Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive
Magazine Article

Unspoiled By The Vain Philosopher, I Cause Him To Flee When I Ask Real-Life Questions About (Gasp!) God

"It is different with the upper classes. They, following science, want to base justice on reason alone, but not with Christ, as before, and they have already proclaimed that there is no crime, that there is no sin. And that's consistent, for if you have no God what is the meaning of crime?. . . . And Ratkin does dislike God. . . .' But what will become of men then?' I asked him, `without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?'"

  • John Lofton,
Share this
"It is different with the upper classes. They, following science, want to base justice on reason alone, but not with Christ, as before, and they have already proclaimed that there is no crime, that there is no sin. And that's consistent, for if you have no God what is the meaning of crime?. . . . And Ratkin does dislike God. . . .' But what will become of men then?' I asked him, `without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?'"

From Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.

One of the many sad, disgusting and despicable things that confront Christians today is the way God-haters have risen to high offices in formerly Christian centers of learning. A case in point involves Alan Ryan, Princeton University and New College at Oxford in England. Alan Ryan was in the news recently when it was reported in the New York Times that he was one of several "gifted philosophers and political scientists" who met for a weekend at the Westchester County [New York] estate of the American, Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. The purpose of this meeting: To advise Soros how to spend more of his money each year on "philanthropy." Among other things, Soros has spent tens of thousands of dollars in California and Arizona to push the cause of legalizing the use of marijuana for "medical" reasons. And he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars funding groups that favor the legalization of all drugs. Ryan, who taught politics at Princeton, is now the Warden, or President, of New College at Oxford, in England.

Now, as Providence would have it, when I read the aforementioned Times story, I was working on a story about George Soros. So, I called Warden Ryan, interviewed him and here's the way it went:

For openers, Ryan says he has "no idea" why he was invited to this meeting with Soros. But, he says, he knew everyone there since (thank God!) "the philosophy community is fairly small." What kind of a philosopher is he? Well, Ryan says he is "a political theorist" who's written large books about John Dewey, Bertrand Russell and John Stuart Mill.

When I tell Ryan I have read one book-length interview with Soros, and one biography about him, and I'm still not clear on what, exactly, Soros believes concerning his advocacy of an "open society," Ryan says that, as he understands it, Soros believes in, among other things, a society that is "highly constitutional, with rules of debate."

Me: "But, what, precisely, are the rules Soros believes in? He speaks, repeatedly, of the necessity of what he calls `a rule of law' but does not say what this rule must be. Do you understand what Soros means here?"

Ryan (laughing): "Yeah. It's what I spend my time teaching."

Me: "Okay. So, what is this rule of law Soros believes in? What is its origin?"

Ryan (impatiently): "It's not the kind of thing one does in 30 seconds. This is getting awfully boring, honestly. I've got a lot of things to do and don't have time to be asked these kinds of elementary questions."

[Note: "Elementary," real-life questions always make philosophers very nervous.]

Me: "Sorry, but I'm just trying to understand what Mr. Soros believes."

Ryan: "Well, you ought to do some reading before you go any further."

Me: "I already have. In fact, I've read much more by and about Mr. Soros than you have, sir."

Ryan (snobbishly): "I'm not at all surprised since I spend my time reading people like Mill, [Immanuel] Kant and [Karl] Popper."

Me: "Do you think it's a good idea to legalize all drugs?"

Ryan: "All drugs?"

Me: "Yes." 

Ryan: "Well, that's a daft [foolish, feeble-minded J.L.] question."

Me: "But, this is what Mr. Soros seems to want to do and what many in America want to do."

Ryan: "That's absolute nonsense."

Me: "Do you believe heroin and crack and other now illegal drugs should be legalized?"

Ryan: "No, not all of them. Of course not."

Me: "What then is your view on drugs?"

Ryan: "My view on drugs?"

Me: "Yes!"

Ryan: "It's none of your business and I don't waste my time by going on about this."

Me: "You have no philosophy on the use of drugs?"

Ryan (seemingly shocked): "Why would I have a philosophy on drug use?!" (Well, as some of our youth say today, "duh!," how about because you are a philosopher!).

Me: "Do you or don't you have a philosophy regarding drug use?"

Ryan: "Why would I have a philosophy on drug use?"

Me: "Well, I don't know about your country, but in my country the use of drugs is a big problem. And since this is a problem and, at some point, I assume (ha!) that some philosophers might actually deal with a real-life problem, I thought you might have a philosophy about this."

