When I discuss the harm done in religion's name with my sister, who is Moslem, she inevitably brings up the harm done in atheism's name, including Stalin in the process.  I am not sufficiently well informed about history to know whether or not she is right that harm has been done in atheism's name.  (I know that Marx thought that religious belief would simply vanish once people ceased to live under oppressive economic conditions, so that he didn't see the need to actively combat religious belief, but I also know that the USSR was an officially atheist state.)  What sort of reply would you give to someone who contended that while harm has been done in the name religion, it has also been done in the name of atheism, so that the look-at-the-harm-religious-belief-does argument isn't effective?

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It is the same argument that I always hear in debates with religious people and I pretty much tell that Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot killed millions of people because they were bad people. They did not once say that they were killing millions of people in the name of non belief. These three men wanted the people in their country to worship them as gods with the state being the official religion. In contrast, we have examples throughout human history with people killing many strictly in the name of their religion for example, Crusades, French Wars, Eighty Years Wars, and the other religious wars that existed throughout human history that have gone undocumented.

Matt,

 

Your low-brow accusation of “nonsense” is glaringly in lieu of a well thought out response. For you to falsely claim that my thinking is “black and white” leaves your own thinking worthy of that very description; and no matter that you dress-up your “black and white” with the flummery of “linguistic place-holder,” your commission of black and white is still a strawman.

 

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Maybe you misunderstood who is doing the name-dropping. The name-dropping is done by people who wish to downplay the danger of religion by mentioning the likes of Augustine. If Augustine were in the minds of the pseudo-intellects to which I referred, hostility toward stem-cell research would not be in those minds.

 

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Re: your accusation of pretzel logic:

 

If the belief is founded on the immutable word of the almighty creator of the universe, then, no “interpretation” is permissible. It would only be permissible if that belief were not founded on the “words” of an imaginary creature: That is, if it were a true ideology amenable to ….. well….. Amendment.

 

 The only interpretation acceptable would be to re-interpret the imaginary creature out of the picture. If this were done, then, it wouldn’t be religion anymore. It might become democracy; or, it might become the quasi-religion of communism while maintaining all the dangerous characteristics of religion. If it did become communism, it would be relatively easy to dispense with: compare communism’s reign to religion’s reign.

 

To the degree that you back-talk God, to that degree you are denying his existence. But he’s still there, like the elephant in the living room. He has to be entirely gone or else the irrational inspiration for aberrations like anti-stem-cell research will persist, those aberrations will have God’s sanction.

 

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Again, with Augustine. We’d all be better off if his pro-science vocally denied God. His pro-science left God with nothing to do.  God’s believers are still without a coherently written handbook.

 

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Where in the Bible does God’s word permit the layering? The “layering” is the time-spent process of cultural evolution; atheism being the mutation necessary for that evolution.

 

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Stalin again? Read Jameer Logan’s well written post. I will only add that Stalin and Mao and Hitler could only exact their horror on humanity with the cooperation of millions of religiously-minded people who were products of centuries of religion.

 

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Hitler? I’m back to wanting that posthumous excommunication. Or, is Hitler not in some afterlife right now?

 

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Religion and racism:  The Confederacy’s citing of the Bible as a God-given sanction for slavery says it all.

 

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Communism’s staying power: It had its best shot with the Soviets and only lasted 70 years. Much shorter than that other thing.

 

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Other doctrines don’t have the sanction of God. And they don’t have the staying power of religion. Democracy is naturally atheistic (despite the artifacts). Democracies tend not to go to war with one another.

 

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Deal with the elephant in the living room. And don’t forget to bring a shovel.

Jameer,

 

That distinction simply does not work. If Mao and Stalin were truly trying to create their own religion and were killing off the other religions in order to further their own, then OK, we could call that religion-on-religion violence.

The problem is that that is not what they were doing. They did not create their own religion in any sense of the word (and no, simply adhering to communism doesn't make it a religion; it's a political ideology, not a religious one), and the evidence is not that Mao killed Buddhist nuns because they were getting in the way of his leader worship. The reason they were killed (and the reasons given and cited by both Mao and the executors) was because their ideal world as dictated by Marx included -amongst other things- the eradication of religious belief.

 

That's why they were killing Buddhist nuns, why they were burning Churches and killing priests by the tens of thousands. Because they were trying to eradicate belief in God. Dancing around this fact is just not rational. The religious people they killed, were killed to further non-belief.

 

As I keep saying, humans are capable of killing any ideology and any idea. Even the idea that non-belief needs to be furthered at the cost of human lives.

