Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Reply to Parsons on Religion and Violence

  • Parsons' comments are  here

  • I think you misunderstood my point. People can be tempted to kill for what they think is really important. If you are religious, this might be really important, though with Christianity you do have an argument against supporting religion with violence, originally made by Lactantius:
    "Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone; in this matter it is better to employ words than blows [verbis melius quam verberibus res agenda est]. Of what use is cruelty? What has the rack to do with piety? Surely there is no connection between truth and violence, between justice and cruelty . . . . It is true that nothing is so important as religion, and one must defend it at any cost [summa vi] . . . It is true that it must be protected, but by dying for it, not by killing others; by long-suffering, not by violence; by faith, not by crime. If you attempt to defend religion with bloodshed and torture, what you do is not defense, but desecration and insult. For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion. (Divine Institutes V:20)"
    Surely there has been plenty of religiously motivated violence, and Christians have, sadly, not always followed Lactantius' excellent advice. But you need something more than religion to justify violence. You need to accept the claim that force can and should be used to advance one's religion. It might lead you to violence if you think somehow you can promote religion by the use of political power. As I have argued, it's a lot harder for Muslims to reject this premise than for Christians, since Islam was founded through the use of political power.
    But what about atheism? Could people really convinced that our society, if it to advance, needs to embrace atheism, be tempted to use political power, and ultimately violence, to achieve that goal? If you buy in on all the "mind virus" and "delusion" rhetoric that the New Atheists are fond of using, if you are convinced that raising a child as a Christian or a Jew is to abuse that child, etc. etc. etc., wouldn't there be a temptation to "use the ring" and force people to abandon their faith? Why not? Dawkins has already supported using the fear of ridicule to peer-pressure people out of their beliefs. Ever hear of the League of the Militant Godless in the former Soviet Union? Ever hear of the Cult of Reason during the French Revolution.
    What I object to is the idea that somehow abandoning religious belief is going to eliminate violence, and that atheism somehow is going to leave us all with, as John Lennon put it, "nothing to kill or die for." As I see it, THAT view is delusional, and you have to smoke a lot of pot and drop a lot of acid believe that. My answer to Lennon comes for George Strait, as follows:
    If we consider something important, then we can be tempted to decide that the end justifies the means. And that includes the end of faith.

      25 comments:

      Crude said...

      There's a pretty simple way to shed light on this question: ask whether secular interests and desires have been motivators for violence.

      And the answer is, overwhelmingly, yes. In fact, so obviously 'yes' that it's absurd to try and treat religion as the primary historical motivator of violence.

      Hell, just open your newspaper and look at what's causing crime in your neighborhood. But people (including Christians!) tend to whitewash 'secular' to mean 'only things which are nice or universally loved, or should be'. It's not the case.

      John W. Loftus said...

      Vic: What I object to is the idea that somehow abandoning religious belief is going to eliminate violence, and that atheism somehow is going to leave us all with, as John Lennon put it, "nothing to kill or die for."

      I agree with this. Which educated person says otherwise? Citation please.

      John W. Loftus said...

      Subscribed for now.

      Crude said...

      I agree with this. Which educated person says otherwise? Citation please.

      Let's be clear about what you're agreeing with.

      You agree that the claim 'no one has killed / will ever kill to spread atheism' is nonsense then?

      And Victor cited Lennon's song. You're claiming Lennon was not educated, or that no educated person has endorsed Lennon's view of "religion" on this point?

      B. Prokop said...

      Crude,

      John was quite unclear on exactly what "no educated person" would disagree with. Was it Victor's comment, or Lennon's lyrics?

      And for what is he asking citation? Victor's objection, or "educated" peoples' agreement with Lennon?

      B. Prokop said...

      And do I catch a whiff of the No True Scotsman fallacy here? If you disagree, then you're not "educated"?

      brownmamba said...

      I don't think many atheists believe that the elimination of religion is a sufficient condition for a peaceful utopia. I think the John Lennon reference was slightly misleading. After the line "nothing to kill or die for" he sings "and no religion too" implying that the elimination of religion, by itself, isn't enough for peace.Religion is one of the three causes of strife mentioned in the song.

      That being said ,I think there are strong reasons to believe that religion makes it easier for people to become violent. A couple of reasons come to mind. One is that from a religious viewpoint, people who reject certain truths are often depicted as evil. There are many Christians who believe that atheists reject God because of their sin. There are similar sentiments in Islam.Related to this point is the idea of divine or supernatural justice. Some people think that certain tragedies are a result of God's judgement, and thus the victims deserved such punishment. My Confirmation teacher was one of them. Moreover, in Hinduism there is the idea that people in poor situations are merely getting their punishment for transgressions in past lives. It seems natural that violence or abuse is aimed toward these people who are perceived as wicked; a perception that would not exist if it were not for religion.


      Hal said...

