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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ophelia Benson is on a roll

Here she is giving a good rap over the knuckles to Karen Armstrong. You go, Ophelia.

Since this thread is already getting a few comments (up to five already), let's provide a sample of what Ophelia is saying, right here on the front of the thread:

it is always possible to spin words about God (or to be silent about God and consider that a branch of theology) - but we live in the real world, where people think God is a literal person who makes rules that we have to obey (no condoms - flog that woman for showing some hair at the edge of her hijab - kill all the infidels - no stem cell research for you - don't do any work on Saturday and that includes flipping a light switch - slaughter that goat by cutting its throat in the approved way and no other). The world would be a much better place (which is not to say it would be perfect - no, the "new" atheists don't think everything would be perfect if religion vanished) if the Armstrong idea of God were the only idea of God - but that's not how it is. She seems to be telling us we're confused about what God really is - but that's a mug's game. Nobody knows 'what God really is' - whatever anyone says is made up, so it seems futile to try to say one version is right while another is wrong.

Later in Ophelia's own thread at B&W, Eric McDonald says, very sensibly:

If [Armstrong] had said - which is true - that there is an apophatic tradition within Christianity, and that that way has made sense to a few (mainly mystics), who sought Christ in suffering or resignation, say, like Weil or Eckhardt, that would be one thing. But to suggest, as she does, over and over again, that this has all along been the primary understanding of what it means to speak of God, is [wrong], and all the credentials in the world will not serve to exculpate her.

Hear! Hear!

46 comments:

386sx said...

Wow, Karen Armstrong sure knows a lot about what God isn't. You have to wonder how she knows all that. Or doesn't know all that. Or whatever.

Anonymous said...

No they don't. They insist that the God that makes rules and answers prayers and prefers one set of people to another set of people and hates atheists is the God that most people mean by the word 'God' and the one that the rest of us have to deal with. They insist that pretending that real religion is really something much more sophisticated and ethereal and poetic and music-like and loving and compassionate is just delusional. They insist (to the extent that they insist anything) that it is the bossy intrusive punitive kind of religion that causes problems and so it's no good trying to pretend it out of existence.

So similarily, the atheists who murdered 10s of millions of innocents in the 20th century (Stalinists, Maoists, Nazis, North Korea, etc.) are the REAL atheists that "the rest of us have to deal with". And here is no use claiming that there is another kind of atheism, "so it's no good trying to pretend it out of existence."

Russell Blackford said...

Here we go. Anonymous comes out with the same stupid argument that we've had before. "People who believed in a comprehensive apocalyptic system such as Stalinist communism did bad things, therefore another comprehensive apocalyptic system, such as traditional Christianity must be good."

Again, I ask, What kindergarten does that come from? The issue isn't theism versus atheism. It's belief in comprehensive, apocalyptic systems versus liberal/rational criticism of such systems. Ancient syncretic paganism was not such a system, so I have no great problem with it, even though it was false. Whatever the faults of the ancient societies, they had nothing to do with embrace of a comprehensive, apocalyptic system of thought.

But communism and Nazism are such systems - the former atheistic, though, as things turned out, capable of syncretism with religions, the latter designed for syncretism with Christianity (Hitler at least purported to be a theist, and the Nazis adopted Christian as well as northern pagan trappings).

It seems that it has to be said yet again. If the actual religions were "nice", as Karen Armstrong imagines, no one would care about them, even though they are false. In practice, however, they are not so nice. They have strong apocalyptic and totalitarian tendencies. That's why we bother to critique them, along with the modern quasi-religions of Nazism and communism. The atrocities committed by Nazi and communist leaders are further proof of the dangers of all such narratives.

It's not, in my mind, atheistic systems of thought versus theistic systems of thought; and it never has been. It's a liberal openness to people living their lives in their own way versus the various comprehensive, apocalyptic systems of thought, of which traditional Christianity is the best example (and its offshoots include Islam, communism and Nazism).

Christianity is actually false, and it is worth demonstrating this to undermine its authority. The same applies to its various offshoots, theistic (Islam, Nazism)or otherwise (communism ... though it should be mentioned that communism has its equivalents of God). But there are many false ideas around. I don't waste my time on them, because they are not especially dangerous. E.g., I am not impressed by any dangers in Wicca in its current form - though I suppose it's worth keeping an eye on.

Anonymous said...

"If the actual religions were "nice", as Karen Armstrong imagines, no one would care about them"

If actual atheistic societies were nice, nobody would care about them. What is sauce for the theist goose is sauce for the atheist gander. To not apply the same standards of behavior is the rankest hypocrisy.

You can declaim all you want about some hypothetical pure atheism, but in practice this has never existed. The reality is that there has never been an atheist regime (beginning with the French Revolution's Committee of Public Safety) that has not committed mass murder.

You can talk theory all you want and invent some hypothetical atheist "cloud cuckooland" where no beliefs at all fill in the mental void left by atheism. You may as well claim that Stalin and Mao, etc. weren't "true Scotsmen".

In the meantime, I'll stick with historical reality.

Anonymous said...

"Christianity is actually false"

Prove it.

Greywizard said...

Actually, Anonymous, people are interested in secular democracies, because they are, relatively speaking, nice. And they are nice, to the extent that they are, largely because we've managed to void them of their religious presuppositions, and the prejudices which used to inform their laws. Christians, of course, are still as busy as can be, trying to put the egg back into the shell, but it's broken, and the broken shells of once Christian societies are, indeed, interesting. Good, on the whole, to live in too. That's why so many religious people come to stay. That they're disappointed, and want to take us back to the primordial idiocy of Saudi Arabia and other places like that, doesn't mean that they're not interesting. They're very interesting, and it takes more than some people brought up on religion have to be able to live in them. But if they give it a chance, and especially, if they give their women a chance, they'll find they can live without God's laws, just like the rest of us.

windy said...

The reality is that there has never been an atheist regime (beginning with the French Revolution's Committee of Public Safety) that has not committed mass murder.

Robespierre was a deist and advocated for a state cult of a Supreme Being.

Ophelia Benson said...

"If the actual religions were "nice", as Karen Armstrong imagines, no one would care about them"

If actual atheistic societies were nice, nobody would care about them.


You're comparing different things there, Anon - on the one hand religions, on the other hand atheistic societies. You need to compare religions with atheism to make the point you're trying to make. In other words you need to show how atheism has incited mass murder. Not how societies which were atheist among other things (which leaves out the Nazis and the fascists) committed mass murder, but how atheism itself incited or inspired or motivated mass murder. Lots of luck with that.

Teleprompter said...

Anonymous,

"If actual atheistic societies were nice, nobody would care about them. What is sauce for the theist goose is sauce for the atheist gander. To not apply the same standards of behavior is the rankest hypocrisy."

Actual atheistic societies??

Please read "Society Without God" by Phil Zuckerman.

As you state, what is sauce for the theist goose, is sauce for the atheist gander. Open your mind.

J.J.E. said...

Again, disingenuous apologists like this ubiquitous Anonymous fellow frame the situation as "atheist" against "theist" and of course miss the whole point. But we atheists should shut them down (as Russell did quite well) at the first sign of this bankrupt strategy.

Atheists, freethinkers, et al. find most abhorrent the dangerous consequences of dogma. Dogmas aren't exclusive to superstition based religions. They crop up in Communism and Nazism as well, among many other practices. What Anonymous is intentionally neglecting is that Christianity and Islam shares a great deal with Communism and Nazism; namely that both classes (religion and authoritarianism) both rely on arguments from authority to provide foundations for their dogmas.

Generally speaking, it is a defining characteristic of atheists and freethinkers that they reject dogma in the same way that belief in the crucifixion of Christ is a defining characteristic of Christians.

When viewed in that light, Anonymous's arguments are weaker than saying that Chaplin is in the same class as Hitler because of the shared style of lip hair.

Anonymous said...

"Generally speaking, it is a defining characteristic of atheists and freethinkers that they reject dogma"

What I am suggesting to you all is that a complete lack of belief is not possible for the human mind, certainly not for groups of people. Nature abhors a vaccuum, including the void of atheism. Something rushes in to fill that void ("When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything." GK Chesterton). And that something in the 20th century was a murderous ideology of either the far right and far left.

No atheists society has ever escaped this pattern of behavior. Ever. Your distinctions between theory and practice are interesting mental exercises, but they have no validity in the real world. Individuals may claim the abilioty to permanently suspend and dispense with belief - societies cannot.

And these mass murders by atheists were accurately predicted by Nietzsche:

"The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"—he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations—"are hurled into the people for another generation ...then nobody should be surprised when...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non–brothers...will appear in the arena of the future." ("Sorry, but your Soul Just Died" - Tom Wolfe).

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."

If Nietzsche is again correct, we are in for a worse century than the last one.

mike_film09 said...

It seems you're an addict, Anonymous.

The believe in a god is the acceptance of the argument from authority. You know you can't quote god at us, so you're quoting Nietzsche at us instead.

In order to buttress the case that the 20th C is distinctive because of its godlessness, you've conveniently ignored older mass crimes: those of Genghis Khan (estimates vary hugely but millions of deaths are frequently attributed), or the killings of An Shi Rebellion (an estimated 36 million dead).

It's less high falutin' to say it, but murder requires means. The distinctive feature of the 20th C is not godlessness. It's industry.

Nietzsche was no Nostradamus. The American Civil War showed what new technologies of war could do. Add that to new methods of corralling populations (US Civil War, Boer War) and you've got much of the future prefigured. The bloodletting of the 20th C is less a consequence of the end of god than of its vastly more powerful industry and technology.

