|You are here: Home >Christianity Index >Objective Truth and Morality Index >Expanding on the Critique of Atheistic Moral Philosophy||
(Last Updated: 24 Aug 2000 )
It should be remembered that in the article I was responding to the contention that "Without necessarily being evil or even wrong in themselves, they [religion and superstition, particularly Christianity], are used to justify, promote and enable the worst kinds of evil humans can inflict upon each other." My response was a quick attempt to point out that political considerations, based in part upon a worldview of godless nihilism, with no God and no objective morality or moral accountability, have also been used to justify, promote, and enable evil.
The underlying premise in my argumentation, which perhaps was not made explicitly enough, is that without an objective standard of morality, grounded in the character and nature of a holy God, man becomes "the measure of all things". I will expand on this below. This essay is based on my response to several particularly thoughtful letters critiquing my original article, which should probably be read first before looking at this page. The words of my correspondents, which I have occasionally edited or paraphrased, are highlighted below >like this<.
Stalin, Atheism, and the Soviet Purges
>Even if Lenin chose Stalin to lead the Revolution because Stalin hated God, that does not in any way make Stalin's hatred of God the cause of his decimation of the Russian population. Your argument contains the fallacy non-sequitur, or does not follow.<
Perhaps, but my contention is that by disavowing
the existence of God, Stalin saw himself as under no transcendent moral
obligation to do what is "right", but simply did that which expedited his
This is true - any claim that Hitler was a "Nietzschean" requires more evidence than that provided in my original article. I would speculate that Hitler was not a classical "Nietszchean" - Nietzsche had no love for anti-Semitism, for example, and opposed German nationalism. But I think that Hitler did appropriate those aspects of Nietzsche's philosophy that appealed to him.
Consider the following extended quote from
William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Mandarin
Paperbacks 1997 edition):
There was some ground for this appropriation of Nietzsche as one of the originators of the Nazi Weltanschauung. Had not the philosopher thundered against democracy and parliaments, preached the will to power, praised war and proclaimed the coming of the master race and the superman--and in the most telling aphorisms? A Nazi could proudly quote him on almost every conceivable subject, and did. On Christianity: "the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion... I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.... This Christianity is no more than the typical teaching of the Socialists." On the State, power, and the jungle world of man: "Society has never regarded virtue as anything other than as a means to strength, power, and order. The State [is] unmorality organized... the will to war, to conquest and revenge... Society is not entitled to exist for its own sake but only as a substructure and scaffolding by means of which a select race of beings may elevate themselves to their higher duties... There is no such thing as the right to live, the right to work, or the right to be happy: in this respect man is no different from the meanest worm." (Women, whom Nietzsche never had, he consigned to a distinctly inferior status, as did the Nazis, who decreed that their place was in the kitchen and their chief role in life to beget children for German warriors. Nietzsche put the idea this way: "Man shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior. All else is folly." He went further. In Thus Spake Zarathustra he exclaims: "Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!"...) And he exalted the superman as the beast of prey, "the magnificent blond brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory."
And war? Here Nietzsche took the view of most of the other nineteenth-century German thinkers. In the thundering Old Testament language in which Thus Spake Zarathustra is written, the philosopher cries out: "Ye shall love peace as a means to new war, and the short peace more than the long. You I advise not to work, but to fight. You I advise not to peace but to victory.... Ye say it is the good cause which halloweth even war? I say unto you: it is the good war which halloweth every cause. War and courage have done more great things than charity."
Finally there was Nietzsche's prophecy of the coming elite who would rule the world and from whom the superman would spring. In The Will to Power he exclaims: "A daring and ruler race is building itself up.... The aim should be to prepare a transvaluation of values for a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will. This man and the elite around him will become the 'lords of the earth'.
Such rantings from one of Germany's most original minds must have struck a responsive chord in Hitler's littered mind. At any rate he appropriated them for his own--not only the thoughts but the philosopher's penchant for grotesque exaggeration, and often his very words. "Lords of the Earth" is a familiar expression in Mein Kampf. That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche's prophecy cannot be doubted." (pp 99 - 101).
Similarly, consider how Nietzsche defined Good and Evil, in section 2 of 'The Anti-Christ':
Thus I think it is not unreasonable to draw some parallels here between Nietzsche's ideas and Hitler's activities.
Having said that, the more I learn about Nietzsche and read his writings, the more I come to think that his lack of systematization lends itself to distortion by any group. The Nazis, for example, focused mainly on Nietzsche's "übermensch" concept, twisting it to fit their Aryan preconceptions (which were opposed to Nietzsche's opinions, as I understand them), and also on his contempt for the weakness of Christian morality, and they ignored those elements of his philosophy that did not suit.
But the very idea of a "transvaluation of values", of substituting the "will to power" for Christian morality, and the triumphant proclamation of the death of God, can all easily lead to imposition of the dictates of the powerful on to the powerless.
Part of Nietzsche's brilliance was that he
clearly saw and acknowledged the impact that the death of God would have
on society. I believe that he predicted the twentieth century would
be the bloodiest in history, as people grappled with his "truth", but that
this negative impact would be temporary, ceasing with the emergence of
the superman. I think that he was half right - the twentieth century has
indeed been bloody.
