Not being of a Conservative bent myself I don’t make a habit of reading National Review Online unless I catch wind of them having a particularly interesting or outrageous article. This one falls into the interesting category as it’s a FAQ of sorts put together by columnist John Derbyshire in which he explains his religious views:
Q. Do you believe religion is good for people?
A. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I thought so for the longest time. All those Golden Rules, those injunctions to charity, compassion, neighborliness, forbearance, and so on. Not only does the proposition seem obvious in itself, but we all know people whose lives were messed up, but were then straightened out after they got religion. I know one and a half cases — I mean, two people this happened to, but one of them relapsed after three or four years, and last I heard she was in worse shape than ever.
On the other hand, some religious people are horrible. This past few years, working at National Review Online and fielding tens of thousands of e-mails from readers, I’ve had my first really close encounter with masses of opinionated Christians of all kinds. A lot of them are very nice, and some are very nice indeed — I’ve had gifts, including use of a house one family vacation (thank you, Pastor!) — but, yes, some others are loathsome. I get lots of religious hate mail, some of it really vile. Often this is in response to something I have said, which I suppose is fair enough, even if not a particularly good advertisement for Christ’s injunctions about meekness and forbearance. Often, though, these e-mails come in from people who are not reacting to anything in particular, they just want to tell me that I am not religious enough to suit them, or to call myself a conservative, or to work at National Review, or to live in the USA, or (though this is very rare) to live at all. Half a dozen times I’ve had readers express these sentiments using four-letter words of the taboo variety.
The usual response to all that is the one Evelyn Waugh gave. He was religious, but he was also a nasty person, and knew it. But: “If not for my faith,” he explained, “I would be barely human.” In other words, even a nasty religious person would be even worse without faith.
I have now come to think that it really makes no difference, net-net. You can point to people who were improved by faith, but you can also see people made worse by it. Anyone want to argue that, say, Mohammed Atta was made a better person by his faith? All right, when Americans say “religion” they mean Christianity 99 percent of the time. So: Can Christianity make you a worse person? I’m sure it can. If you’re a person with, for example, a self-righteous conviction of your own moral superiority, well, getting religion is just going to inflame that conviction. Again, I know cases, and I’m sure you do too. The exhortations to humility that you find in all religions seem to be the most difficult teaching for people to take on board. Mostly, I think it makes no difference. Evelyn Waugh would have been no more obnoxious as an atheist.
And then there are some of those discomfiting facts about human groups. Taking the population of these United States, for example, the least religious major group, by ancestry, is Americans of East Asian stock. The most religious is African Americans. All the indices of dysfunction and misbehavior, however, go the other way, with Asian Americans getting into least trouble and African Americans most. What’s that all about?
In the end, I think I’ve now arrived at this position: An individual might be made better by faith, or worse. Overall, taking society at large, I think it averages out to zero. But then…
It makes for a fascinating read as John ends up not quite being an unbeliever—he considers himself a Mysterian—but he’s certainly among what is commonly known as the irreligious, which includes us atheist types. In other words, he’s the sort of believer (to use the word loosely) I’d consider an ally and any disagreements I’d have with him would probably be largely over politics as opposed to religious viewpoint. At the very least his presence there raises my opinion of NRO a decent amount.
Found via Debunking Christianity.