      Seems clear to me that John Loftus is agreeing with Victor’s objection to the claim that the mere adoption of atheism is going to lead to the elimination of violence. And he is asking for a citation from an educated atheist which supports such a claim.

      Also, brownmamba makes an excellent point. Lennon lists several thing in his song that can lead to warfare, religion being only one of them.

      Crude said...

      Seems clear to me that John Loftus is agreeing with Victor’s objection to the claim that the mere adoption of atheism is going to lead to the elimination of violence. And he is asking for a citation from an educated atheist which supports such a claim.

      You can scale back the question to 'would the adoption of atheism even make the world appreciably less violent' and the same problem of evidence obtains.

      Again, I pointed out an off the cuff test: open your newspaper. Check the crimes out. Do the crimes tend to be religious or secular in nature?

      Hal said...

      How are you classifying crimes as "secular" or "religious"?

      Is war a crime?

      B. Prokop said...

      Hal,

      The overwhelming number of wars are what I'd call "secular", even when tinged with seemingly "religious" coloring. They are almost always about who's in power, what tribe/clan/political party/ethnic group is allied with the power structure, and who's getting what economic benefits from said arrangements. Most of the Shia/Sunni conflicts in the contemporary Middle East fall nicely into that pattern, as does the Israeli/Palestinian violence.

      The ongoing war begun by ISIS? Now that I'll grant you is a religious conflict. I actually kinda agree with the Duck Dynasty guy here - they need to be either converted or killed.

      John W. Loftus said...

      B. Prokop:

      By Philip Jenkins, "The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade"

      http://www.amazon.com/Great-Holy-War-Religious-Crusade/dp/0062105094/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=1-1&keywords=world+war+I+Religious+conflict

      Crude said...

      Hal,

      How are you classifying crimes as "secular" or "religious"?

      Standard classifications. And on any given day, in any given newspaper, you're going to see an absolute abundance of secular or non-religious crimes in the newspaper. Remarkably few religious ones.

      Is war a crime?

      If you're suggesting that war is the metric that should be used here, secular motivations and causes are again the overwhelming culprit:

      Moreover, the chief complaint against religion -- that it is history's prime instigator of intergroup conflict -- does not withstand scrutiny. Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored "God and War" audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.

      So, let's see...

      The overwhelming number of crimes we see in our day to day lives are secular crimes. No one has even tried to dispute this yet. Give it a shot if you like - you'll go down in flames.

      The overwhelming number of wars throughout recorded history have been secular wars, prompted by secular interests and desires.

      Meanwhile, Loftus links to a book with a provocative title, which - judging by the reviews and discussion - is largely about (secular!) use of religious language and manipulation in World War I.

      Once again: so much for the claim that removing religion or promoting atheism is the road to reducing violence. I'd expect John, but since he's recently admitted he's an irrational person, the odds are a bit lower there.

      Dan Gillson said...

      Crude,

      "And on any given day, in any given newspaper, you're going to see an absolute abundance of secular or non-religious crimes in the newspaper. Remarkably few religious ones." ... What you see when you open the newspaper depends on a lot of background information. For instance, some woolly evangelical might think that all crime is motivated by sin, and therefore that all crime is religious in nature, not secular.

      "The overwhelming number of crimes we see in our day to day lives are secular crimes. No one has even tried to dispute this yet. Give it a shot if you like - you'll go down in flames." ... If sin is real and if it compels us to act, then criminal acts also have a religious component to them.

      "The overwhelming number of crimes we see in our day to day lives are secular crimes. No one has even tried to dispute this yet. Give it a shot if you like - you'll go down in flames." ... Yes and no. It's doubtful that, up until very recently, the historical actors and participants of wars thought there was a real difference, as opposed to a phenomenal, between secular and religious interests. For more, cf. A Secular Age, by Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor.

      Dan Gillson said...

      Copy/paste fail alert. I'm very tired. I'll repost below:

      "The overwhelming number of wars throughout recorded history have been secular wars, prompted by secular interests and desires." ... Yes and no. It's doubtful that, up until very recently, the historical actors and participants of wars thought there was a real difference, as opposed to a phenomenal, between secular and religious interests. For more, cf. A Secular Age, by Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor.

      Crude said...

      Dan,

      What you see when you open the newspaper depends on a lot of background information. For instance, some woolly evangelical might think that all crime is motivated by sin, and therefore that all crime is religious in nature, not secular.

      I don't think that's going to help the claim made by the other atheists in this thread. Nor does speculating about sin being real, etc - that's off in another topic.

      Yes and no. It's doubtful that, up until very recently, the historical actors and participants of wars thought there was a real difference, as opposed to a phenomenal, between secular and religious interests.

      I am highly skeptical of this line of argument. Blame it on my particular brand of cynicism: while humanity often gets tarred with the accusation that we're all quite good at lying to ourselves, I think that's often a defense mechanism. We're also quite good at being honest with ourselves at times. But if everyone thinks we're deluded, that shaves off some culpability, now doesn't it?

