Friday, January 27, 2006

In Response to a Curious Reader (Part Two)...

Part two* (see back story and original post and comment):

My previous post was actually a response to a reader who had commented on yet another post. I've taken interest in this particular comment for two reasons:

First, the young lady (a representative of a particularly excluded demographic in areas concerned) admitted to some internal interrogation of faith, and, while her mind is open, I hope to possibly provide answers to any questions -- and dispel any myths -- she may have.

Second, the post which has proven itself to be a catalyst of sorts was one in a series I have embarked on with a goal of presenting religious skepticism to individuals who, for one reason or another, have not been exposed to it. The particular installment dealt with common misconceptions about atheism, and my commentor made a statement that I feel expressed the ugliest of all fallacies about atheists. This post will focus on that particular statement:

"but it seems to me that atheists have taken a halfway stand while torturing the believers of god, just my opinion"

Although I respect the freedom we all have to formulate and hold our own opinions and beliefs, this in no way implies that all opinions are of equal validity and merit, and this particular opinion of yours is horribly misled. Any honest portrayal of history is ripe with atrocities committed in the name of God. Religion, by its very nature, regardless of PR campaigns and sugar-coating, is completely incompatible with, and antithetical to, tolerance of any sort. This comes with the territory of being in possession of the absolute truth in matters of eternal life and ultimate authority. Studies in the defense of atheism typically include examples of theistic immorality. Many critics of atheism (and therefore defenders of theism) attack its "apologetics" for placing heavy emphasis on such acts, but it is theism's own self-proclaimed monopoly on values and decency -- and consequential demonizing of unbelievers as hopelessly incapable of morality -- which makes it necessary to do so.

My immediate thought when reading this declaration was, "How, when, and where have atheists ever 'tortured' the 'believers of god'?!" The only wide-spread atrocities that can even speculatively be attributed to atheists are those of communists in the USSR and China (and to some extent Cambodia and Vietnam). What people tend to overlook is that the communists weren’t necessarily atheists (especially of the secular humanist strain): communist and atheist are not the synonyms theists so eagerly wish them to be. Communism is a socio-economic and political system, and as so is outside of the philosophic territory of a/theism. The impetus of Communism (big "C") is not atheism, and its champions simply used atheism as tool to help replace religious worship of a god with government worship of a system (and its dictators). Even then, they weren’t attacking those of faith specifically because of their faith; they were attacking "enemies of state". In other words they were communists first, and atheists by circumstance. What we have here is coincidence, as opposed to myriad examples of incidents done IN THE NAME OF GOD.

But what about the religious? Particularly Christians, the great preachers of love and morality (also the vast majority of Western -- and especially American -- theists):

Need I mention the multiple Mass Killings Ordered, Committed, Or Approved By God? In fairness, since the Holy Bible is so widely accepted as an instruction booklet on good living, it deserves the distinction of first investigation. But, since my premise is that the bible is almost completely false, we can look at events which are historically documented (and chronicled by contemporary Christians).

The number of human lives lost to Christian violence is impossible to calculate, and it probably starts even before Christian persecution and murder of Pagans in the 4th century. Dependable overviews of such atrocities are difficult to come by, and exact numbers are fiercely debated, but what is known is that they did happen. The unreliable methods of collecting data in those days can be used to explain the overly exaggerated as well as grossly underestimated body counts (the latter is further helped along by denial, the former for emphasis).

Let’s attempt a death toll (this is by no means an exhaustive representation):

Inquisitions; -- estimates range between 600,000 and 9,000,000 between 1209 and 1843.

Millions claimed, but hundreds of thousands more likely, due to the witch hunts.

The "Wars of Religion" between Catholics and Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries bring an estimated death toll upward of 14 million. Residents of Ireland should be quite familiar with the bad blood between these Christians.

Including Christian deaths, estimates upward of 20 million, but some as "low" as 1.5 million, in the Crusades (which targeted Muslims and Jews).

Speaking of Jews: Between the 4th and 17th centuries, over a quarter million (at the very least) Jews killed (look up the history of the word "ghetto") in church sponsored pogroms. In 1942-1943, Catholic-run extermination camps in Croatia murdered "between 300,000 and 600,000" Jews. These were NOT Nazis...