PS As for "murderous ideologies", would Nazis who were also Christians count? Which part of their mind was doing the killing? If it was the Christian part (with anti-semitism going back centuries, it probably was) your point falls anyway.

J.J.E. said...

What I am suggesting to you all is that a complete lack of belief is not possible for the human mind

And nobody claimed this. You go off on a wild tangent to no discernible effect. Atheists and freethinkers have plenty of beliefs. And in fact, they abandon old ones in favor of new ones all the time. And they try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to choose their beliefs based on their understanding of logic, evidence, and ethics.

Unless of course you weren't saying something so sloppy and obviously wrong. Perhaps you were really saying "No person or society can avoid believing in arbitrary unsupportable dogma". To which I say, "Bullshit."

The absense of dogma is a great place to aspire to. As fallible humans, it will always fail, but we must first realize that giving into dogma is a failing. Christian dogma and Communist dogma are both failures that should be corrected.

Greywizard said...

Now, let's hear one cheer for Anonymous. He actually knows the Chesterton quotation. But s/he doesn't notice something. It's not true. What seems to be true is that, if people stop believing in their traditional gods, but still hanker after belief, they'll believe almost anything: witness the thousands of gurus and spiritualities out there. So, give up disciplined religious belief, and hang onto religious believing, and the sky's the limit, from pyramid and crystal therapy to Reiki and aromatherapy, from NDEs and OBEs to channelling and remembrance of past lives. All very thrilling, no doubt.

But for those who give up on religious believing altogether, the evidence seems to point the other way. No, of course, people don't suddenly just become super rational, but if you're left with no religious or other "spiritual" beliefs, it's a lot more likely that you'll try to base your beliefs, and your life, on rational, critical grounds, Nietzsche notwithstanding. We don't suspend belief. Instead, we try to guide practice, including the practice of public policy, by reason, evidence, and sometimes, even, common sense.

Teleprompter said...

Anonymous, thank you for demonstrating...err, confirming (har har) my idea that most apologists are slaves to confirmation bias. You only see what you want to see - that's why you ignored my suggestion that you read Phil Zuckerman's work in which he details relatively healthy and peaceful societies that are also largely non-religious, yet you still echo the parts of atheism that support your ideas.

You are only willing to consider evidence that doesn't challenge your position. How cowardly.

Anonymous said...

PS As for "murderous ideologies", would Nazis who were also Christians count?

No they would not. The Nazis, Hitler especially, despised Christianity as a belief fit only for weaklings, not for the coming Superman. With the possible exception of Himmler and his bizarre paganism, the Nazi ruling circle was composed of atheists. Though he called himself a Christian in Mein Kampf and in several speeches, it is well to remember that these were pronouncements for public consumption and were made by a consummate liar/politician. For his real views on the subject see his Table Talk, surreptitiously recorded by Martin Borman and never intended for the public. These statements represent his real views.

Hitler had every intention of destroying the Christian faith and replacing it with Nazism when the time was ripe. His accommodations with the Roman Catholic Church and German Protestant churches were purely tactical. For a more in depth look at this issue see the OSS post war report on Nazism and the churches at www.lawandreligion.com run by Rutgers University. Religious faith was the common enemy of atheistic regimes of both the far right and the far left.

An historical article from Christianity Today sums up the conclusions of the OSS report quite nicely:

Donovan's Nuremberg report undermines the assertion, made by Feldman and so many others, that because several key Nazis had ties (however tenuous) to a church, and because the Nazis advanced insidious policies, then those insidious policies must be inherently Christian. To what extent elements of popular Christian ideology fed Hitler's anti-Semitism is a separate and valid question, but the "if A then B" connection fails because insidious anti-Christian policies do not fit the syllogism above. A plan to eradicate Christianity can hardly be construed as Christian, and persons supporting such a plan can hardly be considered believers of any standing.

Perhaps we can now put that "Nazis were Christians" canard into the same waste heap as holocaust denial. Now, as for Hitler's Table Talk:

Outside of the officially atheist Soviet Union, what politician in the 1930s (or even today, at least here in America) would publicly (or even privately)admit to being an atheist? Hitler was a skilled politician and a consummate liar (the two often go together). Mein Kampf was for public consumption and expressed only those views most likely to get him elected. To really understand what such a man believes, it is necessary to view those words that were not intended for public consumption, as historian Hugh Trevor-Roper makes clear:

We must go direct to Hitler's personal utterances: not indeed to his letters and speeches-- these, though valuable, are too public, too formalised for such purposes-- but to his private conversations, his Table-Talk. Table-Talk, like notebooks, reveal the mind of a man far more completely, more intimately, than any formal utterance.

A summary of the Nazi plan against the Churches can be found here:

More than a half-century ago, confidential U.S. government reports on the Nazi plans were prepared for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and will be available online for free starting tomorrow - some of them for the first time. These rare documents - in their original form, some with handwritten scrawls across them - are part of an online legal journal published by students of the Rutgers University School of Law at Camden. "When people think about the Holocaust, they think about the crimes against Jews, but here's a different perspective," said Julie Seltzer Mandel, a third-year law student who is editor of the Nuremberg Project for the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion. "A lot of people will say, 'I didn't realize that they were trying to convert Christians to a Nazi philosophy.' . . . They wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether, but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity."

The OSS report in the Rutgers University archives makes for fascinating reading.

Anonymous said...

"that's why you ignored my suggestion that you read Phil Zuckerman's work in which he details relatively healthy and peaceful societies that are also largely non-religious"

These societies continue to live off the accumulated reserves of their relgious and Christian cultural traditions and owe their peacefullnes to that indoctrination. Can you imagine a Sweden that had never converted to Christiaity and retained its violent Viking paganism ever becoming peaceful and law abiding?

Anonymous said...

"Atheists, freethinkers, et al. find most abhorrent the dangerous consequences of dogma."

Pure atheism, free of dogma has never existed historically. History show quite the opposite, with athiesm being a necessary prerequisite for the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

A.N. Wilson in "God's Funeral" comes very close to laying the horrors of the 20th century at the feet of the atheistic philosophers of the 19th century. He sites two main philosophical branches: the Carlyle/Nietzsche branch in which God is replaced with the hero or superman, and the Hegel/Marx branch in which heaven is replaced with a workers utopia. The first gave us the atrocities of the far right, the other the atrocities of the far left.

In both cases, atheism served as the necessary foundation to build these ideologies.

Anonymous said...

Robespierre was a deist and advocated for a state cult of a Supreme Being.


Robespierre's cult was an extension fo the "Cult of reason" promoted by militant atheist french revolutionaries such as Jacques Herbert and Anarchasis Cloots. As head of the Committe of Public Safety, Robespierre was but one of several men ruling revolutionary France - all of them dedicated to the destruction of the Christian faith.

Those who have read Zuckerman may be intersted in "Atheism and Violence": http://richarddawkins.net/article,2196,Atheism-and-Violence,Edward-T-Oakes-SJ

Anonymous said...

"No person or society can avoid believing in arbitrary unsupportable dogma". To which I say, "Bullshit."

To which I say, show me an historical example of such a society.

Ophelia Benson said...

"Pure atheism, free of dogma has never existed historically."

Nonsense. Dogma is by no means universal.

You seem to start by simply defining everything as dogma, which makes it easy to claim that dogma is indeed universal. But that's a mere ploy.

It's reasonable to point out that humans, as humans, are all susceptible to bias and irrationality, and that it's foolish and risky to assume one is free of bias and irrationality oneself. But bias and irrationality are not dogma.

mike_film09 said...

Sorry Anonymous, but you just grasped the wrong end of the stick firmly with both hands.

When you refer to "murderous ideologies" you are presumably meaning (at least in part) not just Hitler and his cronies but Nazism's role as a mass movement.

It's no news that Hitler and others weren't Christian. I wasn't referring to the leaders, but their followers, the hands-on killers.

From rank and file camp guard to commandant, to the average anti-semite on the street: Christian.

If so, your original point about godlessness leading to "murderous ideologies" still falls.

Ken said...

Nice to the gentle peace-loving Gustavus Adolphus getting some credit.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "In other words you need to show how atheism has incited mass murder."

Oh, come on. Chains of logic are for wimps and have no place in forceful rhetoric. Cherry-picking emotional examples and making bold unsupported assertions is the way of the warrior.

Greywizard said...

Well, Anonymous has done it once again. S/He's derailed a whole discussion into a quagmire. S/He knows it's one, and s/he's content to go along thinking s/he's the scholar of the age for all the inconsequential detail that s/he can provide. (The OSS, by the way, was terminated a month after VJ Day. This doesn't make their reports unreliable, but they are uninterpreted source material.) This began as commentary on something that Ophelia Benson said about Karen Armstrong, and Armstrong's view that, really, when it comes down to it, religion is very nice, and all the nasty bits are products of modernity. Of course, she forgets a number of things along the way, but that's the substance of her idea of religion. It's not about belief - God is ... well, we're not quite sure, but it's a 'something'?, 'nothing'? that answers people's deepest longings, but no one really believes that God exists. This might produce something very nasty indeed. Religious belief language is religion aping scientific language, and is the source of fundamentalism. It's all a bit of a jumble, really, but you can take it from Karen Armstong that religion is a good thing, so all you nasty atheists can just shut up, because you don't know anything about real religion, just the froth that bubbles to the top of Enlightenment discourse and mistakenly thinks of itself as religion. So there.

So all this misdirection about Hitler and his gang, or Stalin's and his, etc., etc., is really irrelevant here. No one's going to cook Anonymous' goose for him/her. He's (She's?) cooked it already, and it's a mite underdone, but he (she?) obviously likes eating it that way, even though a few pieces seem to have stuck to his/her fingers. Perhaps Anon would like to tell us his/her gender, then we wouldn't have to duck and dive around the pronouns. S/he argues like a man, I think - though we'll probably never know until the DNA results are all in - very much like a man who's swallowed a web site or two. When it's all digested perhaps s/he'll come back and talk about the real subject matter of the thread, but this is getting painfully, painfully dull and beside the point.

windy said...

Robespierre's cult was an extension fo the "Cult of reason" promoted by militant atheist french revolutionaries such as Jacques Herbert and Anarchasis Cloots.

So, the bad deeds of non-atheists are to be blamed for people around them (even people they ultimately executed) but the buck stops with the atheist?

These societies continue to live off the accumulated reserves of their relgious and Christian cultural traditions and owe their peacefullnes to that indoctrination. Can you imagine a Sweden that had never converted to Christiaity and retained its violent Viking paganism ever becoming peaceful and law abiding?

Hah, how ignorant. The Vikings had their own laws, of course, and a legislative assembly known as the 'ting'. Christian Sweden was hardly more peaceful than the Vikings: for a long time it was a warlike empire that participated in religious and territorial wars around Europe. And 'peaceful' Christian Sweden at one point brutally persecuted witches.

PS. It's ironic to complain about how lawless the Vikings were when the word law itself is borrowed from Old Norse!

Ernst Hot said...

Perhaps Anonymous here would like to point us to the atheist scriptures that validate killing people, it doesn't have to be millions, and any reason will do...

You're either ignorant about atheism, or flat out lying, so which is it?

Anonymous said...

Ophelia - You keep referencing individuals. My concern is with societies since groups of people always act and think much differently than the individuals comprising those groups. It is all well and good to claim that "dogma is not universal", yet historically there has never been an atheist society where dogma/ideology hasn't rushed in to fill the void left by atheism. People have to believe in something, it's a basic human need.

Greywizard - I derailed nothing. I was merely responding to the inquirey made by mike_film09 when he asked "PS As for "murderous ideologies", would Nazis who were also Christians count?".

windy - Robespierre also ended up under the blade as did his atheist colleagues on the Committe of Public Safety. Whether it was Stalin's purges, Hitler's Night of the Long Knives, or the French Terror, atheist revolutions of the 19th and 20th century ate their own. This is understandable in retrospect since once God is removed from people's lives all that is left is Power and those willing to do anything to obtain it.

As for your claim that the Vikings were gentle, mild and law abiding - that would come as something of a surprise to those they encountered during the Dark Ages.

mike_film09 - It is simplistic to claim that only traditional anti-semitism lay at the foundation of Nazism. The Nazi movement has its ideological roots also in applied Darwinism and the Eugenics movement. Years before the persecution of the Jews began in earnest, the Nazis insituted a progam of "mercy killings" of the mentally and physically handicapped ("life unworthy of life") that prepared the way for the Holocaust. It will be interesting to see if the nascent new eugenics movement promoted by modern new atheists finally succeeds in destroying the concept of human dignity once and for all (as Nietzsche predicted it would with the coming "total eclipse of all values").

Nietzsche may not have been Nostradamus, but he does have a succesful track record in predicitng what atheist ideologies would do to the 20th century. Let us fervently hope that he was wrong about the 21st.

Ernst Hot - There are no atheist scriptures inciting people to murder. Human nature requires none. What civilization requires is a check on our baser instincts. A check that can only be provided by religion and an unseen, all-seeing God that punishes evil doers and rewards the good. Historically, nothing else has worked to make the naturally feral human fit for civilization.

We are nearly identical genetically with our evolutionary cousins the chimpanzees. And they are nasty bastards that wage war, hunting down and killing chimps from rival troops. They kill the "Other" without hesitation and with apparent delight. We share their same instincts and badass attititudes. Remove relgious controls on those instincts and we eventually revert back to our natural selves.

Ernst Hot said...

So what you're saying is that we should expect to see a massive presence of atheists in jail, relative to how many percent of people are atheists?

Go look that up.

Moses said...

(Stalinists, Maoists, Nazis, North Korea, etc.)

The Nazi's were, in fact, dominated by theists. Hitler saw himself doing God's work by eliminating the Jews and followed Martin Luther's proposed pogrom quite closely.

Just to be clear.

Moses said...

"Christianity is actually false"

Prove it.


Clowns like you NEVER accept proof. There is no point in re-hashing arguments a century old with you. Either you come to the conclusion or you remain deluded.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous: "historically there has never been an atheist society where dogma/ideology hasn't rushed in to fill the void left by atheism."

Define "atheist society." Are you only talking societies where atheism is pushed onto the populace from the top-down or including societies where theistic beliefs are simply absent? We see in Europe societies approaching the latter, and whatever their faults, they are far from the totalitarian nightmares of which you have spoken. At worst, what is filling the "void" of which you speak is fluffy New-Agey mishmash.

Anonymous: "What civilization requires is a check on our baser instincts. A check that can only be provided by religion and an unseen, all-seeing God that punishes evil doers and rewards the good."

You really ought to do more research in the cognitive underpinnings of morality. Empathy and a sense of fairness are as much a part of our natural mental makeup as selfishness.

Moses said...

Ernst Hot - There are no atheist scriptures inciting people to murder. Human nature requires none. What civilization requires is a check on our baser instincts. A check that can only be provided by religion and an unseen, all-seeing God that punishes evil doers and rewards the good. Historically, nothing else has worked to make the naturally feral human fit for civilization.

Stalin went to a Catholic school. He had a religious upbringing. Kind of makes your little thesis a bit weak in the shorts seeing that religion didn't do much for Stalin (or Hitler who was Catholic) did it?

Seriously, the two biggest mass murders of the 20th Century were Catholic.

The Taiping Rebellion, a CHRISTIAN CAUSE, lead to 20-to-30 million deaths. And it was a pure religious war designed to suppress Buddhism, Ancestor Worship and Confucianism and replace it with Christianity. This "wins" the 19th Century prize for biggest bloodbath.

So, your whole "religious" point makes good... During the 19th and 20th centuries, the greatest mass murders/death tolls from war, came from/were enabled by/people trained by the religious -- Christian religions.

Now, let's get to Mao. Mao's "killing" is mostly from stupidity, not ideology. You'd know that if you studied what actually happened instead of unthinkingly using right-wing talking points. For those who don't know, which is mostly you I'm addressing, Mao's death toll is primarily from the catastrophe known as "the Great Leap Forward."

An important detail often over looked is that the Chinese Communist party was a very vertical organization. When the harvests of 1959 through 1961 decreased, the lowest level of the hierarchy puffed their numbers to "look good" for the boss. Which is normal human nature and not a product of communism. I see this in business all the time -- constant number puffing.

The next level puffed those harvest numbers again. And so on and so on.

When the food was requisitioned for redistribution and export, too much was taken because the numbers were as false as Enron's profits... People died in what became known as the largest famine in the history of the world (at least at that time). Not because of ideological issues, but because of the petty lies of fools who were more concerned with "looking good" than being honest.

Like you. And how you portray religion as "good" and trot out your lies regarding Hitler, Stalin and Mao vis atheism. While ignoring Hitler was a Catholic. Stalin was Catholic but (supposedly) gave it up. And Mao's disaster had NOTHING to do with atheism and everything to do with stupidity.

Anyway, to this day, idiots like you Anon. blame Mao for "killing" these people because he was an atheist. Mao, as it happens to be, was a smart man. And he did kill politically.

But those tens of millions weren't political or atheistic deaths. They were the result of the inherent inefficiencies of a command economy combined with the tragedy of lies built on lies built on lies. Those deaths were caused by a system that did not have the capacity for quick and efficient correction. Kind of like the General Motors of totalitarian dictatorships. Not atheism.

And to pretend otherwise is complete rubbish.

Anonymous said...

"But those tens of millions weren't political or atheistic deaths. They were the result of the inherent inefficiencies of a command economy combined with the tragedy of lies built on lies built on lies."

Actually the deaths during Mao's Great Leap Forward were deliberatly induced by famine (a tactic similar to the Communist engineered famin in the Ukraine during the 1920s). From Prof. Rummel's study on "Deomocide" by totalitarian regimes of the 20th century (http://www.americandaily.com/article/10397):

So, the famine was intentional. What was its human cost? I had estimated that 27,000,000 Chinese starved to death or died from associated diseases. Others estimated the toll to be as high as 40,000,000. Chang and Halliday put it at 38,000,000, and given their sources, I will accept that. Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered. This is now in line with the 65 million toll estimated for China in the Black Book of Communism, and Chang and Halliday's estimate of "well over 70 million." This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

The total for the three largest atheist regimes of the 20th century (Stalinist, Nazi and Maoist) comes to approximately 160 million over 70 years. This does not include mass murder by secondary Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Khmer Rouge and other totalitarians. The grand total of those murderd by atheist regimes probably approaches 200 million.

A.N. Wilson is correct, the horrors of the 20th century stem from atheism and were carried out by atheists.

Anonymous said...

"Empathy and a sense of fairness are as much a part of our natural mental makeup as selfishness."

Natural empathy is severly limited to our immediate breeding group, and no further.

