Michael Huggins replied to Daniel Dickson-LaPrade's opening post (on the thread titled "How NOT to Argue against Religion"):
Daniel, your posts are often thoughtful, so I'll respond here, as an atheist, by saying that I think you're overlooking a couple of things.
First, I despise the sort of atheist whose unbelief seems to be founded on little or nothing but personal pique and who feels an uncontrollable urge to get up in the faces of believers and scream out insults.
Having said that, I think religion rightly bears some heavy burdens.
>new atheists--Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens
I personally don't find much value in such a label. As far as I can tell, the "new atheists" are simply saying what many atheists have always believed, except that they are being more feisty about it. If a Christian finds this hard to sympathize with, I would say the Christian should ask himself how he would feel if he woke up in Deseret (later the state of Utah) in the 1850s and found a subtle but ever-present and inescapable pressure to accept the doctrines of Mormonism, take many wives (if he were a man, or, if a woman, let herself become one of someone's many wives), or face legal penalties and social ostracism. Don't you think that the Christian would eventually want to just go out in the public square and shout "I'm sick to death of all this nonsense!"
Don't you think, for that matter, that Christians must feel the same in Pakistan right now, where they must meet in secret for fear of persecution? Don't you think Muslims must feel the same in Murfreesboro, TN where, after years of peaceably meeting in a rented hall, they wished to do nothing but erect their own place of worship, and it provoked a community uproar?
What I often find, in arguments from believers, is that they tend to oversimplify the issue at hand, imagining that there is a stark choice between those who believe as they do and an unbelieving world. In fact, atheists have had centuries to observe how ready people of faith are to subject their fellow humans of different beliefs to savage persecution in the name of God, Allah, or some other figure.
Which leads me to the next point you make:
>Never mind the Jacobins, the Maoists, or the Stalinists.
The Jacobins were not mostly atheists, if that is what you mean to say; Robespierre, the architect of the Reign of Terror, was on record as being disgusted with the "de-Christianizers" among the Revolutionaries and, indeed, put on a "Festival of the Supreme Being" just a month before his death. If you doubt this, check "Citizens," Simon Schama's monumental history of the French Revolution. The prominent Jacobin line was to substitute "Constitutional Clergy" to hold Deistic masses at Notre Dame in the place of the traditional Christian clergy.
It is true that the Soviets and Maoists adopted a policy of state atheism, and few things disgust me more than the sort of ignorant atheist who won't admit this. Lenin actually went so far as to expel a faction of the early Bolsheviks who would not thoroughly adopt dialectical materialism and clung to a more idealist metaphysics. Many Christians, clergy and lay, suffered horribly under these regimes. However, the following should also be noted:
1. Hatred of religion was not a part of their program in the same way that hatred of Jews was part of Naziism. Communists wanted to destroy traditional power structures, and they saw the church, with some reason, as either their determined enemies or the dupes of those who were. A person may be an atheist, as I am, or even a Marxist, as some college professors are, without finding it necessary to call for Christians to be lined up and shot.
2. Even if we consider Communist persecution of Christians in itself, where did they get their models? From Christians. Were you not aware of this? Did you not know that before the Communists came to power, anti-Jewish pogroms were taking place, instigated by the Orthodox Christian Czar? Going back further in history, have you ever read of the schism within the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, between mainstream Orthodox and so-called Old Believers? Do you know what Christians were doing to each other back then? Tying each other to wagon wheels and smashing each other's bones with sledgehammers. And why? Over the issue of whether to make the sign of the cross with two fingers, symbolizing the dual nature of Christ (human and divine) or with three fingers, symbolizing the Trinity. I'm not kidding. If you doubt this, see the relevant chapter in "Peter the Great, His Life and Work," by Robert K. Massie.
Did you know that Stalin was raised in this same Orthodox tradition (as, indeed, were the Serbs who slaughtered Bosnian Muslims 12 years ago under Milosevic)? Do you think it's a stretch to suppose that he didn't have to look very far to learn his cruelty?
Do you know what often happens if an atheist brings this up? We are told "Oh, but they weren't *true* Christians." Is it really so strange, in the light of that, that the atheist is tempted to throw up his hands in exasperation?
>1) Assuming that all things with the adjective "Christian," "Muslim," etc. in front of them refer to the same belief system and the same belief community. Want to attack Catholicism? Just find something which a "Catholic" government or ruler or organization did at any time in the last 1500 years that was terrible. Ta da!
But really, how is that any different from what you just tried to do in linking atheism with Stalinism and Maoism, above? Isn't it a standard Christian argument that whenever atheists are in power, gulags and firing squads follow? Aren't you really objecting to the fact that you think atheists are borrowing from the Christian apologist's script?
>Religious traditions have histories. New Atheists are abjectly ignorant of those histories--which harms their points and their credibility.
But suppose an atheist, old or new, does know something about these traditions? Does that mean he is supposed to discount the Inquisition, or the slaughter of 13th-century Albigensians, or Protestants seizing Catholic emissaries and throwing them out a 3rd-storey window in 1618 because, after all, it's not nice to think about such things? Do you mean that Stalinist torture chambers are fair game for the Christian to mention, but talking about Christian torture chambers only show the atheist's "ignorance"?
>2) Assuming that any evil act done by a self-identified religious group was done PRIMARILY BECAUSE of religion.
Well, again, how is that any different from the argument you have made about the role of atheism in Stalinism and Maoism, above?
>bin Laden also cites western colonialism in the Middle East quite extensively.
And before there *was* a "West," so Edward Gibbons reminds us in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (which goes to the fall of Constantinople in 1453), a Muslim caliph, having fought his way across North Africa, steadily conquering territory for Islam, fell to his knees at the shore of the Atlantic and cried, "O Allah! If I were permitted, I would cross the sea and put to the sword all those who do not profess thy holy name!"
I too believe that it is a misrepresentation to conceive of all Islam as savage, but neither Osama nor I have far to look, in the Quran, for texts that support just such uses. In fact, I was struck, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, in reading the Quran, to come across this passage: "Wherever you are, death shall seek you out, *even in lofty towers*" (emphasis mine, and I am not claiming that anyone took that passage as a direct instigation to fly the planes into the WTC, but I did find the coincidence striking).
So should I understand you to be saying that if a Stalinist quotes Marx and then shoots a Christian, that's a, umm, "smoking gun" about the practical results of atheism, but if Osama quotes the Quran and then 9/11 occurs, that's not particularly significant?
>3) Ignoring religious PRACTICE by PEOPLE in favor of TEXTS.
Well that's interesting that you should bring that up because, in my opinion, religions have often been saved from their own worst tendencies only when they stopped taking their own texts so seriously. So they end up in the rather awkward position of being barbaric if they believe their own teachings and humane and civilized only if they don't. When Christians were really prepared to follow the Bible to the nth degree, we had the Salem Witch Trials. When Muslims are prepared to truly follow the teachings of the Quran, we have fatwas.
So it seems logical to me to ask, "Gee, what if we just didn't have religion? You can be nice to your neighbors without it, and you'll never be tempted to hang them for witches, stone them as adulterers, or behead them as apostates." As you say, "What a concept!"
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