The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.There's really nothing wrong with a little pocket philosophy. It would be easy to complain that despite, or because of, his Harvard education, young master Douthat doesn't really understand what Hobbes meant by "state of nature," but that would be cheap and a bit dishonest. After all, Hobbes himself didn't know what he meant. Cribbed and bowdlerized philosophy is only very offensive if you hold the authentic item in high regard. I do not. Hobbes was a crank, and Leviathan was bunk. Casting back to its notions about the natural world is like appealing to Aristotelian mechanics in discussing rocket launches.
-Dorm Rap Douthat
Anyway, what are these "human societies that hew closest to the natural order"? Life expectancy in modern Russia is twelve years and three and months, after which every single adult man dies from a mixture of bathtub vodka, automatic gunfire, and despair, but you would hardly call Russia neolithic. We consider the Afghans primitive, and yet your basic illiterate tribesman seems to have a far firmer grasp on such cornerstones of modernity as the internal combustion engine that your average chin-bearded Ivy Leaguer. Among actual neolithic peoples, both extant and within the archeological record, all that can be said is that there is and was wide variety--peaceable types and warlike, long-lived and sickly, idyllic and hardscrabble. Plus ça change, motherfuckers, as I am wont to say.
The flip side of this rusty coin is the myth of the noble savage, the crass primitivism that Douthat et al. associate with Hollywood and New Age America but that has in fact been with us since the gods of the stargate or whoever gave us civilization. And that's the rub, isn't it? They are the same fallacy. Cultural conservatives imagine some kind of attack on the "theistic" cosmogony, even as it is their own confused fairy tale that posits a pre-civilizational Eden as the natural and primordial state of man. Meanwhile, the merely narrative appeal of making every ancient tribe and alien civilization into nature-worshipers is simply this: despite what every dork with a World of Warcraft avatar and a pile of Frank Herbert books believes, creating a unified, coherent, Tolkienian, fictional universe is very, very hard. It may have taken James Cameron a half a billion dollars to make the blue titties of his forest babes jiggle just so, but it took old J.R.R. a whole lifetime to invent his elves. Mere primitivism is a problem in storytelling not so much because it fetishizes false notions of indigenousness, nor because it attacks the received moral order of the Christian universe, but because it is bad storytelling. And isn't that likewise the problem with the Times editorial page and all its compeers? Not that they're so fucking wrong, but that they're so goddamned lazy.