In this post I’m going to try to construct a rather nuanced point, that requires more than two steps of logical reasoning to get from the premises to the conclusion.
I’m told that people have a hard time following such reasoning, but I have a lot of faith in Rogue Priest readers so I’m going to try it anyway.
As the the current atheist movement has grown—which is a good thing, bully for them—it has experienced the same growing pains as any movement.
One of which is a few loudmouthed assholes talking like they lead the whole darn parade.
These assholes have made it increasingly common for atheist books, blogs and discussion boards to say things like:
Religion causes wars and genocide.
I’ll never know why a smart atheist would try arguments like this. Atheists have a shiny, beautiful win button they can use any time. If you’re an atheist and you’re reading this, repeat after me:
There is absolutely no evidence for any gods of any kind.
That’s your gold standard. That is solid, rocket-fueled victory in a single sentence. No theist can argue against that; if they try, just stand back and watch them sputter.
Since you guys have a win button, it’s a little, well, dumb to say things like, “If there’s a God he’s a bastard” or “Religion causes genocide.” These are philosophic arguments with arguable evidence and subjective outcomes. You’ll never demonstrate you’re right. Instead your opponents just reinforce their own views as they whack away at you.
Nonetheless this whole religion-genocide thing has seen a real uptick. For many of the hostile atheists I’ve met, it’s their favorite indictment of religion.
Which is alarming, because it’s poor thinking.
In the real world where non-ideologues live, genocide and war are caused by a matrix of social, economic and political factors. The slogan on the campaign poster seldom bears any relation to the actual benefit being reaped by those who advocate or instigate aggression. In other words, the Crusades, the slave trade and the colonization of India (for example) had a whole lot of Rah-Rah-Christianity-Rah in their ad campaigns but were motivated by non-religious factors.
At least, that was my hypothesis.
I thought that if my hypothesis were true, then history would show equally atrocious events perpetrated by atheists. So a couple years back I decided to bone up on my history.
It turns out that equally horrible crimes against humanity have been committed by strictly atheist regimes including the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. China is a particularly strong example, because their (re)conquest of Tibet had an explicitly atheist objective. The Tibetans were “superstitious” and that apparently justified execution without trial of monks, destruction of cultural centers and artwork, and the wholesale massacre of human beings.
I admit my examples of atheist atrocities are limited to communist regimes, which could be called a weakness of my argument. I view it as a statistical necessity. There just haven’t been any strong pro-atheist regimes except communists—yet. As time goes on and the strength of atheism grows, I have every confidence (shudder) that we’ll see equal horrors at the hands of atheist ideologues of other stripes.
For the past year or so I’ve used this fact repeatedly when talking about religion and atheism. I’ve cited the atrocities of the Soviets and Chinese as an example of atheist atrocities, and I could probably add the acts of Vietnamese and Korean regimes as well.
In the last two months something interesting started to happen.
Almost echoing each other, multiple atheists have taken deep offense at my analysis. Their reaction is something like:
Those are the actions of government regimes that have nothing to do with mainstream atheism. Most atheists would never support anything like that, and fuck you for saying otherwise.
Except I never said otherwise.
I use these examples to show that atheist idealogues (and religious ideologues) are equally likely to commit atrocities: atheists (and religious folks) as a whole are completely innocent of such horrors, because it’s a perversion and misuse of atheism (and religion).
That’s the whole point.
In a way It’s almost amusing that atheists get offended by this, because they’ve been making the same fallacy toward religions for some time now. The typical religious person doesn’t support the Crusades or the Jihad any more than the typical atheist supports the Holodomor. And the theocrats who organize(d) the Crusades/Jihad are lying bastards with their own agenda, just like Mao.
But the total innocence of religion-overall never stopped Dawkins and other lauded atheist leaders from slandering faith as the root of genocide.
And dear atheists, if it hurts a little to receive the same unfair treatment, honestly I’m not a bit sympathetic.
But here’s where it gets nuanced. I could end the blog post with that “not sympathetic” line: it’d get scores of huzzahs from angry religious folks, a touch of trolling from angry atheists, and go viral from all the discussion. Pretty much a win if I rolled that way. But I want to go a step further.
The point I want to make—and always have tried to make with this topic—is not see how you like it, atheist bastard. And it certainly isn’t atheism causes war and genocide, the opposite fallacy.
War and genocide are endemic to humanity. War is waged for economic and political gain; genocide is waged when fear is the easiest way to control the masses.
In rare cases these real causes show through. The Holocaust is a blatant example, and I won’t say more. The genocide in Rwanda was mounted on racism and class inequality. The root cause of mass abuse of human beings is always money and control; personal beliefs are frosting.
The Crusades, Holodomor and conquest of Tibet are best interpreted along the same lines. We can hang any rhetoric or propaganda on it that we want. In a medieval Christian kingdom, that’s Jesus. In China, that’s ending superstition.
But it’s a cheap way to control a lot of people and as long as you credit it as the real motivation, you’re falling for that same cheap trick yourself.
I’d like to think most of us are smarter than an 11th century pope. War and genocide aren’t caused by religion, and they’re not caused by atheism. But atheists and the pious will equally cheer for it if it fills the right bank accounts.
So maybe just use a little goddamn discretion, huh?