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

 

JVL,

 

I'm hoping you're still defending a coherent position and not simply trying to respond to my post with whatever you can think of. Right now that seems doubtful.

 

Your low-brow accusation of “nonsense” is glaringly in lieu of a well thought out response. For you to falsely claim that my thinking is “black and white” leaves your own thinking worthy of that very description; and no matter that you dress-up your “black and white” with the flummery of “linguistic place-holder,” your commission of black and white is still a strawman.

 

That remains total nonsense, and looks more like a high-school retort than an actual argument. I've argued that you've been engaging in black-and-white thinking multiple times throughout this discussion because you've criticized religion using one criteria, and then dodged the implications of that same criteria when applied to your own position.

If you disagree with my assessment, then fine (I don't expect you to agree), but making some semantic leaps and bluster your way to "Well, if you say I'm doing black-and-white thinking and I think you're wrong, then you're doing black-and-white thinking too, so there!" is making a mockery of what used to be a productive discussion.

 

The name-dropping is done by people who wish to downplay the danger of religion by mentioning the likes of Augustine. If Augustine were in the minds of the pseudo-intellects to which I referred, hostility toward stem-cell research would not be in those minds.

 

I wouldn't actually go that far, because I do think religion is almost by definition going to oppose stem-cell research and I do think that's a bad thing.

What I'm objecting to is you -once again- dismissing Augustine's pro-science as not being a religious product and not being one of the most significant influences on Christian thought, while citing other people who were anti-scientific as "the danger of religion".

It's a rhetorically fueled distinction, not an actual one.

 

If the belief is founded on the immutable word of the almighty creator of the universe, then, no “interpretation” is permissible.

 

But that very statement is an interpretation. You're again trying to define "real religion" as the act of believing in a holy text literally and unambiguously, and then noting that everyone who does not do this, is already watering down religion.

That's false. The earliest strains of Christianity maintained that the bible was not literal and that there was room for interpretation. So you don't get to claim that the idea of literalism had primacy and so had to be moved away from; it is to the contrary, a (far) later development.

 

We’d all be better off if his pro-science vocally denied God.

 

But it didn't. He makes it clear that he supports rational enquiries into the world for the glory of God.

Similarly the Medieval philosophers who went out and acquired knowledge and laid the foundations for science, were doing this specifically (and explicitly) to learn more about God's creation to further his glory.

That's just as much religion at work, as the Crusades are. You're still trying to dodge and weasel around this point because of its clear implications, but I won't let you: they were doing (primitive) science specifically because of religion.

 

Where in the Bible does God’s word permit the layering?

 

The Bible itself makes that abundantly clear through its constant uses of parables, psalms, analogies and visions. Religious people back then understood that these books were written with deeper meanings in mind (as they indeed were). It took modern 19th century fundamentalists to be stupid enough to take it literally.

 

I will only add that Stalin and Mao and Hitler could only exact their horror on humanity with the cooperation of millions of religiously-minded people who were products of centuries of religion.

 

Considering most Russians and Chinese at the time were atheistic communists, that's quite simply false.

And whether or not they were "products of centuries of religion", well, that's a statement as empty as religious apologists asserting that the only reason Scandinavian countries aren't committing genocide is because they are "products of centuries of religion" and still come wired with all those wonderful religious values.

 

It's not convincing when they do it, it's not much more convincing when you do it.

 

Hitler? I’m back to wanting that posthumous excommunication. Or, is Hitler not in some afterlife right now?

 

I'm back to pointing out the bleeding obvious: excommunication refers to the exclusion of a person off all Catholic communal activities on Earth.

You might as well be demanding that Anders Behring Breivik's school in Norway declares his library pass void. It's about as stupid.

 

Religion and racism:  The Confederacy’s citing of the Bible as a God-given sanction for slavery says it all.

 

If you honestly think humans have xenophobic and racist tendencies because the Bible tells them to, you might want to do some research.

Xenophobia is innate to us.

 

Communism’s staying power: It had its best shot with the Soviets and only lasted 70 years. Much shorter than that other thing.

 

Considering it set new appalling records for the killing spree a regime can achieve in such a short timeframe, I'm still wondering why you're so certain that religion is worse. If anything it seems to show the opposite.

 

Other doctrines don’t have the sanction of God.

 

The last few centuries have made it abundantly clear that that hardly makes people blink. Other doctrines have shown a form of brutality and viciousness that easily matches (or surpasses) the form we see in religions.