...but while we’re speaking of the Nazis, as I noted in the post you commented on, Hitler WAS a Christian and the Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles declaring "Gott Mit Uns" ("God is With Us"). The Holocaust wasn’t a new idea; it was merely the continuation of Christian policy toward the Jews for almost two thousand years. The Church supported the Holocaust in numerous ways, including providing birth records to aid the Nazis in discovering exactly who was and wasn’t Jewish. Also, the Church never excommunicated one single perpetrator of Nazi crimes (as quick as it is to banish "heretics"). And it wasn’t just Catholics: Hitler used a book written in 1543 entitled "On the Jews and their Lies" which was written by a certain Martin Luther, with whom all Protestants should be quite familiar. Hitler’s Nazis also exterminated Gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Communists (all of which have been targeted by the church.) If that’s not enough, take this quote from Hitler himself:
"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by only a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they are and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love, as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord rose at last in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was the fight for the world against the Jewish poison." [emphasis mine] - Adolf Hitler, 1920

Christoper Columbus (who, by the way, is no different than Hitler):

The "island's population of about eight million people at the time of Columbus's arrival in 1492 already had declined by a third to a half before the year 1496 was out."…that’s around 4 million dead. [source]

When Columbus landed on an island, he erected a cross and declared the requerimiento , which states:
"I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter in your country and shall make war against you ... and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church ... we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them...take away your goods...and shall do you all mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord and resist and contradict him...we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours." [emphasis mine]

Had these natives understood Latin, they may have at least had a head's up.

"When the 16th century ended...probably more than 60,000,000 natives were dead."

Hell of a feat accomplished in one hundred years without the aid of modern technology.

"A total of maybe more than 150 million Indians (of both Americas) were destroyed in the period of 1500 to 1900, as an average two thirds by smallpox and other epidemics, that leaves some 50 million killed directly by violence, bad treatment and slavery." [emphasis mine]

That’s 210,000,000 in four hundred years. Count the zeros. Some argue the numbers in front of the zeros, but when you're talking about human lives, any figure with that many zeros is apallingly unacceptable.

Don’t let the disease part fool you, noting both Sir Jeffery Amherst’s act of biological warfare and this quote:
"In average two thirds of the native population were killed by colonist-imported smallpox before violence began. This was a great sign of ‘the marvelous goodness and providence of God’ to the Christians of course, e.g. the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony wrote in 1634, as ‘for the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so as the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess.’" [emphasis mine]

Need I remind you that the official British transatlantic slave trade started with a ship named Jesus, slaves were forcefully converted to Christianity, and the Bible was used in opposition of abolition and manumission to justify slavery...and segregation...and anti-miscegenation laws...and is still used by white supremacists? (See my post.)

Left out of Hotel Rwanda was the part Catholics played in the genocide of the Tutsis (although apparently on an individual, not organizational basis).

Are you aware of how many serial killers have extremely devout religious backgrounds? It seems to be as much a prerequisite as "white".

Speaking of nutcases, stories of mothers killing their children seem to disproportionately have religious motivation.

Most of these are cases of Christians butchering other theists. Imagine how they treat atheists.

But alas, it’s not Christians alone. As Sam Harris points out in his Atheist Manifesto:

"Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities--Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.--and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict…The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews versus Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians versus Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians versus Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants versus Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims versus Hindus), Sudan (Muslims versus Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims versus Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims versus Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists versus Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims versus Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite versus Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians versus Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis versus Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years."

And don’t forget 9/11. That too was done in the name of god: Sure, there are definite political and economic implications -- rich, white, Christian men and the idea that their way is the best way, yada, yada, imperialism, colonialism, using the disenfranchised as step ladders, etc. But, the whole "War on Terror" can be reduced to purported Christian "values" vs. Islam. Plain and simple. If not our raping of the environment, religion will be the self-induced cause of ultimate human destruction.

Somehow, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, theism has become synonymous with values and morality. Logic -- though faulty -- concludes that a-theists -- those without belief -- must therefore be the exact opposite, and heaps of undue negative stigma has been attached to atheism. We still live in a human society. Despite all of our technological advancements, people are still pretty damned ignorant and stubborn, and morals are still seen as dependant on a higher, absolute power.

Religion is misanthropic. One of the central tenets of Christianity is the total depravity of man, which asserts that humans are intrinsically evil ("original sin") and unworthy of God, except through the intercession and grace of an intermediary. Islam is no better. The human rights records of most all religions (can't find many strikes against Jainism) are not exactly exemplary. Humanism shifted the focus from god to man, and brought with it sweeping reforms in social life toward the betterment of the human condition. While atheism does not directly imply humanism (or vice versa), they do, more often than not, go hand in hand, and a combination of the two is the prescription for a successful, peaceful, equitable society.

*See here for part one.

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