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Is Religion Responsible for the World’s Violence?

Tamil

A few months ago, a “gun-toting atheist” and self-proclaimed “anti-theist” killed three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There's some question still about whether the killer was motivated by atheism or some other motivation. What there's no question of is that much of the secular response was predictably tasteless and exploitative. For example, the Daily Beast's Suzi Parker responded with an essay on how hard it is to be Muslim “in the most religious—and Christian—part of the country.” Somehow, in Parker's view, it was Christians who were to blame.

CNN's response was perhaps worse, lumping the Chapel Hill murders in with seven other attacks as examples of “religion's week from hell,” blaming the attacks on the “religious violence” that either “is fueled by faith or is a symptom of larger factors.” There's been a lot of talk lately about so-called “victim blaming,” and it's something of a nebulous term, but I think that blaming religious people for an atheist murdering them probably constitutes victim blaming.

The Chapel Hill murders have upset the popular “religion is what makes people violent” narrative, and both the Daily Beast and CNN's response amounted to shutting their collective eyes and repeating the “religious people are bad” mantra. So let's talk about that narrative: is it true that religion is the main cause of violence in the world? Or if not all violence, what about terrorism? Or if not all terrorism, what about suicide bombings?

Religious or Non-Religious?

In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris tries to lump “religion” in with “terror,” pitting the two against “reason.” He opens with this story:

"The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb. His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison. The bus is crowded and headed for the heart of the city. [...] The young man smiles. With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus. [...] The young man’s parents soon learn of his fate. Although saddened to have lost a son, they feel tremendous pride at his accomplishment. They know that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow. He has also sent his victims to hell for eternity. It is a double victory."

At this point, he hasn't told you the man's religion (although his inclusion of Heaven and Hell in his story conveniently exonerate atheists). He then asks, rhetorically:

"Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy, “you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy,” to guess the young man’s religion?"

As I've mentioned before, Harris wants you to guess Muslim, an answer he claims is “you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy.” But there's just one problem with this claim, which is that it's factually incorrect. Worse, Harris knows this, but buries that fact in an endnote:

"Some readers may object that the bomber in question is most likely to be a member of the Liberations [sic] Tigers of Tamil Eelam—the Sri Lankan separatist organization that has perpetuated more acts of suicidal terrororism [sic] than any other group."

So if you bet your life on the suicide bomber being a Muslim, chances are, you were wrong. And the Tamil Tigers aren't just the deadliest in regards to suicide bombings. They're the deadliest terrorist group on earth, period. You can check out the numbers for yourself at the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database or Periscope's summary by group. Since 1975, the Tigers have killed nearly 11,000 people, and wounding nearly 11,000 more.

If you're not familiar with the Tamil Tigers, here's how the Library of Congress describes them:

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) strongest of Tamil separatist groups, founded in 1972 when Tamil youth espousing a Marxist ideology and an independent Tamil state established a group called the Tamil New Tigers; name changed in 1976.

The University of Chicago's Robert A. Pape, whom Harris cites in the endnote, is even more direct: “Religious fanaticism does not explain why the world leader in suicide terrorism is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a group that adheres to a Marxist/Leninist ideology.” Marxist-Leninist groups are hardly what you'd call “religious.” Here's what Lenin had to say about religion:

"The philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is dialectical materialism, which has fully taken over the historical traditions of eighteenth-century materialism in France and of Feuerbach (first half of the nineteenth century) in Germany—a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion. [...]

Religion is the opium of the people—this dictum by Marx is the corner-stone of the whole Marxist outlook on religion. Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organisation, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class."

So the deadliest terrorist group in the world, and the one responsible for the most suicide bombings in history isn't just a secular group, but one advancing an ideology that is “is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion.”

Nor are the Tamil Tigers an isolated case in this regard. The 25 deadliest terrorist groups in the world are responsible for most of the terror deaths since 1975. And the Tigers are just one of several Marxist-Leninist, Maoist, and Communist groups on that short list. They're joined by Peru's Shining Path, El Salvador's FMLN, Colombia FARCthe Kurdistan Worker's Party, the Philippines' New People's Army, Angola's UNITA, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Spain's Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA), Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), and Chile's Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR).

Is Religion the Chief Cause of the World's Violence?

Having seen that the world's deadliest suicide bombers and the world's deadliest terrorist group are the Marxist-Leninist Tamil Tigers, what about the world's deadliest ideologies? Compare the number of killings done in the name of religion to the number of killings done in the name of an anti-religious ideology.

At the top of the list of the twentieth century's deadliest regimes, you'll find three anti-religious states: Communist China, the USSR, and Nazi Germany. These three alone were responsible for an estimated 130,000,000 victims, which dwarfs the number of people killed in the name of all religions throughout all of history. And that number doesn't even take into account the millions killed by Pol Pot's Khmer Rogue, the Communist North Korean regime, or the Derg (the Ethiopian Communist state, headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam).

Religion isn't the cause of most of the world's violence: it's not even close. In fact, in each of the deadliest states of the twentieth century, we see the same pattern: an aggressive campaign to neutralize or eliminate religious belief (and believers). Ross Douthat pointed this out, using the example of the Soviet Union, in a debate with Bill Maher:

Maher: “Someone once said: to have a normal person commit a horrible act almost never happens without religion. To have people get on a plane and fly it into a building, it had to be religion.”

Douthat: “I think that what's true is: to get a normal person to commit a crazy act, it does take ideas, right? But those ideas can be secular as well as religious. A lot of normal people ...”

Maher: “But mostly, in history, they've been religious.”

Douthat: “Not in the twentieth century. Not in the Soviet Union. A lot of dead bodies there, not a lot of Christians... except among the dead bodies.”

Maher: “I would say that's a secular religion.” (Maher then quickly shut down debate before Douthat could respond.)

In a way, Maher ends up conceding one of Douthat's points: that secular ideas can be just as deadly as religious ones (and in fact, have been many times deadlier). But Douthat's other point is worth drawing out: religious belief serves not only as a potential motivator for violence, but as a check against state totalitarianism.

For a totalitarian regime, religion is dangerous. As a believer, I recognize that human rights come from God, not the state or social convention. I recognize that there's an authority higher than the state to whom both I and the state leadership will someday be accountable. It's precisely this sort of belief system that serves as a check on ideology and state authority that made these Soviet and Nazi states so anti-religious: they don't want you to render unto both God and Caesar. They want you to obey Caesar alone.

That's one reason that the bloodiest regimes in history have tended to be atheistic and anti-religious. But there may be a second, related point. Maher calls Soviet totalitarianism a “secular religion,” and that's something of a cop-out. He's trying to pin all the blame for violence on religion, by labelling all potentially-violent ideas as “religious,” even (as in the case of Soviet Communism) the ideology's founder and adherents were fiercely anti-religious. This evasion would seem to turn everything, even atheism, into at least a “secular religion.”

But Maher may yet be on to something in referring to these totalitarian systems as a “religion,” of sorts. Nazism and Soviet Communism did mimic religions in certain fashions, and did hold themselves out (implicitly and, at times, explicitly) as replacements for religion. That's because there's something inescapable about religion. Michael Crichton described the phenomenon like this:

"I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people – the best people, the most enlightened people – do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious."

At its core, this is a rudimentary point. All of us operate according to our beliefs about the world. Sometimes, we're conscious of this, sometimes, we're not, but we do it all the same. And these worldviews are heavily influenced by what we believe, or disbelieve, about religion.

Christianity carries with it beliefs about every human being made in the image of God, and being worthy of dignity and respect, along with the notion that we'll be held accountable for our evil actions. If we really believe these things, these beliefs can't help but shape how we interact with the world. And when people stop believing these things, it's not surprising that something else sweeps in to fill that void. Sometimes, as in Crichton's talk, that religion-replacement is a movement like environmentalism. Other times, it's something much darker.

Which Religion?

I said in the last point that religion can either motivate you to commit violent acts (as with ISIS) or it can motivate you to resist violence and tyranny (as with the 21 Coptic Christians recently martyred by ISIS). But on the question of whether religion will spur or spurn violence, a lot depends on which religion we're talking about.

All of this brings me to my last point:  the whole question of whether or not “religion” is violent is badly-formed. People don't believe in “religion.” They believe in a particular religion, and different religions teach different things. Given this, we need to stop pretending that all religions are equally prone to violent extremism, as if a Quaker is as likely as a Wahhabist to be responsible for the next terrorist attack. That idea is both illogical and directly contrary to the empirical data (here again, I'd point you to the Global Terrorism Database or Periscope summary).

Denouncing “religion” for the sins of radical Islam is disingenuous, akin to blaming “politics” for the Holocaust. “Religion” wasn't to blame, but one particular, violent religious movement, just as the Holocaust was the fault of one particular, violent political movement. In both religion and politics, we're dealing with sets of ideas – ideas about God, morality, human dignity, and the like – and ideas have consequences. Good ideas tend to have good consequences, while bad ideas tend to have the opposite. Treating all ideas as if they're equally valid is ridiculous.

That's why it's foolish to approach this question in the way that it's typically formed – whether or not “religion” is to blame – and why it's wrong to blame all religion for the actions of a few (or one). Using violence done in the name of a particular religion to justify hating all religion is no better than the Daily Beast using violence committed by an irreligious atheist against Muslims as a stick with which to bash Christians.
 
 
(Image credit: sonias_2007 via Photobucket)

Joe Heschmeyer

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Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • William Davis

    All of this brings me to my last point: the whole question of whether or not “religion” is violent is badly-formed. People don't believe in “religion.” They believe in a particular religion, and different religions teach different things.

    I agree, and think it is dogmatic ideology which hopes to force conversion that is the primary culprit. For example atheists that embrace a dogmatic forms of revolutionary Marxism can be just as dangerous as a radical Muslim. Not all dogmatic ideologies are the same, one can be a dogmatic pacifist like Mahatma Gandhi and be the opposite of dangerous, so the content really matters.

    One particularly dangerous concept is Satan. One of the driving forces behind radical Islam is the belief that the West is the Great Satan that cannot be reasoned with, but only annihilated. Christianity's belief in Satan resulted in almost all of it's atrocities, including the burning of witches and heretics, even it's poor behavior toward the Jews. All of these groups were believed to be in league with Satan. Beliefs matter, and belief in ultimate good tends to lead to good. Belief in ultimate evil tends to lead to evil. The Jews had the right idea when they decided instead of fighting Baal, it was better to quit believing he existed at all. Stopping belief seemed to work historically, and we should work to do the same with the concept of Satan. Satan never worked as a good explanation of evil anyway.

    • William Davis

      I would like to note that one can often trace the origin of more dangerous ideologies to dissatisfaction with the status quo. Both Marxists revolutionaries and Muslim terrorists are obvious examples, and often they do have a very good reason to be dissatisfied. Addressing the reasons why these people are dissatisfied is the real answer to the problem, but addressing these reasons isn't easy by any means.

      • VicqRuiz

        I don't think I want to go there.

        The Nazis were (legitimately in my opinion) entitled to be dissatisfied with the treaty of Versailles. This justifies exactly 0.0% of the actions they took when in power.

        • William Davis

          I never said it was a justification, but it was a cause. Huge difference. We can say it shouldn't have been a cause all day long, but that doesn't change reality sadly :)

          • VicqRuiz

            Point taken. Sorry if I misread you.

          • William Davis

            No problem, I probably should have been clearer.

    • Phil

      One particularly dangerous concept is Satan.

      I wanted to propose an important distinction in regards to this. There is a difference between believing that a person is influenced by Satan and believing that a person is Satan. So when we throw out the latter, as you suggest and I would agree with, we want to make sure that we don't throw out the former.

      Many of the issues we are dealing with in modern culture come from the fact that people don't really believe that Satan exists anymore. This opens a person up to his influence because they believe that these desires and promptings they start to have only come from themselves. When in fact some of these desires are selfish and are only trying to lead them slowly, and slyly, to their own destruction. (The real danger from the Evil One is suggestion not possession.)

      Satan only desires to cause suffering and hopelessness; he wants to turn earth into hell. Eventually these evil seeds that are planted come to the surface and we get what we are beginning to see--a violence that will continue to increase around the world and economic collapse.

      A great quote from a speaker we had a few weeks back, "With radical Islam you get ISIS, with radical Christianity you get the Franciscans."

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        "With radical Islam you get ISIS, with radical Christianity you get the Franciscans."

        This is a very striking quote. Is the speaker saying that Christianity is a fundamentally good religion while Islam is a fundamentally evil one?

        • Phil

          It is very bold, but no less true!

          If by good and evil you mean this...

          Good: Oriented towards radical love of the sinner and hating the sin.
          Evil: Oriented towards radical and violent suppression of those that don't believe what you do. (This is what Mohammad was directed to do, and what he directed others to do.)

          ...then yes!

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I'm sure the vast majority Muslims would disagree with that characterization of Islam. I agree that the Qur'an has troubling passages, but it also states that if you attempt to convert someone and they aren't buying it, then you are to leave them be. I find that if you want to understand a religion, the way people interpret the contents of their holy books is much more important than what the holy book itself says. Neither Christianity nor Islam are reducible just to their respective holy books.

            I think the quote above tells us much more about that biases of those who say and agree to it than it does about either Christianity or Islam.

          • Phil

            I do agree that one needs to look at the entire picture to get an idea of what a certain religion or belief system is putting forward. That is why we also look to what the founder of Islam, Muhammad, commanded. In regards to the Qur'an, I'd do a little more research. Because "leaving people alone" is not the ultimate conclusion of it--they are ordered to leave you alone as long as you live under the domination of Islam and the caliphate. So though the Bible and the Qur'an both have "nice passages", they ultimately diverge in their final instructions.

            -What did Muhammad say in his farewell address in 632AD: "I was ordered to fight all men until they say, 'There is no god but Allah'".

            -Muhammad initially devised the concept of jihad--"exertion in the path of Allah".

            -In 2001 Osama bin Laden said, "I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah and his prophet Muhammad".

            -The ultimate goal of Islam is to strive for a new universal order in which the whole of humanity will embrace Islam or live under its domination.

            -ISIS is simply the fullest realization to date of what Muhammad ordered.

            -----

            What did Jesus ultimately say and command:

            -"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

            -"Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

            -"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

            A person that does not live in the love that Jesus commanded cannot properly be called a Christian.

            -----

            Finally, the crusades are completely misunderstood these days. The Muslims were doing almost exactly what ISIS is doing today--they were killing Christians and taking over land. The purpose of the crusades was to defend Christianity from these invading Muslims!

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Again, the majority of Muslims will disagree with your interpretation of what Mohammed ultimately commanded. They would also take objection with the idea that bin Laden and ISIS represent the "fullest realization" of Islam. I think that characterizing a religion by what a minority of it believes while ignoring the rest is dishonest.

          • Phil

            If only the minority are as radical as Muhammad was, then we should be thankful! But to hold that Islam was founded upon the ideals of peace and true tolerance is fanciful self-deception.

            So many have been blinded by the Evil One. When many look at Christianity, they point towards the persons who have not acted Christ-like and scream "violence", "hatred", "condemnation upon all of Christianity". But when they look to a religion such as Islam, they turn a blind eye to the fact that it was founded upon the sinister premises that I stated above. And then they make excuses when people actually try and follow what Islam was founded upon.

            But in the end, it will all come crashing down upon the West. If we don't want to address the problem of radical Islam, then we are going to find radical Islam at our door. And this will not simply be from violence as the various economic and political systems are built on sand and are ready to collapse. This is not to preach doom and gloom, because as I mentioned above our Blessed Mother has prepared us for this time. As more and more people would turn back to God, the suffering and darkness could be lessened. And those that do turn to faith in the living God for the answer during the times of darkness will find themselves able to survive with a great sense of hope and joy.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I can see that this conversation will just continue in circles...

