Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Darwinism and the “Ten Disenchantments”


John Zmirak is a smart and provocative writer over at The Stream. He’s quite provocative in an article over there now. In seeking to explain some of the patterns in “progressive” religion, the “keening, preening hissy fits” of certain prominent leaders in the clergy, Zmirak points to the origins in Darwinism of “post-Christian posing.”

In the 19th century, many Christians were deeply troubled by Darwin. They accepted his theories as facts that disproved the Bible’s claim to be inspired and inerrant. But they weren’t ready to slough off Christian ethics. Or even (in many cases) quit their jobs as prominent pastors and try to make an honest living. They quailed at the ruthless atheist socialism of Marx and Engels, and the harsh “social Darwinist” movement that hoped to speed up the “survival of the fittest.”

So these men of little faith hearkened to the deeply biased methods of “Higher” biblical criticism. Pretending to be a “science,” it weeds out the miraculous and supernatural parts of the Gospel. What it leaves behind is an ethical core, derived from cherry-picking stories of Jesus’ actions and precepts. That core, they could pretend, is really the “essence” of Christianity.

Never mind all those metaphysical claims (Our Lord’s divinity) or so-called miracles (His resurrection). And certainly pay no attention to apostolic traditions, Church doctrinal councils, or historic Christian practice.

No, the “real” Christianity is … well not a creed. It’s more of an emotive stance, which distills from the life of Jesus a few simplistic precepts. Since they replace supernatural faith itself, I’ll call them the Ten Disenchantments.

An “Emotive Stance”

He identifies among these Ten Disenchantments:

(1) Outsiders are always right.

(2) The underdog deserves to win, every time.

(5) Rebels and dissenters are always prophetic and deserve our attention.

(8) All inequality is the fruit of exploitation.

Others have associated Darwinism with disenchantment. I wrote here last year:

The dynamic goes way back, as Tom Wolfe notes repeatedly in his brilliant recent book, The Kingdom of Speech. As Wolfe describes, the stage was set for the embrace of Darwinism by “what the German sociologist Max Weber called ‘the disenchantment of the world.’ Well-educated, would-be-sophisticated people all over Europe had begun to reject the magical, miraculous, superstitious, logically implausible doctrine of religion…” The emphasis there should be on “would-be” sophistication — being perceived as sophisticated.

Of course it’s not the progressive clergy alone that preaches the Ten Disenchantments. These are familiar principles if you follow the media and its gyrations. That includes, for example, the madness of one of today’s top stories as the New York Times defends its hiring of a new tech reporter with a history of really hateful, scurrilous, racialist tweets. It’s okay for her, presumably, because she is an outsider herself, a “rebel and dissenter.” She can’t be wrong. No, she “deserves to win, every time.”

Ersatz Sophistication

Can this madness really be traced to Darwinism? In part, I think so. There’s no doubt that the confrontation with Darwinian evolution in the 19th century stole much of the confidence of traditional faith leaders. Many sought refuge in new, “progressive” ways of thinking. They jettisoned much of their faith’s historical legacy in the Bible, the Hebrew Bible in particular, giving them a glow of ersatz sophistication. 

Zmirak observes:

Such a Jesus would fit the Marcionite heresy, which taught that Jesus came to free us from the harsh, vicious “God” who imposed the Old Testament on that wicked people, the Jews.

Whether the analysis works in its entirety, I’m honestly not sure. If true, it would explain a lot.

Image: Moses shatters the tablets, via Wikimedia Commons.