Only as Bad as it’s Ever Been: PJ O’Rourke on American Values, Politics and Culture

November 28, 2016

This week we’re dusting off a favorite Point of Inquiry episode from three years ago: Josh Zepps’ conversation with P.J. O’Rourke – humorist, cultural commentator and bestselling author of sixteen books. Originally broadcast in December of 2013, this episode’s subject matter is remarkably relevant for this current political and cultural moment, as we prepare for the presidency of a man whose campaign was based on the promise to return America to a golden age that really never existed.

O’Rourke is an early proponent of “gonzo journalism” and is a self described libertarian, he’s served as editor-in-chief of National Lampoon, and has spent 20 years reporting for Rolling Stone and The Atlantic as the worlds only “trouble spot humorist” going to wars, riots, rebellions, and other “Holidays in Hell” in more than 40 countries. O’Rourke is the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and a frequent panelist on National Public Radio’s game show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

In this episode they discuss everything from abortion and privacy, to the party following the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the looting of the Baghdad Museum. They discuss American values both of individualism and the fundamental shared American mentality of dissatisfaction, and that things are never good enough. The same dissatisfaction that often has us yearning for the “good ol’ days” is also the American quality that propels us forward, hungry for a better life, and unwilling to settle.

This is point of inquiry. 

Welcome to a point of inquiry. I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving break. If you’re one of our North American listeners, if you’re not one of our North American listeners, Thanksgiving is something they do there. And I hope you had a lovely week anyway. This show is, of course, a production of the Center for Inquiry, which aims to foster a secular society based on science and reason and secular humanism. 

You can support the center by going to center for inquiry dot org slash membership and you can follow this show on Twitter at point of inquiry. Follow me at Josh Zepps and you can find my other podcast, We the People Live, which is a funny, thoughtful political roundtable at WTOP Underscore live this week. Thanks to the holidays, we’re getting a little bit of a retrospective. We thought we’d give you one of our favorite episodes. It’s a conversation that I had all the way back in late 2013 with PJ O’Rourke, one of America’s great satirical writers and thinkers. And it’s particularly interesting to hear his thoughts about libertarianism and reason and irrationality in America. With the benefit of of three years hindsight and especially given what’s gone on in politics and culture in 2016 in this country. So we thought you’d enjoy this. Have a lovely Thanksgiving break. We’ll be back to normal programing next week. 

PJ O’Rourke is one of America’s most iconic humorists and cultural commentators. 

He was the editor in chief of National Lampoon, then spent 20 years as a war correspondent with comic flair, writing for Rolling Stone and The Atlantic Monthly. He’s a number one New York Times best selling author of 16 books and a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard, a fellow at the Cato Institute, a member of the editorial board of World Affairs. And, of course, a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me. His new book is The Baby Boom. How it Got That Way and It Wasn’t My Fault and I’ll Never Do It Again to discuss the current state of U.S. culture and reason. P.J. O’Rourke is here pitching almost sound authoritative with do I. 

When I really it like that. Yeah. Yeah. I was impressed myself. Did you think who was that guy. I think. I think. 

Yeah. And then I remembered who was being spoken about. I realize that while all of that is true on the face of it doesn’t really necessarily indicate much. 

When you look at the state of American culture over the decades since you began writing and commenting on it, what do you make of it? 

Oh, I don’t suppose it’s any worse than it’s ever been. The thing is, with democratic cultures is that they at their Zina’s at the tippy top, two percent of popular culture is brilliant beyond belief. Shakespeare, the remaining 98 percent is garbage. When you have aristocratic culture, say, the Renaissance, you probably get a larger proportion of things that are pretty good and a smaller percentage of things that are just garbage. Although we don’t know that for sure. I was wandering around Florence last summer and realizing were the only kept the good stuff tonight. True. 

Yeah. We have no idea what it was. 

There’s probably a whole bunch of crap that was, you know, people couldn’t pay their shit at the bottom of the canals. 

They’re out. They’re gone now. You know, they’ve been used to. You used to. Yes. I mean, dinner. That is one of the concerns, though, right? That I think of the impact Murdock has had on the British on the British press. 

