Wednesday, March 17, 2010



To continue with a theme:

Melanie Phillips at The Australian on the gathering of atheists down under:

Some of the worst horrors in human history - the French revolutionary terror, Nazism, communism - have been atheist creeds. And although terrible things indeed have been done in the name of religion, the fact remains that Christianity and the Hebrew Bible form the foundation stone of Western civilisation and its great cause of human equality and freedom.

Ummm, the French Revolution was heavily influenced by Thomas Jefferson -- maybe not a "Christian" (as defined by the Righteous Right today) but definitely a theist -- who said in 1789: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure." Not to mention that Jefferson was fighting against the "divine right of kings," heavily supported, and even sanctified, for centuries by Christianity, in direct opposition to "human equality and freedom." And let's not forget those "Gott mit uns" belt buckles the Nazis wore. But beyond the fact that two, at least, of her "examples" are questionable, what was she complaining about just a scant few paragraphs before?:

[Dawkins] referred to the Pope as a Nazi, which managed to combine defamation of the pontiff with implicit Holocaust denial.

It's impermissible to refer to an actual (though, perhaps, involuntary) connection between the Pope and the Nazis* but it's perfectly okay to equate "the worst horrors in human history" -- including Nazism -- with atheists?

Then there's Anthony Frosh at Galus Australis: Jewish Life in the Antipodes:

'Evangelical atheists' claim that most wars have been fought in the name of religion. When people point out Nazis, Soviets, etc, then people like Richard Dawkins say that those atheists didn't commit their atrocities in the name of atheism.

There are two main problems with Dawkins' argument. Firstly, Dawkins is plain wrong when he asserts that no atrocities were ever committed in the name of atheism.

Obvious examples are the regimes of Mao and Stalin, who destroyed cultures they perceived to have had a religious basis. Thus their atrocities and human rights violations were clearly committed in the name of atheism.

Secondly, by putting up the defence that those atheistic regimes didn't commit their atrocities in the name of atheism, this assumes that religious entities that have waged war and committed atrocities have done so in the name of theism. This has rarely been the case. Most wars described as religious wars are actually about tribalism and ideology, and not at their core about theology.

Uh, wait a minute! It's okay to excuse religions because people really fight over tribalism (not least of all expressed in religion) and ideology (which we are constantly told, by people like the Texas State Board of Education, is definitely tied up in religion) but it's not okay to excuse atheism on the same grounds? And for every Mao that Frosh can name, a Torquemada can be pointed out.

Frankly, I think both sides are wrong about religion and/or the lack of it. Neither is the source of great evil nor a protection against it. The fault dear Brutus is not in your stars but in ourselves.


* P.S. Dawkins has said he wasn't speaking of the current Pope but of a past one.

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