Category Archives: debate
Earlier today I read a blog post entitled “Is it Time for an Atheist’s Rights Movement?” The author wondered if the scattered and divided “Atheist community” (if such a thing can even be said to exist) could agree enough to get behind a movement to protect the right of Atheists to be Atheists free of discrimination or persecution. He noted that even in the supposedly “enlightened” west Atheists are often discriminated against in family court decisions, in private organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, and even in the constitutions of seven American states. This is without even going into the various theocracies around the globe.
I responded in the comments by saying that while I agree in spirit with this idea. (The idea of protecting Atheists from discrimination and persecution) I think the “Atheists’ Rights” is a small part of a much larger battle, and that if there is to be a movement the movement should be concerned with the larger war and not a single skirmish.
I don’t say this because I don’t think it’s important to protect non-theists from discrimination, I do. I don’t say it to denigrate the work done by those who are fighting for this very thing right now in various places around the globe. They’re doing important work in often life threatening conditions and that should be respected and commended. Where my disagreement comes into play is here. If there is going to be an organized, concerted effort on the part of non-theists it shouldn’t be about trying to achieve an equality of position, our positions aren’t, to my mind, equal. If there’s going to be a movement the movement should have one aim: the abolishment, or at least marginalization of theistic thought around the globe.
Now, do I mean outlawing religious thought? Punishing believers for said belief and the like? No. What I mean is working to drastically curtail the temporal power of the various faith groups and parties of god around the world. What I mean is a concerted, unified effort to demonstrate the value of our position, to show the benefits of secularism, rationality, critical reasoning, and Humanism. We should be working harder to dispel the fog of myth and superstition, not just to educate but to enlighten. As an example, noted Atheist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali has said that one of the things that made her question Islam as a child was reading “Nancy Drew” books. Intense and dramatic change is often the result of such simple, even mundane catalysts. A concerted and unapologetic campaign designed to undermine theistic thinking using such mundane and seemingly “inoffensive” materials, would be an example of one avenue that, as far as I’m concerned, is likely to have great success. The key is that the effort must be concerted, unapologetic and multi-pronged. Polite disagreement only gets us so far. Individual activism only gets us so far. If there is ever going to be true secular victory it’s going to take a widespread unified movement. Civil rights didn’t come about because a couple of minority activists wrote and spoke and protested. It came about because a people united, demanded action, gathered allies and fought.
That being said I don’t think that the wider atheist “community” will ever unite in such a way. Atheism is not after all a belief system. It’s a single point of commonality, and aside from that single point Atheists are a disparate group with a varied collection of social and political views. It’s difficult to imagine how such a movement could be forged. Especially since there is even disagreement on how theism should be treated by Atheists. Some, like myself, see theism as a dangerous and destructive influence that should be abolished. Others are indifferent to theism so long as it stays out of their face, so to speak, and still others think theistic views should be respected, a live and let live sort of philosophy.
Perhaps then the idea of unifying Atheists is hopeless. No movement can reasonably expect 100% support or participation after all, not every African American was part of the civil rights movement, and not every Frenchman was part of La Resistance. Perhaps Anti-Theists, those of us do care and do recognize the threat that theism offers to the future, would be the best candidates for such a movement. Maybe those Atheists should be the ones organizing to undertake the campaign I mentioned above. I myself would be more than happy to take part in such an endeavour.
When it comes right down to it those Atheists who are the most seriously persecuted in the world are not going to be delivered from persecution by anything less than all out ideological attack on the theocracies that oppress them. There is no hope of tolerance or equality because nothing can be “equal” to the will of god in the eyes of these theocrats and god has made his will quite clear concerning infidels and apostates. “Atheist Rights” in these places can only be achieved by a complete removal and replacement of the existing construct. Sadly the situation might not be much better here at home when it comes to “Atheist Rights”. However those rights will come as a by-product of victory in the wider struggle. Or put another way: they’ll like us when we win, and we’ll win when we start to fight in earnest.