            I just find your responses very odd. You seem to understand that the majority of Muslims, including clerics and imams who spend their lives studying it, would disagree with the "evil premises" that you stated above. You seem to understand that if they read what you outlined above they would say that Islam is not founded upon any of those. And yet you discard their perspective entirely and say that they are being "blinded by the Evil One." It's very curious to say that moderate, non-violent Muslims are under the influence of the devil....

            I never said that we should not address the problem of violent Islamists. We should in the same way that we should address violent Christian groups or violent communist groups. I just don't lump the rest of Islam in with those groups in the same way I wouldn't lump Joseph Kony in with Christianity, or the Tamil Tigers with the rest of communism.

            It has been an interesting conversation. Thank you.

          • Phil

            Thank you as well for the conversation!

            As a final clarification, I think there is still some misunderstanding in what I'm proposing. I'm proposing that moderate Muslims are not following Islam as the founder, Muhammad, expounded and ultimately intended. What we call "radical Islam" would be considered Islam in the fullest sense.

            As a side note, I am not calling any person themself, even active members of ISIS, evil. But their acts and the beliefs that have been handed down from Muhammad are evil. We need to recognize that Islam is not oriented towards true peace and tolerance. It is oriented towards the caliphate, which is the fullest expression of Islam. (Which is what ISIS desires to establish.)

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Thanks. That clarification helps a lot.

            " I'm proposing that moderate Muslims are not following Islam as the founder, Muhammad, expounded and ultimately intended."

            This is very likely true. Of course, I'd say the same about modern Christianity. I think most religions tend to evolve beyond the intentions of their founder. The way I see it, if you want to look at what a religion is today you can't just look at what it might have been at it's inception. Of course, Mohammed's and Jesus' words and intentions matter, but the beliefs of modern Muslims and Christians today matter even more. Whatever "true" Islam or "true" Christianity is, it has certainly changed from when they were founded.

      • William Davis

        See my responses to Brandon. The simple fact is that Christianity is far from innocent historically (most Christians seem to believe in some revisionist version of history). I think belief in Satan has tremendous explanatory power as to what went wrong.

        • Phil

          There is no doubt that some Christians have acted badly, but this does not mean that they were acting as Jesus directed us all to.

          A person that is not acting Christ-like is a Christian in name only. (The difference is that Mohammad was directed to violently suppress those that did not agree with Islam; this is not what Christ directed us to do.)

      • William Davis

        These underlying selfish desires are only trying to lead them slowly, and slyly, to their own destruction, in this life and the next.

        It doesn't make sense to say Satan is behind selfishness. My dog is very selfish over food, is Satan behind that? Selfishness is a natural consequence of the way our minds evolved, but it can be overcome by understanding that following selfish desires tends to lead one to misery, as you just said. This is a perfectly natural state of affairs in the world.

        Chimps are notoriously mean and selfish. I remember seeing some in the St. Louis Zoo, and they not only played "evil" pranks on each other, but also through a rock and scared the crap out of me and this poor child next to me. The child started crying and chimps thought it was hilarious, I kid you not. Is Satan influencing the chimps? This antiquated philosophy of mind just doesn't hold up.

        It is important to realize that the Jews never really believed in Satan, it was only the Apocalyptic groups that gave rise to Christianity that did. The word Satan in the Hebrew Bible simply means "adversary". David was described as Satan by the Philistines.

        http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7854.htm

        I think Christianity needs to learn from the Jews here, here is a short and accurate discussion of the topic in Judaism

        http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/jewishbeliefsatan.htm

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Chimps and cats cannot be selfish inasmuch as they lack a rational faculty, in particular a free will. If there is no will, there is no choice, and hence no moral or ethical shortcomings. A lioness that takes down a gazelle does not commit murder, even if it is young or a handicapped gazelle.

          • William Davis

            I disagree, I've seen my dog make rational decisions. For example he has gotten out of the fence a few times and I've seen him hesitate when I call him. He looks at me, then looks at the direction he is going...sometimes he decides to run farther, sometimes he comes back. He is making a free decision where he is weighing my potential anger against his desire to explore.

            I've been listening some audio lectures by John Searle, and he thinks his dog is quite conscious and capable of decision making too. Obviously human consciousness is MUCH more complex than a dog, but it is the same kind of thing. Dog's show intentionality and decision making even though it is of a lower order. I think the key is that mammals also have neo-cortex tissue like we do, though they have less and it is of a lower complexity. Snakes and fish don't have this, so they are only capable of evolved decision making, not learned decision making like mammals.

            I understand his Chinese room argument much better now, and his only point was that computation isn't thinking, though something that thinks can compute. I agree completely and he makes it clear that he never meant a machine can't think (after all our minds can be called machines depending on the definition of machine) but that the machine would have to use the same fundamental processes as our brain does, like what Numenta is trying to do (though Numenta didn't exist when he did these lectures). Very bright guy.

            A lioness that takes down a gazelle does not commit murder, even if it is young or a handicapped gazelle.

            When a human hunter kills a gazelle, is he committing murder? I think not, this is a bad example. When a male dog kills another male dog over a territory dispute is something closer to murder, but for them, this is much like war to us. When we kill another in war, are we committing murder? Depends on the situation, right?

          • Obviously human consciousness is MUCH more complex than a dog, but it is the same kind of thing. Dog's show intentionality and decision making even though it is of a lower order. I think the key is that mammals also have neo-cortex tissue like we do, though they have less and it is of a lower complexity.

            Walker Percy, in his essays and novels, shows his ongoing fascination with the novel qualitative and not just quantitative differences that wholly differentiate human thinking and the emergence of consciousness in Homo sapiens. He experienced his own Aha moments regarding same, drawing his insights from the semiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce, the same philosopher who provides the interpretive framework for Terry Deacon's neurobiological account of The Symbolic Species vis a vis the putative coevolution of language and the human brain.

            This precisely tracks your insight that it's the same tissue but a different level of complexity. However, biosemiotically, another takeaway, would precisely be that
            there's no symbolic, nonalgorithmic processing going on in other species, only algorithmic responses to such semiotic signs as icons (similarities) and indexes (actualities, like smoke indexes fire). The dog's apparent behavioral plasticity thus consists of competing instinctual influences, while human intentionality includes those but also involves competing interpretations, which is to say, for example, I can wonder What did William mean by that?, but one's pet orangutan or chimp could not.

            My suspicion is that the move from algorithmic to nonalgorithmic behavior came from something akin to a physical short-circuiting of brain hardwiring, allowing us to make mistakes, which we were able to adaptively bootstrap to survival and reproductive advantages. I have fleshed this out in more depth elsewhere, likely in a discussion with Luke.

          • William Davis

            I largely agree with you, but I think we may have bred an exception. My dog is a Border Collie, considered the most intelligent breed of dog. While mine isn't quite this smart, check this out.

            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2527933/Top-dog-Scientists-teach-border-collie-understand-sentences-1-000-words.html

            My personal view is that there is sort of continuum here, and certain additional properties arise in higher orders of complexity. My Border Collie is is not like other dogs I've had, when he want to go out, he comes to me and makes a dog noise that sounds eerily close to "out". It's easy to find youtube videos of dogs imitating words on command, but coming to you out of the blue and saying out is pretty weird...
            I respect the inherent difficulties in philosophy of mind, and am still studying the topic myself. I don't think the idea that my specific breed actually understands simple meaning is a pattern I'm imposing on the dog, but mine isn't a normal dog :)

          • I live in North Carolina, so who knows ...

            Well, if you were as old as I, you would be aware of exactly why folks in North Carolina cannot seem to shake the notion that animals are capable of symbolic language. It all began in 1965, right after Thanksgiving, when href="http://mayberry.wikia.com/wiki/A_Man's_Best_Friend">this show about a prominent Carolinian first aired. It's still in syndication, which explains the tenacity of this belief.

            That article was intriguing. The distinction remains therein between syntax & semantics, icons & indexes, dyadically, even with the inferential dynamic, which has been observed, for example, in parrots and crows. The robustly triadic symbolic communication of humans href="http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~port/teach/205/symbol-sign.html">differentiates itself from animals per Deacon, following Peirce.

            Let me add, though, Deacon's approach remains inherently controversial since all of this stuff ties back to philosophy of mind, which is hardly unsettled business. So, who knows what's next?!

          • William Davis

            Let me add, though, Deacon's approach remains inherently controversial since all of this stuff ties back to philosophy of mind, which is hardly unsettled business.

            I agree completely. I looked up Percy and he was born in Louisiana but educated here at UNC. I guess he missed the NC belief in symbolic understanding in dogs ;) It's no surprise that we have trouble with what is likely the most complex thing in the known universe, the human brain. Owning a border collie has changed my perspective on animals a bit. It is one thing to consider all this all this in the abstract; it is another to have a living sample that I consider a close friend :)

          • William Davis
          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I've seen my dog make rational decisions.

            No, you have not. You are reading your own inner life into the world. What you see is the consequence of sensation and imagination, not of the intellect abstracting universals from particulars. This is confusing to Late Moderns because the Scientific Revolutionaries considered animals to be meat puppets and reduced instinct to mechanical responses. But instinct in the Aristotelian/Thomist context is a far more supple thing than what a machine does. Thomas tells us that in addition to the external, or "proper" senses, there are four other powers "required for the perfect sense knowledge which an animal should have." [Quaes. disp. de anima, Art 11]

            1. The animal must distinguish the sensible qualities received from one another, and this must be done by a power to which all sensible qualities are related. This power is called the common sense.
            2. The animal needs to apprehend sensible things not only when they are present, but also after they have disappeared. So there must be a power by which the species of sensible things are retained. This power is called imagination.
            3. The animal must know certain intentions which external sense does not apprehend, such as the harmful, the useful, and so on. For example, the sheep flees naturally from the wolf as something harmful. This is called the estimative power, is acquired by generally by natural instinct and in some cases by learning.
            4. The animal must recall to actual consideration those things first apprehended by sense and conserved. This power is called memory.

            I think it is fair to consider animal prudence as a material cause of intellect and will (except that Late Moderns are often determined to deny the will).

            Searle thinks his dog is quite conscious and capable of decision making too.

            Of course. He is in agreement with the Aristotelians and Scholastics on this point, but in disagreement with the Late Moderns and eliminative materialists. Consciousness is the result of common sense; that is: the outer senses all arive in the brain at different times, and so the brain must have the faculty of taking all these inputs and assembling them into a single construct variously called the phantasm, ymago or image. This necessarily requires the ability to distinguish sensations that are outside the animal, which divides the World into outside and inside. This is the nature of consciousness, whose seat (Thomas believed) was in the brain.

            But consciousness is too fundamental to be conflated with intellect. All animals possess consciousness, even cockroaches.

            Dog's show intentionality

            Of course they do. Only modern materialists deny intentionality. In a Humean/.Kantian context, intention is a "problem."
            http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/wjf/CR%20FreemanAquinas.pdf

            Snakes and fish ... are only capable of evolved decision making, not learned decision making like mammals.

            Basically, if they can be trained, they have the faculty.

            When a human hunter kills a gazelle, is he committing murder?

            No.

            When a male dog kills another male dog over a territory dispute is something closer to murder

            Close, perhaps, but not the same. It is a killing, but one doubts the necessary mens rea. Here's Walker Percy:

            But what is a symbol? A symbol does not direct our attention to something else, as a sign does. It does not direct at all. It "means" something else. It somehow comes to contain within itself the thing it means. The word ball is a sign to my dog and a symbol to you. If I say ball to my dog, he will respond like a good Pavlovian organism and look under the sofa and fetch it. But if I say ball to you, you will simply look at me and, if you are patient, finally say, "What about it?" The dog responds to the word by looking for the thing: you conceive the ball through the word ball. (Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle, p.153)

          • William Davis

            Christian philosophy had to create a false dichotomy to for theological reason. It was a form of motivated reasoning. I'm not imposing anything on my dog, I'm fully aware of the tendency of humans to impose patterns where they do not exist. I have a border collie who actually makes a sound similar to "out" when he wants to go out. He understanding symbols and meaning in a limited sense. Your false dichotomy is obviously false in this case. This one is smarter than my dog:
            http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/24/smart-dog-border-collie-learns-language-grammar/3691967/

            Here is a chimp that could sign and understand over 350 words
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washoe_%28chimpanzee%29

            Percy was a Catholic who was still engaging in theologically motivated philosophy.

            No, you have not. You are reading your own inner life into the world.

            You might want to watch those kinds of comments. I think it is clear you are reading your inner life into the world. This kind of thing works both ways. Give me a non-Christian philosopher who knows something about modern neurology (we've come a long way in recent years) then we can talk ;)

          • Percy wasn't saying anything different from Terry Deacon or Ursula Goodenough. You and YOS can keep talking. :)

          • William Davis

            I was being a little snarky because I didn't like the tone of his comment. No matter how one looks at it, I don't think it's unreasonable to think a dog is capable of very primitive reasoning, thus a simple rational decision. I was also trying to get him to reference a non-Catholic source. I try to use Catholic sources when I can to back up my point to Catholics. I'm actually planning on exploring many more angles in philosophy of mind and it's intersection with religion. Goodenough was teaching the Dalai Lama I see :)

          • Yes, she was there at the same time, per my recollection, as Richard Gere. She is one of the kindest and most intelligent people one could ever hope to encounter. Introduced through mutual friends, she and I were in a lively and illuminating correspondence, at the time she made that trip and when she and Terry first presented their from biology to consciousness to morality paper to the Polanyi Society. I highly recommend that paper, which one can grab here: http://bit.ly/1JWmebX

            The Dalai Lama has a very earnest and most sincere interest in all things scientific, which is why Ursula was on that trip.

          • William Davis

            I've been defending my belief in God at Estranged notions, a little weird being on the other side of the discussion. I think they are looking for a rational justification, when it is really just a different perspective on looking at the nature of the universe. The surprise from a couple of people is comical, it's like I'm an atheist heretic. I suppose I am a natural heretic :P

          • Emergent realities present as a fugue of continuities and discontinuities, all which present in degrees. It's not always easy to specify their nature. My sneaking suspicions regarding consciousness, for example, tend toward a nonreductive physicalist account. Deacon and Percy's takes, however much they'd otherwise differ or converge, both impute a radical discontinuity between Homo sapiens and our phylogenetic cousins, not just quantitative but qualitative. Now, in my view, the qualitative difference would likely be located
            in novel, structural anatomical differences, a type of biological boundary condition or neural constraint or what I loosely refer to as prewirings, and not just the amount of cortical tissue. This particular morphodynamic mutually constraining and conditioning other morphodynamics, formally, emulates Deacon's account of teleodynamics. The selection pressures involve what some interpret as Baldwinian evolution.

            Others might invoke, instead of a radical discontinuity, a very, very modest continuity, suspecting all the differences are merely quantitative. I'm not saying that I could demonstrate they're wrong, only that I don't buy it.

            One might back way up and ask what every good pragmatic realist wants to know --- suppose this was the case, radical discontinuity, or that, modest continuity, then, normatively speaking, what difference would it make, practically or morally?

          • I think they are looking for a rational justification, when it is really just a different perspective on looking at the nature of the universe.

            Why can't your belief be both? Why shouldn't it even best be both?

            Evidentially, I think I'm an unrepentant positivist. Existentially, I'm a dyed in the wool jurist.

            In other words, show me your evidence and tell me what you plan to do with it and I'll tell you whether it's rationally justified in terms of whether or not it meets our mutually agreed upon burdens of proof.

          • Loreen Lee

            Of course not even 'A Theory of Everything' could explain 'everything'......

