Sunday, October 18, 2015

The moral impact of Christianity, and atheism

A great deal of fundamental ideas which we all accept as a matter of social justice came from Christians that was not accepted by, say, the leaders of Roman society at the time. Now, the history isn't perfect, and there is plenty you can use against it in the Bible and in Christian history. But what does evolution give you? Evolution says that certain critters have certain advantages over certain other critters, and that using those advantages allows the critters with those advantages to pass on their genes. If materialistic atheism is true, there is nothing in reality that supports treating people with prima facie disadvantages as equal, as opposed to simply using your advantage over them for you and those you feel close to. 

It is not as if everything in morality is religious, it's not. There are two forces in human nature that very often push us in a moral direction: social utility and sympathy. But we get social utility from those like ourselves (the social disutility of being a n-lover at a Klan meeting should be obvious), and we tend to lack sympathy for others when the others are one of "them" and not one of us. The antidote to this is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan but it cuts against human nature to a very large extent. 

I find it distressing that movements within atheism are starting to see the conflict between belief and unbelief as a war, not a debate, and are starting to adopt an us vs. them mentality. I remember the well-intentioned ideas that launched the French Revolution and the Russian revolution, and remember also where these movements ended: with guillotines and gulags. As a result I am concerned about what is going to happen if the secularist movement today gets a lot of political power. These people started off with combining secularism with a passion for social justice, and look what happened to them. The death tolls of the Soviet Union far outstrip all the "holy horrors" of Christianity, such as the Inquisition. It's not even close. One commentator over on Debunking Christianity once started talking about putting Christians in camps and preventing them from reproducing. Of course most people of that mindset don't actually come out and say this stuff, but that doesn't mean they would resist the temptation if they thought they could actually cure the great "mind virus" that way.

25 comments:

Crude said...

Less appreciated is the fact that the soviet attitude towards science was worse than anything anti-Darwinists or anti-Galileans ever cooked up.

John Moore said...

Great atrocities come from totalitarianism. A totalitarian is someone absolutely convinced that they know the truth. Atheism means not believing (not absolutely convinced). Therefore, you can't really have atheist totalitarianism. It's a contradiction in terms.

We can argue about what atheism really means, of course, but if you take seriously what many atheists themselves say (that atheism simply means not believing), then it looks like atheism is anti-totalitarian.

Stalin and Mao denied traditional religion only to establish their own fanatical personality cults. That looks more like religion than atheism.

Again, I'm suggesting that religion means being firmly convinced, and atheism means being uncommitted and sceptical. You'll never get mass atrocities when people are uncommitted and sceptical.

planks length said...

Sounds like John is engaging in the No True Scotsman fallacy. According to him, Stalin and Mao couldn't possibly be atheists, could they? Because... well, because atheists just don't act that way!

Accept it. Stalin and Mao were atheists. They acted that way. Therefore, atheists act that way.

And as for the Cult of Personality, that seems to be a natural feature of atheism. Just look at the nascent cult growing around Dawkins right now. Give him political power, and I guarantee you that writers and artists would be singing hosannas to him no less fawning than THIS.

David Brightly said...

Unfortunately, John, if Victor is right then it rather looks as if some self-styled atheists have fallen into the totalitarian camp. That's indefensible. But a link or two would be helpful here.

However, the last sentence of the first paragraph is a travesty of contemporary Darwinism. Nothing? Nothing at all?

I can't speak for other atheists, but nevertheless, I'd much rather be ruled by Justin Welby than by Ali Khamenei.

Legion of Logic said...

John is engaged in a semantics game. While it is true that a lack of belief cannot become totalitarian, New Atheism is not motivated by a lack of belief. They are anti theistic, many if not most to the extent that "bigot" is completely appropriate. Anti religious bigotry absolutely can and does lead to totalitarianism.

Let's be honest. Atheists don't patrol the Internet because they "lack belief". They do so because they advocate the removal of religion. That sentiment, regardless of how it is rationalized, has resulted in countless deaths.

Crude said...

Let's be honest. Atheists don't patrol the Internet because they "lack belief". They do so because they advocate the removal of religion. That sentiment, regardless of how it is rationalized, has resulted in countless deaths.

Pretty much. Say it's not 'lack of belief' but 'anti-theism' that has the rotten track record, and look at that - it scoops up all of the New Atheists and the League of Militant Godless in one fell swoop.

Somehow, the atheists never end up arguing that the anti-theists should be held responsible for such crimes, and not the atheists. They know just how those particular Venn diagrams overlap.

David Brightly said...

Come on Planks! "Stalin and Mao were atheists. They acted that way. Therefore, some atheists acted that way."

John Moore said...

The "No True Scotsman" fallacy hinges on a lack of clear definition, but I stated a clear and simple definition of atheism. The "No True Scotsman" fallacy involves changing definitions to suit the situation, but I've never changed my definition of atheism. Therefore, planks length is wrong. If you want to criticize my position, pull something else out of your grab bag of canned ideas.

