Speaking of the liberals and social democrats of his time, the communist dictator Vladimir Lenin was said to have coined the term “useful idiot.” The etymology of the term is, at best, apocryphal. However it is a very potent phrase for describing those myopic groups of activists, engaged in revolutions of various sorts, who would only intend to go exactly this far — but no further. This is what Lenin was said to have meant when employing the descriptive about his comrades across the pond, who sought only-this-far socialism, which he believed would pave the way for a full-blown Leninist utopia.
I could not help but think of this phrase while reading a column by Richard Dawkins, who laments New Zealand’s recent turn toward genuflecting at the altar of its indigenous Maori gods. It turns out that, at the behest of former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government, “Science classes are to be taught that Māori ‘Ways of Knowing’ (Mātauranga Māori) have equal standing with ‘western’ science.” Some of the educated elite are also saying that requiring Maori children to read is a form of colonization. Air New Zealand has even gone so far as to invoke Maori gods in its new safety video highlighting Maori culture and religion.
Further, Dawkins laments that:
New Zealand children will be taught the true wonder of DNA, while being simultaneously confused by the doctrine that all life throbs with a vital force conferred by the Earth Mother and the Sky Father. Origin myths are haunting and poetic, but they belong elsewhere in the curriculum. The very phrase ‘western’ science buys into the ‘relativist’ notion that evolution and big bang cosmology are just the origin myth of white western men, a narrative whose hegemony over ‘indigenous’ alternatives stems from nothing better than political power. This is pernicious nonsense.
A point, might I add, on which we agree.
Now, laugh as I may at Dawkins’ pearl-clutching, these developments are certainly discomfiting. At this juncture, an absurd forecast such as Air New Zealand, high on its own supply, discovering this one weird trick in slashing its AirBus maintenance budget by simply pinching off incense to the fairies and daemons once consigned to the dustbins of Judeo-Christian history, seems outright conceivable.
Or even less absurd still, that illiteracy will be praised as some sort of indigenous virtue, and thus be thrust upon the unwashed masses. As Joseph Henrich aptly illustrates in his book “The Weirdest People in the World,” the simple act of learning to read rewires the human brain in ways that all but guarantee a society-wide transition toward Western virtues. To teach a child to read may very well be the greatest act of colonization in all of history.
The pillars of Western progress are being demolished in New Zealand under the justification of religious equity. However, much to the chagrin of those pugnacious preachers of scientific humanism, Dawkins and his comrades are those useful idiots who paved the way for this saccharine pagan asininity that threatens the architecture of the scientific method.
Their relentless campaigns of framing the Gospels as irrational, some kind of vestigial tail of Bronze-Aged society, ushered in the contemporary absurdities infecting the Western liberal mind. Nature abhors a vacuum, and despite Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and company’s grand design of cultic worship at the altar of science, this should serve as a reminder that true religion animates the human spirit and that man shall not live on thin nerd gruel alone.
Tom Holland, in his book “Dominion,” adeptly illustrates the wide-ranging — and downright weird — cultural habits that animate our favorite new atheist’s universalist assumptions. “Dawkins — agnostic, secularist and humanist that he is — absolutely has the instincts of someone brought up in a Christian civilization.” Thus, Dawkins’ myopic sense of universalism in the domain of speech, inquiry, and debate are hard-won values unique to the Christian ephemera within which he was so fortuitously raised. Far from universal, these ideals must be cultivated, cherished, and guarded over jealously.
The Beginning of the Scientific Era
Contra the gesticulations of those four horsemen of new atheism, the scientific era did not begin during the Newtonian revolution, with Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” at Georges Lemaitre’s Big Bang, or with Galileo Galilei’s supposed heretical helio-centrism. Its humble origins can be traced back to a lonely hill facing the Sea of Galilee. This is where mankind’s relationship with the material world was turned on its head. No longer shall he occupy a mythical landscape of sprites, fairies, demigods, or daemons. With the utterance of “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” primitive man’s mythical artifice was torn asunder.
Many such social transitions must precede the virtue of humility in the transvaluation of primitive values. One important touchstone is that much-derided Creation account in the book of Genesis. For cosmic brains of the Dawkins caste, it may need to be reiterated that paganism is man’s natural state and that monotheism, coming to establish a firm footing in reality, operates efficiently once man no longer fears smiting by the gods of the phenomena he attempts to observe.
This is one of the lesser-known geniuses of the Old Testament creation story — it untethers the pantheistic account of capricious gods animating the central nervous systems of nature. The sun, moon, rain, and oceans are all transformed into inanimate objects created by an infinitely greater intellect who exists outside the material world — and further, these machinations can be understood rationally since the source of creation is itself rational.
Taboos play an important role as well. As Ed West captures in a recent Substack, the medieval church’s prohibition of consanguinity likely set the trajectory for modernity. Within primitive societies, there is a great incentive to keep bloodlines — and thus finite resources — contained within relatively small clans, and prohibitions of such courting habits must be instilled from above. High-trust societies emerge from the dissolution of clans, and so do the contours of the modern human spirit. To take the “one god further” objection, a hypothesis that intends to render the Abrahamic God on par with these Maori gods, to its logical conclusion is to undo the legitimate progress of Christian civilization. Thus atheism itself becomes the gateway to cultural de-evolution and a violent return to man’s primitive pagan state.
Given taboos against culturally degrading behavior, and the freedom to understand the natural world without that looming fear of smiting, to be poor in spirit is to live in a constant state of awe in front of creation. It is a state of knowing your limitations, but also being driven to understand mystery. As Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” That peculiar state of the Western mind has been imbued with a childlike sense of mystery that can be traced back to the Beatitudes, and this has driven our civilization toward the greatest feats of discovery.
Far from altogether closing the door on theism, the new atheists simply paved the way for a return to the primitive. For now, the woke who are running Western institutions may limit themselves to praying nonsense creeds to the Maori gods for safe air travel, but the words we say will eventually become the ideas we believe. And while Dawkins may wash his hands of this pagan nonsense, while also waxing poetic about the scientific method, he is the useful idiot who made this all possible.