          • William Davis

            I wanted to add this specific discussion of symbol understanding in animals

            https://smartdogs.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/symbolic-understanding-in-dogs/

            Percy was a novelist and bright guy, but he didn't know anything about neurology. He died in 1990, before recent developments in understanding animal behavior and neurology. Looks like he want to UNC Chapel Hill, home of Bart Ehrman ironically. I went to NCSU and am still in the area. Great universities here.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Percy was a novelist and bright guy, but he didn't know anything about neurology.

            Why should he have had to? You can determine if your radio is picking up the channel without mastering electrical circuits.

          • William Davis

            I personally think there needs to be an interplay between scientific knowledge and philosophy. Philosophy lead to science, but science need to inform philosophy for it to advance. Philosophy of mind is much more speculative when not based on scientific facts. John Searle, for example, continuously works with neurologists. He still does well to be over 80.

          • William Davis

            Just one other thought.
            Let's say humans have an FM radio and animals have AM.
            Wouldn't it help to understand the difference between the two physically to help with philosophical differences?
            AM (amplitude modulation) is much easier to build ( a very simple circuit) but can't transmit much information.
            FM (frequency modulation) is more complex to build, but transmits much more information.
            Knowing the internal differences helps increase understanding, and better understanding yields better philosophy, at least in my opinion.
            As someone trained in electrical engineering, I suspect I would be better at developing philosophy of radio (if such a thing could exist) than the average Joe on the street.

          • Loreen Lee
          • Garbanzo Bean

            A lioness that takes down a gazelle does not commit murder, even if it is young or a handicapped gazelle.

            When a human hunter kills a gazelle, is he committing murder? I think not, this is a bad example.

            I believe the point is that animals are not moral agents. A lioness that kills a human child has not committed murder.

          • William Davis

            I thought the better example I gave made it clear I got the point ;)

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Your example of "one dog killing another is something close to murder" makes it clear to me that you do not get the point. One animal killing another regardless of the circumstance is nothing close to murder.

          • Phil

            I will back up what Statistician said--You are anthropomorphizing your dog. You are assuming that your dog has an inner life that is exactly like yours. Sure a dog "acts" selfishly, but that doesn't mean he is choosing to act selfishly.

            Dogs are conscious, but they are not self-conscious. Self-consciousness, rationality, and free will are intimately together. If an animal is actually self-conscious and has a free will, it will show forth what we call human language.

          • D'accord!

      • VicqRuiz

        "Radical Islam" has also produced the Sufis and the Bah'a'i. It's really unfortunate that the wrong radicals seem to have come out on top.

      • Doug Shaver

        A great quote from a speaker we had a few weeks back, "With radical Islam you get ISIS, with radical Christianity you get the Franciscans."

        As if the Franciscans were the only radicals Christianity has ever produced. I used to be a Oneness Pentecostal. They're pretty radical by anybody's standard, including the standard of other Pentecostals.

    • "Christianity's belief in Satan resulted in almost all of it's atrocities, including the burning of witches and heretics, even it's poor behavior toward the Jews."

      I don't think this is true. It would be more accurate to say, "Christianity's capitulation to Satan resulted in almost all of its atrocities."

      Mother Teresa, St. Francis, and Jesus himself believed in Satan. That's not the cause of atrocity. In fact, for most Christians, belief in Satan (and everlasting Hell) is what prevents them from committing atrocities.

      • William Davis

        Belief in Satan caused the death of all these "witches". Often during witch hysteria a simple accusation of witchcraft could cause one to be burned:

        http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn2.htm

        Here is a more specific list

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_executed_for_witchcraft

        Often regular heretics were accused of being in league with Satan:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_burned_as_heretics

        I have no doubt that most of these people would not have been murdered if not for belief in Satan.

        • Luc Regis

          Are you trying to invalidate the Christianity or Catholicism of today by trotting out these old arguements.? Time to give this s..t a rest no?

          • William Davis

            Not really. I'm dissecting ideas and bringing up a specific one that has caused problems.

          • Luc Regis

            Granted....not the belief of the victims....but the belief of the hard core Christians. I understand.

      • William Davis

        I thought you might find this interesting, looks like a clear majority of American Christians no longer believe in Satan. To me this is a very positive sign :)

        http://www.christianpost.com/news/most-u-s-christians-don-t-believe-satan-holy-spirit-exist-38051/

      • Doug Shaver

        It would be more accurate to say, "Christianity's capitulation to Satan resulted in almost all of its atrocities."

        You say they were capitulating to Satan. They said they were capitulating to God. I see no more reason to believe you than to believe them.

        • MattyTheD

          Doug, you really see *no* reason to believe Brandon's take on God than to believe the "Christians" who committed atrocities? I'll give you a reason. How about because Brandon rejects the atrocities?

          • Doug Shaver

            How about because Brandon rejects the atrocities?

            And I'm certainly glad he does. I do prefer the company of Christians who agree that atrocities are evil than of Christians who think God has ordered them from time to time.

            My observation has been, though, that people who believe in God tend to think that God is OK with whatever they are OK with and is not OK with whatever they're not OK with, and that this tendency has a strong correlation with how they interpret certain passages of scripture or whatever other source they rely on for discerning God's expectations.

          • MattyTheD

            Doug, It's sad to me that's been your experience with believers given that the near totality of 3000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching is that God is not OK with "whatever" humanity is OK with. Two great assurances Jesus gave humanity are 1) we can follow him, and 2) we should probably not follow each other.

          • Doug Shaver

            Doug, It's sad to me that's been your experience with believers given that the near totality of 3000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching is that God is not OK with "whatever" humanity is OK with.

            I didn't say that my experience was "Judeo-Christianity teaches that God is OK with whatever humanity is OK with."

      • Luc Regis

        Mother Teresa, St. Francis, and Jesus all believed in Satan.

        Apparently Mother Theresa did not even believe in god at the end of her life.....and it follows that she did not believe in Satan either.

        • MattyTheD

          I'm not aware that she "did not even believe in god at the end of her life". My impression of her writings was that she felt more of a distressing distance from God than she had earlier in her life. Something St. Ignatius called spiritual desolation. All the evidence I've seen suggests she 1) believed in God and Satan until the end of her life and 2) backed up that belief with action.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          That is not correct.

        • "Apparently Mother Theresa did not even believe in god at the end of her life.....and it follows that she did not believe in Satan either."

          As others have noted, this is simply wrong. I'd challenge you to provide any evidence that she didn't believe in God at the end of her life.

          • Andre Vlok

            There will be no such evidence. MT's point was that God/Jesus exists but does not communicate with her (often). She remained a very committed Catholic right up to the end.

            PS - I previously posted here as "Great Silence", then lost my faith and now find myself in a sort of agnostic no-man's land. It's maybe easiest to see my posts in that light.

          • Only the narrowest constructions, hence caricatures, of faith, would characterize her doubts, even earlier in her ministry, as a loss of faith.

            Indeed, Mother Teresa's experiences of doubt were, as some say, within the faith, and her experience of darkness both illuminates the nature of faith (neither a speculative rationalism nor an affective pietism) and serves as a beacon of hope to all who experience doubt and/or desolation. This is because, within the life of faith, sometimes beliefs are explicit, sometimes implicit, and sometimes feelings yield consolation, sometimes desolation. Implicit beliefs would include both moments of doubt (of whatever duration or intensity), even in the form of a fides implicita, which would be a virtual assent that logically entails what would otherwise be explicitly believed. Such an entailment would be discernible --- not in terms of credulity, informatively, but --- via one's emulation of a way of living, performatively.

            Desolations could originate from what is conventionally known as
            backsliding or, for those more proficient in the life of charity, from the dark nights described in formative spirituality.

            As long as a loving person freely acts in a way that one imagines will best realize what one most values, whether with explicit or implicit beliefs, whether in consolation or desolation --- not only hope and love, but --- faith will thus abide.

            I appreciate that this interpretation isn't entirely uncontroversial, so, only mean to say that it's mine.

      • cminca

        It says quite a bit about "Christians" that they need the threat of hell to keep them from committing atrocities.

        Most atheists manage not to commit atrocities even without that threat.

    • "Belief in ultimate evil tends to lead to evil. The Jews had the right idea when they decided instead of fighting Baal, it was better to quit believing he existed at all. Stopping belief seemed to work historically"

      I'm curious how you would apply this proposal to the twentieth-century atheist regimes. How did things go when they "stopped belief"?

      • William Davis

        Stopping belief in Satan had absolutely nothing to do with their atrocities, it was the militant idealism that I just mention that caused it.

        Let's take Nazi germany as an example:

        In 1933, prior to the annexation of Austria into Germany, the Christian population of Germany was 67% Protestant and 33% Catholic.[1] A census in May 1939, six years into the Nazi era[2] and incorporating the annexation of mostly Catholic Austria into Germany, indicates 54% considered themselves Protestant, (including non-denominational Christians) and 40% Catholic. 3.5% self-identified as "gottgläubig" (lit. "believers in god", often described as predominately creationist and deistic[3]), and 1.5% non-religious.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany

        I think Hitler was a Catholic turned atheist (though this is argueable) but the vast majority of Nazi's were Christians. Let's look at how Satan played a crucial role in forming the anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe:

        One of the early examples is a Papal bull called Cum nimis absurdum. It takes it's name from the first few words "Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault were condemned by God to eternal slavery..."

        It didn't go quite as far as to say Jews were in league with Satan, but the negative implications are clear. This and similar bulls created the first ghettos where Jews were forced to live.

        Martin Luther took it further used the gospels as a source. This is from his book, on Jews and their lies:

        He did not call them Abraham's children, but a "brood of vipers" [Matt. 3:7]. Oh, that was too insulting for the noble blood and race of Israel, and they declared, "He has a demon' [Matt 11:18]. Our Lord also calls them a "brood of vipers"; furthermore in John 8 [:39,44] he states: "If you were Abraham's children ye would do what Abraham did.... You are of your father the devil. It was intolerable to them to hear that they were not Abraham's but the devil's children, nor can they bear to hear this today.

        Here we go, Jews are children of the devil. This sentiment was all over Christendom, but the worst obviously in Germany. Nazi propaganda often quoted Luther, and protestants even invented a non-Jewish Jesus. The Catholic church was not as complicit as Protestantism, but the Church did sign a Concordat with Hitler that reduced it's power, but guaranteed it's teaching rites. This concordat gave the Nazi regime a sense of Christian legitimacy that shouldn't be ignored.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichskonkordat

        Here's more about Luther's book, on "Jews and their lies"

        http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Luther_on_Jews.html

        I'm not blaming Christianity for the Holocaust, but it definitely helped Hitler, and went along for the ride. The concept of Satan fostered the anti-Jewish sentiment over the years. Without that, I don't think the holocaust would have happened. The idea that the Nazi's were a bunch of atheists is quite false, however. Here is a longer discussion:

        http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/paul_23_4.html

        I had a lot of interest in Nazi Germany in high school, and read quite a few books to find out how such a thing came into being. It would be wise for anyone to do the same.

        Take a look at this list of non-religious countries:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country

        The top of the list are some of the most non-violent productive countries in the world. See how well stopping belief in Satan can go?

      • Luc Regis

        Just exactly what is an atheist regiem or potential "regieme",,,,,would you include socialism in that context?...such as the NDP Party in Canada?

        • MattyTheD

          Personally, I would not consider all socialistic systems to be atheistic. Because socialism is a broad category of political philosophy. And there are plenty of people, especially in Europe, who describe themselves as Christian Socialists. But there are definitely some regimes that are explicitly anti-religion, or were inspired by Marxist ideas that are philosophically materialist, and reject religion and antithetical to the ideal society. China is an example.

      • I wonder how many political regimes ever stopped belief, even though they outlawed it.

    • MattyTheD

      William, given that the world's worst worst killers *rejected* belief in God and Satan, I'd say your "Satan-Belief Theory" has some obvious flaws.

      • William Davis

        Did I say it was the only cause? It was directly related to the holocaust, see my other posts ;)
        Can you point to a case where belief in Satan EVER led to anything good? If not, I rest my case...it's a bad idea that should be thrown away.

        • MattyTheD

          1) "Did I say it was the only cause?" I'm not saying your theory is incomplete, I'm saying it's flatly contradicted by the evidence. You are proposing that society reject the notion of Satan. But anti-theism, and therefor anti-satan-belief, is a central tenet of the world's greatest killing systems. The "solution" you are proposing has been central in the world's worst genocides.
          2) Yes, I can give you one huge example of Satan-belief leading to good. Satan-belief is a central tenet of Christianity. And Christianity has been the primary philosophical and theological basis for most of what the world considers good.

          • William Davis

            I believe in God. Your comment here makes it clear you aren't worth debating (I have standards). Have a nice weekend :)

          • MattyTheD

            I'm pretty sure that's a non sequitur followed by an ad hominem.

          • William Davis

            Lol

  • Luke C.

    There's some question still about whether the killer was motivated by atheism or some other motivation.

    One cannot be motivated to do anything as a result of one's atheism; as most atheists will tell you, we define atheism as a lack of belief in God/gods. Such an atheism is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    • William Davis

      It was hatred of Islam, and anger over parking, that motivated this guy (in Chapel Hill specifically, it's been all over the local news). I've seen as more or more hatred of Islam out of Christians than atheists (though there is plenty on both sides) so I fail to see how belief about God is relevant, as you say :)

    • joey_in_NC

      One cannot be motivated to do anything as a result of one's atheism; as
      most atheists will tell you, we define atheism as a lack of belief in God/gods. Such an atheism is descriptive, not prescriptive.

      You're technically correct. However, many atheists are also anti-theist. (And I also understand atheism does not necessarily imply anti-theism.) The language in the article would have been much more precise if the author instead substituted anti-theism wherever he mentions atheism. I don't think it's completely fair to make those two terms synonymous.

      • Luke C.

        Thanks, Joey. Agreed. And I think one should even more distinguish the non-violent, non-extremist anti-theism (which I think characterizes the vast majority of anti-theists) from the violent, extremist anti-theism that can characterize totalitarian regimes.

        • MattyTheD

          Great point, Luke. However, I think all people who seek truth -- both theists and non-violent-anti-theists -- should note how frequently anti-theist ideas/movements have become violent. And on a monumental scale. It is deeply intriguing to me that anti-theistic communism has, as one of it's starting points, humanism, ie care for humanity. And yet it becomes, repeatedly throughout history, genocidal. I think honest people should ask why that is.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      A "religion" is a belief (love-trust) in something higher to which the individual can commit himself. More formally, it consists of certain "re-bindings" that tie the members to one another. But it is a mistake to believe that one can name a category and then insist that everything you have put in the category is essentially the same kind of thing. Is Finnish shamanism really the same kind of thing as Buddhism? Differences among so-called religions may be as great if not greater. That is why it is just as absurd to blame something on "religion" as it is to blame "the Jews."

      • Luke C.

        That's one definition of religion. I have ideals that I attempt to adhere to and that bind me to other humans; by your definition, I'm probably religious, too.

        Where did I place the blame on "religion" or put them all into the same category and insist that they're all the same? You must be implying that I said those things if you're replying to me as if I did.

  • Luke C.

    religious belief serves not only as a potential motivator for violence, but as a check against state totalitarianism.

    Same with secular beliefs.

    • MattyTheD

      I want that to be true, but I'm not sure it is. One of Europe's first modern genocides was committed by the French Revolutionary government in a region of western France called the Vendee. In the name of humanism, "civism", and secular government, the revolutionaries systematically murdered about 120,000 civilians who refused to renounce their Catholicism.

      • William Davis

        The War in Vendee was a civil war, not just a random genocide, there were atrocities on both sides.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_in_the_Vend%C3%A9e

        The next genocides are between protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Some of that conflict has extended into the modern era. Christians massacring Christians, sad.

        • MattyTheD

          Yes, it was a civil war. Involving one party that was forced to abandon their religion and another side that in the name of progressive humanism systematically slaughtered over 100,000 people because they wouldn't abandon their religion.

          • William Davis

            From everything I've seen, biggest issue was forced conscription, but the refusal of Catholics to the sign the Civil Constitution of the Clergy:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Constitution_of_the_Clergy

            This constitution did not demand they give up Christian faith, but it was designed to dismantle the political power of the Catholic Church. The Church did not want to turn the other cheek, and fought to keep it's political power. This war is NOT what you claim it is.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      For a totalitarian regime, humanism is dangerous.

      Well, except for the First Republic.

      • MattyTheD

        Exactly, YOS. In that case, humanism became the *justification* for totalitarianism, then genocide.

      • Luke C.

        How similar was their humanism to something like the Humanist Manifesto III?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Actually, I think their Declaration of the Rights of Man was more thoroughly thought out than that mass of platitudes and piggy-backing. What happened to the Humanist Manifesto I and II?

          • Luke C.

            They're still there. I said "something like the Humanist Manifesto III"; to me, the documents you mention fit into the "something like" category.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not really, because the "manifesto" you linked to was badly thought out. For example:

            The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully.

            A lifestance, no less! But what does it mean to "live life well" let alone to live it "fully." And why the compassion? "Reason" has led others to decry compassion as weakness, one that would permit the untermenschen to proliferate. This is the sort of thinking of which Nietzsche was so contemptuous in Twilight of the Idols.

            Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
            Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies.

            But this was also advocated by the Aristotelian scholastics of the Middle Ages, and so is not specific to humanism. The medievals placed more emphasis on rational analysis than on experimentation. (An experiment was likely to set up artificial conditions, so one would not actually observe natural behavior.) However, they did more in the way of experiment than the ancient Greeks would have allowed.

            Humanism was traditionally regarded science as detached from humanist values, as likely to produce the Tuskegee experiment as the Afshar experiment.

            And so on.
            http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/are-there-secular-reasons/?_r=0

          • Doug Shaver

            "Reason" has led others to decry compassion as weakness, one that would permit the untermenschen to proliferate.

            Yes, reason has been used to justify all kinds of oppression. So has religion.

            And if you say, "But not religion properly practiced," I can as easily say, "But not reason properly practiced."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            And if you say, "But not religion properly practiced," I can as easily say, "But not reason properly practiced."

            Precisely.

            (Except that reason has no content, while many religions do.)

          • Doug Shaver

            reason has no content

            True, but reasoned arguments have content.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Right. But that has to come from elsewhere.

            The point is that to elevate "reason" to supreme good is to elevate mere technique. Late Moderns, for example, elevate "choice" to supreme good, without considering that what one chooses may be more important than that one chooses.

            No age was more devoted to reason than the Middle Ages -- this was a criticism directed by the reactionaries of the Renaissance -- but they certainly paid attention to content. They elevated to supreme good that-toward-which reason was to lead them. Hence, they (like the similar-minded Buddhists) spoke of "right reason".

          • Doug Shaver

            The point is that to elevate "reason" to supreme good is to elevate mere technique.

            It is a mistake, but the mistake is to confuse necessity with sufficiency. We cannot find any truth with reason alone, but that doesn't imply that we can find some truths without reason.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            One may remain true to one's spouse through some process of logical reasoning, but that seems rather cold.

            Man is a rational animal, so of course he always has reasons for what he does. But one doesn't usually reason oneself into love.

          • Doug Shaver

            One may remain true to one's spouse through some process of logical reasoning, but that seems rather cold.

            My wife seems to care a lot more about whether I'm faithful than why.

            If there is an emotional reason to do something, I don't see how it's diminished by the simultaneous existence of a logical reason.

            But one doesn't usually reason oneself into love.

            Of course one doesn't. But love can motivate us to do things we should not do, and reason can warn us that we'll be sorry if we do them.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            a) I think we are criss-crossing on the meaning of "truth." It means something that can be relied upon and is the Saxon equivalent of the Latinate "faith." You seem to be using it to mean "fact."

            b) The point was that privileging natural science as the was of knowing the world misses out on a great deal of the world.

            c) Traditional Christianity teaches that man is a rational animal, and that reason is in fact prior to the will; unlike Nietzsche and other Late Modern atheists, who teach the triumph of the will. Hence, the indulgence of the sensory appetites favored today, contrary to reason.

          • Doug Shaver

            a) I think we are criss-crossing on the meaning of "truth."

            Perhaps so. And in that case, we're not communicating, at least not with with each other.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Okay. Let's try this: What is the difference between "fact" and "truth"?

          • João Marcelo

            hey man, you seem to be a very inteligent person.. i saw some of your posts and i really would like to learn some things from you. Are you a professor in some insitution? would you mind to share good readings, tips and other things to help the ones that are beginning in this intelectual world? thank you!

          • João, you can fine "Ye Olde Statistician's" blog here: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/

            His real name is Mike Flynn. He wrote one article for Strange Notions here:

            https://strangenotions.com/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice/

          • João Marcelo

            Thank you Brandon, i saw some of your posts as well, you also see,s to be a very intelligent guy. Thank you for the information.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I am a quasi-retired consultant in quality management and statistical methods, plus a science fiction author. However, I had the privilege of getting an education before the system collapsed. Hence, four semesters of theology and four of philosophy. In the course of writing one novel, I had the occasion to read intensively medieval philosophy and history. So one thing led to another, you might say. For some reason, the philosophical research generates more questions from folks than the research on orbital dynamics and asteroid mining.

          • Mike

            I'd recommend reading every single one of this guy's posts:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/

          • Doug Shaver

            Truth is the property of a true statement. A true statement is one that asserts a fact. A fact is a state of affairs that actually obtains in the real world.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Truth is the property of a true statement.

            This strikes me as a bit circular.

            A true statement is one that
            asserts a fact.

            And this makes "truth" and "fact" equivalent. Can you be true to your friends? Can a novel be true to life?

            A fact is a state of affairs that actually obtains in
            the real world.

            This might beg the question a bit. What exactly is the "real" world? Is the statement: "If a topology is both conjoining and splitting on (Zα)^Y for each α, then the product topology is conjoining and splitting on Π(Z^Y) over α' a true statement? If so, to what state of affairs actually obtaining in the real world does it refer?

            One of the hardest things to obtain is a fact. Facts never stand alone. They are, as the name suggests, accomplishments, "something done." They are always the product of a particular means of obtaining them, as Heisenberg noted a while back. We never see the world as it is, only the world as it is exposed to our methods of questioning. In different reference texts, I have found different figures for the height of Mt. Everest. And the speed of light-as-measured will vary depending on what means of measurement is chosen.

          • Doug Shaver

            This strikes me as a bit circular.

            That's unavoidable. We're talking about primitive terminology, It can't be defined noncircularly. That's why Hilbert didn't even try to define his primitive terms.

            A true statement is one that asserts a fact.

            And this makes "truth" and "fact" equivalent.

            No, it doesn't, but the words are interchangeable in some contexts.

            Can you be true to your friends? Can a novel be true to life?

            Sure, but you're changing the subject.

            What exactly is the "real" world?

            With those scare quotes, I have no idea what you're asking me.

            Is the statement: "If a topology is both conjoining and splitting on (Zα)^Y for each α, then the product topology is conjoining and splitting on Π(Z^Y) over α' a true statement?

            I have not studied enough topology to have a clue.

            One of the hardest things to obtain is a fact

            I don't know what you mean by obtaining a fact.

          • Luke C.

            the "manifesto" you linked to was badly thought out.

            I could say the same about your scriptures. Why compassion? Seriously?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The scriptures were written by a variety of authors in many centuries for different purposes. They are written in several genres -- histories, myths, love songs, proverbs, personal and public letters, bioi, and so on. No one "thought it out." They accumulated.

            The "manifesto" (everyone from Engels to the shooter of Gabriel Giffords writes "manifestos." Why is that?) was the product of a single intention toward a single purpose, even if it was a committee working off a prior template. Furthermore, the authors self-describe as "rationalists," so one would expect a more rational organization of thought.
            ++++
            Why compassion? Seriously?

            Yes, seriously. The atheist Nietzsche reasoned that compassion was wicked, since it allowed the weak to reproduce.

            Life itself recognizes no solidarity, no ‘equal right,’ between the healthy and the degenerate parts of an organism. . . . Sympathy for the decadents, equal rights for the ill-constituted—that would be the profoundest immorality, that would be anti-nature itself as morality!
            -- WIll to Power

            .

            If we cast a look a century ahead and assume that my assassination of two thousand years of opposition to nature and of dishonoring humans [i.e. of Christianity] succeeds, then that new party of life will take in hand the greatest of all tasks—the higher breeding of humanity, including the unsparing destruction of all degenerates and parasites.
            -- Ecce Homo

            Others, like Rorty, despaired of finding it:

            For liberal ironists, there is no answer to the question 'Why not be cruel?' - no noncicular theoretical backup for the belief that cruelty is horrible. ... Anyone who thinks that there are well grounded theoretical answers to this sort of question - algorithms for resolving moral dilemmas of this sort - is still, in his heart, a theologian or metaphysician.
            --Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

            And Stanley Fish writes in "Are There Secular Reasons?" (NY Times Opinionator Blog, February 22, 2010, 6:00 pm) that such poses (as Nietzsche also noted) are inherently parasitical on religion and merely smuggles in "notions about a purposive cosmos, or a teleological nature stocked with Aristotelian ‘final causes’" in secular disguise. "Fairness" et al. (he said) are empty abstractions from which nothing follows until we have answered “fairness in relation to what standard?” or “equality with respect to what measures?” That is, something prior to fairness and equality, etc. are the actual ground of morality.
            +++++

          • Luke C.

            When I converse with Christians, I don't find the outliers of their tribe and generalize to the whole lot. It'd be nice if I could expect the same level of courtesy from you. Furthermore, I try to avoid strawman arguments, whereas you seem to delight in mischaracterizing those who disagree with you.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not "characterizing" anything. In fact, I have agreed with you on certain points.

            I have criticized the "manifesto" as being a bit fatuous, citing examples. Stanley Fish's point remains: the manifesto relies on imported/inherited ideas.

          • Luke C.

            the manifesto relies on imported/inherited ideas.

            I agree with you, though disagree that it's at all fatuous. What would make for a non-fatuous declaration in your opinion?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not inclined to issue manifestos, but I might not pretend that the ideals were born pristine from the sea foam or the brow of Zeus. It's like saying that the Oompaloompa movement's ideal is that we should all be "fair," without ever clarifying "fair with respect to what standard?" Maybe not "fatuous," but perhaps "superficial"?

            Then there is the obligatory hat-tip to the Mighty Power of Science, even though classically humanism was opposed to science. (One reason why the Renaissance was a "dark age" in science.) They did allow that there were other human pursuits that were also okay, but they have the distinct flavor of being added on post. script., certainly not with the encomia bestowed on natural science. The Humanists would have reversed the precedence. (And they would have regarded the so-called "Copernican" Principle with repugnance. One reason why men of letters flocked to Copernican astronomy was that it elevated humanity by placing the Earth in the heavens.)

            The old Humanists were also clear about what humanism was -- namely, to write well and read closely, esp. the classics. (Although they slipped into Hermeticism and Neoplatonic woo-woo toward the end.) Here, it seems to be simply a "yay" word into which all good things are inserted, and is used as a synonym for "secular" or even "atheist"! (We already have perfectly good words for these things.) Many modern "humanists" have never read Plutarch or Tacitus!

          • Luke C.

            Sorry--I should have clarified. I meant to use "manifesto" and "declaration" as broad terms that would include literature like the Bible. Basically, anything that sets forth a mission or goal to which a group should adhere. What I should have asked you originally was, What about the Bible's declarations makes it non-fatuous to you?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You have to keep in mind that a great deal of what Westerners take for granted as "obvious" or "human nature" actually come from the teachings that the Christians (and earlier, the Jews) read into those texts. So they seem cliched to us, where they would have been shocking and revolutionary to the Assyrians or the Romans.

            But literature is not for pronouncements -- except bad literature. For that, one looks to things like papal encyclicals and the like. However, one pronouncement-like passage strikes me:

            If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

            Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

            Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

            So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

          • Luke C.

            Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
            ...
            So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

            Those are beautiful sentiments. I think it's a bit of a false equivalency to equate this to the manifesto, as they have different purposes and styles. Though I haven't read much Buddhist literary works, I'd assume that they are similarly beautiful.

            the greatest of these is love.

            It'd be so nice if we all adhered to this in practice, but many, Christians and atheists alike, put in exclusionary footnotes to give them liberty to discriminate and hate (e.g., against those with different sexual orientations and transgendered people).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I think it's a bit of a false equivalency to equate this to the manifesto, as t hey have different purposes and styles.

            That's what I was trying to tell you when you demanded examples of manifestos from the scriptures.

            Though I haven't read much Buddhist literary works, I'd assume that they are similarly beautiful.

            I have not read them for many years myself. Buddhism is close enough to Christianity that the life of the Buddha was thought to be that of a Christian saint, St. Jehosaphat, a matter cleared up only later. But Buddhism will also do for a rebuttal to the contention that religion is the cause of the violence in the world. While some wicked people have called themselves Buddhist, there is nothing wicked that stems from the teachings of the Enlightened One.

            many, Christians and atheists alike, put in exclusionary footnotes to give them liberty to discriminate and hate...

            Yes. Haters gotta hate. But so what? Many scientists have not hesitated to use their craft to develop nerve agents or other weapons for use by their Leaders. But that does not mean science entails wickedness and oppression. There is a distinction between what people do and what the religions they claim to follow actually teach. Similarly, the Revolution, the Stasi, and others rounded up people who professed a religion and guillotined or disappeared them in the name of rationalism and atheism. But that does not mean that atheism or rationalism, properly understood, entails such actions -- though in those cases it was in fact taught by the highest authority (i.e., the State).

          • Luke C.

            That's what I was trying to tell you when you demanded examples of manifestos from the scriptures.

            First off, I "demanded" nothing from you. I asked, I think pretty politely. Second, I thought you were implying that the content of the manifesto regarding how to treat others was fatuous or superficial; now, it seems that you're more disagreeing with the style of the manifesto.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            First off, I "demanded" nothing from you. I asked, I think pretty politely.

            Okay. Valid point. It's possible to read way too much into bare documents, such as web communications.

            it seems that you're more disagreeing with the style of the manifesto.

            Not quite, but perhaps halfway in between. The manifesto features "safe" opinions that have already been established, many of which have little to do with humanism, per se. Several points are piggy-backing on other historical sources. It's like already having the answers in the back of the book. (One remembers several years ago, a "Native American" manifesto that similarly listed items which the modern Westerner already recognizes as "good.")

            There are also some contradictions, or apparent contradictions. For example, it hypes scientism (rather than humanism) as the best source of knowledge, but at the same time declares that life arose through an unguided process. But this latter point, whether true or not, cannot be established by scientific methods.

          • Luke C.

            It's possible to read way too much into bare documents, such as web communications.

            Agreed! It's easy to do, and I am in no way immune. Thanks.

            The manifesto features "safe" opinions that have already been established, many of which have little to do with humanism, per se.

            I also agree with you here, although we might disagree that piggy-backing on safe matters diminishes their meaningfulness (I don't think it does). I also think that the manifesto gets into territory that it perhaps shouldn't (like scientism). I might be uncommon in that my humanism has the most in common with the psychological movement, rather than political or philosophical ones.

          • William Davis

            Remind me of the Beatles' song "All you need is love" ;)

  • Luke C.

    [state authorities] don't want you to render unto both God and Caesar. They want you to obey Caesar alone.

    The author is assuming that the non-religious have no moral codes, and must therefore follow what state authorities tell them. This is false. In fact, it is this very critical free thinking that religion and totalitarian regimes alike often suppress; blind, unquestioning obedience to authority is always a problem.

    • MattyTheD

      "The author is assuming that the non-religious have no moral codes, and must therefore follow what state authorities tell them." I don't see how that follows. Seems to me the author is just saying that religious beliefs are among those systems that check the totalitarian aggregation of power. I don't see any implication in the piece that non-religious have no moral codes.

  • In general, religion provides inspiration of a very special sort. It's the kind of inspiration that is very stubborn, that is not very susceptible to discouragement, or revision, or even to reason. This feature can make religion violent because it makes religion powerful.

    When violence is religiously motivated, it is very difficult to stem, violently or nonviolently, to discourage using social pressure or rational argument. Even the threat of punishment, of imprisonment or death, does not do much to dissuade the true believer. Just look at ISIS.

    On the other hand, when social justice and acts of mercy are religiously motivated, it's very difficult to stop violently or nonviolently. Loving the unlovable is one of the hallmarks of the Christian faith, and loving the unlovable can only be sustained if it is held to stubbornly, in the face of discouragement, sometimes even in the face of cold rationality. Hope in the face of near certain destruction is a sign of heroism. Just look at the local Christian response to ISIS.

    At the end of the day, I don't think secular ideas can be as deadly as religious ideas. I suspect it's been simply an historical coincidence, that secularism has arisen in an age when weapons became more powerful. If the Medieval Catholic Church and Islamic Caliphate had the technology and infrastructure of Soviet Russia and the USA, I don't think humanity would still be around.

    I suspect that secular ideas are inherently less deadly than religious ideas because secular ideas are overall less powerful than religious ideas. I don't think secularism could inspire ISIS; I'm not sure it could inspire the Notra Dame, either. But I may well be wrong.

    • MattyTheD

      Paul, as usual you make some great points, but I'm surprised you believe the following, "I don't think secular ideas can be as deadly as religious ideas... secularism has arisen in an age when weapons became more powerful. If the Medieval Catholic Church and Islamic Caliphate had the technology and infrastructure of Soviet Russia and the USA, I don't think humanity would still be around." Do you really think it's *machinery* that explains why the Spanish Inquisition killed only about 2,000 and the Soviet Union + China killed, say, 150,000,000 in about 1% of the time? I'm stunned that someone as bright as you would accept that explanation. Take the forced mass-starvation of the Ukraine and China. What did that have to do with better weapons? I know you are more honest than that.

      • I actually do think that. I would, however, be open to being persuaded. I'm actually hoping you are right, and secularism can be as powerful as religion. It could inspire great things, new works of art, great music, new and just society and a bright and sustainable future for humanity. A future without a need for old superstitions.

        I suspect, however, that secularism cannot inspire either the great heights or terrible lows that religion can. Superstitions will survive by means of stubbornness.

        • MattyTheD

          Honestly, Paul, I don't understand. What machinery mechanism explains how the Soviets starved 600,000 *per month* in the Ukraine whereas the Spanish Inquisition killed 1 per month. A gun is 600,000 times more effective than a sword?

          • William Davis

            Christians committed a massive amount of genocide when they settled the new world. Don't bother with a no true scotsman fallacy. The protestant and Catholic colonists believed they were spreading Christ through the New World, but they ended up decimating the natives over time.

            http://www.religioustolerance.org/genocide5.htm

            If these aren't good Christians, then the Soviets weren't good Atheists. The Nazis were largely Christian. I posted the stats on the Nazis in this thread already.

          • MattyTheD

            Except that's false, William. Communist thought repeatedly advocates violence, both explicitly and implicitly. Whereas Christian doctrine repeatedly condemns it. The Soviet's were not contradicting their philosophy, they were fulfilling it with deft efficiency. The colonist Christians who were violent were contradicting the founder of the faith and were criticized by prophetic Christians for doing so. Which is exactly why passionately anti-theistic human systems are genocidal whereas passionately Christian social systems don robes and harvest honey.

          • William Davis

            Karl Marx advocated violent overthrow of existing governments, but he never advocated genocide. The soviets, therefore are bad communists, just like the colonialist Christians were bad Christians. Overall, communism is a flawed ideology, but that is another matter.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The loss was primarily due to diseases, about which no one had a clear idea. The conquistadors had little interest in anything but gold and land. The friars who went in their wake wanted to convert the Indios, not slaughter them. In fact, one of the most notorious massacres of Indios were the attacks on the Jesuits reductiones where the Jesuits were trying to protect them and teach them agriculture and other advanced technologies.

            OTOH, the Spaniards had no racial inhibitions against mixing with the natives. That is because the overwhelming number of Spanish colonists were male. In North America, where there was a substantial female component to the immigrants, the color bar was firmer. Separation of the Indians in the North was more racial than religious. Indians were less often called "infidels" than "savages" or "prairie n*****s."

            (Then, too, the same was true of Nazi anti-Semitism. It was based on "Race Science" not religion. In fact, Mein Kampf ridiculed the anti-Judaism of von Schoenerer and others because if that was all there was to it, "a sprinkle of water" would solve the "Jewish problem." Whether they were converted or not, they would still be Jews and therefore, from the Party's perspective, "racially inferior." St. Edith Stein went to the death camps, even though she was a Catholic nun.)

          • Mila

            Except for a few modern movements of resentment here and there, for the most part indios and mestizos are greatly appreciative of the Jesuits who brought Catholicism to South and Central America. The devotion is so great in Latin America and I suspect events such as Guadalupe had a lot more to do with it than the Jesuits who were also killed by the post Isabel, la Catolica, crown .
            I am from Argentina and it was the Indios who ended up teaching the Euro migrants devotion.
            As to more southern parts of South America, mass immigration came much later by Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans. Late as in after WWI and WWII.

          • A more unified social structure. I don't think an ancient king or emperor could have carried out such a program, even if he wanted to.

            Even population has an effect. Consider the following:

            According to Wikipedia, the rough estimated number of people killed in the crusades is 1.7 million. World population during the time of the crusades was probably ~500 million. The rough estimate of people killed during the colonisation of the Americas was 14 million, and the end year was 1900. US population was at about 50 million. The rough estimated number of people killed in WWII is 60 million. World population at the end of world war 2 was about 2.5 billion. Mao Zedong era death toll in China (highest ever, according to Wikipedia) was around 65 million. Population in China when this era ended (1976) was about 970 million. I can scale these numbers to the Crusade numbers.

            Crusades = 1.7 million
            Colonisation = 140 million
            WW2 = 12 million

            Mao Zedong = 33 million

            I think technology, circumstances and developed political infrastructure (as well as duration, in the case of colonisation of the Americas) can explain these large variations.

            Also, this was by far the saddest data table I've ever made in my life.

          • Peter

            Timur's military campaign in the 14th century is estimated to have caused the deaths of 17 million people among an estimated global population of 400 million. Nowadays that would proportionately translate to 300 million dead.

          • Right. I now am thinking about scaling all atrocities and war deaths to the present numbers, and making a table. I'll let you know what I end up with. More sad tables to come.

          • MattyTheD

            That's thoughtful info, but I'd encourage you to question more critically. If one wants to look at the destructive consequences of belief systems, one should look at crimes that can be reasonably tied to the doctrines of those belief systems. Take colonization. Is armed (and passive diseased) genocide by political- economic interests that contained Christians, but who *clearly disobeyed the tenets of Christianity*, and were criticized by other prominent Christians, really a crime of that belief system? Ditto with a territorial war between communities of different beliefs (The Crusades). The *only* major Christian crime that I'm aware of that was even remotely theologically-driven was the Inquisition. And that had a killing rate of about 1 person per month. But the crimes of anti-theist Soviets and Chinese -- whose policies can be directly tied the the anti-theist assumptions of their founding philosophies, and were justified in those philosophies -- were orders of magnitude larger, more swift and more brutal. Not even close. Roughly a million fold more brutal. This cannot be explained by "techonology, circumstantes and political infrastructure". But it *can* be explained by contrasting the doctrines of the two belief systems. The Inquisition was an evil held in check by their own belief system - The Gospels, Thou Shall Not Kill, Put Away the Sword. The belief system ultimately triumphed over the abuse. Communist anti-theists genocide had no such doctrinal check against their abuse of power. On the contrary, their "founding documents" justify violence. And the results were, predictably, exponentially worse. Lastly, I'll say this. Modern weapons and political infrastructure are readily available for today's genocidal Franciscans and Jesuits. Why aren't they using them? China, on the other hand, *is still* the world's worst human rights abuser. Why?

          • I would actually take a much simpler tack, and provisionally conclude, from the data that I've processed so far, that these atrocities are caused by us, by human beings, and are not effectively encouraged or discouraged by religion or secularism as such. The numbers over the years, adjusted for total population, suggest if anything that the world has overall become a safer and more peaceful place.

            I don't think that genocide of the Native Americans is essential to Christian beliefs. I don't think starving Chinese citizens is essential to secular beliefs. I actually don't think that any form of violence can be considered essential to Christian or Secularist beliefs.

            Regarding inspiration, however, the atrocities against the Native Americans seem to be inspired in part by religious beliefs, given the religious overtones of manifest destiny, as one example. The Crusades were undoubtedly inspired by the Catholic religion. Several of the executions of clerics and other Catholics during and after the French Revolution were inspired by French radicalism, but not by secularism. Nothing about Mao's reign of terror was inspired by secularism.

            Secularism is the simple idea that the government should not be involved in religion, and religion should not be involved in the government. If the government is executing clerics, that would run directly contrary to the ideals of secularism. Killing political enemies and starving one's own citizens has nothing to do with secularism; the Netherlands gets on just fine without those sorts of activities.

          • MattyTheD

            Many great points, Paul. Just to clarify, I'm not arguing that atrocities are discouraged by "religion", I am arguing that atrocities are discouraged by Christianity. Specifically, by the doctrines of Christianity. I realize that's an unfashionable claim, but it just happens to be true. Also, my objection is not with secularism as you define it. My objection is with anti-theism cloaked as secularism. The French Revolution, for example, officially espoused a benign secularism. But, in actual practice, quickly became an anti-theistic, genocidal monstrosity (far worse than has been recorded by the victors). 100,000 civilians killed, burned and starved along the Loire. Not merely because they were "radical". But because their belief system justified violence. I'm surprised how many secularists are not given pause by this, or don't even care to investigate.

          • True, the French Revolution does not give me much pause, as concerns my own beliefs, for the reasons you say right here:

            my objection is not with secularism as you define it. My objection is with anti-theism cloaked as secularism

            We are both strongly opposed to violent antitheism. The evil actions of inconsistent Christians don't seem to cause you to question your beliefs. Why should the evil actions of inconsistent secularists cause me to question mine?

          • MattyTheD

            1) "The evil actions of inconsistent Christians don't seem to cause you to question your beliefs." Oh, but they *do* prompt me to question my beliefs! Not my core belief in Christ, but, for example, in how to apply that belief politically or publicly. Christian crimes like the Inquisition give me huge pause in the matter of applying my faith in the public sphere. I just assumed that secularists would give a similar scrutiny to the implications of their beliefs. Small example, like challenging Christopher Hitchens who, in saying that religion poisons everything, was employing the same language of Chairman Mao.

            2) "Why should the evil actions of inconsistent secularists cause me to question mine?" Partly because of the scale and swiftness of the crimes, which I know you dispute, but I'm not sure your objection is intellectually consistent. (How much more would you scrutinize the French Revolution if it had been explicitly Christian? How much more familiar would you be of the extent of the murder?). But also because, I would argue, *all* human/social systems have some tendency toward abuse and totalitarianism (simply because they are human systems), including secularism, democracy, republics, etc. But the systems that will most resist totalitarianism and abuse are those that are specifically, doctrinally and foundationally *opposed* to totalitarianism and abuse. I would argue that Christianity has that doctrinal opposition. I would argue that, say, secular humanism, though very attractive to me personally, does not have that doctrinal check against totalitarianism and abuse. Which, to me, explains how it quickly became genocidal in France.

          • 1) When you say that those who committed atrocities in the Crusades or the Inquisition weren't good Christians, that doesn't impress me that these events really have had much affect on your Christian beliefs.

            2) You respond to Christian atrocities by claiming that the perpetrators were bad Christians. I can say the same about secular atrocities. They were committed by bad secularists. Especially if the violent actions are by the government and are directed against religious groups, because that directly contradicts secularism.

            3) Secular humanism (a position I do not exactly hold, but also find in some respects attractive) does directly oppose totalitarianism in all its forms, i.e.

            Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature's resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

            Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature's integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner. Humanist Manifesto III

            It's not doctrinal, of course. You might say that because it's not doctrinal, it doesn't really have the power to protect us from popular totalitarians. I'd probably agree. That was, actually, the original point of my first comment. Religious beliefs don't respond to opposition, and therein lies their power.

          • Especially if the violent actions are by the government and are directed against religious groups, because that directly contradicts secularism.

            Per secularism.org Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

            Precisely what you say, Paul. The distinction is between secularism, a healthy polity, a governing strategy, which most embrace in our increasingly pluralistic global reality, and the secularistic , which would marginalize belief systems from society and culture, driving it out of the public square, going beyond a statist nonestablishment to also curtail free exercise. The checks and balances inhere, in principle.

          • George

            Do the Franciscans and Jesuits constitute a superpower? And why do you compare just the inquisition against what happened in soviet and chinese territories?

        • Papalinton

          Paul, your comments are most insightful and dare I say, poignant. Secularism is indeed less powerful than religion, just as it is so very less powerful than totalitarianism, be it of a religious or political kind. Secularism by its very nature is moderation, attempting to allow the religious to freely practice their faith but by the same token attempting to moderate the more excessive aspects of their belief; things that come to mind, rightly and properly affording protection and dignity of gays/gay relations and marriage, a woman's right and sovereignty in decisions over her own body and health care, ensuring a balance in matters of public policy not to be unduly influenced by religious penchant, etc etc.
          If religion cannot restrain evil, it cannot claim effective power for good.

      • Mila

        Amazing 150 million? Who says that atheists can't inspire great violence?
        They'll probably say it wasn't really the lack of belief that inspired that, however it is precisely the lack of belief in God that makes some believe they are gods and behave accordingly as recent history proves.

        • MattyTheD

          I think the the jump from non-belief in God to genocidal self-idolotry is more mysterious than that. But still, yes, I think there is something to what you're saying. And, to me, it explains genocide by Soviets, Maoists, Khmeres, Robespierre, etc *far* more coherently than the "better weapons" theory.

          • George

            Would saying "don't shoot, I'm an atheist!" save my life back then in any of those regimes?

          • Mila

            Don't know about that, however saying don't shoot, I'm a theist would have almost guaranteed a shot in those regimes.

          • George

            I wish your comment was constructive and illuminating but it isn't. Do you see the point of my question?

        • Doug Shaver

          it is precisely the lack of belief in God that makes some believe they are gods and behave accordingly

          How much difference is there between believing oneself to be a god and believing that one is God's agent?

          • Mila

            There is a huge difference. However, there isn't any difference between idolatry and self worship.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is a huge difference.

            Can you explain it to me?

          • Mila

            When one worships a false god is the same thing as self-worship as we are not God and thus false gods. Both are idolatry.

          • Michael Murray

            I think you have just argued that self worship is an example of idolatry. Not that there is no difference between them.

          • Mila

            Actually my comment wasn't that there is a huge difference between those two at all. I specifically said that there wasn't a difference between them.

          • Michael Murray

            You said

            there isn't any difference between idolatry and self worship.

            You then argued that self worship is worshiping a false god and therefore idolatry. But that doesn't show there is no difference between these two concepts. To complete the argument you have to show that idolatry is self worship.

          • Mila

            I don't have to show anything. I already stated that they are both idolatry since none worship the true God.

          • Michael Murray

            If what you meant was that self worship is idolatry fine. But what you wrote was that there was no difference between idolatry and self worship. Let me paste it in again.

            there isn't any difference between idolatry and self worship.

          • Mila

            Are you serious?
            If there is no difference between them, then what does that mean? That they are one and the same.
            If my English is not that good then I'm sorry but it is not my first language, however that is what I meant. I say that anything that doesn't worship the true God is idolatry and that would include self-worship as well.

          • Michael Murray

            OK. We are obviously misunderstanding each other. Sometimes text based conversation is just too awkward. Let's leave it.

          • Doug Shaver

            My question began: "In terms of how one is likely to behave . . . ." I have seen nothing addressing that.

  • Doug Shaver

    Good ideas tend to have good consequences, while bad ideas tend to have the opposite. Treating all ideas as if they're equally valid is ridiculous.

    But is that how you know they're good or bad? Are we to decide whether or not to believe something just by the social or political consequences of believing it?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Catholics for one claim we have some ideas that are guaranteed to be good in advance.

      We all also have the testimony of human experience to predict bad outcomes from seemingly plausible ideas.

      • Doug Shaver

        Catholics for one claim we have some ideas that are guaranteed to be good in advance.

        Meaning what? That we know we should believe them before we even ask why we should believe them?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Depends on who "we" refers to. If you mean non-Catholic, I'd say, no. I don't expect you to believe they are good without explanation and evidence.

          • Doug Shaver

            I wasn't asking about your expectations regarding who might agree with you.

    • William Davis

      I think it is important to realize that we must have some beliefs that aren't objectively true for society to function. One great example is money. Money is just paper, but it has real value because of our shared belief that it does. If everyone woke up one morning and didn't think money had any value, then it wouldn't, and our entire economy would crash. Money has value, but it only does because of our belief, our belief makes the belief true.
      I pointed out below that belief in Satan actually has brought much evil into the world (case in point of an idea with bad consequences). Belief in Satan makes him exist (inside the mind at least) much like our belief in money the value of money exist. This is why I'm a strong advocate of abandoning belief in Satan, why create him in our minds if we don't have to?
      Anyone who wants to argue about Satan, see my posts below first so I don't have to repeat myself if you don't mind :)

      • Doug Shaver

        I think it is important to realize that we must have some beliefs that aren't objectively true for society to function. One great example is money. Money is just paper, but it has real value because of our shared belief that it does.

        Right. It's a social convention, and we do need some social conventions.

  • VicqRuiz

    religious belief serves not only as a potential motivator for violence, but as a check against state totalitarianism.

    There are cases where the Catholic Church in particular has in fact stood up against dictatorship. Pope John Paul II in the 1980's and Graf von Galen in Nazi Germany are good examples.

    There are also cases where the same Church has more or less acquiesced to dictatorship. Mussolini, Franco, Batista come immediately to mind.

    As I see it, when a dictatorial regime leaves the Church alone, the Church acquiesces. Only when a regime directly attacks the Church's legitimacy does it fight back.

    This does not mean that I wouldn't accept the Church as an ally against Communism, I certainly would welcome it. But I would expect it to stand aside unless it was threatened directly.

    • William Davis

      That's a good point. Any bureaucracy tends to function like a super organism with individuals as cells. Like any organism it's primary motive is survival. One good example is the Concordat the Church signed with Hitler to secure itself in Germany. Self preservation was it's primary interest, not surprisingly.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichskonkordat

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Right. The US did not enter the fight against Germany until they were attacked by Germany's ally, Japan, and Hitler foolishly declared war. For that matter, even France and Britain did nothing about the Reich until it attacked Poland.

        • William Davis

          I agree. All bureaucracy's put their own survival first in general. I think WWII changed us all, however. We haven't been perfect in our vow of "never again" but at least we are trying. My primary point is that the Church's behavior is typical of the norm, nothing better, nothing worse.

          • Michael Murray

            I think WWII changed us all,

            Did you mean WWI here ?

          • William Davis

            No, WWIi and the holocaust. That's where the never again slogan comes from

          • Michael Murray

            Ah of course. Thanks. I think I had "war to end all wars" in the back of my mind. Fairly intense WWI commemoration going on where I am at the moment.

    • MattyTheD

      Interesting point. But the response of Christianity to dictatorship is not simply a matter of what the hierarchy in Rome does. A much more powerful factor is what *values* does that religion teach to its billions of adherents. For example, does the Sermon on the Mount encourage or discourage dictatorship and the abuse of human rights? When it comes to core doctrine, I'd posit that, in all of world history, no body of thought has done more to diminish the human tendency toward dictatorship than Christian doctrine. Unless I'm forgetting some other humanitarian force that has been embraced by billions of people over thousands of years.

      • VicqRuiz

        what *values* does that religion teach to its billions of adherents

        Taking the reaction of various Christian denominations to the Nazis as an example, none showed themselves as more courageous than the Jehovah's Witnesses. They put every other denomination far in the shade.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Only when a regime directly attacks the Church's legitimacy does it fight back.

      Well, to be fair, the Church has few panzer divisions. Although the Swiss Guard does have halberds.

  • Doug Shaver

    For a totalitarian regime, religion is dangerous.

    That depends on the religion. There have been religions with which some totalitarian regimes have gotten along very well. What is most dangerous for a totalitarian regime is any belief system, secular or religious, that encourages people to question all authority.

  • I should say from the outset that one of the things that annoys me the most about many atheists is how quickly we are to attribute violence to religion and in many cases solely to religion. Michael Shermer just did this in a talk at the Long Now.

    Needless to say most violence has nothing to do with religion, in the West, most appears to be domestic violence, crime-related, or related to mental health.

    What we are really talking about here is violence under the umbrella of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. Why do these things happen? Causation is difficult to determine but we can start by looking at the reasons given.

    The purges, torture, and genocides undertaken by Soviets and Maoists are generally done with the stated purpose of eliminating threats to the regime or in revolution against a regime these say is harmful. They are never done under in the name of there being no God. We might look behind these and suggest (correctly I'd say) that these are done to support or impose an autocracy, or even to overthrow one. We might agree or disagree with these ends and means. Most readers here would likely agree that the violence undertaken to establish and maintain the democratic regime of the US was justified, including the bloody civil way. We might have support for the ends of the French Revolution, but not likely the all of the means. We might accept that the Soviets would have been right to overthrow the Czar, but not to impose Communism and certainly not the kind of oppression used to maintain it.

    Would the Maoist regime have been less bloody if it believed in a kind of God, or even Jesus? Who is to say? But obviously, religion is no immunization for crimes against humanity. Many autocratic and oppressive regimes have been fervently religious, we see that with Sadaam Hussein, Muamar Gaddafi, the Saudi Regime. We also saw it pretty much universally in Christian regimes before the Enlightenment. All the Catholicism in the world did not prevent the Crusades, the Inquisitions.

    When these atrocities are done in the name of religion and are consistent with express statements in the holy books of the adherents, it is reasonable to accept that religion played a causal role. Not the only role, but a causal role nonetheless.

    I think we are justified to look at the kind of violence undertaken in the name of religion and the religious contexts and try and figure out the role of religious belief. In some cases it is sure to be a moderating factor, in others a aggravating one. When ISIS adherents exile Christians, but kill all Azidis, they are clearly making a religious distinction. If your religious book says "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live" and you believe you are bound by such a commandment, and you find someone you believe is a witch and you kill that person, you did it based on religious belief!

    I think that it is fair to say that beliefs about evolution and survival of the fittest did underlie and helped justify many of the atrocities played by Nazis and probably some other regimes. I think these views were wrong and are no longer used to justify violence in a large scale. Of course these are neither atheist of humanist beliefs.

    But I also think that viewing this world as a brief finite realm of sin and testing under the watch of God that will judge us all, and that the most important realm is the hereafter, has played an enormous role in justifying large scale violence over the centuries. I think this does still happen and is at the forefront of the minds of people like ISIS.

    What all these atrocities seem to have in common is a that they are only undertaken when against a group, that becomes considered sub-human. This can be done based on mistaken ideas about biology, or religion.

    What seems to be the best way to disabuse people of thinking some people are sub-human beliefs, is to consider every human being to be included in one group. That being sub-human is simply impossible. I think this is best achieved by way of science and biology because these findings are very difficult to dispute. If it is done on the basis of religion, it is fragile, because (as I have argued extensively) distinctly religious beliefs are easy to show unreasonable.

    • William Davis

      What seems to be the best way to disabuse people of thinking some people are sub-human beliefs, is to consider every human being to be included in one group.

      I also think that is the key. The Church's condemnation of witches and heretics is related to this idea that they were somehow subhuman and the minions of Satan. Almost every major genocide in history is caused by thinking the other guy is something less.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        No, they were not said to be subhuman.

        Witches were condemned by secular authorities long before the Church even existed; and even by the new-fangled Royal Society. The Church in fact condemned belief in witchcraft; and in Spain, the Inquisition, threw out cases based on accusations of witchcraft and even managed to get secular tribunals there to stop the practice.

        What is more often the case is that if a group is persecuted for some reason -- enslave them, seize their property, seize their land, etc. -- then they will be touted as inferior, degraded, etc. It is a way of salving the conscience. The Slavs were not enslaved by the Turks because they were thought inferior. They were thought inferior because they were enslaved.

        • William Davis

          Sure, witch hunting wasn't limited to the Catholic church or even Christians, but they had to believe in spiritual evil in order to believe in witches. You can't deny the Church's involvement, there were several Papal bulls authorizing the prosecution of witches and such, here's one specific example, followed by a longer list.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summis_desiderantes_affectibus

          http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn2.htm

          Of course, there were times when the Church was against prosecuting certain times of witchcraft, ect. If they had never believed in Satan, than none of these atrocities would have occurred. The same is true of secular authorities. I stand by my opposition to belief in Satan, and really think it is a purely destructive belief :)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yet the pagan Romans did not believe in Satan and they were more ferocious against witches than anyone.

          • William Davis

            They believed in evil spirits, same thing. I'm not saying belief in evil spirits is the source of all evil, but it lends to delusions and hysteria. I think it is one of those superstitions we are best without.
            Curses only work if someone believes they are cursed. Confirmation bias and the like do the work, making the "cursed" person experience actual harm. I'm immune to such simply because I'm confident it is impossible. The effect is the same as believing God is protecting me from evil.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Romans were deeply superstitious, that is true. But they regarded poison with particular horror. They could understand how a sword thrust could kill you, but not how drinking a cup of wine tinctured with "the powders of inheritance" could do the same. The witches, who dealt in such poisons, were thus regarded as possessing powers.

    • joey_in_NC

      What all these atrocities seem to have in common is a that they are only
      undertaken when against a group, that becomes considered sub-human.

      I agree.

      What seems to be the best way to disabuse people of thinking some people are sub-human beliefs, is to consider every human being to be included in one group. That being sub-human is simply impossible. I think this is best achieved by way of science and biology because these findings are very difficult to dispute.

      This verges on scientism, which is a self-refuting philosophy. First of all, why should it be considered bad to consider others as "sub-human"? Secondly, what should the precise definition of "sub-human" be? Science/biology alone cannot provide answers to these questions. Something other than science must enter the discussion.

      If it is done on the basis of religion, it is fragile, because (as I have argued extensively) distinctly religious beliefs are easy to show unreasonable.

      But what you take for granted is that the belief that it is morally wrong to treat a group of humans badly has to come from somewhere. Where can this belief come from, if it cannot come exclusively from scientific knowledge? Like it or not, you (and other generally moral people) hold a fundamental belief (all human life has value) that cannot be derived exclusively from science/biology. It is the differences in these fundamental beliefs (whether "religious" or not) that is the root of the problem, and not so much any differences in scientific understanding/knowledge.

      • You seem to want to engage in a discussion on morality. That is not the topic of this post, rather this discussion is about the causes of human violence. Whether human violence and killing is good or bad is another thing.

        But I am happy to have that discussion. It is bad to consider humans sub humans based on my moral framework which values human life as paramount. By sub human I mean a category of other disentitled to human rights for a lack of humanity. Hutus defined Tutsis this way and called the cockroaches and so on. This is a precursor to genocide.

        I think science and biology can provide very good tools to identify humans. They at our species, and human beings are living human individuals.

        My belief that treating humans badly, rather harming them I think comes from evolved intuitions and self interest, I think. I don't know if I would call this a fundamental belief, I would call it a moral intuition, a core moral value that it find intuitive but will also be positive for me and others.

        I don't think there really is much of a difference in core moral attitudes. I think you would be hard pressed to find many that would openly claim a higher moral value than avoiding human violence and killings. Unless it is religious people who find gods will is more important than human life.

        • joey_in_NC

          It is bad to consider humans sub humans based on my moral framework which values human life as paramount.

          Sure. And others' moral framework could view only certain types of human life as being valuable. For example, only humans of the Aryan race have value. Can science show that this type of morality is "wrong"?

          I think science and biology can provide very good tools to identify humans..

          I agree that science can provide good tools, but my entire point is that by no means can we only rely on science exclusively to determine a morality that is best. Even before we could use science to determine what should identify as human, we first have to come with the belief that humans have value. Science can't do that for us.

          And even if we do arrive at the moral code that all humans have value, we first need to go beyond science to provide a general definition of human that science can use. Science cannot provide that initial definition because the entire process would be circular, and absurd.

          Doesn't "science say" that all life of the species homo sapiens is human? Then given the moral framework that all human life has value, using science as a tool should help us conclude that a human fetus has value. Yet modern secular thought thinks otherwise. So where is the problem here? The problem is another philosophical belief outside the realm of science is used justify purposeful killing a human fetus.

          My entire point is that science (and the knowledge of) can only get us so far. When it comes to morality (and the reasons for human violence), it all ultimately boils down to fundamental beliefs.

          • Yes, and I would fervently oppose moral frameworks that valued certain types of human being as less valuable.

            I agree we cannot use science alone to determine which form of morality to apply.

            Scientists label the species we are part of Homo sapiens sapiens. There were other human species that are now extinct. To be clear, my value of human life as paramount is dependent on this species being sapient. I would extend it to any other sapient species.

            I do value human fetuses and I would say that most secular persons do and would object to them being destroyed. The moral balancing that comes with the abortion debate is difficult and complex. I am pro choice and this has to do with my value of sapient beings. It is complex discussion and I would rather not have that discussion here, let's stick to general moral principles.

            I don't know why you think my moral framework is exclusively based on science, it is not. I think I clearly stated above that it derives from evolved intuitions and self-interest.

          • joey_in_NC

            I agree we cannot use science alone to determine which form of morality to apply....

            I don't know why you think my moral framework is exclusively based on science, it is not.

            Then I apologize. I must have misinterpreted your first post and thought you subscribe to a Harris-like view of morality through science.

          • William Davis

            Then given the moral framework that all human life has value, using science as a tool should help us conclude that a human fetus has value. Yet modern secular thought thinks otherwise.

            Secular thought says a fetus has value, but not the same value as a person. Personhood is a complex issue, but I agree that a person must possess a mind, thus a fetus becomes a person around 20-24 weeks. In the same sense, a brain dead person has value but is not a person, thus it is within the rights of the family to allow the human non-person to die naturally. Philosophy is the key, not religion as such (though much great philosophy has come out of religion).

          • joey_in_NC

            ... but I agree that a person must possess a mind, thus a fetus becomes a person around 20-24 weeks.

            How much more of a mind does a 24-week-old fetus have than an adult cow?

            Philosophy is the key, not religion as such...

            I agree.

    • Luc Regis
    • Luc Regis

      I believe that history will show that Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges will be recognized as significant figures if not political prophets in the future.

    • MattyTheD

      "But obviously, religion is no immunization for crimes against humanity." However, of all the bodies of thought that oppose crimes against humanity, have any done so more than Christian doctrine?

