Beware the Grand Inquisitors

In The Brothers Karamazov arguably one of the most famous passages is a story told by Ivan about a leader of the Spanish Inquisition encounter Jesus. It becomes obvious in this passage that the Grand Inquisitor does not believe in God but rather uses Christianity so that he may control society. I was reminded of him when reading an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in which she advocated for Christians to convert Muslims. Now Hirsi Ali is herself an atheist and her reasons therefore for calling on Christians to convert Muslims obviously have nothing to do with whether Christianity is true and everything to do with creating desirable political and social outcomes. It is also clear to me that Hirsi Ali is not alone wanting to use Christianity to generate ideal social outcomes, Theodore Dalrymple or whatever his real name is seems to fit in the same mold as do some of the American neoconservatives.

Andrew Sullivan had some harsh words for people of this mindset recently:

There can be no conflict between faith and truth. If what we believe in is not true, it is worth nothing. The idea that one should insincerely support religious faith because it is good for others or for society is, for me, a profound blasphemy if you do not share the faith yourself. I respect atheists and agnostics who reject faith; I find it harder to respect fundamentalists – of total papal or Biblical authority – because of the blindness of their sincerity; but I have no respect for those who cynically praise religion for its social uses, while believing in none of it themselves.

Now I suppose that any of these people can propose how they would like to construct society but it does concern me that many Christians like to quote them approvingly. Moreover it doesn’t sit well with me that these people want to structure society along the lines of something that they consider false – it is a very cynical thing to do. If you really think that there is no God and that religion is false you should at least have the courage of say, a Hitchens, to get up and say so to every audience everywhere and not mumble something about Christian being acceptable over Islam.

For Christians the problem is compounded because people do not react well to finding out that they’ve been taught a belief so that they can be controlled: