06 Dec 2015

Truth, Hope, and Love

Religious 31 Comments

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
(Mt 10:16, ESV)

==> The cynical skeptic holds his fellows in contempt, seeing through their hypocrisy and understanding just how awful they can be. It is a miserable existence, making you end up witty and bitter. But the reason you persist is that you are correct in your assessment, and you feel truth is more important than joy. (Do you think H.L. Mencken was happy? Would you want to be H.L. Mencken? I’m glad he existed, but I wouldn’t want the job.)

==> The idealistic skeptic believes that people are basically good, that mass murder, raping, and pillaging are just aberrations that technology and the arts will gradually eradicate. This allows you to face the world–because otherwise it would be unbearable–but the more clever people around you know that you are living in an illusion. Deep down, so do you.

==> The Christian recognizes the truth that his fellows are contemptible. However, he doesn’t descend into smug superiority, because he realizes he himself is just as much a hypocrite and scoundrel. Yet this recognition doesn’t drive him to drink, drugs, and despair, because the Lord–for some reason–loves him and everyone else. And if Jesus, who was Himself perfect, loves my neighbor and me, then I should do the same. Though humanity left to its own devices would descend into utter depravity and destruction, we can be filled with joy because we’re not all on our own.

31 Responses to “Truth, Hope, and Love”

  1. Thankful Reader says:

    This is beautiful.

  2. E. Harding says:

    Did Mencken ever describe himself the way you just did him, Bob? Because it didn’t ring true when I first read it; it sounded like what some religionist would say about him. Now that I read it, it sounds a bit farther from that, but is still not a perfect summary of Mencken’s outlook on life.

    Bryan Caplan is an idealistic skeptic. I’m not a Christian. It all sounds like supernatural mumbo-jumbo.

    And, in response to Tyler deleting my comments, I’ve launched a Marginal Counterrevolution:
    It’s already amassed 700 views, due to my constant advertising in the MR comments.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      E. Harding I linked to a bunch of his quotes. You can read them and see what you think.

      E. Harding are you not American? FYI, someone like Tyler Cowen is of course going to want you off his site if you describe other commenters as “f*gs.” Are you really surprised by this? I would be shocked if he DIDn’t effectively ban you.

      • E. Harding says:

        Yes, I’m American! And why does my calling people f*gs (which, in any case, I admitted was wrong) necessitate Tyler remove almost all my comments, including those on archaeology, ancient history, China, and healthcare policy? Again, he doesn’t effectively block me (just my email), nor did he give me any verbal reply saying I’ve been banned. He just started deleting all my comments for no reason.

        Again, 80+% of my comments are helpful and at least some people in the MR comments see no point in deleting all my comments for no reason. It’s not like I’m calling people f*gs all the time there; I promised the opposite. In fact, I haven’t used any PG-13 or R-rated rated words at MR since Tyler started deleting my comments.

        Of course I know what Mencken sounds like; I’ve read his Notes on Democracy (which was even more influential in persuading me of the failure of the system than Hoppe’s book).

        Tyler has a really loose and unpredictable comment policy. He only deleted repetitive and insulting comments and spammers before he went on his massive assault on all my comments for no reason.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          E. Harding did you try emailing Tyler and saying his actions were retarded?

          • E. Harding says:

            Is that supposed to be serious or irony or humor or something? And, no, I didn’t try emailing him. I know he reads my comments, as he deletes them; I have no idea if he reads anything I email him. Also, do you seriously think his actions were retarded, or are you just suggesting that’s what I’d think of them?

            • Bob Murphy says:

              E. Harding we are having a failure to communicate. It’s my fault, I’m making jokes.

              • E. Harding says:

                But what was the purpose of the joke?

              • Bob Murphy says:

                To make people laugh.

                Now, assuming you really meant to ask, “Why did you think the joke was funny?”, my answer is: Tyler would not appreciate someone using the term “retarded” instead of “disagreeable,” just like he would be mortified at someone using “f*g” instead of “jerk.”

              • E. Harding says:

                Yeah; I got why the joke would be funny, I just didn’t see its purpose in this dialogue.

              • Craw says:

                “I got why the joke would be funny, I just didn’t see its purpose in this dialogue.”

                And Bob Murphy uses Mencken as his example of a sourpuss.

        • guest says:

          Ugly people aren’t going to like you two using that word for the same reason Japanese people don’t like it when you refer to them as “japs”.