      • No idea. Many Christian groups including the Catholic Church have perpetrated crimes against humanity, torture and continue to advance discriminatory views. Opposition to these things is relatively new and has not always been embraced by Christians.

      • Doug Shaver

        However, of all the bodies of thought that oppose crimes against humanity, have any done so more than Christian doctrine?

        I don't know, but I'm sure that many have done no less.

      • William Davis

        I think Buddhism has done the best. There have been almost no Buddhists that committed serious atrocities. Pol Pot is the only one that comes close, and there is no reason to think he was really a Buddhist.

  • Luc Regis

    BGA: said

    Most readers here would likely agree that the
    violence undertaken to establish and maintain the democratic regime of the US was
    justified,

    Me: But not justified to maintain the democratic regime throughout the world.
    I beg to disagree. Following the link below....is a dialogue between two people I
    greatly admire....Lawrence Krauss and Noam Chomsky. It is a two hour
    video but well worth watching for those who are actually interested in
    truth and reality......especially from the 1;20 time till the end.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ml1G919Bts0

    • You are fine to disagree. As a Canadian I find the violence of the American revolution and civil war to be perhaps unnecessary. In my country we gained independence and ended slavery without such violence. Of course if there had been no American revolution, confederation may have not happened and we might still be living in a colony and lack certain freedoms.

      The civil war seems to have just been a thing that was more or less inevitable in America given the division between slave and nonslave economies.

      I personally have a great deal to say about American intervention globally. Especially since the fifties. But this is all besides the point.

      • Luc Regis

        Just so you know....I am Canadian

      • Luc Regis

        In my country we gained independence and ended slavery without such violence.

        The orchestrated genocide of aboriginal people has been such a peaceful process here in Canada.
        http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/

        • I never said Canada did not perpetrate any atrocities, I said it did not undergo the violence Americans did in order to obtain independence and end slavery.

          Canada continues to violate human rights, and has a great deal to reckon with in terms of its relationship with aboriginal peoples. It certainly violated the convention against torture in Afghanistan.

          But how did we get on to this? I think you might prefer a site devoted to geopolitics.

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure how fruitful a discussion like this can be. Religion is kind of like weather. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Has it been productive or destructive? Would we be better off without it?

    Human beings have a very powerful tendency to break into factions and fight one another. (I always think of the Big Endians and the Little Endians in Gulliver's Travels who have been in violent conflict over how to break open eggs.) This happens in the case of religious conflicts, ethnic conflicts, regional conflicts, factional conflicts—just about anything you can think of can cause people to choose opposing sides and engage in conflicts that can escalate into violence and even war.

    Furthermore, we seem to love war. Often, when we want to mount an effort to do something, we call it a war (war on poverty, war on drugs) or a crusade. Catholicism has the Knights of Columbus. Confirmation makes you soldiers of Jesus Christ. The one thing no American of any political part dares to do is fail to "support the troops." What is the big news of the day? The release of the new Star Wars trailer!

    The love of violent conflict is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and it's going to be expressed in practically everything human beings do. Religion is no exception, but it's just one human activity among many that can lead to violence.

    If I were going to read a book on this subject, it would be Karen Armstrong's Fields of Blood: Religion and the history of Violence, which is on my Kindle, but which I am not sure I will get around to.

    • Michael Murray

      I always think of the Big Endians and the Little Endians in Gulliver's Travels who have been in violent conflict over how to break open eggs

      Nice example. My kids and I always like the Sneetches.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPhOZzsi_6Q&spfreload=10

    • William Davis

      Yeah, a discussion like this can't really help but to devolve into a blaming contest. I think religion is too vague a concept to be useful.

  • As a believer, I recognize that human rights come from God, not the state or social convention

    Justice and compassion seem to naturally ensue whenever one awakens to the reality of human solidarity. And by naturally, I mean to suggest that many experience these deeply felt moral and relational sensibilities as an ineffable evaluative disposition, as axiomatic, which is to say, in no need of justification or apologetic. Thus in large measure being similarly situated in our collective human condition, with shared common sense and sensibilities, the prescriptions we devise for what ails humanity will substantially tend to normatively converge, despite the fact that some ground their meta-ethics in this foundation or the other or even not at all. What's most interesting about those otherwise diverse groups, who agree that authoritative deontologies and foundational moralities are somehow more rationally appealing or logically consistent, is that they happen to be in substantial disagreement about who those authorities should be and where those foundations can be found. Those cohorts that agree on such authorities and foundations then disagree on how to interpret them.

    Finally, while its eminently reasonable, in my view, to believe in God and to meta-ethically ground morality in God, since there are no universally compelling proofs for the reality of God, certain burdens of proof remaining quite insurmountable, philosophically, we might want to explore other ways to make our moral appeals. I, for one, cannot imagine behaving differently toward my self, others or the cosmos, whatever the case may be regarding foundations, authorities or God.

    • MattyTheD

      "I, for one, cannot imagine behaving differently toward my self, others or the cosmos, whatever the case may be regarding foundations, authorities or God." That makes sense abstractly. But it's often not the case among people who've had (what they believe is) an authentic religious experience. People who experience that (or believe they have) seem to frequently undergo a radical change in their behavior. Paul of Tarsus, for example, radically changed how he behaved toward "self, others and cosmos" after he had what he believed to be an authentic encounter with "foundations, authorities or God". You see this repeatedly throughout history, especially among Christian saints.

      • I assure you it also makes sense concretely among our secular, nontheistic, agnostic and atheistic sisters and brothers.

        I was not denying the efficacies of religious experience (nor would I argue against its occasional inefficacies).

        I wasn't even arguing against the efficacies of grounding one's meta-ethics in a philosophical theology.

        My point was, rather, that philosophical arguments for God aren't universally compelling, so such meta-ethical foundations won't work for all. Further, they're of limited use even for foundationalists, unless they can agree on foundations. Still further, among those who agree on the foundations, interpretive issues persist.

        Yet, despite all of the above, our world enjoys a large degree of general moral consensus, notwithstanding disagreements regarding thornier biomedical realities, for example, disagreements that present --- not only across creedal traditions, but --- within them.

        Therefore, while religious beliefs are indeed necessary to account for much of the moral consensus (and much of the disagreement), that explanation is insufficient.

        • MattyTheD

          Good points. And *my* point is that many of your fellow humans once said, like you, "I could not see changing my behavior, etc, whatever the case may be regarding God." And then, to their surprise, they meet God (or believe they did). And, in fact, their behaviors change radically. So one's inability to *imagine* that change ought not to be considered, in my opinion, a valuable data point on moral questions. Rather, it could be considered a sign that one is lacking relevant moral data that others have received.

          • You're confusing meta-ethical grounding with moral realities.

            Morality is transparent to human reason without the benefit of special divine revelation.

            In the first place, I was talking about MY behavior and, by implication, that of some not all, others, describing what we would or wouldn't do and neither describing nor prescribing what all others might or should do.

            Kohlberg accounts for the trajectory of human moral development and I'm quite aware that people are variously motivated to behave morally as they move from earlier through later stages. You are referring to dynamics that present in early stages of moral development. I refer to those of advanced stages.
            Anyone who imagines there would be no incentive to be moral unless there's a God, is revealing something about their own stage of moral development and no one else's.

            Christianity, by the way, makes its value-added contribution not by introducing moral truths otherwise inaccessible to all of humanity. It doesn't differentiate itself in terms of justice and morality but goes beyond (not without) them in mercy and charity, the ends of the latter being different, while their means are nevertheless suitable to the former. The Gospel introduced unitive, relational norms to grow intimacy with the Father, as Abba, Daddy. The devotional aspects of all the great traditions are relational, whether realizing unitary being or unitive experiences. While religious institutions, like educational and familial and other sociocultural institutions play important roles in moral formation, they aren't the sole source of moral knowledge or the sole conduit. Neither can philosophy conclusively establish their origin in putative ultimate realities.

          • You continue to draw inferences that don't follow from what I said, then take the implications from those inferences and offer counters to them. Your responses aren't apposite. You are, in effect, debating yourself. I beg your pardon for having thus far interfered, but you can rest assured that it won't happen again.

          • MattyTheD

            Oh, I'm sorry, Johnboy. Help me out, when I responded to, and cited, a specific sentence that you wrote, how was that not apposite?

          • Citing a single sentence or even two is not a sufficient condition for being apposite. For example, in the NT, one can find: Judas went out and hung himself. and can also find: Go, now, and do likewise.. Context matters? To borrow a CS Lewis-ism, one can wrench something from its context in the whole only to swell it to madness in its isolation..

          • MattyTheD

            Pardon my mischief, but you make some interesting points, so let me see if I understand your context. 1) Given the many difficulties of meta-ethically grounding morality in God, and 2) given that religious belief is a necessary but not sufficient condition for explaining the human moral consensus we see in the world, then 3) we might want to seek *other* ways of making our moral appeals (other than religion, I presume). Right so far? I think so. To which you also add, 4) "I, for one, cannot imagine behaving differently toward my self, others or the cosmos, whatever the case may be regarding foundations, authorities or God." To which I responded, basically, that #4 is a position of hubris, contradicted by the experience of many saints. Seems totally apposite to me :)

          • See my reply to William, wherein I pointed out your rather glaring omission, as I'd also already affirmed the moral efficacies of faith. So, let's see, you've got the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and the sesame seed bun but, wait, you forgot the two all beef patties! Your argument remains a burger short of a Happy Meal.

            Furthermore, as I specified, moral development presents stages and, in my view, early and advanced stages are involved. There is nothing I said --- in context! --- that should lead anyone to suggest that I would discount the efficacy of a religious experience, which could, generally speaking, invite the immoral to lead a moral life, or the philosopher to meta-ethically ground her stances. There's nothing that you said that could ever get me to imagine that a believer or an unbeliever, who already lives the moral life, would
            necessarily become immoral due to a change in their meta-ethical
            ground, unless they're in the earliest stages of moral development. I do believe that anyone can, due to a growth in intimacy with God, move beyond the demands of justice and morality to meet the invitations of charity and mercy, even though the former are sufficient, being a) the equivalent of imperfect contrition or b) the 2nd stage of Bernardian love, which is love of God for sake of self, or 3) that Ignatian degree of humility --- not wanting to offend due to consequences to oneself.

          • William Davis

            This is why I refused to debate him on the subject, from his one comment I inferred his views were completely dogmatic. I brought up some facts on his other posts, so hopefully I didn't come off excessively rude. He would be less likely to listen to me anyway since I'm one of the bad guys ;P
            Believe in God can be abused, but I think it has been much more positive than negative overall in history. I think belief in Satan is something else entirely, but I can understand some Christian's hesitation to abandon it since it is in the gospels (though not in the sense most people tend to believe).

          • Pardon my mischief, but you make some interesting points, so let me see if I understand your context. 1) Given the many difficulties of meta-ethically grounding morality in God, and 2) given that religious belief is a necessary but not sufficient condition for explaining the human moral consensus we see in the world, then 3) we might want to seek *other* ways of making our moral appeals (other than religion, I presume). Right so far? I think so. To which you also add, 4) "I, for one, cannot imagine behaving differently toward my self, others or the cosmos, whatever the case may be regarding foundations, authorities or God." To which I responded, basically, that #4 is a position of hubris, contradicted by the experience of many saints. Seems totally apposite to me :)

            It's unbelievable, really, that he'd go back and do it again as above, precisely omitting the relevant context, which was that it's eminently reasonable, in my view, to believe in God and to meta-ethically ground morality in God, which would mean that, when I wrote I, for one, cannot imagine behaving differently toward my self, others or the cosmos, whatever the case may be regarding foundations, authorities or God., I was precisely not suggesting
            a universal norm that would deny other pathways, in general, religious pathways, in particular!

          • William Davis

            Some people talk to you, others AT you. I think he is one of the latter.

      • Mila

        It is certainly easier for humanity to fall into moral relativism when the recognition of a meta-ethical foundation is not there.
        The source for morality is not humans but God. The more one knows God and the stronger the relationship with Him the greater discernment of morality one has.

        • David Nickol

          It is certainly easier for humanity to fall into moral relativism . . .

          Where do you see moral relativism? Do you think Islamic terrorism (or any kind of terrorism) is the result of moral relativism? Do you think Lenin, or Stalin, or Pol Pot were moral relativists?

          • Mila

            Moral relativism as in each decides what is moral or not. That there is no moral giver so we decide what is morality on our own.
            Those dictators you mention are absolutely moral relativist. They would be absolutists in their moral relativism.

          • David Nickol

            Those dictators you mention are absolutely moral relativists. They would be absolutists in their moral relativism.

            This is becoming more mysterious. How can someone be "absolutists in their moral relativism"? It seems to me that "moral relativism" is just a term people use to label views with which they disagree. It seems to me that people like Lenin, Stalin, and Pol Pot all had moral visions and moral principles (profoundly mistaken ones) which they did not think were "relative" in any sense, and they believed those who disagreed with them were just wrong.

            It is impossible to believe that each person gets to invent his or her own system of morality, and that each person's morality is valid for that person and only that person. Pope Benedict XVI liked to talk about the "dictatorship of relativism," which left a lot of us mystified. He is a very profound thinker, but that particular concept makes very little sense.

          • Mila

            The denial of an absolute truth results in a dictatorship of relativism where if nothing is certain then the only driving force is one's ego. When nothing is certain and truth is up for grabs is when we get a Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, etc. with their own versions of "truth". So they are absolutists in their moral relativism. When a divine truth is rejected then we get each person's version of "truth" moral "truth"
            So in essence Pope Benedict was right in saying that relativism causes havoc where truth is up for grabs and that results in each individual deciphering what is true morality and what is not. If we think we are the authors of morality then who are we to say that other's morality is bad in comparison to our own morality?
            I don't find what Pope Benedict said mystifying at all actually.

          • George

            "Their own versions of truth"? Are you saying those dictators didn't have an absolute belief?

        • cminca

          "The source for morality is not humans but God."

          Since you clearly believe that the only God is the Christian God you are claiming that only Christians have ever had "morality".

          "The Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived from 551–479 B.C., is said to have written, "Do not do to others that which we do not want them to do to us." A Hindu text written in about the same time period, the Mahabharata, includes the phrase, “Do not unto others which would cause pain if done to you.” Similar concepts are expressed in Taoism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianismand many other religions and philosophies."

          http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-the-golden-rule.htm

          Wrong again Mila.

          • Mila

            There is only one God cmica.
            You will meet Him too.

          • cminca

            Perhaps, but that doesn't mean the CC has got it right.

        • William Davis

          The more one knows God and the stronger the relationship with Him the greater discernment of morality one has.

          You do not get your morality from God, but from the Church. The Church claims it gets its morality from God, but has failed to demonstrate it, and has repeatedly changed it's moral positions over the years (from Jews to slavery to the burning of witches and usury).

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    The Modern world seems unable to distinguish between vile deeds committed by people who happen to be X and those committed by people because they are X. This is the difference between accidents and essences. For example, a disproportionate amount of crime in the US is committed by black men; but it would be absurd to say their criminality is because of their blackness; and this would be true even if the criminals cried for Black Liberation while they looted a store or beat a truck driver into a coma. Similarly, in prior decades, a great many black men were lynched by mobs of Democrats, but it would be absurd to suppose that joining the Democratic Party induced one to violence.

