Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hallquist on religious persecution

I had indicated, in a previous post, the kinds of considerations that might lead a believer in, say, Christianity, to use force in the promotion of his own beliefs. I had given the following argument as to why they might think this way.

1) Our beliefs are true, and others are false.
2) Whether you accept our beliefs or not determines whether you go to heaven or to hell.
3) The people who promulgate these other religions are putting other people's souls in danger.
4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from doing so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to hell.
5) Therefore, the use of force in the name of religion is justified.


Chris Hallquist has responded, suggesting that assuming Christianity and some biblical assumptions, this line of arguments provides a good reason for using force to promote Christianity. I had maintained that there were gaps in the argument, but Chris thinks those gaps can be easily filled. Hence, he maintains, people like Sam Harris are right in supposing the religion leads to violence.

First, I would begin by saying that Christians have gone far enough down this road to see that they don't want to go there anymore. In the present day, we don't see persecution in the name of Christ, or not a whole lot of it. (The disputes in Northern Ireland are political first and religious second). But we did have the 30 Years War in which Protestants and Catholics decimated 1/3 of the population of Europe. This is largely because religious groups have gradually come to accept the secularization of government. The bitter lessons of history have made Christians think twice about the kind of reason that leads to the use of force to promote their beliefs. This history is why I, for one, am a pretty thorough church-state separationist who gets nervous when people like Falwell and Dobson look to state to support their religious values. Even though there have been persecutions since the Thirty Years War, the trend has been away from the use of force on behalf of faith.

Remember, Christianity was founded when it had no political power and it survived for nearly three centuries before it got any political power. Islam is another story, since it's inception was political, and it does seem essential to Islam that it have the aspiration to rule.

Second, many Christians that I know are inclusivists and universalists, not exclusivists. I know that there is a biblical argument to be made for exclusivism, as Chris mentions, but many Christians don't accept that argument. I am not an exclusivist myself.

Third, if we say religion causes violence, presumably the violence would be removed if religion were removed. Of course atheists affirm 1 in the above argument just as vehemently as Christians do. They think they are right and we theists are wrong. Of course, atheists do not believe in hell. However, it would be naive to suppose that there is no equivalent to hell in the atheist ideology. To be able to say, with John Lennon, that if we had "no religion" we would have "nothing to kill or die for, a brotherhood of man," one would have to smoke as much pot and drop as much acid as John did. To people like Dawkins and Harris, religious belief is delusional and insane, and impedes the progress of science and the human race in general. My commentator mattghg's equivalent argument is relevant here:

1) Atheism is true, and so obviously so that religious believers must be insane.
2) Insane people can do outrageous things.
3) The people who promulgate belief in God are putting other people's sanity in danger.
4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from doing so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to insanity, and hence possibly outrageous actions.
5) Therefore, the use of force in the name of suppressing religion is justified.


We already get Dawkins saying that raising children to believe in supernatural beings is to abuse them. He doesn't just say the sensible thing that you could say here, which is that religious upbringing can be abusive if the doctrine of everlasting punishment is used as a tool for control. He says that all religous teaching of children is abusive. Now he doesn't say that the forcible removal of children from religious homes is justified, but most of us think that Child Protective Services is doing its job if it removes a child from an abusive home. Dawkins and Torquemada agree that one's beliefs about religion matter profoundly to the well-being of human beings. Taking one's children away forcibly to prevent Christian parents from teaching them their faith is anti-religious persecution.

Have atheists shown that, put in the seats of political power will all the tendency to corrupt that political power provides, that they would wield that political power in a way that respects the beliefs of all and doesn't force unbelief down anybody's throat? Well, there were atheistic governments in Russia, China, Cuba, and throughout Eastern Europe. Oh right, those were communists, and communism is really a religion. They weren't true humanists. So I suppose it is also a telling point to say that the so-called "Christians" who did much of the persecuting in history were Catholics, and that I am not a Catholic? Didn't think so.

I suppose one could be escape the possible temptation to persecute by being a thoroughgoing relativist. But that kind of position is just incoherent. No, the way out of this problem is not to enlist political power to promulgate one's world-view, whether that world-view is religious or secular.

It is quite true that Christian history has had some bad chapters in it. But we have for the most part learned our lesson. If the New Atheists acquire political power, would they learn the same lesson or would they think themselves immune, since they have no religion?

20 comments:

The Family said...

