When the political discourse of the day grows so banal and vulgar as to cause me to lose all hope, and even the charms of my viola cannot adequately divert me, I turn on occasion to some of the noblest texts in the Western philosophical tradition, not for enlightenment so much as for consolation, in much the way that a little child, when frightened, will nestle reassured under the covers at the words "Once upon a time.."
This afternoon, I opened my worn and much thumbed copy of Thomas Hobbes' great masterpiece, Leviathan. I paged through to Chapter Six of Part One, which bears the title, "Of The Interior Beginnings Of Voluntary Motions; Commonly Called The Passions; And The Speeches By Which They Are Expressed." If you are not acquainted with Leviathan, or perhaps have not looked at it since your student days, I recommend spending some time with it. Hobbes is one of the consummate stylists of the English Language. The chapter in question is a series of extraordinary and unexpected definitions of familiar words -- Love, Hate, Contempt, Good, Evil, Hope, Despair, Fear, Courage, and many, many more.
For more than sixty years now my favorite of Hobbes' definitions have been these, appearing midway through the chapter.
"Fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind, or imagined from tales publicly allowed, RELIGION; not allowed, SUPERSTITION."
Just think what Hobbes accomplishes in these eighteen words! The only distinction between religion and superstition is whether the tales that provoke our fear of things invisible are allowed or not allowed. It is the law, the will of the sovereign, that constitutes the difference betwixt the two. I think that single sentence may be the most powerful argument against religion faith ever written.
There, now I can face another evening of bloviating pundits.