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Certainty is a Virtue, Not a Vice

Jonah Goldberg/TN : Dec 28, 2006 : The National Review/Tribune Media

"A dogmatic conviction can also be morally praiseworthy and socially valuable. If you doubt that, let us now commence the war on the certainty that murder is wrong, that racism is bad and that a parent's love should be unconditional." — G. K. Chesterton

In an op-ed for the National Review entitled Are You Certain About That? Jonah Goldberg discusses the current debate over what intellectual historian J.P. Diggins describes as the war afoot for "the soul of the American Republic" between the forces of skepticism and infallibility; a battle Sam Harris — on a "one-man crusade on religious certainty" — wages as "the leading proselytizer for atheism."

New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, notes Goldberg, brought the subject to the forefront of a public debate a few years ago when he said that a primary lesson of his entire career was that "certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft."

That is the furthest thing from the truth, concludes Goldberg: "Virtually every hero in human history has been driven by certainty, by the courage of their convictions. Sir Thomas More and Socrates chose certain death, pun intended, over uncertain life. Martin Luther King Jr. ...was hardly plagued with doubt about the rightness of his cause. A Rosa Parks charged with today's reigning moral imperative not to be too sure of herself might not have sat at the front of the bus. An FDR certain that certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity might have declined to declare total war on Nazism for fear of becoming as bad as his enemy. The fact is that unless you know where you stand, it's unlikely you'll have the courage to understand where someone else is coming from."

"Yes, of course, dogmatism can be very bad, if the dogma in question is bad," adds Goldberg, "But, as Chesterton teaches, a dogmatic conviction can also be morally praiseworthy and socially valuable. If you doubt that, let us now commence the war on the certainty that murder is wrong, that racism is bad and that a parent's love should be unconditional."

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