What does it show? That the idea of supernatural permission isn't required for people to do the most horrendous of crimes. If supernatural elements aren't available, humans find it equally easy to justify their actions as being "for the greater good". Religion is but one form of human justification; it's that urge for self-justification that spawned many religious ideas to begin with.

To think that that urge will go away when religion dies out or that religion is the only way in which that urge expresses itself, is hopelessly naive.

 

Democracy is naturally atheistic (despite the artifacts).

 

Atheism makes no statement about what political system works best. It would be really good if you stopped trying to put everything in your neat little boxes.

 

We seem to be coming full circle, by the way. There's not much in this post that I haven't said before and not much in yours that you haven't said, which is generally the sign that a discussion has reached its zenit. People still reading this should be able to make up their own mind right about now.

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

Matt,

I must disagree with you. Stalin and Mao killed anyone who they though are felt they were disagreeing with them. That includes other people in his own party that he though were going to rebel against. Stalin feared the peasants, and others of assassination, and saw that they were capable of carrying out those acts. Stalin did not single out any particular religion when committing these atrocious acts. Stalin and Mao thought that religion hindered what Communists were trying to do, which was create a state for the Proletariat. If they though felt, heard, or suspected of insurrection they immediately eliminated you before you had any chance. If they felt you were standing in their way they eliminated you as well. If they just did not like you they eliminated you. You are confusing why they acted with Communism agenda against the atheism, which is just a lack of belief. Did they kill religious people? Absolutely, but they did not kill them because they thought their non belief was superior to their belief in a deity. They simple did it because they recognized how religious institutions were interfering with the idea that the state was the religion and that the leader was the deified. That is what they wanted, and religions were preventing from that occurring.

Jameer,

 

Stalin did not single out any particular religion when committing these atrocious acts. Stalin and Mao thought that religion hindered what Communists were trying to do, which was create a state for the Proletariat.

 

Yes, exactly. And as Marx' famous passages on religion point out, the reason the fight and criticism against religion is inherently good, is because religion by its nature obscures the natural world and propogates illusions which blind people from seeing the truth (which is, among others, the oppression of the lower classes).

 

This became an important part of communist thought, and it's no coincidence that communists states invariably cracked down on religion: it's because they actually saw it as harmful.

 

You are confusing why they acted with Communism agenda against the atheism, which is just a lack of belief.

 

No I'm not, actually. I'm an atheist and not a communist, so I understand that you can be one without the other, and I also understand that there's nothing intrinsic to a non-belief in God that will make you kill people (in the same way, by the way, just believing in God isn't going to make you kill people).

What I'm objecting to is this idea that nobody has ever killed "in the name of atheism", because that's quite simply false. Insofar as non-religious people have killed religious people because they thought religion was poisonous and needed to be eradicated to make a better world, that is killing in the name of atheism. We can dance semantical circles around this fact all we want, but that's simply a fact: sometimes people feel that religious people are so harmful to the world that they need to be eliminated. And those people are killing in the name of their non-belief.

Is that so surprising? 

 

Absolutely, but they did not kill them because they thought their non belief was superior to their belief in a deity.

 

Yes actually, they did. See above. They clearly thought that religion was an intrinsically bad thing that clouded humanity's judgement, and that atheism was a more reality-based proposition that was going to lead to humanity becoming more aware and usher in a better place.

This is, again, a central part of their philosophy.

Religious people were killed, therefore, to eradicate religion. Was this done with another ultimate goal in mind? Sure, but that it was a goal nonetheless is undeniable. And lots of people died for it. It would be good for us to not dance around that.

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

Matt,

First, I would like to acknowledge your civility you have displayed in this debate, as I usually never get this kindness in a debate, but then again who is to expect kindness when debating religious people. Anyway back to the topic. I believe that Stalin was not killing in the name of atheism like I have stated earlier. You do make a good point in saying that because Stalin looked down upon religion that his disdain for religion gave him every reason to kill religious people. However, what Stalin was doing something similar to what religions have done in the past. Stalin killed many religious people, as well non-religious, with the vision of replacing their belief with a quasi-religion not with non- belief. He took an extreme version of Marx's ideas, and incorporated religious aspects into it. Stalin essentially took advantage of the fact that Russia was long dominated by religion, and created another in the image of the state with him as the god of worship, i.e. the cult of personality. When Stalin killed the religious he never said that they must have no belief in a deity, but rather he said here is your new religion, the state, and here is your new god, me. 

Hi Jameer,

 

First, I would like to acknowledge your civility you have displayed in this debate, as I usually never get this kindness in a debate, but then again who is to expect kindness when debating religious people.