Too much is made of selfless altruism found in nature, like Wilson's self sacrificing ants that give their lives for the sake of their sisters. Such altruism is far from universal. Indeed it is limited to only those members of the organism's immediate breeding group. These same selfless ants are just as capable of slaughtering the members of a rival colony. This is in keeping with the first law of ecology: the main threat to any organism's survival comes not from any predator, but from its own kind. This is especially true of any animal, such as ourselves, that has no predator.

Dogs exhibit mercy only to those in their pack. Like any other canine species, they readily kill or maul outsiders. My own dog will readily sacrifice himself to protect our family (his "pack"). He will just as readily bloody any dog who wanders into his back yard. The "selfish gene" does not allow mercy to extend beyond the immediate gene group.

For example, when a new alpha male lion drives out or kills the old alpha male, the first thing the new head of the pride does is seek out an kill all the cubs sired by the previous leader. Though the females try to hide and protect their cubs, it's only a matter of time before they are killed by a bite snapping their necks. Without cubs to tend, the females go back into heat and are mounted by the new alpha male. A new genetic line of cubs results.

Without a religion commanding us to love our neighbors (and our enemies), and declaring all men to be equal before the eyes of God, the quality of mercy would be forever constrained to immediate family groups. We would continue to kill and oppress those not belonging to our clan or tribe.

So where in nature is the dictat that I should universally treat all humans, especially those that are different than myself, with decency and dignity? There is no natural reason why I should respect the humanity of a Black or Jew.

So when the Klan lynched Blacks, the Nazis gassed Jews, the Serbs slaughtered Muslims, Communists killed class enemies, and Iranians execute gays they are acting exactly like chimps in the wild.

It's all very natural.

Religion is required for a greater expression of mercy and altruism than the enemic, narrow versions found in nature.

Anonymous said...

"Clowns like you NEVER accept proof."

Clowns like you NEVER provide it.

Anonymous said...

"The Nazi's were, in fact, dominated by theists. Hitler saw himself doing God's work by eliminating the Jews and followed Martin Luther's proposed pogrom quite closely."

"Seriously, the two biggest mass murders of the 20th Century were Catholic."

Actually Stalin was raised Orthodox, Hitler was raised Catholic. Like nearly all atheists they abandoned their childhood faiths.

As for Hitler, we must go direct to Hitler's personal utterances: not indeed to his letters and speeches-- these, though valuable, are too public, too formalised for such purposes-- but to his private conversations, his Table-Talk. Table-Talk, like notebooks, reveal the mind of a man far more completely, more intimately, than any formal utterance.

In Table Talk the following statements on Christianity by Hitler will be found:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. Bolshevism practises a lie of the same nature, when it claims to bring liberty to men, whereas in reality it seeks only to enslave them.

Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.

Being weighed down by a superstitious past, men are afraid of things that can't, or can't yet, be explained-that is to say, of the unknown. If anyone has needs of a metaphysical nature, I can't satisfy them with the Party's programme. Time will go by until the moment when science can answer all the questions.

Christianity, of course, has reached the peak of absurdity in this respect. And that's why one day its structure will collapse. Science has already impregnated humanity. Consequently, the more Christianity clings to its dogmas, the quicker it will decline.

A movement like ours mustn't let itself be drawn into metaphysical digressions. It must stick to the spirit of exact science. It's not the Party's function to be a counterfeit for religion.

If in the course of a thousand or two thousand years, science arrives at the necessity of renewing its points of view, that will not mean that science is a liar. Science cannot lie, for it's always striving, according to the momentary state of knowledge to deduce what is true. When it makes a mistake, it does 10 in good faith. It's Christianity that's the liar. It's in perpetual conflict with itself.

The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.

Pure Christianity-the Christianity of the catacombs-is concerned with translating the Christian doctrine into facts. It leads quite simply to the annihilation of mankind. It is merely whole- hearted Bolshevism, under a tinsel of metaphysics.

I adopted a definite attitude on the 21st March '933 when I refused to take part in the religious services, organised at Potsdam by the two Churches, for the inauguration of the new Reichstag.

Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity. It will last another hundred years, two hundred years perhaps. My regret will have been that I couldn't, like whoever the prophet was, behold the promised land from afar.

The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I shall extract retribution to the last farthing. And, if he does not succeed in getting himself transferred in the meanwhile to the Collegium Germanium in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts, no "T" will remain uncrossed, no "I" undotted!

Christianity is an invention of sick brains.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous: "Natural empathy is severly limited to our immediate breeding group, and no further."

That's right. We feel no loyalty to our hometowns, fellow countrymen, etc. Um, yeah. There's a book called How We Decide that you should read, which discusses, among a lot of other things, how we make moral decisions. Of course, that assumes that you are interested in learning something than talking at us. A certain line by Barney Frank about dining room tables comes to mind.

Anonymous: "So where in nature is the dictat that I should universally treat all humans, especially those that are different than myself, with decency and dignity?"

