“No one has the right to tell anyone that their beliefs are wrong.” “People should be free to believe whatever they like.” “There are no “right” or “wrong” beliefs.” These are things that you’ll hear a lot if you speak on or debate the topic of faith. This is the concept of Religious Pluralism, the idea that all beliefs and belief systems are equally valid and equally deserving of respect. It sounds, on its face, like a reasonable and high-minded point of view, inclusive, reasonable, a very live and let live sort of outlook. Yet there is a serious flaw with the idea of Religious Pluralism, the flaw is simply this: Each and every religion mankind has ever come up with is absolute. Every one of them claims their doctrine and tradition is right good and true while asserting at the same time that all other belief systems are false, wrong, incomplete, or even evil. Religion by its very nature rejects the idea of pluralism; what’s more it often requires an absolutist perspective from its adherents.
Religious pluralism is the invention of the modern religious moderate. That species of theist who can pick and choose which tenets of their scriptures to believe in while flatly dismissing some and metamorphosizing others into metaphor and poetry in need of scholarly interpretation. Pluralism becomes the shield behind which the moderate can take refuge. “You can’t challenge the irrational things I believe because I respect the irrational things you believe.” At the same time it becomes another weapon in the fight against the rational naturalistic outlook of the non-theist. It’s “impolite” to question why someone believes in something without a basis for that belief. It’s crude and overly simplistic to state that a position that has no rational objective basis for truth is most likely false. Instead, it would appear, the more acceptable and “polite” tack is to accept that religious faith, all religious faith is valid, not only valid but equally as valid as reason. This is, at least to me a fallacy of the most monumental type.
Pluralism only works if the believer is willing to concede that their beliefs exist solely in the province of their own minds for no other purpose than their own psychological wellbeing. If you’re willing to allow that your beliefs have no bearing on the material world, no basis in history or science, that it is a mental construct designed to comfort you personally that is something different. In this case, as a strictly personal belief, one could make an argument for the case of pluralism. However if you’re claiming that the stories in your text are true, that the bible is historically accurate, and that the dictates of said book are fact and globally binding, then pluralism is an absurdity. How can you genuinely respect a belief system that you truly believe is wrong, or evil? How can you claim to respect another faith while living in certainty that its practitioners are misguided, deluded and destined for a fiery damnation in the next world?
It’s a smoke screen, a high-minded get out of jail free card that the moderate uses to justify the imbalance between the rational part of themselves that allows them to function in the modern word and the part of themselves that hangs on to bronze age mythology and supernatural occurrence as reality. However not all beliefs are valid, and certainly not all beliefs are equally valid. If I claimed to believe that the mantle of the earth was made of toast for instance no thinking person would advocate my right to hold such a belief because, aside from the fact that we can prove it is not so, the idea itself is simply to ludicrous for anyone reasonable or even moderately informed to credit. Yet the beliefs that A) Muhammad ascended to Heaven on a flying horse and B) that no such thing ever happened in reality are equally valid and equally worthy of belief? This is the worst kind of relativistic nonsense.
Aside from that it’s also incredibly dangerous. We live in the most dangerous and precipitous period in human history. There exist, at this very moment weapons of such incredible power that a single human being can kill millions, or make entire landscapes uninhabitable for generations. Add to this the fact that there are literally billions of people on the planet who believe that there is an invisible person in the sky who likes some of us better than others and will in fact REWARD them handsomely for killing those others. This is an unsupportable situation. We’ve grown past the point where we have the luxury of being allowed our illusions about the world and how it works. With the powers we now command we cannot afford any view but those founded on reason and rational decision-making.
The moderate who champions pluralism gives defense and tacit approval to the suicide bomber who blows up a bus, or the gang that beats a homosexual to death because he’s a homosexual in defiance of god’s will. The fundamentalist cannot exist without the moderate, shoring up his position, fighting for his rights, fighting against the right of the secular world to impose a moratorium on the very fount and source of his various madnesses, while all the while decrying the actions of those whose only real crime is faithfully following the dictates of the faith that the moderate picks and chooses from.
There is an argument, put forward by theists, that if there is no god, no divine judgement, then it follows that terrible people who do terrible things and escape human justice have gotten away with it. Their crimes, their sins, go unpunished. The theist finds this possibility too reprehensible to consider and so they choose to believe in said god and said judgement. They are comforted by the fact that those who do evil in this world will eventually meet with the judgement of heaven and be damned. First off this is not an argument for the existence of a thing. Not wanting something to be so is not the same as proving that it is not so. Secondly there is absolutely no reason to believe that your god’s morality is the same as yours, and given the bible as an example there is every reason to believe otherwise. The bible god is recorded as not only condoning but commanding genocide (1 Samuel 15:2-3) for example and yet I would say that the vast majority of modern Christians would be opposed to the idea of wiping out every man, child, farm animal and (non-virgin) woman of any particular people and carrying away the virgins of said people to one can only imagine what sort of fate. There is no reason to suppose that, if there is a god, it would judge a crime in a way that would give its earthly followers the sense of justice they seem to crave. As a matter of fact there is great reason to believe quite the contrary. John 3: 18 says quite plainly that “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” So according to this all that is required of us is belief in Jesus Christ as the son of god. All other transgressions and sins are forgiven by god as long as this single criterion is met. Where then is the divine judgement that is meant to punish the wicked?
