Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why not?

OK, suppose you think that religion really does harm, and we really have to do what we can to stamp it out. Most of us don't have the opportunity to help establish or eliminate religion by the use of violence. But suppose an opportunity arises. Through a violent act, we can, as we see it, greatly decrease the influence of religion on the world. Now what do you do? Do you say "No, violence is wrong, we have to let the God delusion die of other causes. The end does not justify the means." or do we say "OK, yeah, we're doing violence, but this is how we vastly decrease the influence of religion on the world. The end does justify the means."

The Grand Inquisitors, the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusaders, etc. all thought that they were doing good and promoting the kingdom of God. 

In Tolkien's writings, the moral fate of many of the characters depends upon their willingness or unwillingness to use power (such as the power of the Ring) to do what they perceive to be good. What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can't think of a single one.

26 comments:

Cal Metzger said...

You were doing fine until this:

Reppert: "What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can't think of a single one."

Really? When's the last time we read these headlines?

"Atheists coordinated attacks on religious sites kill more than 100."
"Atheist suicide bomber kills 60 outside theological seminary."
"Atheist shoots clergy member; hides in network of atheist safe houses."

When's the last time that atheists of the Dawkins style variety ever used language like this?

"Serve only the LORD your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. The false prophets or dreamers who try to lead you astray must be put to death, for they encourage rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of slavery in the land of Egypt. Since they try to keep you from following the LORD your God, you must execute them to remove the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NLT)

"If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, We verily shall urge thee on against them, then they will be your neighbors in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter." (Quran (33:60-62))

Listen, anybody with a decent understanding of history or an ear for literature or eyes and ears can see that power corrupts, and that no one is above its influence. But when we live in an era where peace and security are enjoyed largely as a result of the expansion of secular democracies (the result of freethinkers from whom Dawkins is a modern-day descendent), your question seems like a kind of newspeak.

B. Prokop said...

"When's the last time we read these headlines?"

Ohhh... I guess the last time was when we read such things as "Millions imprisoned in Soviet Camps for refusing to renounce faith in Christianity" or "Worship Kim il Sung or die!" or "Maximilian Kolbe murdered at Auschwitz". (Oh, I guess that one didn't make the news. Didn't prevent his canonization, however.)

Cal, seriously. Name ONE TIME when atheists have seized the reigns of power in a state and the world was not treated to yet another bloodbath ... (thought you couldn't).

Jezu ufam tobie!

Legion of Logic said...

Many prominent atheists would love for religious beliefs to be classified as mental illness that needs to be treated. They would love for it to be illegal for parents to teach their children anything religious in nature. They may not (yet) resort to physical violence, but their Dear Leader Dawkins actively encourages them to verbally bully Christians to intimidate "fence sitters" into the atheist camp.

Anti-theists are not good people.

Legion of Logic said...

B. Prokop,

You will quickly be pounced on as being an unfair meanie for trying to equate bigots like Richard Dawkins to communism. I notice that atheists say "religion" so they can equate Christianity with Islam whenever Islamic terrorists strike, but try using the exact same tactic to equate New Atheist anti-theism with communist anti-theism, or even left-wing secular progressivism with left-wing secular communism, and suddenly you're committing a fallacy. Hilarious and pathetic.

B. Prokop said...

Oh, I know, Legion. As amusing as the irony is however, in the end it's not funny - it's quite tragic. Until you own up to your own failings or to those of your compatriots, there is no hope of not repeating those failings. The fact that atheists stubbornly refuse to admit their culpability in the mass murder of tens of millions and the blighting of the lives of billions more in the past century, means they will cheerfully do it all over again in this one.

unkleE said...

I don't really like to get involved in these "find the worst example of the opposing opinion and imply that they are all like that" games, but these words by John Loftus (reporting Peter Boghossian) may be alarming or just laughable, depending on how you take them:

religious faith is a mind virus .... heal our society from our faith pandemic

Treat faith as a public health crisis. Two words: "contain" and "eradicate." We must do this with ethical and Constitutional concerns in mind, he says. Rather, "interventions need to be designed that counter the spread" of the virus. Our "containment strategy should promote the 'value' of believing on the basis of evidence."

Finally, remove the religious exemption for delusion from the 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' (DSM). He says, "There is perhaps no greater contribution one could make to contain and perhaps even cure faith than removing the exemption that prohibits classifying religious delusions as mental illness."