>Hitler also read the Bible and was a self-confessed Catholic.<
I have a page dealing with Hitler's Catholicism
>Is the Bible or Catholicism therefore responsible for the extermination of Jews?<
To answer the rhetorical question, no. The most cogent passage that springs to mind in refutation of this charge is Galatians 3:28 which says
And in a similar manner, Romans 10:12 says
And as Pope Pius XI said to a group of Catholic pilgrims in 1938,
The argument I was making was not that Hitler was inspired by "The Origin of Species", but rather that Hitler's racial policies fit much more nicely within an evolutionary framework than within a Christian one. I am aware that Darwin was not advocating the Holocaust; my point was that Hitler saw himself as doing only what natural selection would have done anyway, in effect turning his understanding of natural selection into a national policy. In support of this assertion, I offer the following:
Gertrude Himmelfarb, in her book about Darwin, his teachings, and their effect, wrote:
In a similar vein, Sir Arthur Keith, the British evolutionary anthropologist and author of the 1948 book A New Theory of Human Evolution, wrote:
And interestingly, Sir Arthur also commented about Christianity and the separation of the races. When looking at racial struggle, especially in Germany, he observed:
And as for On the Origin of Species, and the statement that Darwin insisted it was impossible to identify races, I have a copy of Darwin's book, but I have not noticed such a statement (although I have not read it more than cursorily, so I may well have missed it). The assertion about Darwin and racial classification seems to contradict the following citation from Himmelfarb:
And as an aside, Thomas Huxley, "Darwin's Bulldog", the prominent early populariser of evolutionary theory wrote the following, soon after the American Civil War, in which the negro slaves were freed:
To reiterate, I was not trying to establish a direct link between Darwin and Hitler, but rather between the concept of Darwinian evolution and Hitler's attempts to give nature a helping hand. I have read that Darwin himself predicted a slippery slope of violence if evolutionary theory were translated into a philosophy of life. Well, he was right.
I think everybody would agree that the Cambodian atrocities were wrong, but if an atheist such as Pol Pot is free to make his own morality, and assert his own "will to power", how can one fault his actions without invoking a transcendent moral standard to whom he is accountable and responsible? As Nietzsche put it in Twilight of the Gods,
For God to conform to the Christian understanding,
any such judgements must be "just" by definition, so I have no problem
with this statement.
>On the other hand, you present no evidence of an atheist "sacred" book or canon that advocates violence.<
For me to produce a "sacred" atheist book would be a good trick, wouldn't it? :-)
Perhaps one of Nietzsche's masterpieces would suffice? In Thus Spake Zarathustra, the philosopher proclaims:
I provide this citation somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as it may well be that Nietzsche is making a more subtle point here that is beyond my grasp; but it is an interesting attempt to address the implied challenge, nonetheless. :-)
Of course, I am not saying that violence
is a necessary (or even likely) outcome of atheism; but I am
agreeing with Sartre
when he said that all of French Existentialism is to be found in Ivan
Karamazov's contention that if there is no God, everything is permitted.
>The philosopher, Bertrand Russell, was a prominent atheist who opposed war all his life. By contrast, contemporary priests and parsons bless soldiers and their weapons as they go to war for God, king, and country.<
But this brushes past the well-developed
Christian notion of a "just war". However, that is a whole 'nother
can of worms that we won't get into now, although a good place to start
would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section
>The rage atheists often express toward Christian teachings flows from some Christians' tolerance of contradictions in their reasoning. When confronted with evidence of atrocities carried out by Crusaders, explorers, slave-holders, and anti-abortionists in the name of God and Christianity, the Christian's defence is that these people are not really Christians.<
Or that they are misapplying Christ's teachings. I think it unlikely that the Christ of the Scriptures would have sanctioned the violence mentioned here. The key thing here is that these evils, although carried out in the name of Christianity, may in fact be the result of zeal that is misplaced. My dodge for this type of objection is that such zeal is based on a misunderstanding of God's will. It's not really fair to criticise Christian morality on the basis of people who are not implementing it, as is the case for those who have engaged in needless violence for what they saw as the cause of Christ, when in fact such activity is directly contrary to what Christ taught.
But I do believe that if a devout person
they are carrying out the will of God, regardless of whether or not this
is actually the case, they are far less likely to shirk from the task.
>Then atheists are accused of committing atrocities because of a credal association with those who committed them. Can I not say then that Stalin, Sartre, and Darwin were not really atheists?<
Only if it could be proven how atheism could legitimately condemn the behaviour of someone exhibiting an autonomous, domineering will and a contempt for traditional morality. Christianity condemns this. But among atheists, who is to moderate between Bertrand Russell and Pol Pot? I guess that's the key issue, and the point I should have made with greater clarity in my original article. It seems to me that violence or injustice is not intrinsically antithetical to an atheistic philosophy, especially where a political leader is simply asserting his "will to power" and embodying the characteristics of Nietzsche's "übermensch". I readily grant that this is not a necessary, or even common, outworking of atheism. But I find it hard to see how a logically consistent atheist, one who rejects the concept of an objective moral law or transcendent morality, would refute another who chose such a path.
Except where specified otherwise, the contents of this website are © copyright KiwiCatholic.com. Articles may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express permission from the author.