I spend a lot of time talking about the hateful, baffling, and often false things Theists say and believe on this blog. Today I’m going to mix it up a bit and discuss another group and an incomprehensible position I just can’t get my head around. The group I’m going to be talking about are atheists, a very specific kind of atheist which some of you may recognize. Some of you may even be this kind of atheist. If you are maybe you can help me understand…
There is a group of atheists out there in the world who have taken the time to think about the issue, they’ve pondered, considered and (hopefully) studied and become comfortable enough with their position to openly call themselves atheists. This particular kind of Atheist has determined, just as the rest of us have, that religion and religious claims are false, baseless, utterly man-made, and often times harmful however this sub-set of atheists regularly and actively call down anyone who challenges a theist’s religious assertions, or points out the falsehoods and inconsistencies in their doctrine. These people ostensibly reject the idea of a god, reject all forms of religion but see no problem with the practice, and are actually affronted by the more aggressive species of atheist who choose to debate and discuss the issue. I really don’t understand this type of atheism. I suppose one could chalk it up to some of them just being “live and let live” types not interested in pushing their own views or “agenda” on anyone but if that’s the case why are they involved in the discussion in the first place?
I write and debate on the topic for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m an AntiTheist. I honestly believe that religion and religious thinking are divisive, detrimental and dangerous, not just to those individuals snared by it but to all of humankind. 2) I know that there are more plausible, more demonstrable, more awe-inspiring truths out there that explain our origins, and indeed all origins far more correctly and satisfyingly than any faith system ever has. I value knowledge, study, learning, and honest inquiry. I myself have learned the vast majority of what I know because someone took the time to put their thoughts to paper, to debate and discuss, and I am eternally grateful for that. If I can make just one person actually consider and question what they profess to believe and that leads them to go out with new questions and seek actual answers I’m a success. I can’t imagine a better pay off for an hour or two of typing. I consider any amount of “yelling into the wind” to be well worth that payoff.
I understand those atheists who want no part in the debate, they’ve come to their personal truth, it works for them and they have no interest in convincing others. I understand agnostics who are satisfied to say “I simply don’t know” and leave it at that. What I can’t understand are those Atheists who actively take part in the debate but only to say that they don’t think there should be a debate at all and deride those who foster it. The position against discussion doesn’t make any sense to me. I like talking to thoughtful theists, to be honest I like talking to less than thoughtful theists too. I enjoy the discussion. I like when people make me think, and I like when I can tell I’ve made someone else think. This is how we improve ourselves. I don’t get how anyone can be opposed to that, and it seems especially strange to me to adopt the label “atheist” and then attack those advocating atheism…
If you see encouraging debate, or even taking part in one as “proselytizing” and you’re honestly opposed I can respect that. I disagree, but I can respect it, but to proselytize against proselytizing?? I don’t understand that… It seems to me like an effort to be seen as a superior, more open-minded, less offensive brand of atheist and it comes off, at least to me, as hypocrisy. It seems we’ve developed the secular equivalent of the religious moderate, that species of theist who professes to believe that all outlooks are not only equally worthy of respect but equally valid as truth.
If you want no part in the debate that’s your call and I respect that. If you want to take part in the debate and have a different outlook than I do I welcome your contribution to the discussion. I really do, but if you spend your days advocating against advocacy, if you actively label yourself an atheist but oppose discussion of the “whys” of atheism then as I’ve said several times: I don’t understand you. What is it that drives such an atheist, and how did you come to be an atheist? Did your lack of belief happen in a bubble? You read nothing, discussed nothing, and debated nothing? Really? I doubt it, so why would you deny others the tools that you yourself more than likely took advantage of in forming your opinions?
Inscription translates as “God is with us.”
If one has enough debates with theists one will eventually hear something to the effect of “Atheists are no better morally, just look at Adolf Hitler!” While I agree that Atheism is not necessarily morally superior to Theism this assertion that Hitler was an atheist always surprises and baffles me. Given the sheer weight and breadth of Hitler’s various theistic, and specifically Judeo-Christian, remarks where precisely do Theists get this impression? This first question doesn’t even mention his many condemnations of Atheism. I’ve chosen to look at this question by breaking it down into two sections, Hitler’s anti-atheist statements and his theistic pronouncements.