David Brightly points out that some self-styled atheists may fall into totalitarianism, and he's right of course. People should criticize those atheists for violating the widely accepted definition of atheism as lack of belief, which is incompatible with totalitarianism, as Legion of Logic admits.

Personally I don't advocate the removal of religion. I engage in online discussions because I want to hear different criticisms of my own ideas while I develop my thinking.

planks length said...

I see no substantive difference between new atheism (a.k.a., the gnus) and Stalinism, other than the latter group not possessing the reins of power (yet). Give them the power, and you won't find a Planks Length of distance between them.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

John Loftus is now getting in to politics.

I would not trust him with political power under any circumstances.

Seldom have I met an atheist so consumed by hatred as that man. And of course atheits like Moore say they don't advocate removal of religion. Do you think they would tell us now, before they gained power, if they did.

planks length said...

Wow! thanks for the heads up, Emanuel. I haven't been over on Debunking for many months now, and was kind of surprised at how political it's gotten. It's become the "All Bernie, All the Time" website.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

EVERY atheist who has had the political power to do so has killed believers.

Every damn time.

Can this be conincidence?

David Brightly said...

What on earth is happening in the USA that people have these fears and feel the need to express them in terms that to an outsider sometimes seem over-wrought to the point of unbelievability? Here are a few points for consideration.

The UK and some other European countries have progressed to the point where the percentage of believers is substantially less than in the US. Yet I'm not aware that Christians here, or other faiths, feel nervous let alone beseiged. Maybe I just don't read the right blogs. So what is special about the US?

I can understand that Christians believe that their faith is the final bulwark against the kind barbarism seen under Stalin and Mao. These gentlemen came to power in the aftermath of revolution and civil war. England hasn't seen civil war for 350 years and the US for 150. Both societies have survived the shocks of industrialisation, world wars, the nuclear standoff, and occasional financial disaster. Why do people have so little confidence that a progressive de-Christrianisation, if that is indeed what is happening in the US, cannot also be weathered without a descent into totalitarianism?

Lastly, do be careful of this labelling of people as 'the atheists', 'the antitheists', 'the gnus', or 'the mind virologists', if I may. It's all too reminiscent of 'the Jews' and 'the Commies'. Team games are fine on the playing fields. Just don't press people into taking sides.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

David, the trouble is that in the UK and other European countries the atheists do not have the political power to commit atrocities outright.

But in countries where they have had such power, they have always murdered to get their way.

No matter what they say before they actually get that power.

planks length said...

David, Please, do not tout Britain or Western Europe as some sort of example worthy of emulation by the US. Their heedless slide into "Post-Christian" secularism is precisely what has resulted in:

a) the continental birthrate dropping below replacement levels, guaranteeing that what we know of as "Europe" will disappear in short order, and

b) the consequent filling of the vacuum by decidedly un-European Islamic hordes (as in the current fake "refugee" crisis, which is really a demographic invasion). If this keeps up, your grandchildren (assuming you've bothered to reproduce) will not be happy atheists, they'll be reciting the Koran.

I'd say that Britain and Europe could use a bit of good ol' American "fear" right about now.

David Brightly said...

Are you implying then that in the US, the atheists, whatever shadowy group they may be, do have the power to commit outright atrocities, unlike their European counterparts?

I'm not offering up Europe as a model to be emulated. I'm pointing out that Europe shows that de-christianisation or secularisation, call it what you will, can be weathered by Western societies without the descent into chaos that's the necessary precursor to totalitarianism. My question is What reason do you have to think the US will be any different?

I don't associate fear with the American character. Quite the reverse.

Legion of Logic said...

There's a difference between someone who doesn't believe in, or doesn't care about, God, and those who despise religion and make it their life's work to eradicate it. The first type just exists, the second type tries to spread itself. And in anything that tries to spread itself based on hatred of something else, there is a clear danger.

If 80 percent of Europe or America consisted of New Atheists, I doubt it would be like what Christians in the Middle East experience, but we would still be driven underground. I doubt we could openly express our beliefs and have any chance at good jobs, political office, etc. And chances are that medical and scientific resources would be brought to bear against us, particularly those parents who might *gasp* teach their beliefs to their children.

I base these musings on what I have been directly told and have read by New Atheists.

Ilíon said...

David Brightly: "Unfortunately, John, if Victor is right then it rather looks as if some self-styled atheists have fallen into the totalitarian camp. That's indefensible. ..."

David Brightly: "Are you implying then that in the US, the atheists, whatever shadowy group they may be, do have the power to commit outright atrocities, unlike their European counterparts?"

Keep this always in mind -- *all* 'atheists' are liars: by (anti-)virtue of their God-denial, they are lying about the very nature reality ... and of truth. So, one should not find it surprising that any particular 'atheist' starts out sounding all reasonable but morphs into crude misrepresentation.

Victor Reppert said...