And, yes, the top echelons of British press and to the top echelons of American media are still very, very good. 

But the medium, as you know, the my way down media down hero in that when everyone used to watch Cronkite and read The New York Times or in Britain, they would all watch the BBC and now they can watch movies on. Yeah, that is a worry. 

And you only have to tune into an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. 


Something is is terribly wrong with our culture, but I don’t know. You know, I, I’m, I’m optimistic about these things, optimistic about individualism. And I think that while we have our our moments of excess and our moments of terrible taste, these things are in the long term, self-correcting, although may or may be Honey Boo Boo may have grown into a 700 pound adult. 

And I am long gone before her before this reaction has taken place. But I don’t think people are going to look back to this moment in time and think, golly, they were turning out great. Reality television. 

You know, I mean, it’s hard to imagine, you know, I mean, there’s there there’s there’s a Racine, you know, there’s get there’s there’s Shakespeare and there’s Billy the Exterminator. 

But then I do wonder whether everyone thinks that about their era as well. Oh, absolutely. If you go back like the olden days, you know, what am I they used to. 

All you have to do is go back and read your Cato the elder in. In ancient Rome to find out that, yes, the current times are always being decried as horribly decadent and trashy and worthless. And the past was some wonderful golden age. And of course, is that Florentine paintings that got thrown away. Is memory is selective. 

Why were not all only children, isn’t it? You know, it’s. 

Yeah. I like how I will book it is because you say if you think that there was some age of pleasure and plenty to which you would return if you could. I have one word for you. 

Dentistry. Yes. Ethically. Nobody wants a dentist. Even from 1950s alone. From the eighteen fifties or 1750. 

You just said that you have faith in individualism. What does that mean and why? 

I’ve had a strong feeling of individualism. Part of that’s just being an American, I suppose. Part of that’s also being an American my age. Born in 1947, born into an era of not so much of a plenty exactly, but of tremendous growth and optimism so that you you were in in in born into an era of increasing individualism. People think the 50s were very conformist, but actually compared to to two eras before that, World War Two and before it were war one, knocked a lot of convention out of society, a lot of prejudice. 

Society and in just go watch Downton Abbey, it’s for an idea of what happened after World War One that happened, of course, to middle class people after World War two, we would not grow up in a sort of class ridden society. The racial and ethnic divisions that had existed from time immemorial were beginning to crumble and would eventually do so. And so it was a very individualistic era. And I suppose my sense of individualism comes from the world I grew up in. My parents think it’s universal. 

When you think about Bush’s second inauguration speech, where he’s talking about freedom is something that’s instilled in every single human being and yet something that the that the state gives to us. Yes. It born within us. 

I absolutely think a sense of freedom and individuality is innate to humans. And I have never met a human be they ever so far off the grid or in ever so much a different culture who didn’t act as if he or she had free will. 

Now, I’m not about to get into the question of what we were all got a five day Roy and four or five days and have put us all to sleep. But but we act as if we do. I do believe that we do, in fact, do. But I mean, we certainly act on the obsession that we do. 

And just because somebody belongs to what we might think of as very traditional, hidebound society or a society very narrowly constrained a society with all sorts of fanatical religious rules or castes or something that restricts human individuality when you talk to the individual human in that society. Bingo. You find an individual who’s perfectly aware that he’s different from the next individual over. 

But see that this is what’s this is the rift within the right. I think so interesting at the moment because, you know, you’re conservative and you’re supposed to like family and structure and hierarchy and tradition and the great Western values. On the other hand, you’re telling me that the individualism, every every person conceives of themselves as an individual doesn’t want to be hidebound by by structure. I mean, if a person wants to break out of their cultural cultural mores that surround them and decided they find themselves in the family that they they grow grew up in. How do you reconcile those two strains, the sort of libertarian versus conservative? 

Yeah. No, and it’s tough. 

And there is no simple answer to that. 