      Regardless, the secular motives and desires at work behind the various wars in question aren't exactly opaque. Nor, for that matter, are some of the secular motives and desires behind some various 'religious' acts. Would you slot Jim Bakker in the 'religious crime' or 'secular crime' column? I know where I'd put him.

      John W. Loftus said...

      Embarrassing as it may be to those of us who call ourselves Christians, the fact is that more people have been killed in the history of the world in conflicts over and about religion than over any other single factor. Religion has so often been the source of the cruelest evil. Its darkest and most brutal side becomes visible at the moment when the adherents of any religious system identify their understanding of God with God.

      John Shelby Spong, "The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love" (San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), p. 217.

      John W. Loftus said...

      A strong case can be made that the history of Christianity contains considerably more violence and destruction than that of most other major religions.”

      Charles Kimball, "When Religion Becomes Evil" (San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), p. 27.

      Crude said...

      John,

      Oh boy, a quote from Spong and Kimball, with no evidence other than their personal opinion cited. Rolling out the big guns here, aren't you?

      Okay: Here's John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration:

      Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.

      Look at that. I too can bring up opinions of writers that are irrelevant to the argument at hand.

      John, I've provided evidence that secular crimes overwhelm religious crimes in every way - from day to day crimes, to wars throughout history. I've cited the articles, the studies, the actual evidence.

      Limp-wristedly, you fight back with a religious quote from a poor example of an Anglican preacher, and a single-sentence opinion from a book Wikipedia describes as claiming that religion 'is basically necessary and positive'.

      Boom. That's the sound of John shooting himself in the foot, as usual.

      I want everyone to notice, by the by, exactly the state Loftus is in here. He can't dispute my arguments or evidence, which don't just dismantle his claims, but reverse the charges entirely. At this point, and after not much time, he is reduced to fighting desperately just to draw even on this front.

      And he's losing badly there too.

      Such is the habit and routine of John W. Loftus.

      B. Prokop said...

      What's really interesting is that no one, and I mean absolutely no one, can identify a single so-called "religious" war that did not also (or even primarily) contain a strong economic component as well. You can't even do that with the Crusades. (I recall quite vividly my professor in a Medieval History class I took at Arizona State methodically going over the manifold economic factors responsible for those wars, such as population pressure in Northern Europe and rivalry over trade routes in the Mediterranean, etc.

      The lesson to be learned here, I think, is that the primary motivation behind 99.9% of Mankind's warfare is not religion at all. Rather, religion is swept in after the fact (just as demonstrated in the book Loftus linked to - thank you, John, for supporting my point) as a form of cheerleading. This is not to excuse such behavior, but rather to put it in context. And the context is most definitely not that religion causes war.

      grodrigues said...

      @Dan Gilson:

      "For instance, some woolly evangelical might think that all crime is motivated by sin, and therefore that all crime is religious in nature, not secular."

      You are probably the first person I have ever seen making the inference from "Sin motivates crime" (which is at best, sloppy wording, at worse -- well, let that pass) to "crime is religious". Points for originality.

      Dan Gillson said...

      It's not a difficult inference to make: if sin motivates evil, and committing a crime is committing a sin, then committing crimes is evil. Supplement the proof with technical definitions and connect some dots and you have yourself a pretty good case that crime is religious in nature.

      Mind you, I don't believe this stuff, but I've certainly met people who have. You can take away the points for originality.

      grodrigues said...

      @Dan Gilson:

      "It's not a difficult inference to make: if sin motivates evil, and committing a crime is committing a sin, then committing crimes is evil."

      First, you are using sin in equivocal senses. Second, committing crimes *is* evil, so what is the point of this "proof"?

      "Supplement the proof with technical definitions and connect some dots and you have yourself a pretty good case that crime is religious in nature."

      I do not even know what the above is supposed to be a proof of. So if you "supplement" a proof of ?? with "technical definitions" and "connect some dots" you have yourself "pretty good case that crime is religious in nature"? Huh uh.

      Dan Gillson said...

      grodriguez,

      "First, you are using sin in equivocal senses. Second, committing crimes *is* evil, so what is the point of this "proof"?" ... 1. Change sin motivates evil to committing sin is evil then. 2. Not all crimes are evil.

      "I do not even know what the above is supposed to be a proof of. So if you "supplement" a proof of ?? with "technical definitions" and "connect some dots" you have yourself "pretty good case that crime is religious in nature"? Huh uh." ... The point is, someone who cares more than I do to make the case can start here. I'm not particularly interested in making it. The idea that crime could be religious in nature was only interesting to me because of what Crude was saying to Hal.

      Victor Reppert said...

      I think a good example would be the Irish. The name of the group that supports the IRA is called Sinn Fein, which means "ourselves alone." The main point is "Britain, get out of our face, and let us have our own country on this island," or as Paul McCartney put it, give Ireland back to the Irish. (Loftus is Irish, he should appreciate this).

      Religion comes into it on the tail end.