I noticed John Loftus objecting to my comments by, typically, bringing up Scandanavian countries. However, PL's point is relevant here, that strong secularization tends to move a country toward underpopulation, which makes it difficult for them to avoid a Muslim majority. And, I would also have to make the note that the secularization of those countries took place with very little of the religion-bashing typical of new atheism. If religion dies within a culture, I think it is more likely to die of neglect than anything else. There is a sense in which writing books like the God Delusion and running websites like Debunking Christianity is a self-defeating enterprise. What you are saying by doing that is that God and Christianity are so important that someone needs to take lots of time and effort attacking it. I know they don't intend to leave this message, but that is still the effect. These people spend a lot of time and energy on what they don't believe, in debunking the wrong answer. If it's really worth the time and energy to criticize something, then there are rules, such as the principle of charity, that have to be followed. If not, then you are better off pursuing the right answer than attacking the wrong answer.

Ilíon said...

VR: "I noticed John Loftus objecting to my comments by, typically, bringing up Scandanavian countries. However, PL's point is relevant here, that strong secularization tends to move a country toward underpopulation, which makes it difficult for them to avoid a Muslim majority."

Even taking Islam or other "exotic" religions, and other sorts of demographic invasions, out of the picture, a society comprised of secularized (and atomized (*) and/or self-centered) individuals isn't going to stay that way. Not every member of a secularizing society is going to succumb to the siren call of me-me-ism – and those are the ones who will be populating the future.

The secularists can puff out their chests all they want about being “the wave of the future”, but we know that the mindset is a reproductive dead-end. Even a certain famous "Bronze Age religious text" points this out.


(*) Which seems to be much of the point of promoting a people to secularize itself.

David Brightly said...

If 80 percent of Europe or America consisted of New Atheists...

But this isn't going to happen. As Victor says,

If religion dies within a culture, I think it is more likely to die of neglect than anything else.

Exactly. This is what appears to be happening in Western Europe. For many people religious issues are no longer live questions, for better or worse, and they look on the antics of the New Atheists, if they are aware of them at all, with a puzzled indifference. Victor also suggests that American exceptionalism to this trend in this may lie a in reaction within the still large religious community against the New Atheist provocations. But I sometimes wonder if the latter aren't inflated by the nature of the new digital social media. After all, under the cover of a pseudonym or sheer internet remoteness one can say with impunity things that a generation ago would have invited a punch on the nose, and hence would not have been said. Thus the level of tension ratchets up within the small groups of people who engage in these conversations.

Crude said...

I'm pointing out that Europe shows that de-christianisation or secularisation, call it what you will, can be weathered by Western societies without the descent into chaos that's the necessary precursor to totalitarianism.

Except it's not showing that at all. Go ahead and put all the actual chaos and totalitarianism Europe has experienced during its deChristianization to one side. Go ahead and even confuse 'dechristianisation' with 'secularisation', even though the two things are radically different.

The fact remains that even during its most peaceful ebbing of Christian influence, it's gone hand in hand with a general societal decay in Europe. Not just a moral decay (Once upon a time people would have expressed outrage - outrage! - at the claim that deChristianization would usher in public acceptance of abortion, out of wedlock births, same-sex marriage, childless relationships, etc. Now these are a feature, not a bug), but practical decay as well: right back to the demographics issue they have.

Which also ties into their immigration woes as of late. While people like to act as if the main cause of the demand for higher immigration in Europe is misguided generosity, there's also the more practical end: Europe is dying. Their citizens don't have much of an interest in reproducing, and need a culture which will. It so happens the nearest available culture with the population and the means isn't one that's particularly thrilled about those freedoms the natives love.

Put another way: it's not 'Christianity' that's dying of neglect in Europe. It's 'Europe'. We'll see if they have a change of heart, but chances are, any sudden desire to keep Europe as Europe will inevitably involve a desire to keep Europe as Christian. We already see a little bit of this now during the refugee crisis.

David Brightly said...

Certainly there are worries in Europe about the ageing population, migration, and social cohesion. This doesn't detract from seventy years of unprecedented change without a collapse into chaos. Without chaos any totalitarian tendency within New Atheism (or any other ism), with which this post and others, and the accompanying comments, seem to be concerned, cannot get a political foothold. So these fears are groundless. Yes, Europe has its problems (doesn't everywhere) but they can't all be laid at the door of a progressive loss of religious faith. Christianity doesn't guarantee political stability, nor does its absence guarantee chaos. This isn't to be applauded or deplored, just noted.

planks length said...

So David thinks Christians have nothing to fear from secular Europe? Well, here you can read about how Spain's likely next Prime Minister is intent on banning all religious education in that country - even privately run classes!

David Brightly said...

From the article:
----
In this regard Father Gil Tamayo pointed out that the Socialist leaders, perhaps looking for a few votes, are only “stirring up a problem [for themselves], “ and emphasized that the party “needs to keep in mind that the moderate people of this country, the voters of the PSOE, proportionate to the major religious denomination in Spain, are Catholics.”
----
This makes more sense when we know that a new left-wing party, Podemos, more radical than PSOE, the established left of centre party, has very recently come to prominence following Spain's debt crisis austerity measures.