          Just sayin.


  3. Tel says:

    … but the more clever people around you know that you are living in an illusion. Deep down, so do you.

    I’m going to admit I do tend to see a lot of Christians the same way… loveable lot though they are. Mind you, I don’t necessarily think I’m more clever, but perhaps just a bit more willing to take a few.slaps from the reality stick and laugh about it later.

    On the whole I think that humans are good, for suitably anthropocentric definitions of “good”. We are very good at achieving the sort of things that humans want to do… our technology is more complex and more awesome, our philosophy is deeper and more meaningful, our art is more artsy and now and then we do go into a bit of the red mist blood lust killing spree, but look around who doesn’t? Anyway, when you look at history, violence is on the wane (for the most part). I live a pretty good life, so sure I can by cynical from time to time, but nothing really to get bitter about at the personal level.

    • Harold says:

      “Anyway, when you look at history, violence is on the wane (for the most part). ”

      It is on the wane in areas where religiosity is also in the wane. I believe that historically religion was a requirement for building large societies. The observation above suggest that perhaps this link has weakened.

      It is not technology and the arts on their own that have (not will) greatly reduced rape, pillage and general violence. It is some form of philosophy of society. In the absence of God, there must be something that holds people back from selfish violence.

      This is why a narrow focus on the individual as the only unit worth considering is dangerous. If we focus this narrowly we lose sight of the bigger entity, and we may lose the cohesion we currently enjoy.

      If we wish to define economics as only acting through the individual, that is fine in its way. Economics then becomes an interesting area of study that necessarily must be removed from policy. It can describe the interactions, but should never be allowed ot dictate what we should do.

      There is something bigger than the individual. The preferences that individuals act on do not come from nowhere. They come in part from wider society, and the actions of the individual in turn affect the preferences of others. We ignore this at our peril.

      • Tel says:

        Somehow Chairman Mao managed to kill something like 100 million people without needing the get all religious about it… unless you want to count Communism itself and cult of personality as a type of religion, but then you would have to count a lot of other things as “religiosity”.

        I mean, the environmental movement certainly has elements of blind faith … Holdren and Ehrlich are professional wrongologists, but despite repeated failure of their doomsday predictions, they still have cult leader status (and go right on with the doomsday predictions unabashed).

        Then you can look at the followers of Keynes. Talk about putting a guy on a pedestal. They go on and on about his genius, I’ve read the General Theory, sounds like obfuscated tripe to me, the only genius is convincing so many people that it could solve their problems.

        That’s just what people do though, when they are unhappy, they bunch together and look for a great leader to tell them it’s gonna be OK. Don’t worry, Mao / Holdren / Keynes will save you, they just need more power, actually a lot more power… if anything goes wrong it’s because those great leaders were not given enough power.

        Before humans ditch their religious fervor, they are going to have to get a lot more cynical about a lot of things.

        • E. Harding says:

          Mao didn’t kill a hundred million; the famine killed like 25 million and the war probably less than that. And life expectancy was consistently rising under Mao (and Chiang); so that’s what makes the famine look bad.

          There were also Irish and Bengali famines; lest anyone forget.

          • Tel says:

            You mean when government was put in charge of food production and the same rice plantations that were perfectly productive suddenly “just accidentally” stopped producing food?

            So the great leader’s peabrain idea of sending all the farmers out to swat sparrows was completely disconnected from any resulting poor harvest then. Ahhhh, got it. The famine wot dun it. No one to blame then.

            • E. Harding says:

              There were weather-related issues (vast typhoon season; etc.):

              But nobody really knows what would have happened without the Great Leap Forward. All anyone knows is that famine was ubiquitous to China before 1949, largely ended by the early 1950s, re-appeared with a vengeance during the Great Leap Forward, and never appeared again after it. Thus, it makes sense to say the Great Leap forward was likely responsible for the Chinese famine of 1959-1961, especially given the flawed incentives under the system.

              • Tel says:

                Yeah, every socialist crop failure gets blamed on bad weather, or else blame those evil kulaks… nothing worse than kulaks.

                Climate conditions and famine

                At the direction of Chairman Mao, sparrows were killed by the peasants, causing a major ecological imbalance in the environment.

                Despite these harmful agricultural innovations, the weather in 1958 was very favorable and the harvest promised to be good. Unfortunately, the amount of labor diverted to steel production and construction projects meant that much of the harvest was left to rot uncollected in some areas.