== quote ==

4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to hell.

== or ==

4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from doing so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to insanity, and hence possibly outrageous actions.

== end quote ==

There is a problem with 4) and that is that we actually do not know the total results of doing harm to certain others to preserve another group of others. In particular, history is full of wars and violent conflicts brought on by such forcible belief systems. Because of the probability that the backlash loss of life and the resulting long-term loss of reputation of one's belief system may exceed the short term gains of persecution directed against one's opponents, it is in fact not easy to say whether a given persecution action will net more to heaven or more to hell :).

Ilíon said...

VR: "This history is why I, for one, am a pretty thorough church-state separationist who gets nervous when people like Falwell and Dobson look to state to support their religious values."

I am confident that you cannot point to a single instance where either of these two have done such a thing.

Your "liberalism" -- which frequently makes you a puppet of the "secularists" -- showing.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

My only comment here is something I should have included in the original post: what Christianity and Islam have (and what atheism, and some other religions lack) is the concept of eternal, infinite consequences. The Thirty Years War was horrible, and I think you're right that, historically, the Thirty Years War and similar events played a big role in pushing Christians to accept religious toleration. But philosophically, it was a finite cost, compared to the infinite evil of eternal damnation. On the other hand, you could argue that such events showed that the previous regime of persecution was unsustainable.

Anonymous said...

Dawkins has said that teaching small children to believe in Hell is abuse because of the suffering it causes and that labelling them as belonging to a specific religion is abuse, although I imagine he would think that very mild abuse, not warranting the removal of the child from its home. I do not remember where he says that "raising children to believe in supernatural beings is to abuse them." Can you tell me where he has said that?

kbrowne

Kenny said...

"To be able to say, with John Lennon, that if we had "no religion" we would have "nothing to kill or die for, a brotherhood of man," one would have to smoke as much pot and drop as much acid as John did."

Rick Dawkins must be on a lot of junk. :P

Sorry, I had to say that.

Victor Reppert said...

Chris: I'm not convinced that whether the consequences are eternal or not makes as much difference in the temptation to persecute as you might think. If people are convinced that religion is holding back the progress of civilization, and keeping us in the Dark Ages as opposed to moving forward into the future, the justifications for persecution are still there. Hitler and Stalin didn't think they improving eternity by their actions, and it didn't stop them one iota.

Victor Reppert said...

Ilion: The concerns I have about people like Falwell and Dobson hardly require liberalism. My concerns are pretty much those of that flaming liberal, Barry Goldwater. Remember, he wrote that book, "The Conscience of a Way-Out Leftist."

Ilíon said...

Goldwater! That man was no conservative.

Nevertheless: "I am confident that you cannot point to a single instance where either of these two have done [any] thing" to justify your expresseed attitude toward them.

I'll even, if you wish, up the ante: I am confident that you can't even articulate right now a mere three rational and rationally justifiable "concerns" about either of them. I am confident that the closest to rational which any of your "concerns" will come shall amount to: "Oooo, thery're kinda conservative!"

Victor Reppert said...

Back in the day, people defined conservatism by similarity to Goldwater. He certainly was a domestic budget-cutter and a supporter of a strong military.

Victor Reppert said...

So baptizing a child, or dedicating the child (depending on whether you where you stand on paedobaptism) is child abuse, since it identifies the child as part of the Christian community.

You have, in any event, a trend or line of thought that can be used to support the forcible removal of children from their religious parents. If Dawkins hasn't taken that step already, there are others who may willingly take take the step.

If atheists had the kind of political domination that Christians once had, would they restrain themselves in their efforts to spread atheism through the offices of political power? Knowing what we know of human nature, why in the world would anyone believe that?

Dawkins and company are evangelistic atheists. They are every bit as evangelistic about their atheism as William Lane Craig is about his Christianity. It matters profoundly to them. They see the future of civilization wrapped up in it.

He once wrote: If other intelligent beings in the universe were ever to discover us, what might be the first question they might ask about us?
Would they ask "have they discovered efficient rocket fuels yet?" or "the diversity of their planet yet?" or "have they discovered evolution yet?"

Our progress as a species, for him, depends on our acceptance of atheistic evolution.

Ilíon said...

Libertarians are not conservatives (and these days, most libertarians are no longer "supporter[s] of a strong military").