That while we have to realize that individualism is central and precious and that that any criticism of society or political system has to first ask the questions, how does this affect the individual? How does this affect the individual liberty? How does this affect individual responsibility? How does this respect individual right? How does this affect individual rights? Yes, we have to answer that the same time. We have to have a an understanding of why structure wise social structures exist and what value they provide. 

And not all the value they provide is positive value, of course. But but but but, you know, I always say to people always say, well, I’ve been offered. 

Does this come up? I mean, the people in the street and I go, yes, I go right up to them and say, now, when someone claims to me, often a young person claims that they’re an anarchist, I say to them, come with me to Mogadishu. 

Let’s think that through again that that even even a pretty bad structure under certain circumstances can be better than no structure at all. And the same criticism not be made of of libertarians to some extent that people can be too pure in their libertarianism to so pure in their libertarianism that they lose sight of the purpose of libertarianism and answers so that they are willing to unleash things upon the individual that would actually harm their individualism in the name of individualism. 

Everybody’s willing to go too far with their ideas and they just look at you. And I mean, like I said, I’m a religious person. And yet look at the history of religion around the world and the amount of horrible, horrible things that have been done in the name of religion, including in the name of the very best religion. 

I mean, there there are all these like, you know, beloved of Hollywood Buddhists out there, you know, murdering India. Sorry to say, you know, there is no religion that you can have that keeps you from this. Yeah. So you always have to face this this conundrum of balance. And, gosh, I would be much more fun as a humorous and I think I would be much more fun as a political thinker if you were able to throw balance to the wind and just go, you know, absolute on on everything you thought, you know, go well, manito you kind of you kind of have traditionally used that as part of your comic conceit, haven’t you? 

I mean, a lot of your writing, especially in the early days, was it was intentionally extreme. Yeah. Yes, Republican, but a reptile give war a chance. You know, you’re not actually saying that war is better at base. 

No, of course not. Although, you know, obviously you give a reward to justice. It’s just it’s things is that there are moments when, well, war is never preferable to peace. There are moments when you have to have war. And so, yes. And now I’ve come to the years of moderation and oh, damn it, you know, I get pissed. It pisses me off. But, you know, frankly, the kind of the kind of wild exaggeration that works for somebody in their 20s doesn’t actually work for somebody in their 60s, because when somebody in their 60s is voicing the kind of wild exaggeration that a 20 year old standup comedian can do, they just look like a nutter. 

So you do have to come sort serve, start coming around at things from a slightly different. 

You have to start admitting your own puzzlement and support when you mentioned that religions are all responsible for some level of violence. Does that never get to a point where it gives you pause and makes you think, well, hang on, why am I engaged in this in this game? 

Oh, sure. Absolutely. Any time, you know. And my father in law, who is much more devout Catholic than I am, I’m sort of a Catholic fellow traveler. I was actually brought up props. I go to my. Kids are being raised Catholic. I bring this up to him because he sees keeps all the holy days of obligation. And he’s he’s quite, quite a strict Irish Catholic. Son of Catholic. Of Catholic Irish immigrants. And I said, I’ll say this to him, for instance, the whole child abuse scandal in the church, which he was furious about. 

And he said always remember that the church is an institution of mental. And therefore, you know, and men are fallen and have original sin women to gays. 

I think even transgender, every one, I our viewers would agree that the church, as an institution of men, they would just say it is only. 

Well, there is that where the Catholic Church that I don’t I don’t even mean excluding women are just a bunch of men has now gone up there. It’s just a bunch of men gathering. 

And I don’t actually believe that. But but I understand the temptation to do so. You know, it’s just I mean, I suppose if I were to come down to some sort of justification for why I have a religious side is that I look around and see a world that that if if it is an accident, it’s as though somebody has dropped a hot skillet and some eggs and some cheese and some mushrooms on the kitchen floor and somehow an omelet got made. And I guess I suppose in theory, if you if you if you keep doing that for billions and billions and billions of years, hundreds of times an hour, eventually you will get an omelet, you know, and this is the omelet that we’re in. And so I suppose it could happen. 

Well, I do think it’s a common misconception, though, that if what you’re talking about is evolution or natural selection, that it’s random. I mean, the mutations are random. Right. But the whole point of natural selection is that it is a nonrandom process that selects wealth. 