 

You have no idea how funny that is :P

 

However, what Stalin was doing something similar to what religions have done in the past. Stalin killed many religious people, as well non-religious, with the vision of replacing their belief with a quasi-religion not with non- belief. He took an extreme version of Marx's ideas, and incorporated religious aspects into it.

That argument comes up very frequently, and there is certainly a point there in principle. There is a point at which a set of beliefs that are atheistic (like Scientology, say) become so similar to a religion that it only makes sense to characterize them as such.

However, the more I hear that argument posed the more it strikes me as a very slippery argument. What, exactly, makes a movement qualify as a "quasi-religion" and which "religious aspects" does it need to incorporate to do that?

 

Case in point, imagine that at AAI 2011 (has it happened already? I'm not even sure.) prominent atheist Sam Harris decides that the state of the world is so dire and religious belief is so dangerous yet so seemingly ineradicably, that if we ever want to come to a world of rationality and science and humanist ethics, we just have to start killing believers on mass. And so we do, burning Churches, killing priests and raping nuns as we go along, shouting Sam Harris' name as the great thinker that came up with this brilliant idea.

 

Okay. In that fantastical scenario, it would seem to me that the only reasonable nomer for that idea is to say that this is a clear case of atheists killing religious people for the ideal of a better world where atheism is central; and so, killing in the name of atheism.

Yet my experiences having this discussion (and there's some of it in this thread) is that some peoplewould actually be inclined to say "Well hang on a second, this Sam Harris guy was effectively motivating people with an idealist utopia of non-religiousness in mind, and that is really a religious concept at its core. And this us-them mentality that he's using to fuel hatred in his followers, well that's really just religious hate-mongering under a slightly different banner, and the same can be said for the admiration that his followers show, which seems to almost be cultish and devotional. So really, even though we have a group of atheists killing religious people explicitly in the name of the ideal of a non-religious world... we're really better off calling this behaviour a quasi-religion of sorts."

 

This is of course a reductio ad absurdum; but I'm simply making the point that if all it takes for an ideology to be quasi-religious is for its followers to be devotional, for it to have an ideal of a better world and for it to promote us-them thinking and other mechanisms, well then even a hypothetical movement spawned by one of the most prominent friggin' atheists in the name of creating an atheist world can be construed as being a quasi-religion.

So we need to be careful that our statements don't become tautological.

The marxist ideal of a classless society is not analogous to a "heaven" and is not a religious aspect, in the same way that Sam Harris' ideal of a better world of rationality isn't a religious aspect. The same goes for having devotional followers or preachers or the concept of thought crime; that does not a religion make.

 

I rambled on for a bit, but let's just keep that in mind.

 

When Stalin killed the religious he never said that they must have no belief in a deity, but rather he said here is your new religion, the state, and here is your new god, me.

 

Well, see above. What does "Here is your new God, me" mean? If by God you mean a supernatural force that created the universe, then no, not at all, Stalin claimed no such thing. To my knowledge he didn't even claim to have any supernatural traits whatsoever (though he did claim that Soviet science was making miraculous progress), which makes the analogy with God pretty farfetched.

Was he hoping that the people he turned away from religion would then use their energy towards other activities (like serving the state, furthering communism and the like)? Undoubtedly. Just like Sam Harris hopes to turn people away from religion in other to achieve more people inclined towards reason and science.

But it takes a little more to qualify as a religion. And it makes the campaigns of persecution he committed to achieve this atheist world where people wouldn't waste time or energy on religious delusion... campaigns of persecution in the name of an atheist world.

 

Trying to fit political ideologies like communism into the box of religion or "quasi-religion" just doesn't work. You can point to some similarities, but ultimately, the correct answer for me is that both religion and communism are types of doctrines. There's religious doctrines and there's non-religious doctrines. The similarities between the two are to be found there.

But trying to claim that communism is a subset of (quasi-)religion rather than the two being different types of doctrines is -it seems to me- a dead end.

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

Stalin wasn't an atheist, Mao Zedong wasn't an atheist.  The sad thing is though, it doesn't matter how many times we prove those facts, as long as people have faith in their opinions on this matter, we can't convince them.  The only thing we can do is educate their children so they don't make the same mistakes.

Stalin wasn't an atheist?

 

That's certainly news. How have you determined this?

@Matt VDB,

 

I believe that as a young boy, Stalin went to a Church based seminary, which is often used as a "proof" that Stalin was Christian. In fact his disdain for religion, in particular the Russian Orthodox religion that he was most familiar with manifested at a very early age.