In some ways, wanting to remove your opponents from the public discussion by classifying them as mentally ill, when all the scientific evidence shows that religious believers have better mental health than non-believers, and John and Peter's remedies are the very worst way to deal with genuine mental illness, is surely only a little less dangerous than what you are talking about, and more insidious.

B. Prokop said...

UnkleE,

It's what they did in the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era. Instead of sending dissidents to labor camps as counterrevolutionaries, they declared them to be insane, and confined them to (so-called) mental institutions.

And atheists still have the nerve to claim they have nothing in common with the Communists!

Jezu ufam tobie!

David Brightly said...

I sometimes despair of you Americans. How on earth are you going to fulfill your manifest destiny as defenders of the free world (ie, we decadent Europeans) if you descend into this kind of mutually assured victimhood? You are like children squabbling in the playground. Miss, Miss, look what Johnny's elder brother did to my elder brother! I'll single out Legion's '...try using the exact same tactic to...' as it's quite explicit, but Cal does likewise. This is fighting fire with fire and utterly counter-productive. Try fighting fire with water.

Joking aside, Victor asks, What possible reason? A suggestion: Dawkins was at one time a university teacher with some power over his students. As far as we know this power was not abused, say in blighting a budding Christian zoologist's career by deliberately marking them down. Same for Dennett if he counts as of the Dawkins variety.

Back to joking. Commenters here can't decide whether atheism is dangerous or ludicrous. If you want to contain its influence yet keep your society healthy, then stick with ridicule. Ditto theism, mutatis mutandis.

grodrigues said...

@Legion of Logic:

" I'll single out Legion's '...try using the exact same tactic to...' as it's quite explicit, but Cal does likewise."

You did say you were joking, but I will still say that that is not what Legion of Logic is doing -- or at least that is not how I am reading him. LoL (to keep it short) is making a logical point: the same logic that leads Dawkins to pronounce the moral equality of all religious people on account of the bad actions of a few, should lead him to pronounce all atheists as morally deleterious on account of the actions of stalwart humanitarians like the Dear Learder Stalin or Chairman Mao. But Dawkins rejects such a sweeping indictment -- in other words, he is being inconsistent in his selective application of principles.

On a lighter tone, as a European, and despairing of Europeans, I sure wished we could import some of those fundamentalist Americans; we could use a bunch.

Legion of Logic said...

Grodrigues is correct. I was not using the tactic, only pointing out that anti-theists love to use it but then cry foul if it gets turned on them.

Legion of Logic said...

Grodrigues is correct. I was not using the tactic, only pointing out that anti-theists love to use it but then cry foul if it gets turned on them.

David Brightly said...

Sure. So it's a lousy, mudslinging argument and both sides should abjure it?

Cal Metzger said...

@Bob, the OP said atheists "of the Dawkins variety."

By atheists "of the Dawkins variety" I thought the OP meant people who are educated in science, write books, and speak publicly. Atheists "of the Dawkins variety" are distinguished by their use of speech and persuasion and argument.

The men you describe are megalomaniacs, with little education, who rule by fear and force.

The dictators you cite are the opposite of atheists "of the Dawkins variety."

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "I'll single out Legion's '...try using the exact same tactic to...' as it's quite explicit, but Cal does likewise. This is fighting fire with fire and utterly counter-productive. Try fighting fire with water."

?

Legion of Logic said...

Sure. So it's a lousy, mudslinging argument and both sides should abjure it?

Fully agreed, although as far as I can tell the entire New Atheist movement is based on that argument. If they had to truly concede the vast spectrum of beliefs and practices contained within "religion", they could not possibly have a single argument against everything "religious" except that they personally are not religious and therefore religion has got to go.

Cal Metzger said...

If this post poses a valid question, I have another to add:

"What possible reason do we have for believing that Christians, especially of the Pope Francis variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote Christianity if the opportunity would arise?"

B. Prokop said...

"What possible reason do we have for believing that Christians, especially of the Pope Francis variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote Christianity if the opportunity would arise?"

Excellent question, Cal.

One "possible" reason is that, were anyone to act in the manner you described (as, sadly, all too many have so acted from time to time), he would be acting in a manner directly contrary to the explicit and specific teachings of the New Testament, as well as ignoring the clear and unambiguous example of Christ Himself, who went without protest or resistance to His death at the hands of the 1st Century's ruling alliance of "church and state".