It is the world you see around us. 

It’s a bit like if you dropped all the eggs in the end, the genes in such a way that they got slightly more omelet like migration with you try and have hundreds of millions of years old last time. 

I don’t I don’t actually mean in a world that we inhabit every day. And look look around at this. But actually, just the fact that the universe exists at all, you know, that it exists with a certain sort of understandable order list. We think we can understand it. And it seems to and it resulted in stuff like stars and planets. 

How does that I think a lot of people are baffled by that, even secular people. 

One would think it’s baffling. Bang. That’s exactly what is. Why is there. Is there anything but, you know, it’s a but, you know, comfort for atheists. 

It’s baffling if you’re religious to everyone. 

All right. Yeah, well, that’s what things we’re just not going to know. Yeah, well, you always think it doesn’t make the answer any easier to say. Oh, well, there’s a thing called God who made it happen. Right. 

Well, then what made the Gods USA is a big part of the wisdom, not part of the wisdom. The entire wisdom of age is to realize so many things were no pictures. We’re just not going to happen. You know, with meet’s algebra, it starts with algebra. It goes all the way. 

And that was it was raised last week. There’s a myth that beginning at the end of knowledge, six o’clock. 

I remember I remember understanding so much when I was 18. I knew everything in the world when I was 18. 

Oh, no, no. You don’t remember understanding anything. You remember knowing it. 

All right. No, I knew everything when I was 18. Do I? Yeah. 

Yeah. Wasn’t that great. Which is better. The blissful ignorance of thinking that, you know, or the the God. The wisdom of of of knowing that you don’t. 

Oh, the latter, I think, you know, I think that the about the only thing that gets to be more fun as time goes by is the mind. You know, I, I have teenage kids, you know, and I wouldn’t inhabit a teenage my. 

I would love to inhabit a teenage body, so to speak. It’s not as if you get what I mean. No one would love to have a say coming out. Right. 

I think you play sports. And so this is exactly what I. Yes. Yes. 

I wish my need and may need to nakhon all. That’s precisely the part of the anatomy that destiny is all about. 

Knees, the shoulders, perhaps, too. But to be to have the brain of a teenager again, to be going through all those moods and God knows, save us. 

What do you what influence is your political philosophy? Well, what do you think? How does your political philosophy fall on the spectrum that we currently see in the States? 

Well, I would say pretty far over on the conservative side without going wacky about it. But but it. But it’s your favorite, Paul. Who if other politicians. Oh, I don’t have favorite politicians. It’s not a good idea for a reporter to have favorite politicians. Mean the problems with politicians is that they have immense charm, at least sometimes. That’s how they get elected. It’s their job. I mean, it’s like it’s like interviewing actors. I mean, if an actor is desirous of being likable and of course, nowadays some there are some of them that make a big point of not being like the average over my own country. 


But the average the average old fashioned actor, you know, can can pour on a charm and you come away, think, oh, what a great person that was. And politicians are the same way. Now, you know, never, ever get to know them. 

You know, you think you you go to meet with somebody and you think you oppose everything they’ve ever said or, you know, I mean, it could be could be Trotzky, you know, and then he turns out, you know, he lets you win at chess and he’s full of charm and buys you little cups of coffee in Vienna. No. Say never again. 

I don’t have any favorite politicians, you know. But as far as where my politics fall, it’s it’s all spotty. It’s a little bit of a putting there because there are some things that, you know, things like gay marriage and stuff that I just don’t see why those are political questions. AIDS. Bring us back to discussions of religion. But the state can’t make a marriage. The state can only make a contract. Why should any two people need two adult people in their right mind, not have the right to make any contract that they wish between themselves is not part as long as is deleterious to the well-being of someone else? I mean, isn’t that capitalism? Isn’t that freedom? You know, isn’t that everything that we stand for? Marriage, on the other hand, sexually religious ceremony in a state doesn’t state and politics don’t shouldn’t have. Isn’t that right there in the Constitution? But, you know, I mean, that’s none of their business, you know? So I just don’t think these things. Abortion. Abortion is you know, it’s it is a tricky question for for, you know, somebody who’s like a believing libertarian. I think abortion is wrong. I think it’s a mortal sin. But I also think that the state has to be very careful when they declare that a citizen has rights. You don’t want to prematurely declare that they have no rights. And let’s euthanize the old people, one of which I’m getting to be. No, no, thank you. No, none of that, please. You know, you certainly don’t go. I mean, why is killing a baby that’s eight and a half months old? Okay, well, killing a baby that’s nine 1/2 months old is a heinous crime. You know, for which you should be executed. 

