In Defense of Certainty

It's trendy to be suspicious of people with "deeply held views." And it's wrong

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"And in [William] Pryor's case, his beliefs are so well known, so deeply held, that it's very hard to believe, very hard to believe that they're not going to deeply influence the way he comes about saying, 'I will follow the law.' And that would be true of anybody who had very, very deeply held views."

--Senator Charles Schumer, during a hearing on the nomination of William Pryor for U.S. appeals-court judge, June 2003

These things come in waves, of course, but waves need to be resisted, even if the exercise leaves you feeling like King Canute. The new wave is fashionable doubt. Doubt is in. Certainty is out.

The New Republic devotes a cover article to hailing the "conservatism of doubt." For the less bookish, Hollywood spends $130 million on a Crusader epic in which the heroes are 12th century multiculturalists, Christian and Muslim, who want nothing more than love, peace and interfaith understanding. (Such people inhabit 21st century Hollywood, but as columnist John Podhoretz points out, they were nowhere to be seen in 12th century Jerusalem.)

And dare you have any "deeply held views"--a transparent euphemism for religiously grounded views--especially regarding abortion, watch out for Schumer and other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. They might well declare you disqualified for the bench.

The Op-Ed pages are filled with jeremiads about believers--principally evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics--bent on turning the U.S. into a theocracy. Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong--indeed, deeply un-American--about fearing people simply because they believe. It seems perfectly O.K. for secularists to impose their secular views on America, such as, say, legalized abortion or gay marriage. But when someone takes the contrary view, all of a sudden he is trying to impose his view on you. And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.

What nonsense. The campaign against certainty is merely the philosophical veneer for an attempt to politically marginalize and intellectually disenfranchise believers. Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty or, even worse, unseemly religiosity.

Why this panic about certainty and people who display it? It is not just, as conventional wisdom has it, that liberals think the last election was lost because of a bloc of benighted Evangelicals. It is because we are almost four years from 9/11 and four years of moral certainty, and firm belief is about all that secular liberalism can tolerate.

Do you remember 9/11? How you felt? The moral clarity of that day and the days thereafter? Just days after 9/11, on this very page, Lance Morrow wrote a brilliant, searing affirmation of right against wrong, good against evil.

A few years of that near papal certainty is more than any self-respecting intelligentsia can take. The overwhelmingly secular intellectuals are embarrassed that they once nodded in assent to Morrow-like certainty, an affront to their self-flattering pose as skeptics.

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