“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” Adolf Hitler, Berlin October 1933
“There may have been a time when even parties founded on the ecclesiastical basis were a necessity. At that time Liberalism was opposed to the Church, while Marxism was anti-religious. But that time is past. National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity. The Church’s interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of today, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles.”Adolf Hitler, Koblenz August 1934
“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”Adolf Hitler during negotiations for the Nazi-Vatican Concordat (treaty) 1933
I think these statements represent a very clear picture of Hitler’s views on Atheism. It’s clear, to me at least, that he had no love at all for Atheists or secularists whatsoever. These are by no means all of his pronouncements against Atheism, but I think they’ll serve as a cross-section of his thoughts.
Theistic Statements and Pronouncements
In his notorious book “Mein Kampf” Hitler makes a number of clearly un-atheistic statements such as:
“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
“Once again the songs of the fatherland roared to the heavens along the endless marching columns, and for the last time the Lord’s grace smiled on His ungrateful children.”
“But if out of smugness, or even cowardice, this battle is not fought to its end, then take a look at the peoples five hundred years from now. I think you will find but few images of God, unless you want to profane the Almighty.”
“What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe.”
These, it must be pointed out, are only a few of the statements made in the text that use theistic ideas of god and religious phrasing, there are a great many more. One can’t help but notice that Hitler doesn’t speak at all like an Atheist. Indeed he speaks as a man who not only believes in a directing and designing personal god, but as one who sees himself as doing the work of that god. Historian Richard Steigmann-Gall of Kent State University wrote in his 2003 book “The Holy Reich” “Hitler gave no indication of being an atheist or agnostic or of believing in only a remote, rationalist divinity. Indeed, he referred continually to a providential, active deity.”
Aside from “Mein Kampf” here are some quotes from various public speeches and remarks:
“In the Bible we find the text, ‘That which is neither hot nor cold will I spew out of my mouth.’ This utterance of the great Nazarene has kept its profound validity until the present day.” –Adolf Hitler, speech in Munich, 10 April 1923
“The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism [Nazism] is hostile to religion is a lie.” –Adolf Hitler, 22 July 1933, writing to the Nazi Party
“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” – Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933
Again, these are only a few examples of Hitler’s declarations of religious belief and support. There are many more, and they are not hard to find with even a little bit of looking.
In the interest of fairness I’ll state that a great many atheists’ assertions that examples such as those above point to the fact that Hitler was a Christian or a Catholic of some specific denomination also seem to be wrong and simplistic. Hitler had a great many negative things to say about Christianity, and often had not great things to say about Catholicism. (He was very careful about those statements however since Catholic support and sufferance were so important to his survival and success.) In the interest of fair play here are some:
“The heaviest blow which ever struck humanity was Christianity; Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew.” – Adolf Hitler, Table Talk pg. 7
“The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death…. When understanding of the universe has become widespread… Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity…. Christianity has reached the peak of absurdity…. And that’s why someday its structure will collapse…. …the only way to get rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little…. Christianity the liar…. We’ll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State”. Adolf Hitler, Table Talk pg. 49-50.
“The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.” Adolf Hitler, Table Talk October 19th 1941
It must be noted that some English translations of the book “table talk” have been criticized as not being a true showing of the original German text and that some translators have in fact left out theistic elements such as “What man has over the animals, possibly the most marvelous proof of his superiority, is that he has understood there must be a Creative Power!” in order to paint Hitler as a disbeliever for propagandist purposes.
What this post goes the long way around toward demonstrating is that there is absolutely no basis for the idea that Hitler was an Atheist, or that the National Socialist (Nazi) Party was in any way an Atheistic movement. There is every reason to suspect that Hitler himself was a Theist of some description and perhaps even believed himself to be an instrument of the divine. However there is also reason to believe that Hitler would not have considered himself a Christian or even a Catholic. I would ask atheists this: When debating please stay away from this concept. There are more than enough genuine Judeo-Christian atrocities in history without having to reach for the questionable ones. For instance ask instead why the Vatican had a treaty with such a man for years, or why none of the nominally catholic leaders of the Nazi party was ever excommunicated. If we have right and reason on our side then there’s no reason to go for the cheap “Yeah? Well the monster was on YOUR side!!”
While I had chosen a different subject for today’s post one of the pages I read regularly had a comment that I felt the need to respond to today so I thought I’d share the comment and my response. I apologize right off for the length of this post but the comment requires a lengthy response.