Well, a liberal would presumably say that that’s precisely why you need to leave these decisions up to a woman and and the voter. 

And I would go I would be inclined to to agree with the proviso, of course, that law being law, you have to figure out where there is some point in there traditionally and traditions do. And they’re used traditionally quickening was the. And that corresponds pretty closely to the law. That’s right. Pretty much what we what we’ve pretty much where we’ve come down to him mean quickening. Of course, not technical term, but it’s you know, the loss of the law has to draw the line someplace, just like the loss of drug has to figure out when you’re dead is when you’re brain dead, is when your heart stops and so on. So, yeah, there’s a whole lot of things I want the state to stay out of that. So my fellow conservatives would like the state to be involved in. 

Well, there’s a reason why some of your fellow conservatives want the state to get involved in that. And that reason bloops is back to religion. It does. I mean, where does religion. 

Many would be thinking that they that there’s something wrong with God. 

Oh, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t go down that line of reasoning because view go back again to the Roman philosophers. You will find people. 

They were shagging young boys all over the place. P.J.. Yes. Yes. But and then and every time they took a break, it was to say how wrong that was. 

Now, if you go back to that, to the cynic philosophers or the or even the epicurean philosophers who were by no means actually curing this or the stoic philosophers, you will find them without any use of God whatsoever, bossing people around all over the place. And Plato’s Republic is a horrible spot on. And this is not based on Relu religious philosophy, as we would understand it. This was this is not First Street Baptist Church talking. This is Plato. 

It’s a pretty religiously minded kind of world view, though, that there’s this world there’s this other world in which everything’s perfect. And we are living in a fallen world, merely shadows on the walls of a cave. 

I mean, it’s it’s a it’s a religious. You does have a religious aspect to it. But let us not forget the lesson of Marxism that these things can be achieved with perfect theism. Yeah, we know all sorts of. 

He doesn’t a lot of atheists would say that North Korea and the Soviet Union were anything or anything but atheist places, because all you’re doing is making a god of your. 

And then have a point. Wouldn’t they? Yeah. Yeah. Be careful about making a God of your God. That’s right. 

If that makes any sense. Sure. 

What do you make of privacy? We’re talking about libertarianism. We’re talking about American culture. 

The technology has just gotten so far out ahead of us, hasn’t it? 

I mean, this is I mean, a personal privacy and then, you know, social media and what people share on Facebook can be what the government’s doing over the NSA and Snowden’s revelations. 

And I can’t say I like Snowden a bit. On the other hand. 

Did he raise an important point, what he did? 

Am I creeped out by the government doing this? You bet I am. There are some retired colonel, you’ve been in military intelligence, wrote a piece I wish I could remember his name. He wrote a piece in New York Times saying, we do not have a surveillance state, but we have all the equipment in place. Yes, Joe, I do not like this. And I do. I don’t like to say the same for the same reason I’m against gun control. It’s just too Irish not to want to keep a sword in the Thach. It’s not because I think that anything’s going to happen with this government no matter how much I don’t like this government. Even if we get like a Democratic Congress and somebody who’s like way to the left of Obama, I don’t think anything’s going to happen. I don’t think it’s capped. My children, I don’t think it’s going to happen to my grandchildren, but I want the option there just in case. 

Four thousand years hence, some real assholes get in charge. 

Yeah, but those real assholes are going to have our first airborne and nuclear arsenal. You’re going to shoot your way out of your house against that. 