By contrast, what is preventing the atheist from acting in such a manner? Please don't tell me it's somehow against the principles of atheism to do so, because every time someone dares to say "this is how atheists think", we're always met with a barrage of "atheists don't think like anything! We have no dogma, no holy books, no authorities! There are no principles of atheism!" But if that is true, then there is nothing to prevent atheists in power to behave howsoever they please.

There's your desired distinction in a nutshell. Christians do have something to motivate them against behaving tyrannically - atheists have nothing.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Yeah, I think this kind of question makes an apples and oranges mistake; Christianity isn't just a belief in gods, it's a belief in Yawheh, and the holy spirit, and Jesus, as described in the bible, and as interpreted over 2,000 years by various institutions, etc. It's a belief in a god(s), PLUS all the other entailments from that belief.

Atheism is less than all that -- it's just a lack of belief in any gods. So, all that other stuff that comes pre-packaged in Christianity has to be filled in by something else -- and by something else everyone usually means a set of norms (morality, rituals, etc.). Complicating the story of atheism, however, is that atheism is typically a position that is reached at the end of a process, a journey from inheriting a set of societal superstitions, adopting a skeptical and evidence-based approach to reality, and discovering that the inherited superstitions are only founded in the collective imagination. So I get it when the religious object to the definition of atheism as just being a lack of belief in gods, because so many of us grow up in a society where the de facto inheritance is one of religious indoctrination first.

The best thing I can say about this post (despite it's gratuitous disparagement of the Dawkins variety atheists) is that I think it's fair to ask, if you don't subscribe to a set of norms as prescribed by (the usually Christian) religion, then how do you subscribe to any norms, and what are they?

I don't have a problem with that question, and I think it's a responsible one. I think that at its heart the rancor in these debates is based on a mutual fear about morality and behaviors, with each side imagining the worst from the other. And that's the principle problem I have with this post -- rather than ask that question in a open-minded and non-judgmental fashion, it serves up the "question" as an accusation. That's not really the stuff that encourages a productive dialogue.

oozzielionel said...

Some people committed violence.
We must make sure this does not happen again.
These people justified their violence by appealing to religion.
We must get rid of religion.
Wait, maybe it was just that religion. Some people of that religion seem OK.
Wait, maybe it was just a fundamentalist version of that religion.
Yea, that's it.
Let's get rid of all fundamentalist version of religions.
Wait, some of those seem OK. It's just the ones that think that they are right.
Wait, everyone thinks they are right, otherwise they would change their mind.
Yea, lets get rid of everyone who thinks they are right.
Wait, do we think we are right?

B. Prokop said...

" [atheism] is typically a position that is reached at the end of a process"

Amazing! Can we now stop hearing that "We're all born atheists!" nonsense?

"each side imagining the worst from the other"

We have no need to "imagine" the worst from atheists. We've seen it, time and time again - made worse by the total failure of contemporary atheists to own up to the crimes of their intellectual forebears, thus practically guaranteeing that the past will simply be repeated. I would have a lot less concern about atheists in power if only they'd come clean and admit that their philosophy (or lack of one) was directly responsible for the deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people in the past century, and for blighting the lives of billions more. Then there'd at least be hope that they'd learned a lesson from past mistakes. But as it is, I don't see any lessons being learned.

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

oozie,

You comment reminds me of a passage from Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory. The main character is passing by a cemetery where the gravestones had been defaced by atheist revolutionaries. All the crosses and figures of angels and saints had been knocked down, chiseled off, and/or smashed. He thinks to himself:

"It was odd - this fury to deface, because, of course, you could never deface enough. If God had been like a toad, you could have rid the world of toads, but when God was like yourself, it was no good being content with stone figures - you had to kill yourself among the graves."

One of the most powerful passages in literature I've come across in a long time.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Me: "And that's the principle problem I have with this post -- rather than ask that question in a open-minded and non-judgmental fashion, it serves up the "question" as an accusation. That's not really the stuff that encourages a productive dialogue."

Prokop: "We have no need to "imagine" the worst from atheists. We've seen it, time and time again - made worse by the total failure of contemporary atheists to own up to the crimes of their intellectual forebears, thus practically guaranteeing that the past will simply be repeated."

Stalin is the intellectual forebearer of Dawkins in the same way that Vlad the Imapler is the intellectual forebear of Pope Francis.