There are of course passages which say that a person’s works and deeds are in fact the criteria by which they’ll be judged but there are just as many which, like the above, say that deeds and works are unimportant that a person is judged by faith in Christ alone. If this is the case, if all that is required to avoid hell is a belief in Jesus as the son of god then surely heaven is populated by a great many criminals and unjust people who raped killed stole, and did any number of terrible things while being absolutely sure that Jesus lived and was the walking embodiment of the creator of the universe. For that matter there are a great many devout servants of that god who are guilty of atrocious crimes against children who will not only not receive damnation but who will actually be forgiven their crimes due to their faith. Add to that the fact that the bible says that a disbeliever who is married to a believer will also be saved (1 Corinthians 7:14) and the loopholes just keep expanding.
If there is one thing the bible is absolutely clear on it is the fact that the unbeliever is doomed (Romans 14:23, 1 Corinthians 16:22, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, 2 Thessalonians 1: 7-9, Hebrews 11:6) regardless of a disbeliever’s actions or character, regardless of their good works, their love of their fellow man, or their efforts to make a better, happier or more just world they are relegated to the flames. Is this the justice theists wish for from their almighty?
The “justice” promised by the bible god doesn’t even resemble any concept that could be called justice in any forum on this planet outside of North Korea or Soviet Russia or some other absolutist tyrannical dictatorship where loyalty to the leader and the party are the only requirement and all other crimes are secondary to that consideration. Of course theists, specifically Christians, are less likely to see the evil of this particular proposition because they themselves meet the one and only criterion, they have the keys to the kingdom so to speak. Just being on the winning side of injustice, however, doesn’t make that injustice disappear. Anyone who thinks that the “justice” of the bible god is a good thing, or a desirable reason to believe in said god should perhaps take a better look at exactly what it is their book says about their god and its justice.
One could argue that religion is a negative force in our society, even that it’s bad for the world as a whole. In fact I have argued both of these things in the past, and I likely will again. Today however I want to address a different question, that question is this: Is religion good for believers? I personally don’t think that it is and I will endeavour in this post to lay out why. Aside from questions of mental health, personal responsibility, and critical examination of the world around us let’s look at it from a point of view of doctrine.
Even if you can accept the idea that A) there is a god B) it is interested in us and C) it has sent us instructions on the right and wrong ways to live you’re still left with the difficulty of which religion preaches the true teachings and instructions of god. Just dealing with the Abrahamic faiths alone there are an insuperable amount of contradictions and differences both between the three faiths and between the various interpretations inside each one. How is a person of faith to choose? The answer, more often than not, is that the faithful usually adopt whichever faith is most prevalent in their geographic, cultural and social area. If, however, there really is a god who has sent instructions to its people surely this method of choosing a faith is a little too risky.
The concept of religious exclusivism is a central doctrine of just about every religion and certainly it is central to the three abrahamic faiths. This doctrine states simply that each faith is itself the one true faith and that salvation is impossible outside of the church. For example, Joseph Ratzinger, the man known as Pope Benedict the 16th, has declared that the Roman Catholic Church is the only “true” church and that all other denominations are “defective” The Catholic doctrine “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” or “Outside the Church there is no Salvation” says it quite plainly, and it’s not a unique position.
Religion has always been an exclusivist proposition, in ancient Greece only the gods of Olympus were legal to worship and those who didn’t practice the EleusinianMysteries were relegated to prison or death in this world and Hades or Tartarus in the next. In Islam the oft repeated phrase “There is only Allah, and Mohammed is His messenger.” implies that only the teachings of the Quran will guide the faithful to salvation. The same can be said for the various Christian denominations which declare so readily that “ Christ is the only path to salvation.” The Jewish faith, by comparison offers a more inclusive point of view, it allows for all faiths that recognize the noahide laws, the seven laws given by god to Noah following the flood. Even so there is a measurable difference in their faith between a Jew and a “righteous gentile”.
What are the consequences of this Exclusivism? Well, if you accept that there is a god, and it has sent its message to the world then you have to accept that this doctrine of Exclusivism is god sent as well. In that case there is only one true faith and one true path to salvation. This means that right now, regardless of how you look at it, there are billions of people who are doomed to an afterlife of, if not fiery misery, at least separation from the promised paradise and glory of god.
There is another way, a way that is common to the three abrahamic faiths and which doesn’t require that a great majority of the world’s population be relegated to one version or another of hell. It is the principle of Inculpable Ignorance. This is yet another doctrine common to the three abrahamic faiths that teaches that those who are ignorant of the “word of god” through no fault of their own, those who have never heard the teachings of the Torah, the Bible or the Quaran, never been the subject of missionaries, are not doomed by this lack. The principle of Inculpable Ignorance says that these people will not be judged for their failure to choose the true church but will instead be judged by god on their own character and actions.
So wait, let’s really consider this. We, those of us who live in societies in which the various “truths” have been revealed are required by the simple fact of this revelation to not only choose one and devote ourselves to it utterly, but to choose the correct one or risk eternal damnation. At the same time a tribesman on an island so remote and primitive that it hasn’t yet received it’s contingent of Christian/Jewish,/Muslim missionaries isn’t punished by god for this lack but is allowed to live in whichever way he chooses and is judged upon his death by his conduct and character.
If Exclusivism is truth sent by god, and Inculpable Ignorance is also truth sent by god that means that a huge amount of the people who populate hell at this very moment aren’t there for their actions or their ignorance but for their having made the wrong choice of belief. It also means that a majority of the people living on the planet right now are practicing a belief system that isn’t the correct one, and so are doomed to whichever version of hell is the correct one.
Given all of these facts, if one assumes that god is real, that it has given us the codes by which to live, and that the doctrines of one of the three major faiths are “Truth” then one has to come to the conclusion that religion is not good for us. Not only that it is bad for us but also that every missionary, priest, rabbi and imam who has ever brought the teachings of their religion to a populace has endangered their souls, and cut their likelihood of acceptance into paradise by at least two thirds.
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!!”