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(Last Updated: 24 Aug 2000 )
Recently on a discussion group that I sometimes participate in, the following statement was posted (by an atheist):
> More seriously, religion and superstition should be resisted at every
> opportunity. Without necessarily being evil or even wrong in themselves,
> they are used to justify, promote and enable the worst kinds of evil
> humans can inflict upon each other.
> If you can make someone believe that the tangible, material, health
> happiness and well-being of people right here, right now, in this
> life, on earth is less important than what happens to their
> immaterial, invisible, utterly unknowable souls in the next life,
> then you can make them commit any atrocity against humanity you like.
> You need of course to keep the people stupid, tell them you
> know what it is that (our) god wants and that if they die doing
> (our) god's work they are assured a place in paradise.
Below is my response to these comments:
In Auschwitz there's a plaque with a quote from Hitler saying "I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality... we will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence - imperious, relentless and cruel."
Darwin once said "A million horrid deaths would be amply repaid in the cause of humanity", and Hitler was acting out of this evolutionary, no-God framework when he said "If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race (like the German race) should inter-mingle with an inferior (like the Jewish race). Why? Because in such a case her efforts, throughout hundreds and thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile." Hence, when Hitler instigated the Nazi "final solution", he was simply taking the convictions of Nietzsche and Darwin to their logical conclusion. Note that I do not believe that Hitler himself was necessarily an atheist; I am simply saying that the actions that he took are quite defensible, and indeed, logical from an atheistic viewpoint. (For more on Hitler, see my article: Hitler - Christian, Atheist, or Neither?)
Another example is Joseph Stalin. One of the reasons Lenin picked him to squash beliefs contrary to the revolution was because of his hatred for God and religion. Fifteen million people or thereabouts were killed after he came to power.
As another example, consider the "killing fields" of Cambodia. Something like a fifth of the population lost their lives in this series of terrible crimes. The activities were organised by a bunch of French-speaking middle-class intellectuals called Angka Loeu ("The Higher Organization"). Historian Paul Johnson points out the unfortunate impact of atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre upon the thinking of the leaders of this group.
I am not saying that this sort of thing is the inevitable outworking of atheism. St Augustine said that it is not wise to judge a philosophy by its abuse. However it is important to remember that when you embrace atheism and abandon the concept of a moral law, you have no right to criticize this sort of thing. An atheist who is morally minded is just living better than he needs to, given his belief about the nature of mankind. When the post above says that religion is not necessarily evil or wrong, where does the concept of evil or wrong come from? If there is no absolute standard of morality, how do you tell what evil or wrong is?
And in response to the claim that Christianity has also been responsible for a great deal of violence, I would say that those who have killed in the name of Jesus to further their beliefs, are acting in direct contradiction to what Jesus would have had them do (like "Love thy neighbour"). Christians who do this are not acting in accord with what Christianity teaches. In contrast, it would seem difficult to argue that atheists such as those mentioned above were working contrary to a philosophy that denies the existence of God.
It was Nietzsche who said that because God had died in the nineteenth century, the twentieth century would become the bloodiest century in history.
Thanks for your consideration.
> So you think the direct consequence
of atheism is evil and immorality.
> Well then, it is your duty to promote the cause of your god, and
> to make sure that evil is minimised by the imposition of your god's
> morality on everyone for their own good.
> Please consider the possibility that belief in god is not a
> prerequisite for moral behaviour. I've come to the conclusion
> that belief and morality are orthogonal. I know christians, jews and
> muslims I'm proud to call friends. I see evil on the nightly
> news perpetrated by all across the belief spectrum.
In order to clarify what I was saying, I replied as follows:
Let me reiterate that I am talking on a philosophical level only, and do not mean to imply that atheism inevitably leads to evil - it is obvious that philanthropism is also a common outcome. My indignation was simply prompted by the unqualified connection between Christianity and atrocities.
I appreciate your thoughts on the issue.
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