It's not about following dictats. It's about recognizing that failing to be decent to others has consequences. Sure, we can keep fighting each other, each one for him/herself, but this will lead to bloody mess upon bloody mess.

Nichole said...

"Christianity is actually false"

Prove it."

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence." - Christopher Hitchens

also,

"If you can’t whittle a toy horse, knit a blanket, write a poem or play an instrument, at least you might be able to destroy some amount of the free time possessed by the people that can. If the productive members of society who are usually out there creating something–no matter how small or trivial–instead used their time yelling at you for slights that you put absolutely no effort into, then they were also not producing. And if they were not producing, and you were not producing, then voila! You’re suddenly just as valuable to society as they are! Instead of simply being “lesser than” the average person, now you’re finally “lesser than or equal to“! You’re no better, but at least they’re a little worse! And thus trolling was born. It was easy, it provided a largely illusory benefit (but a benefit nonetheless) and best of all - you’re ruining something! They always say, “It’s easier to destroy than it is to create,” and while most people saying that intend it to be a bad thing, you, the troll, see it as a benefit." -Robert Brockway

BAN THE TROLL, ALREADY!!

windy said...

As for your claim that the Vikings were gentle, mild and law abiding - that would come as something of a surprise to those they encountered during the Dark Ages.

I claimed no such thing. Just that Vikings were not somehow unique in their brutality (but this is exaggerated because they are now seen as 'the other', unlike Christian Europeans) and that your claim that Christianity made Swedes "peaceful and law abiding" would have come as a surprise to those encountered by the armies of Christian Sweden.

My own dog will readily sacrifice himself to protect our family (his "pack"). He will just as readily bloody any dog who wanders into his back yard. The "selfish gene" does not allow mercy to extend beyond the immediate gene group.

Your dog is in your "immediate gene group"?!? Well, it's not for me to judge your family arrangements, but... (trying to resist the obvious 'your mom' joke)

(sorry for feeding the troll, but hey, everyone else was doing it.)

Nichole said...

shorther anon: "Atheists are all Nazis."

Look, your work here is done. No more blocks of text required. Uncle. You got me. I actually am fucking Hitler, I didn't kill myself. I escaped and I've been living in secret, but you figured me out.

So be a chap and fuck off already.

Anonymous said...

"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

Why do you say there is no evidence at all for God's existence?

"and that your claim that Christianity made Swedes "peaceful and law abiding" would have come as a surprise to those encountered by the armies of Christian Sweden."

Never claimed that it happened instantaneously or that the process was 100% effective. From barbarism to civilization is a millenium. From civilization to barbarism is but a day.

"Your dog is in your "immediate gene group"?!?"

He percieves himself to be and acts accordingly. A dogs relationship to the familiy that owns him is behaviorly no different that that of leser wolves to the alpha pair. Behavior patterns from greeting displays to aggression remain the same. It's how we managed to domesticate the dog.

shorther anon: "Atheists are all Nazis."

Never said that, most atheists I've known personally are actually nice people (though the so-called "new atheists" insist you aren't a real atheist unless you are a total dick about it). What I claim is that the totalitarians of both the right and the left were founded on and derived from atheism, and that this eventuality was accurately predicted by Nietzsche. I further distinguish between the individual claims to not needing dogma to the group needs for a meta belief system to fill the void left by atheism.

"So be a chap and fuck off already."

Well that was an intelligent argument. Are all atheists as smart and emotionally mature as you are?

J. J. Ramsey said...

windy: "Your dog is in your 'immediate gene group'?!?"

Anonymous: "Why do you say there is no evidence at all for God's existence?"

Personally, I don't. However, when all the arguments for the existence of God fail, and the empirical evidence consists of legends and hearsay that often contradict either themselves or the facts on the ground, then the warrant for believing in God is very poor.

Anonymous: "He percieves himself to be and acts accordingly"

But this kills your argument. We humans are at least as good as dogs in perceiving genetically unrelated others as part of a family of sorts. Religion is one way of establishing this fictive sense of kinship, but it is far from the only way, let alone the best way.

Anonymous: "I further distinguish between the individual claims to not needing dogma to the group needs for a meta belief system to fill the void left by atheism."

But groups are made of individuals. If the individuals don't need dogma, then the group doesn't need it either.

As for the supposed void created by atheism, this is itself a half-truth. True, atheism in and of itself provides no moral framework, unlike the Abrahamic religions, and this lack of a moral framework can arguably be said to be a vacuum. However, your implication that this vacuum must be filled with something monstrous and totalitarian is badly supported, especially in light of what we see in the irreligious Europe of the present day. Secular humanism just as easily fills the supposed vacuum.

Cromm said...

There is no natural reason why I should respect the humanity of a Black or Jew.

You mean you can't think of one.

You're a psychopath.

Russell Blackford said...

Nice to see JJR saying some sensible things on this thread.

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