 

@ Chris Dodds, 

 

To which facts are you referring? Among atheists as well as theists it is a well known fact that Stalin was in fact an atheist. For example, in "the God Delusion" Richard Dawkins points out that Stalin was most likely an atheist.

 

As a massive geek in regards to anything that relates to WWII I've done a lot of investigation into the life of Stalin and I've read quite a few of his biographies. All of them seem to come to the same conclusion that Stalin was most definitely an atheist.

 

His attitudes towards religion changed somewhat however, in the beginning like Lenin before him everything religious was to be outlawed, later in life during the WWII he became more convinced that religion can perhaps be used as a means of control and he let go of the reins a bit. 

 

"as long as people have faith in their opinions on this matter, we can't convince them."

 

That said, would you be so kind as to provide reference to the "facts" that you mention? I am of the opinion that my opinion is one of historic fact and evidence and that in fact your opinion is one that is being held because of faith.

I just thought what it would've been like if the Virgin Mary had ever been on a talk show.  I can see it now...

 

JERRY: Welcome back, my guests today are confessing the truth to their lovers.  Please meet Mary.  She says she's here to confront an infidelity she doesn't quite understand.  Mary what's going on?

MARY: Jerry, I'm here today to tell my husband that I'm pregnant with someone else's child.

JERRY: How did that happen?

MARY: I don't know, I don't even remember ever having sex with this guy or anyone.

 Matt,

It’s true that accusing someone of a certain kind of faulty reasoning doesn’t automatically mean that the accuser is guilty of the very same thing; however, to dismiss someone’s thinking as black and white in place of a comprehensive response just happens to be of the same mentality of black and white thinking.

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What you should be objecting to is your own unwillingness to understand that being pro-science is contra-Biblical belief.  Science examines existence. In the process, science never discovers a creator.  And science has had more time and has looked more closely at existence than whatever time and examination was applied to the production of the Bible and belief in God. This fact leaves all thinking based in the Bible as faulty in the matter of the nature of existence.  Do yourself a favor and extract the syllogism from those statements.   

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Your claim that the invention of the Bible and the invention of belief in the Bible was accompanied by critical thinking is nothing more than an after-market marketing ploy contrived by theologians who wittingly (sans full disclosure) or unwittingly were demonstrating cultural evolution: A mirroring of the evolution of one species into another.

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As for Augustine’s lack of full disclosure (his “glory of God”) in the matter of his pro-science, it’s the same as atheist politicians (yes, there are bad atheists) who blather about God for fear of being condemned as immoral by believers.

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What is the Book of Numbers 31? Parable, psalm, analogy, or vision? Some of what is in the Bible, though not all of it, is supposed to be literally true. You must know this. You’re getting carried away with the ego trip of arguing in favor of something you don’t actually believe. It’s a good exercise, but you must understand that if you’re correct in your non-belief, you are arguing in favor of something invalid and you have lost. Does the devil really need an advocate?

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The educational level of Scandinavian countries does fatal damage to any comparison with the people of Mao’s era and Stalin’s era.

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It’s encouraging that you see no chance for Hitler to engage in “Catholic communal activities” in whatever afterlife your scholarly believers envision for him. Is all this taken into consideration as the Vatican continually refuses to excommunicate Hitler?

Accordingly, if Breivik’s library card is ever revoked, I would hope that he still be held accountable for any unpaid overdue fines.

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I already explained the primal mechanism that is never more accommodated than when draped in religiosity. No other mentality enlivens that mechanism like belief. In effect religion is the cultural mirroring of that mechanism. That’s the problem.

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Again, communism lacks the insidiousness of religiosity (hatred wrapped in narcissistic wishful-thinking). That, and the atheism of democracy, is why it didn’t have staying power. Communism killed a lot of people because it had the numbers and the means. Imagine religion having those numbers and those means farther back in time.

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As is evident here, belief is so illogically “defendable” that even someone who doesn’t believe can’t resist the urge to defend it. You can’t say this about those other doctrines. They can be more easily dissembled by reasoning. They are far less a danger. Whenever religion opens itself to rational inquiry, it sooner or later falls back on its default position of “faith.” Reasoning no longer is applicable.

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Atheism being the absence of belief in God naturally allows democracy to accommodate the human wish for civil society. 

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Yes, in addition to how I’ve explained how the mere absence of belief opens the door for our best hope for peace and civility, I’ve also shown how egotism can compel someone to argue in favor of something he doesn’t believe and how that so-called defense mostly amounts to the misapplication of lofty words and the revealing use of low-brow insults. I declare this exchange closed.

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