Ryan: "Some do, some don't."

Me: "I mean, for all I know, you may be married and have children who might be exposed to the possible use of illegal drugs. Is it really all that daft, sir, that shocking, to ask if you have a philosophy about using drugs?"

Ryan: "Well, because there's an enormously different range of drugs . . . what you'd want to say about marijuana is very unlikely what you'd want to say about heroin. Quite a lot of drugs of very small quantity poison you very, very powerfully. Whereas various other kinds of drugs don't. I mean, it's like booze. When someone is in favor of legal alcohol it doesn't mean they want people to go around drinking methylate spirits which is why it is daft to raise the philosophical question."

Me: "No, it is not! Because your answer regarding the legalization of drugs issue will be connected to, and proceed from, your philosophy concerning what, for example, human beings are, what consciousness is, what human life is."

Ryan: "No, no. That's far too general."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Ryan: "There are some societies in which it is probably very unsafe to legalize most drugs because the inhabitants will become instantaneously addicted to them. There are some societies where, on the whole, the inhabitants don't get addicted and therefore don't seem to do much damage. It depends on what concentrations you're talking about." Hmm. Sounds like the man is beginning to philosophize, doesn't it?

Me: "What does `addicted' mean?"

Ryan: "It has a whole range, from people who can't stop taking things because they are psychologically habituated and find it unpleasant to stop, to the extreme addict where you try to stop and suffer the most God-awful physical withdrawal symptoms. . . . [This is] a question of balancing off peoples' freedom on the one hand and their likelihood of poisoning themselves on the other. It's a question of how much you think it's worth to society to spend on particular forms of prevention."

Me: "Should marijuana be legal?"

Ryan: "It probably should be."

Me: "Because it doesn't poison people?"

Ryan: "Because you need to consume rather a lot before there's real trouble. If you legalize, you can probably draw a sharp line between soft drugs and hard drugs. You'd probably find it easier to police hard drugs as you legalize soft drugs. . . .

Me: "Do people have the right to get drunk if they want to?"

Ryan: "Not just like that."

Me: "What does that mean? The illegal drugs I'm asking you about marijuana, crack, heroin, others are taken to get drunk! They are intoxicants! They are taken to get high!"

Ryan: "Yeah."

Me: "So, do you believe people have the right to get drunk on such drugs if they want to?"

Ryan: "Well, under some conditions, I don't see why they shouldn't, certainly if they're not going to drive cars, or beat up their families, or friends, neighbors, or whatever. I mean "

Me: "Fine. I'm just trying to learn your position. Now, a lot of people, Christians, believe God when He says it is always a sin to get drunk. Are you a Christian?"

Ryan (clearly outraged): "Absolutely not!"

Me: "But, God says drunkenness is always a sin."

Ryan: "God also says eating badgers is a sin. God says eating pork is a sin. God says all kinds of weird and wonderful things."

Me: "How do you tell the weird from the wonderful?"

Ryan (after long pause): "Well, I think they're mostly weird."

Me: "But your saying God says mostly weird things means some things He says are not weird which means you are judging God. And this means you are acting like you are God."

Ryan: "Were it the case that God had said anything opposed to a bunch of persons claiming He had "

Me: "So, you are an atheist?"

Ryan: "Yeah. Certainly I am!"

Me: "Well, then what does it matter what humans do to each other? whether they poison themselves, drive drunk, or beat up families and friends? Who cares?"

Ryan: "But, it matters to human beings what they do to each other."

Me: "But, why should it matter to me, or any other human being, what another human being wants?! As a character notes, correctly, in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, if there is no God then all things are permitted."

Ryan: "Well, that's rubbish!"

Me: "Oh? Then what prohibits things if there is no God?!"

Ryan: "What do you mean, what prohibits them?"

Me: "If there is no God, what prohibits me, or any other human being, from doing anything to another human being?! Where, if there is no God, do right and wrong come from?! Do you believe in right and wrong?! Of course you do! You'll now tell me that yes, that you certainly do believe in right and wrong, good and evil. Well, where, if there is no God, do these things come from?!" Click. No reply. Warden Ryan rings off, as they say across the pond. He hangs up without so much as a "cheerio." No surprise here, however, at least not to this Christian. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).

  • John Lofton

John Lofton (1941 – 2014), called himself a “recovering Republican,” and worked as a journalist for much of his life.

More by John Lofton