                This problem was exacerbated by a devastating locust swarm, which was caused when their natural predators were killed en masse as part of the Great Sparrow Campaign.

                Although actual harvests were reduced, local officials, under tremendous pressure from central authorities to report record harvests in response to the new innovations, competed with each other to announce increasingly exaggerated results. These were used as a basis for determining the amount of grain to be taken by the state to supply the towns and cities, and to export. This left barely enough for the peasants, and in some areas, starvation set in. During 1958-1960, China continued to be a substantial net exporter of grain, despite the widespread famine experienced in the countryside, as Mao sought to maintain “face” and convince the outside world of the success of his plans.


                No need to defend Mao, he was total scum.

        • Harold says:

          Tel, you said violence was on the wane. That includes northern Europe, where religious adherence is also on the wane. It seems that religiousness is not required for society to refrain from violence.

          I personally think that religion is ubiquitous because there is a requirement for something to prevent “cheating” or “defecting” if a society is going to grow very large. Religion serves this purpose. It seems that so far it is the only mechanism that has worked to allow societies to grow. The evidence is that all large societies have had religion, albeit different ones.

          Once the society is established, something else seems to be able to take the place of religion, at least temporarily. I don’t think that something else is simply a pseudo religion in the sense of environmentalism or Maoism or Keynesianism.

          History suggests that this type of pseudo religion is likely to fail.

  4. RPLong says:

    My only criticism here is that there are many, many more categories than the three Bob describes here. Christians may well have a superior disposition to the other two Bob mentions, but what about the millions of other possibilities?

  5. knoxharrington says:

    “The Christian recognizes the truth that his fellows are contemptible. However, he doesn’t descend into smug superiority, because he realizes he himself is just as much a hypocrite and scoundrel.”

    Have you ever met anyone affiliated with the Church of Christ (I’m talking about the no instruments in church version)? The definition of “smug superiority.” It reminds of the joke about the Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals up in heaven talking to a new arrival. The new arrival notices a wall and he asks “what is that for?” The response is “that beyond that wall are the Church of Christ – they think they are up here by themselves.”

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Knox I don’t even need to cite Church of Christ to find smug Christians. I probably should have said, “For someone who actually lives up to his stated beliefs.” By the same token, there are atheists who think bankers are slowly establishing a world police state and yet they seem to have decently happy lives, without turning into Mencken.

      • knoxharrington says:


        I moved to Lubbock to attend graduate school at Texas Tech and had never been exposed to the Church of Christ – which is very strong there. The level of self-congratulatory smugness and sense of superiority I saw there was breathtaking. As I have noted on here before I was raised in an evangelical, conservative home but I have never witnessed, in nearly 35 years of church attendance, the level of smugness present in those folks. Not everyone, to be sure, but a majority nonetheless.

        Not that you care or need my endorsement but I don’t find, nor would I place, you in the smug camp. My comment was more of a set-up for the joke.


        • Bob Murphy says:

          Thanks Knox. And just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to one-up your initial response. But no, I haven’t gone to Church of Christ in Texas, though I think some of my Nashville friends were former Church of Christ. (I was raised Catholic so I am still not great on the different denominations. Growing up they were all just “Protestants.”)

          • E. Harding says:

            Bob, I listen to a lawyer/Bible teacher called Mark Lanier, who teaches in Lubbock. Though I’m an atheist, I find his lectures engaging.

        • RPLong says:

          Are you sure it’s not just a Lubbock thing?

    • anon says:

      I was raised in the conservative CoC (the antis if you know the slang). Only a tiny minority of CoC people are smug; most are just normal, country people raised in a Hee Haw religion with recent generations being their boring suburbanite children. It just so happens that the smug asses among them rise to positions of prominence for the same reason that Hayek’s statist bad men rise to positions of power.

      If you’ve ever run into a Nazi LDS member(which will happen if you let the 19-year-old elders into your house and ask them difficult questions) or your garden-variety progressive knowitall, you’ll see that this personal is not unique to the noxious CoC.

  6. anon says:

    What about people who have consciously weeded out judgments of the world from their patterns of thought, people included?

    I have plenty of contempt for my fellow man like any good libertarian should, but if I were wise in the way that Buddha and saints are wise, I would have no more contempt for Stalin than I would for a shark eating baby seals or a cat torturing mice to death for pleasure. Everything behaves according to its nature, even the judgmental man judging nature to be evil.

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