Sunday, December 2, 2007

When philosophy murders.

With the rise of the “new atheist” movement, an argument has come to the forefront. Which belief, atheism or Christian theism, has a bloodier history. Atheists gleefully use the Catholic inquisitions, the Crusades, and the several hundred years of war between the various flavors of Christianity as ammunition. The Christians point to the avowed atheism of the world’s communist regimes, Hitler’s Third Reich, and the slaughters these governments have perpetrated against their own people and others. However, the appropriateness of contrasting faith to non-faith by comparing histories is questionable. Religion has been one of the greatest rationalizations for violence in history, but it has rarely been the true cause for the violence perpetrated. The various inquisitions conducted by the Catholic church had as much to do with the church acquiring property and wealth from its victims as it did with religious hearsay. The Crusades provided a handy excuse for a clever Pope to rid Europe of quarrelsome knights and their warriors and give them some quality make work in the Middle East…far away from him. Political control and gaining an economic advantage caused more European wars than the differences in church doctrines. In turn, the communist regimes’ self-proclaimed atheism concerned controlling the populace than it did with an aversion to religious faith. Communism was the state approved faith and no competitor was allowed. Churches were eliminated as they might serve as focal points for opposition to government control. Whatever faith Hitler espoused was nominal, he was raised as a Roman Catholic. He attempted to use religion to advance his ideas, and at least initially gained the support of various faiths through his anti-communist stance, but that crumbled away when the true nature of the Reich became apparent. What remained was silence from the major faiths and acts of incredible heroism and resistance from a scattering of individuals, both religious and not.

Whatever issues that exist legitimately between theists and non-theists, disputing atrocities is in the end meaningless. No one will be “saved” and no one will be converted by comparing body counts collected through history.

1 comment:

gareth said...

I agree. What someone is saying while they're killing someone--even if it really were the reason they've decided on killing them--doesn't say much about the inherent goodness or badness of the thing.

Even setting aside the political-historical explanations for the events, important as they are, it comes down to the fact that people are going to develop arbitrary distinctions among themselves, and they're going to fight over them, even if everyone's dragged down in the process and no one stands to gain. The fact that one side does usually benefit materially doesn't really help matters.