Vanquishing Modern Gods in Defense of Religion

Article excerpt


With brevity and charm, Robert Royal guides the modern reader through two millennia of Western history, deftly slaying one false god after another. He dispatches the illusions of the 18th-century Enlightenment, 20th-century Marxism, and postmodern cynicism by invoking the enduring truths of the central Judeo-Christian tradition.

He asserts "that religion has been one of the most consistently and profoundly dynamic elements in human history." And he notes that three key architects of post-World War II European unity "Robert Schuman in France, Konrad Adenauer in Germany, and Alcide De Gasperi in Italy were deeply inspired by Christian views of man and history.

Indeed, Adenauer went further. He called for a Christian party in Germany that "embraced all denominations" that valued the importance of Christianity in Europe, insisting that this "also applied to our Jewish fellow-citizens."

Prominent religious figures were also active in writing what became the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, including the French Catholic intellectual, Jacques Maritain, a French Jewish lawyer, Rene Cassin, and Charles Malik, a Greek Orthodox philosopher from Lebanon.

Mr. Royal points to the failure of several modern "gods" that "offered themselves as candidates to replace the old Deity." He mentions Arthur Koestler and other ex-Marxists who had lost their faith in "the god that failed." At the same time some previous disciples of Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud also surrendered their earlier faith in these men who saw no need for God and regarded all religion as atavistic.

But now, Mr. Royal maintains, many secular intellectuals are prepared to question their old faith in men who sought to deliver humans from the bondage of "religious superstition." He cites Susan Sontag's recent abandonment of her earlier Marxist sympathies. In a 1952 speech to her liberal New York audience, she said:

"Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only the Nation or New Statesman. Which readers would have been better informed about the realities of communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Could it be that our enemies were right?"

In his lively march through history, Mr. Royal invokes biblical thought, the wisdom of Aristotle and Saint Augustine, and modern thinkers as varied as America's Founders, Tocqueville, Reinhold Niebuhr and Andre Malraux.

Although he is a sturdy Catholic, the author acknowledges the singular contributions of John Calvin and Martin Luther to enduring Christian thought and their relevance to the contemporary situation in Europe and America. He specifically mentions the constructive impact of the Puritans in England and the New World, along with the Methodists and Baptists, who after years of struggle rejected a state church in favor of freedom of religion.

On the persecution of infidels and "witches" by Catholics, Mr. Royal condemns the Spanish Inquisition, which "in the course of three centuries" killed "around three thousand," fewer than the Soviet Union killed on an average day. …