Libertarians have as much a foolish monomania as "liberals." In fact, as a practical matter, the main difference between the two is that the libertarians want to decrease government spending whereas "liberals" want to increase it. But, both tend to endorse, though on different grounds, a society-and-individual-destroying libertinism.


You still haven't given *even one* example of either Dobson or Falwell doing or saying anything to justify your leftish characterization of them as incipient theocrats.

Anonymous said...

So, I take it that you agree that Dawkins has never said that 'raising children to believe in supernatural beings is to abuse them.'

Neither has he said that baptising a child is abuse. His point is that labelling a child as a Christian child, a Muslim child, an atheist child (yes, that too) is abuse. I do not agree with him, though if the child objected to the label I would not use it, but it is important to get what he says right.

Yes, I suppose that does start a line of thought that could, eventually, be used by other people to justify removing children from their homes. But surely no more than any other criticism of parenting, such as saying that children should have a strict bedtime or should not be given hamburgers to eat.

There are a lot of legitimate criticisms that can be made of Dawkins. I cannot understand why Christians seem so keen to misrepresent him.

Kenny, where has Dawkins ever said that without religion we could expect a brotherhood of man?

kbrowne

Ilíon said...

One of stratagems of ... hmmm, persons who are less than honest ... is to employ a false exactitude, whereby one makes statements which are technically true (in isolation) in order to deceive (in sum):

Anonymouse: "So, I take it that you agree that Dawkins has never said that 'raising children to believe in supernatural beings is to abuse them.'

Neither has he said that baptising a child is abuse. ...
"

Anonymous said...

Victor,

I am not going to answer Ilion, who accuses people who disagree with him of being dishonest, but do you understand what I am saying?

Dawkins, in fact, does not think baptism of any importance at all, one way or the other. Read what he has to say about Edgardo Mortara. He criticises Edgardo's parents for not being baptised.

kbrowne

SE said...

Libertarians are not conservatives

Well, thank God for that! Conservatives, for the most part, have abandoned small government in favor of a massive National Security State, with the resulting threats to civil liberties and out of control spending on a bloated military budget.

(and these days, most libertarians are no longer "supporter[s] of a strong military").

This depends on how you define "strong military". The Old Right Republicans represented by politicians like Robert Taft (and they were NOT libertarians) generally opposed U.S. intervention abroad. One can argue that having bases in over 170 countries and spreading our troops thin in numerous wars and occupations does not make us stronger.

But, both tend to endorse, though on different grounds, a society-and-individual-destroying libertinism.

To believe something is none of the State's business is not to "endorse" it. There are many theologically conservative Christians who are also libertarians (William Grigg , for example).

Victor Reppert said...

One element in what we might call the neo-conservative equation is the appropriation of the arguments for a strong national defense vis-a-vis the Soviet Union to provide the basis for a strong interventionist foreign policy motivated by Islamic terrorism.

"Reagan's tough approach in staring down the Soviet Union brought an end to Soviet Empire, therefore hard-nosed foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq, is justified by the need to aggressively prosecute the War on Terror."

This type of argument strikes me as tenuous on a couple of fronts. First, Russia collapsed mostly because of internal difficulties, and the parallels between the Cold War and the "War on Terror" seem weak indeed.

Kenny said...

"Kenny, where has Dawkins ever said that without religion we could expect a brotherhood of man?"

Well, I must admit I was a bit off base. He didn't actually say we'd have a brotherhood of man without religion. He -at least the introduction to The God Delusion on the inner flap of the dust jacket, anyway- dis that the world would be better without religion, however. Of course, being better off doesn't equal brotherhood of men by default.

Thanks for the reply.

Ilíon said...

VR: "First, Russia collapsed mostly because of internal difficulties [rather than that Reagan determined to bring it down and successfully acted on the determination] ..."

As the saying goes, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

So, of course, one ought to expect "liberals," who are, after all, "soft" or inconsistent leftists, to talk and behave like leftists, from time to time

Ilíon said...

Anonymouse, your proper goal is not to "answer" me, but to cease to be dishonest.

Now, the truth is -- and even you know it to be the truth -- I do not call others dishonest becuase they disagree with me, I call others dishonest when it's no longer rationally and logically possible to ascribe their false claims to simple ignorance.

Would you rather I had decided that you're stupid? That's the only other option.

Ilíon said...

Mr Reppert,
You still haven't given me even one statement by either Falwell or Dobson which justifies your leftish characterization of them as incipient theocrats.