“I challenge the atheist community to a debate. Present your greatest, most informed, philosopher and address the prevailing definition among atheists regarding atheism. To the modern atheist, does it still mean the absence of belief in a god? Or does it mean a belief to the contrary, namely a belief that God doesn’t exist? And regarding these positions or definitions or assumptions, what of the implications? If we are the result of mere chance, then mustn’t the atheist conclude there is no reason or purpose to life beyond that which we imbue or ascribe to it? In which case, would this not mean there is no inherent good or evil, no right or wrong but what concensus and/or personal whim says is so, whereby conflicting views are no more valid or imperative than another? And if that’s the case, what ultimate purpose is served by spreading this news to the masses? For those who believe in God, will your arguments bring to them true enlightenment? And if so, to what end? After all, according to atheism, isn’t life itself inherently pointless apart from our own human imposition of meaning? How is humanity made better by abandoning a practical fiction (a God who gives their lives meaning and purpose) vs the atheist’s alleged truth (that faith is a lie, religion is a scam, life is meaningless apart from what we, the freethinkers, say it is)? I’d like to know how despair is more attractive than hope. I’m told the atheist is more rational than the theist. This is their primary reason to resist faith, that faith is for the weak, that faith requires one to abandon reason, that only the freethinker is logical, rational, and informed. Yet the average atheist refuses to discuss these things. So few seem willing, and even fewer seem familiar with the arguments for and against, to articulate their ideology. So again, I encourage you to consider the implications of your stance. I invite you to address my questions. I welcome you to think about those things that you may’ve simply taken for granted but never questioned or analysed. Thanks for your time.”
I make no claim to being the greatest, most informed philosopher in any group but since I see it as a duty to answer these types of inquiries and generally combat what I see as the dangers of theistic thinking wherever I find it I’ll make an attempt to answer your post. A few quick notes however. 1) I am a layman, not a scientist, I do not claim to have an in depth knowledge of the workings of the cosmos or biology. However my study is ongoing and what I do know is more than enough to convince me that a prime mover is not strictly necessary in order to explain the origins of A) the cosmos B) life C) morality. 2) I don’t claim to be fully cognizant of the proper form of structured debate but I will assure you of a couple of points, I will make every effort to stay away from inflammatory language or outright attacks. I will pose my arguments as reasonably and rationally as possible. This is the only form of conversation I’m interested in having. With that being said shall we begin?
First, the definition of “Atheism” This can vary, as can the definition of any group of individuals. The word will mean different things to different groups, strictly speaking however Atheism simply means a lack of belief in a deity. It does not pretend to “know” that there is no such deity; it is simply a statement of a lack of belief. I myself take this a step further and would term myself an anti-theist. Not only do I lack belief in a deity, I hold such a belief to be harmful on both an individual and societal level and I believe that theistic thinking should be combated whenever possible.
As to the second point:“If we are the result of mere chance, then mustn’t the atheist conclude there is no reason or purpose to life beyond that which we imbue or ascribe to it?”
While I also have some objection to the idea of the complex process of mutation, change and adaptation that is the theory of evolution by natural selection being termed “mere chance” I’ll leave that aside and answer the actual question. Quite simply: Yes. I would agree with that statement as it pertains to life. You’ll often hear this stated as “the universe must be pointless without design” that statement I would disagree with. The point of the universe, even without design, is observable and, at least to me, evident. Its point is creation, destruction, constant change and growth. As for life, I would agree that we have a duty as individuals and a community to ascribe purpose to life. Life has only one objective point, to sustain itself. Animals hunt and feed and find shelter and breed in order to ensure their individual survival and that of their species as a whole, which is their point and purpose. For humans it’s slightly, only very slightly, different. We have the same needs for sustenance and shelter and the same urge to pass on genes in order to keep the species going but we also have evolved large and cerebral and intellectual apparatus. As a result we have an understanding of ourselves and our place in the wider world that is unique (so far). The simple tasks of maintaining our survival are not enough to stimulate us and so we create. Humans build and imagine and compose and undertake all of the other aspects of what it is to be human beyond the mere survival level out of a need for intellectual stimulation and growth. The point of human life is much the same as the point I gave for the universe “creation, destruction, growth and change.”
