihilist, who happily believes in nothing at all.

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