You’d be surprised. You’d be surprised. First place militaries tend to split on these questions. The Russian civil war, for instance, you know, during the revolution, not all the Russian army. In fact, even not most of the Russian army went over to the communists. But the other thing is, I was down in Georgia and Georgia, the country, Georgia, when Georgia was shaking its way free from the Soviet Union. And I realized the fundamental fallacy of gun control because there were guns everywhere. 

And I said, wait a minute. I thought the Soviet Union had the strictest, most draconian gun control law in the world. So did some or all these guns come from? I said. 

We smeared them with lamb fat and we wrap them in canvas. And we buried them in our gardens. 

There they were back. Yes, yes, yes. 

I don’t want this potential for surveillance to exist, not because I don’t trust our government because but because I don’t trust government in the larger sense. And who knows what kind of government we’ll have on shows. 

I mean, I’ve interviewed security people who have referred to this as a turnkey dictatorship. 

In other words, you need to do is just a business like this. Why? 

But because you mentioned the U.S. is out there and Georgia, you are in. You look at the fall of the Berlin Wall, right. 

Pretty closely. And just after. No, I wasn’t actually. It opened up at midnight on Thursday night. And I got on the first plane I could get on and I got there early Sunday morning. So I got to see the party. I could see fall the actual war. But I mean, the all was still there early. The East German guards were on top of it, but people were handing out bottles of champagne to them and people sort of knocking down the wall with like Gulla hardware stores robbed sledgehammers. 

So they’d gone in for, like, take hammers important, patiently standing at the wall. And eventually we’ll get to it eventually. It’s only six feet. 

What were you doing? What are you thinking? What were you feeling? 

Great. I was just feeling great. I was like, I. I guess I never really thought much. I wasn’t one of those kids who was panicked by the idea of atomic war. You know, I thought it was fun when we got down under our desk for duck and cover up. It was beat algebra, done it. And I’d never thought I’d worried about all that. But all of a sudden, standing near the Berlin Wall, I realized this isn’t going to happen. There isn’t going to be an atomic war. It’s just simply not going to happen. It’s over. And we won. How cool is this? I felt absolutely great cause you knew some other horrible thing would be coming down the road. And on 9/11 it did, you know, but nonetheless, you couldn’t help but feel great. 

And when you were working as a war correspondent or humorist who went to trouble spots and trouble, yeah, the technical term is shitholes, special assistance. 

What we all called ourselves back in the day when I was kind of a small, fairly small group, few hundred people really did this for a living. And the trouble of any kind wouldn’t break out whether it was like the overthrow of Marcos or whether it was an actual war or whether it was the recent relief efforts in Somalia. And we’d all be there. We all knew each other. 

And so you went to a bazillion places? Yeah, I did. Yeah. The Philippines. 

You went to Iraq right now about 40. I did. I filed from about 40 shuttles. 

What? What’s your shithole lesson about human nature and human culture? Did you manage to to find any kind of coalescing, overarching principle people the same the world over? 

I mean, they really are. You put it in bad circumstances and bad. You put them in good circumstances. A good people really aren’t all that different. And obviously, if you can make a personal connection with people, you usually works. You know, I mean, if you if you can get this thing off the basis of group to group and get it down to you, to them, you know, usually works pretty well or sometimes issue you. 

Again, this brings us back to the question of religion, because, again, as you say, if you can get down to an individual human being, talking to an individual human being, you usually find a common ground group against group is trickier than there are no groups that rally around themself, rally around each other more tightly than religious. 

On the other hand, I spent like a really pleasant hour or two, I guess, with a mullah in Afghanistan talking about this. And his basic position was he said, you know, if you come and stay with me and I’ll make you a Muslim, he said, because you’ve read the Muslims as the Jews divide the Old Testament into two parts. 

And he said he said there are four books you’ve only read, three you read. You know, the Torah and you’ve read that the minor prophets and you read the New Testament. So there’s a fourth book. 

The Koran. You haven’t read it. 

