Peter Thiel on faith, reason and hyper-Christianity
When I think of the ten commandments, I often think that the two most important are the first and last. The first: only worship God, look up to one true God. The last: you should not look around at your neighbour, you should not covet the things that belong to your neighbour.
When you do not have a transcendent religious belief you end up just looking around at other people. And I think that is the problem with our atheist liberal world, it is just the madness of crowds. It’s not reason, it’s not rational, it’s just mass insanity.
There’s a contrast between evangelical Christian Bible study and the atheist rationalists. For the evangelicals, the outward-facing thing is often that people are somehow more moral or better. And the inward-facing thing is that you’re kind of sinful and there’s a lot of stuff you need to fix. [For the atheist rationalists], the outward-facing thing is that you’re more rational than other people, and the inward-facing thing is that you’re not capable of thought at all, that it’s just spaghetti code.
To use the Thomistic Medieval distinction: the medievals believed in the weakness of the will but the power of the intellect, and the moderns believe in the power of the will but the weakness of the intellect. So I guess I think faith and reason are compatible and in fact when you get rid of faith you end up in a world where there’s no reason either. And we’re living in a much less rational world than we were living in 100 years ago.
I always think there are two different kinds of arguments. One is a metaphysical argument: God doesn’t exist, so the Bible’s not true. The second: the Christians aren’t Christian enough. And we have to think of what we’re struggling against as kind of hyper-Christianity, something like that. It’s sort of an extreme deformation of it. There are all sorts of forms that this takes. I think it’s not that there’s a shortage of morality, it’s that there is too much morality. I mean Greta [Thunberg] is so moral she wants to line up and shoot everybody who is not as committed to climate change. If you think of medieval Christianity, the two most important attributes of Christ were that he was divine and that he was poor. So anyone you saw who was poor might be Christ in disguise. But then in the 19th century you had people like Tolstoy or Marx who pushed this in a hyper-Christian direction—we had to do more than the Christians, we have to have a violent revolution, we’re going to do more for the poor in this world, right away.
And so I think the Christian alternative is to come back to see that we’re in this context, that it’s only if you realise you’re in a context in which things are pretty screwed up that you have any chance of moving beyond it. The two vignettes I always give on this subject: in the Ethiopian Coptic tradition, Pontius Pilate is seen as a saint. The reason is: you can’t expect more from a politican. It’s not that if you had lived in the time of Christ you would have done better. Which was the cause of medieval anti-semetism, you know, we should go after the Jews because if we had lived at the time we would have done better. Or more modern liberals say they would have been more tolerant in the middle ages, whereas its the people who style themselves as being part of the resistance—that very fact often tells you that they would have just been collaborators. And the second vignette: the Catholic doctrine of substantiation is super humbling, where it’s literally the body and the blood of Christ and you’re stilll no better than a cannibal, and still the problems of human nature, the problems of violence are this continuous with the past. And the only hope we have of doing better is to realise that we are still this contiguous with the past. And when we think we’ve set that behind us, we’ve transcended it, we’re much better, we’re hyper-Christian, we’re communist, we’re the tolerant people who would have been super tolerant in the middle ages, that’s when you’re simply worse.