Actually the back-and-forth between Michael Novak and Heather Mac Donald at National Review Online is very civil.  The debate is familiar, but the context isn’t.

Novak: “What is difficult to believe is that any one of us—you, me, or Heather—knows more than God does about His love for every individual. He called each other out from nothingness, having known each of us by name, ‘from before Time was.’ We are not God’s judge. He is ours.”

Mac Donald: “God’s ‘love’ is different from human love; it includes the capacity to foresee and watch the destruction of one’s children and not intervene. But then why not use a different word entirely—’callousness,’ say.”

What makes this discussion so weird is that both parties call themselves conservatives.  Yet conservatism (as a real political philosophy, not the worship of Dear Leader Bush) has its roots sunk deep in revealed religion, the divine right of kings, and the maintenance of stable traditional social order. The idea that any individual, no matter how humble, could reason things out on his or her own, was and is subversive of the social order conservatives wanted to protect. Voltaire prudently lived across the border, not in France.

If conservatives can indeed be atheists–hey, OK by me!–surely that marks one more victory for the liberal Enlightenment in the 300-year-old culture wars, the same kind of unheralded victory progressives won nationally when GWB appointed a multiracial cabinet, or locally the other day when arch-conservative Tom Roeser endorsed binding primaries.

(FYI: Jonathan Rowe has more good thoughts on Mac Donald at Positive Liberty.)