We are very affable time discussing this stuff. It was, you know, the you can get the person to person thing without people deserting our group or ignoring the fact that you belong to another group. But just that wants to realize I was examples and is not know, exciting, dramatic example. But I was at the museum, the archeological museum in Baghdad, which had been looted and U.S. troops were showing me around, showing me why you’re being rude. They were showing me why it had been looted. It really did not. Well, there had been some moving around. And among the rooting around, things were all sorts of of the Republican Guard emplacements had been dug in around the museum. And the reason that the U.S. soldiers couldn’t protect the contents of the museum was as they weren’t getting shot at. They had to first, like, kill the people who were in front the museum before they could protect the museum. And while they were getting shot at, somebody went around the back of the museum. No. People want a round of activism and tookes off. A lot of stuff. So Donny George since deceased, unfortunately. Very nice guy. So Iraqi Christian, who is the he the curator of the museum. And I get over there a couple days after this is all happened. And Dave George is really sick of talking to reporters and he no more reporters, no more reporters, no more interviews. Everybody go away. And I’m just kind of hanging around, hanging around, like trying to be pleasant and. And he kind of turns to me, you know, so he’s going to tell me no more reporters and I want to talk to him. And I’d kind of put my notepad away. I don’t even use a a tape recorder because they upset people. You know, if you’re right, people writing things down, people just ignore you. But if you’ve you’re taping them, they get nervous. So anyway, and he turns to me and I point to a nearby statue and I said that, son, and I’m pulling the satellite. 

My but that’s that isn’t that that’s a Hellenistic influence on Buddhist statuary, isn’t it? I mean, that’s that that’s a product of of Alexander the greats invasion of what is now Afghanistan. 

And he goes, yes, and puts his arm around me and pulls me into the museum and I get a complete tour of the agony. 

He shows me all exactly. He shows me how the people knew exactly what to take and how they had come in. They didn’t do this just like with crowbars. They came with stones, saws and as sophisticated as what official who was totally a professional job. This place where there’s no electricity and they brought stone saws in. 

And I’ve used a stone blade on a portable rotary saw. And they must have come in with about 40 batteries, too, because you run through the batteries almost immediately and they’re taking, you know, things I realize and making hand gestures on radio here. 

These you know, they’re cutting through things, you know, I think figures a middle of bowling ball. 

And anyway, so it’s that human connection if you can do that human connection. Yeah. 

I mean, I guess one of the things that that I think the secular world lacks and is going to have to figure out how to do is creating the structures that religion gives to people in the sense of community that religion. 

There is a feeling among many 19th century and 20th century philosophers, including some who are themselves atheistic, like George Santayana, that Western culture was living off the sort of bank deposits of Christian virtue and that they were they were spending them, but not replacing them with anything. 

So now the ancient Greek philosophers in ancient Roman philosophers, people like Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, show us that an ethical system can be constructed without a belief in God. I was talking to my friend Andy Ferguson, who was one of the top writers at the bit best guy, I think, at the Weekly Standard. And Andy is is a Catholic himself. And Andy and I were talking about this and he said, yeah, this is absolutely doable. You can create a good, excellent ethical system without God. It’s kind of a trip round Robin Hood burn. 

You know, I would argue that you’ve got to back to front, in fact, that that religious people today share an essentially secular ethical foundation. They just they just throw out the bits of religious. There is so much in the Bible that it’s so clearly unethical. Slavery. Just to just to name the easiest moral question that we ever come across. And when you when you ask religious people about why why they believe certain things and not other things, they don’t have a particularly good answer. It’s usually because there is a sort of forward march of secular ethical thinking that reshapes the way that people interpret their holy. 

Well, I think that’s true. I actually do think that’s true. And I don’t think that’s inconsistent with being religious, actually, because I think that while the Bible is the word of God, it’s easy. If you think about talking to dogs or children, you know, is that you states to a dog all the garbage, the dog, your garbage. 

And you say to a cat, do your homework. Don’t watch television. Kidder’s television. Right. So while the Bible is the word of God, it was us listening. You guys talking to the dog. So there’s a lot of garbage television in there. 

Yeah, great. P.J., thank you so much for being on board of inquiry. You’re very welcome. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.