Prokop: "I would have a lot less concern about atheists in power if only they'd come clean and admit that their philosophy (or lack of one) was directly responsible for the deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people in the past century, and for blighting the lives of billions more."

This would maybe have some weight if you could explain how atheism is a philosophy, rather than a conclusion reached at the end of investigation. This would maybe have some weight if you could explain how it is that so many atheists fail to do what Stalin did. This would maybe have some weight if you could explain, in a way that isn't a fallacy (No True Scotsman, Special Pleading, Ad Hoc, etc.) how it is that Christians and other religious believers haven't wrought great misery while supposedly benefiting from their philosophy.

Prokop: "Then there'd at least be hope that they'd learned a lesson from past mistakes. But as it is, I don't see any lessons being learned."

You are correct; from my vantage point, I don't see any lessons being learned. But I suspect that you don't see what I see.

B. Prokop said...

"Stalin is the intellectual forebearer of Dawkins in the same way that Vlad the Imapler is the intellectual forebear of Pope Francis."

Like I said. The denial continues, and no lessons learned. The past will repeat itself.

I am pleased, however, by your not going along with the demonstrably silly assertion that we are all born atheists. That particular trope, besides being ludicrous on the face of it, was getting a little tiring.

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "I am pleased, however, by your not going along with the demonstrably silly assertion that we are all born atheists."

To be clear, I believe we are born not capable of "believing" anything. Belief, in the way we think of a belief in gods, is probably years down the road from birth. So I see the point in saying we are all born atheists (we don't have any belief about god), but as always the reality is slightly more complex than that simple sentence.

Prokop: "The past will repeat itself."

No, but it will rhyme.

Victor Reppert said...

Let me make something clear. There are ways on the atheist side of keeping things civil. Before I ran into new atheists I had many, many, respectful discussions with nonbelievers, and that includes passionate nonbelievers. What I have noticed, and it's something I trace back to Dawkins, is a shift in the nature of the discussion. I remember being surprised by it in a couple of discussion groups I got into before I even opened this blog. There are people on the other side who see the disagreement between belief and unbelief to be not just a debate but a war, and who want to mobilize a people who use ridicule, not in a offhanded way, or a way that is aimed at entertainment, but aimed at providing people with a social, not an epistemic, motivation for abandoning belief based on fear of ridicule. This ridicule is not for the benefit of the believers they are debating. They are written off as hopeless. No, it is used as a tool to demotivate religious belief amongst the low-information believers in the flock, who might be influenced by "naked contempt." Your debating partner is a pawn in a game, the end justifies the means.

Now, it is quite true that Christians have not always, historically, been willing to leave an open marketplace of ideas and have not always treated nonbelievers fairly. How Christians got to the place where there were willing to use the power of government to uphold their beliefs raises some difficult questions. I think the lessons of history have taught Christians, the hard way, that using force on behalf of one's beliefs is a self-defeating enterprise.

Violence on these matters is only possible when it looks to us as if our cause will benefit from it. Even if I decide that Dawkins is the worst influence on society possible, it would be silly to kill him, that will prove his point on a number of issues and benefit his cause. But even if that were not the case, it would violate the teachings of my religion to kill him. That was an important part of my point, that the failure to engage or not engage in violence is partly a function of what one sees as useful, and this is true of both theists and atheists. One response to the recommendation that the Pope be assassinated in the name of atheism would be that it doesn't work. But that better not be the only reason.

I am willing to ask anyone who thinks whether one believes or not really matters, what means they are willing to use to get people to get the right answer. The charge I am responding to is the charge that RELIGION leads to violence. The road to violence, however, is open to everyone. I think, if anything, Christianity has some safeguards that limit the damage, which may be why, as Dinesh D'Souza points out, the death tolls are actually lower in the religious cases. For Christians, it is hard to argue that the end justifies the means, that the course of history is really in our hands. My claim is that you get ideological violence when you have the power to commit it, when you think the end justifies the means, and when you really think it will benefit your cause to commit it.

When I hear that religion is a mind virus, when I hear that everything depends on curing that mind virus, then I have to wonder what means are NOT acceptable in achieving that goal, should the opportunity arise. That is the basis of what I said here.

Legion of Logic said...

B. Prokop, the last time an atheist used that ridiculous line on me, I simply agreed with him that atheists' reasoning capabilities were indeed infantile. Pissed him off, but he dropped that line of "reasoning" immediately afterward.