“In which case, would this not mean there is no inherent good or evil, no right or wrong but what consensus and/or personal whim says is so, whereby conflicting views are no more valid or imperative than another?”
I agree with the statement given previously that the ideas of “Good” and “Evil” are cultural overlays. I would also agree with the statement that empathy is the basis of human morality. Empathy is a cerebral function, demonstrable and testable. It exists as part of the material world, and is in fact essential in a social animal such as man. However I won’t go as far as saying that all morality is instinctual. I believe the basis of morality to be just that, however I also believe that as creatures of intellect our morality has grown and changed (as if by selective mutation) as our intellect has grown. To demonstrate this point: the Judeo-Christian Theology had for long centuries absolutely no issues whatsoever with slavery, in spite of all of its moral teaching the bible has absolutely no bad word to say about the practice of some of god’s children owning others. It was only as our understanding and intellect grew that we came to acknowledge the practice of slavery as a reprehensible one and saw to its abolition. Injunctions against theft and murder are necessary in order to maintain a cohesive and productive social group, an instinct inborn in us in order to enhance our likelihood of survival. Yet opposing things like slavery, rape, child molestation, these are moral decisions made on the basis of empathy. While different cultural areas may have practices that would infringe on this inborn morality I would argue that they’re acting against this sense, not that theirs is different. I would argue that everyone, inside themselves, knows that rape is wrong. Cultural conditioning may allow the suppression of this truth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. As for the lack of objective right and wrong I’m personally of the opinion that “Right” is properly defined as “that which provides the greatest possible well being for all” and “Wrong” is defined as “that which detracts from the greatest possible wellbeing for all” I don’t see how any other definition is possible, and by these definitions I see the Theistic approach t life as fitting into the “Bad” category.
“And if that’s the case, what ultimate purpose is served by spreading this news to the masses? For those who believe in God, will your arguments bring to them true enlightenment? And if so, to what end? How is humanity made better by abandoning a practical fiction?”
Well in my personal view I think the purposes and benefits are manifold. First, from the moral standpoint the truth that we are material entities in a material universe of cause and effect leaves to us a responsibility to act as such. Theology, any theology, removes responsibility from us and places it in the hands of a supernatural overseer. All good, and all judgement of said good, or of bad comes from Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu or Thor. It’s the “I was just following orders” defense. We have no responsibility save to follow the edicts of whatever deity our cultural, societal, and political situation tells us is true. Without the “safety net” of theology each individual and society as a whole is forced to consider their actions in the light of their effect on the world around them. This goes back to the definition of good as “that which provides the greatest possible well being for all” Removing the divisive and elitist constructions of theology and the false distinctions of race, tribe fostered by these faiths can only enhance the ideal of human unity.
Second, the belief that this world, this existence is only some kind of preface or prelude to some vastly superior ultimate form of existence removes any imperative to care for this world or its inhabitants. By this I don’t intend to state that religious people have no interest in this world. Only that their focus is split, their energies unfocused. Imagine if all of the effort, intellect, wealth and time spent on the various theologies had instead been channeled into the betterment of the secular world. I contend that with more focus and effort spent on enhancing our secular world rather than advocating and promoting some theological system the very heaven/paradise/nirvana that nearly every Theology offers would be unnecessary. To paraphrase Marx:
“Criticism will pluck the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”
Third, “faith” the belief that you already know the reasons for everything, the cause of everything retards the exploration of important topics, and general progress. The discovery of truth, most often in our history, has been the result of skepticism. As a matter of fact a great many of the truths we hold today were discovered against the will of theology. It’s a stumbling block to progress and advancement, and once we discover something to be true the theology in question simply changes it’s position. Instead of the new idea being heresy or blasphemous it turns out that that discovery only heightens the truth of their position.
I’ll conclude in this way. While it is by no means certain that people would act better without theological influence it is, I think certain, that the removal of theology would remove one of the great excuses for ignorance, barbarism and prejudice. Theology, while providing no completely unique benefits does present completely unique problems. There are enough secular, real world problems that need solving without creating more which have no bearing on our day to day reality.