    In a similar manner, "religion" and violence. In an age when nearly everyone was expected to indicate their national loyalties by assent to the Established Church [i.e., the Modern Ages], we should expect that doers of violence would identify as members [or opponents] of that Church. More to the point, the Kings could be expected to appeal to that Church to rouse the masses for whatever ends they intended to pursue, just as in later years they appealed to the Nation or the Party. Most of the "wars of religion", when we look under the hood, seem to have been driven by dynastic [later, National] ambitions rather than belief or not in transubstantiation or infant baptism. The Thirty Years War is more properly a war between Hapsburg and Bourbon, with the latter employing several surrogates before the mask came off. (And while the imperial troops attacked at White Mountain shouting "Sancta Maria!", by the time of Nördlingen they were shouting "Viva España!") Similarly, the "Huguenot wars" in France were actually the "Wars of the French Succession" in which three Great Houses vied for the soon-to-be-vacant throne. Each house contained Catholic and Huguenot members and often switched confessions as strategy demanded. The winner famously declared that "Paris is worth a Mass" and switched from Huguenot to Catholic in order to secure the allegiance of other Houses.
    +++++

    Even the perhaps most famous example: the eruption of the muslim armies into the Roman and Persian empires in the seventh century is more likely due to a climatic downturn at the end of the Roman Warm period. Eruptions of nomads from the Peninsula had happened about every half-millennium or so from the time when the Amorites overwhelmed the Sumerians down to the present day. Compression of population on resources would have squirted the nomads into the Fertile Crescent whether they had a new religion or not.

    • MattyTheD

      Well said. And I maintain that the same *cannot* be said of the genocides perpetrated by anti-theist regimes like the Soviet Union and China. Unlike the crimes by "Christian" communities, those crimes were not violations of the founding philosophy, they were a *direct* and natural product of their founding philosophy. They were "good" by Marxist analysis. It's very odd to me that many of today's anti-theist activists won't grapple with this reality.

      • George

        Why should these anti-theists be obligated to grapple if they are not Marxists?

      • George

        What is that founding philosophy and how does it relate it to current atheist skepticism in, say the USA?

      • Doug Shaver

        those crimes were not violations of the founding philosophy, they were a *direct* and natural product of their founding philosophy. They were "good" by Marxist analysis.

        Did no Marxist ever disagree with that analysis?

        • Michael Murray

          It's a long time since I read anything about Marxism but I thought for starters that Marx and Engels never expected communism to arise in peasant/feudal societies like China and Russia. It was something that they expected to happen after capitalism collapsed in developed nations like Germany.

          • Doug Shaver

            I thought for starters that Marx and Engels never expected communism to arise in peasant/feudal societies like China and Russia. It was something that they expected to happen after capitalism collapsed in industrialised nations like Germany.

            That does seem to be what they thought.

            We discussed several excerpts from the Communist Manifesto in a political philosophy class I took. The professor told us that Soviet-style communism was a far cry from anything Marx ever advocated, and the assigned readings seemed to confirm that.

          • Papalinton

            Soviet-style Communism was indeed a far cry from the form Marx had envisaged. It was bastardisation of a model of governance that rapidly morphed [within a generation or two] from principled exemplar to complete entropy by the 1990s.

            I am mindful of another deeply compromised mindset that equally has morphed from its original concept of an ascetic life style, foregone worldly comforts and personal possessions, to emerge, proclaim and not only preach but practice a 'prosperity gospel'.

            Soviet-style communism was a quick failed experiment. It is taking a little longer to acknowledge that Christianity too is a compromised experiment. [For those who claim a 2,000 year span as testament to its truth value, one need only be reminded of the 3,000 year span of Egyptian religion before its eventual demise in the first half of the 1st millenium CE. Indeed we have far more historical evidence for dead and dying religions than for live ones.]

            Charles E. Fuller [d. 1968], American Baptist clergyman and popular radio evangelist provides an insight into the Christian mindset: "Fellowship with God means warfare with the world".
            He has a point.

          • Doug Shaver

            Charles E. Fuller [d. 1968], American Baptist clergyman and popular radio evangelist provides an insight into the Christian mindset

            I used to be an evangelical Christian. I am quite familiar with that mindset. It is not the Christian mindset just because Fuller said it was.

          • Papalinton

            More the point, Fuller, an evangelical with a deeply Christian, mindset, did say it.

          • Doug Shaver

            Fuller, an evangelical with a deeply Christian mindset, did say it and as I understand it, broadcasted that idea.

            And many evangelical Christians agreed with him, I'm sure.

          • Papalinton

            I am too.

    • Luke C.

      The Modern world seems unable to distinguish between vile deeds committed by people who happen to be X and those committed by people because they are X.

      Did you not write the replies to me above in which you did this precise thing with the French "humanism"? Might you be a Modern?

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        The revolutionaries were in fact motivated largely by their philosophy; but here's the nub of it. While nothing prevents anyone from committing atrocities while citing humanism, it is not the same as to say humanism entrains atrocities. What it does do is serve as a counterexample to the tired cliche of religion "causing" all the evils in the world. Evils are caused by the fallen nature of the world and various philosophies or economic systems are cited only inasmuch as they self-justify the speaker's desires.

        • Luke C.

          While nothing prevents anyone from committing atrocities while citing humanism

          Just as nothing prevents anyone from committing atrocities while citing religion. Let's be fair.

          What it does do is serve as a counterexample to the tired cliche of religion "causing" all the evils in the world.

          I agree with you that this is a tired cliche; it's not one that I endorse. I think it also goes to show that even well-intentioned worldviews, whether secular or religious, can be corrupted and perverted.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You will note the title of the OP.

            Larry Niven expressed this as one of Niven's Laws: "No cause is so noble that it will not attract its share of fuggheads." The corollary is that it is the latter that will attract the most media attention.

          • Luke C.

            I don't disagree. Have I gave the impression that I did?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nope. I only note that the OP was concerned with the common trope that "religion is responsible for the world's violence," a proposition that is manifestly untrue. It is not necessary to nominate any other abstractions as mostly "responsible for the world's violence." It is only necessary to cite counter-examples.

          • William Davis

            I agree. This is why I felt compelled to give Matty counter examples to his claims :)

    • Doug Shaver

      The Modern world seems unable to distinguish between vile deeds committed by people who happen to be X and those committed by people because they are X.

      I doubt very much that there is anything modern about that tendency.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        True dat. But having discarded the ideas of essences and accidents, we often lack the mental machinery to make that distinction at all.

        • Doug Shaver

          It does take a bit of intellectual effort to understand how much we have learned about reality since Aristotle's time, but those who actually want to find an effective way of preventing vile deeds will need to make the effort.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            For some values of "reality."

            And yet, matters are trending back toward Aristotelian notions, with dark energy, emergent properties, attractor basins, adaptation, and the like. Go figure.

            Not clear how nuclear weapons and nerve gasses are an effective way of preventing vile deeds, let alone totalitarian regimes, eugenics, and other modern innovations.

  • Peter

    Let's be clear. Religious violence is the killing of people because of their religion, which disqualifies much historical violence in the world which was due to empire building. Only if you are killed specifically because you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist or a pagan, are you the victim of religious violence. Most violent and untimely deaths in the world were historically caused by military campaigns and their aftermath where no specific religion was targeted.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think you need to include "inflicting violence because it is entailed by one's religion" as religious violence.

    • Michael Murray

      Only if you are killed specifically because you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist or a pagan, are you the victim of religious violence.

      So someone who was a Muslim but who declares themselves an atheist and is killed as a direct result of that declaration is not a victim of religious violence ?

      • cminca

        Michael--I think, in your question, the person would have been killed because he was, by Peter's definition, a pagan.

        • Michael Murray

          I guess that is possible. But it would be a very strange definition of atheist or pagan.

  • Loreen Lee
  • Mr.X

    LTTE was a secular group but definitely not an atheist one like traditional Marxist-Leninists had been, even through they wanted to create an egalitarian socialist state like the Marxists. Most members were Hindus and few Christians all joined by ethnic nationalism against decades of racist Sri Lankan state terrorism. Why only condemn small liberation groups for terrorism? Why not also condemn state terrorism of bigger nation states?

    LTTE was defeated years ago. But now Islamic groups are the biggest terrorist groups. Since 2001 religious extremism has overtaken national separatism to become the main driver of terrorist attacks around the world, according to the Global Terrorism Index: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/nov/18/religious-extremism-main-cause-of-terrorism-according-to-report

    • Mila

      I'm from Latin America. Exactly what kind of terrorism was sponsored by the "right-wing capitalist Christian state" there?
      It's funny but most Christians from Latin America thought any intervention was not Christian at all but rather a state intervention. You know like Russia intervening and consequentially the US intervening.
      Religion had little to do with anything during the cold war proxies. Christianity was not the motive for intervening in Latin America.
      If anything we see the intervention of states that imposed their puppet leaders that sought to prohibit religion. The same people from Latin America rose up against those. Many Christians were actually killed by the state. It was not the US supporting those puppet governments that killed people left and right either.
      When I attended university here in the States the professor had a similar view. I asked him if he knew anything about the Soviet led guerrillas. He didn't. Well I had to tell him that before the US intervened the Soviets had infiltrated, taken over the army, the judicial systems, the executive branch, congress, the counter army as well, the universities, the state-owned companies, and even the Church.

  • cminca

    "At the top of the list of the twentieth century's deadliest regimes, you'll find three anti-religious states: Communist China, the USSR, and Nazi Germany. . And that number doesn't even take into account the millions killed by Pol Pot's Khmer Rogue, the Communist North Korean regime, or the Derg (the Ethiopian Communist state, headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam)."

    I count two main issues with this statement--

    First-- "These three alone were responsible for an estimated 130,000,000 victims, which dwarfs the number of people killed in the name of all religions throughout all of history". You are talking about efficiency, and the 20th century had the means to be far more efficient at killing than at any other time in history. The hatred wasn't any more vehement--the killers just had the tools to be more successful at killing.

    Second, and more importantly--the killings referenced were NOT done for religious, or atheistic, reasons. The reasons were political.

    Hitler didn't kill Jews because they didn't believe in Christ. He didn't kill them because of doctrine. He killed them because he thought they were a genetic and political danger to the state. He killed the physically and mentally infirm for same genetic reason. He killed homosexuals for the same "genetic" reason.

    He didn't start rounding up clerics until later--and, again, he didn't do it because he was offended by their religion. He did it because they were a political danger for criticizing governmental actions.

    You can extend the same argument to Mao, to Stalin, and the rest of the examples.

    If you want a war fought for strictly religious purposes I think you have to go back to the beginning of the 30 years war. (I speak only of European conflicts--I don't know enough Asian history to comment on whether there were more recent religious wars on that continent.)

  • cminca

    Every organized religion has some similar characteristics:

    1. They have a leader that claims they, and they alone, have the correct way of speaking to and obeying God.

    2. They all claim that anyone else who claims to have the correct way of speaking to and obeying God are not doing it correctly.

    3. They all warn their followers to guard against being tainted by the "others". They have names for the others that become pejoratives. "Heretic", "Pagan", "Infidel"

    When you have pejorative names for the "other", when you claim that they--and there false ways of serving God make them "less than"--you devalue those other people.

    And when those "other" become devalued--it is easy to promote, condone, or ignore violence against them.

    (And, although it is outside the parameters of this discussion, all religions end up telling the followers where and how to send the money.)

    It isn't a belief, or a lack of belief in God that is the problem.

    Organized religions create a power bureaucracy and a cash flow--and there are always people that will take advantage, fight to maintain power and status--and that has frequently morphed into scapegoating and violence in the name of the Lord.

    In the words of Mark Twain: ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool." I would add the word "organized" at the front of this sentence.

    • "In the words of Mark Twain: ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool." I would add the word "organized" at the front of this sentence."

      So when and where exactly do you suppose that was? It's a pithy slogan, but one that lacks any real substance.

      • cminca

        Actually, Brandon--it is your response that lacks any real substance.

        The "slogan" stands on its own. It is not only cogent when referring to the dawn of organized religion, but is applicable down through the ages--right up to and including Scientology.

        So you silly question is really just a transparent attempt to divert attention to the truth of Twain's remark.

        Clearly the remark stings, and scares, you more than you'd like to admit.

        • Mila

          It's fair question. Twain says that when the first con man met the first fool religion was invented. When was that?

          • cminca

            Mila--the question is no more clever or substantial when you bring it up than when Brandon does.

            I've read enough of these threads to recognize the "wide-eyed innocent question" as deflection from the real issue.

            Sorry--I'm not going to play along.

            But I will add that art shows us that there have been a lot more fat priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes than there have been skinny ones. I'll allow you to deduce what that means about the Catholic faithful....

          • Mila

            In other words, you can't answer.

          • cminca

            No--in other words Mila--it is clear that neither you nor Brandon can refute the points of my comment, so you attempt--in a shallow, artless, and completely transparent manner--to direct the conversation to a meaningless tangent.

            If you want to address the points I raised I will be happy to answer but, as I said before, I am not willing to play along with these disingenuous attempts to deflect the discussion.

            So Mila--now let me set you a challenge--refute ONE of my points and then we can have a REAL discussion.

            Until then--over and OUT.

          • Mila

            We did ask you a question that you can't answer and because you can't answer you say that we are trying to deflect.
            You really have no point. As to the Church having any power... well that's absurd. The Church doesn't force anyone to believe in Her. It doesn't have an army either.
            Is the Church forcing you to believe in Her? Nope. So the notion that the Church is a power structure that is set to control people is refuted by the very fact that you or I are not forced to believe in Her.
            She is just opposed modern fallacious movements that people regard as their own religion.
            Your 3rd point is contradicted by the very Christian belief to love your neighbor as yourself.
            Now let me challenge you, when did the first con man meet the fool and invented religion?
            Does that slogan appeal to your emotions or is there an actual time when a con man met a fool and religion was invented?

          • cminca

            The answer to the question when religion was invented is irrelevant to the conversation.

            You've not refuted ONE of the issues.

            Point #1 is NOT about the church forcing you to believe anything. The first point is that all religions have a basis in a person, or entity, claiming they alone know how to worship God. The CC claims it is the one true church. Strike One

            Point #2 you have conceded. The CC claims other religions are wrong. (And this isn't just a modern stance.) Strike Two

            Point #3--I would direct you to St. Thomas Aquinas' letter to Margaret of Flanders--and remind you that it was the CC that first put Jews into ghettos--500 years before Hitler. Christ may have said to love your neighbor as yourself--but that doesn't mean that the organized religion that is the CC has actually done so. Strike Three

            You're out.

            Finally--you claim I have no point. Your statements were either not germane to my original comments, or you supported my point. I'd be careful about throwing around the claim that others have no point.

            I'll end the conversation by thanking you for demonstrating the truth of Twain's statement.

    • Doug Shaver

      Every organized religion has some similar characteristics:

      1. They have a leader that claims they, and they alone, have the correct way of speaking to and obeying God.
      2. They all claim that anyone else who claims to have the correct way of speaking to and obeying God are not doing it correctly.
      3. They all warn their followers to guard against being tainted by the "others". They have names for the others that become pejoratives. "Heretic", "Pagan", "Infidel"

      Every one of them? No exceptions?

      • cminca

        Doug--As a Westerner I am mostly familiar with the Abrahamic religions so if you have other examples I would be happy to learn.

        I've also tried to be clear that I am referring to organized religions--religions with a central authority. As opposed to loosely based religions or philosophical belief systems.

        • Doug Shaver

          I've also tried to be clear that I am referring to organized religions--religions with a central authority.

          In Christianity's case, every Protestant denomination is organized independently of every other denomination, and at least some of them specifically reject any notion of a central authority. Most are committed to democratic rule within the denomination, and in some of them each individual congregation is nearly autonomous.

          Protestants are also committed in theory, if not always in practice, to a doctrine called the priesthood of all believers, which means that in matters of faith, every Christian is ultimately his own sole authority.

          • cminca

            Doug--
            Thinking about it--with regard to Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish you are correct. There may be others.
            I would respond, however, with the fact that these were founded by individuals who did say--implicitly or not--what I originally wrote.

          • Doug Shaver

            I would respond, however, with the fact that these were founded by individuals who did say--implicitly or not--what I originally wrote.

            On that point, I am without any knowledge one way or the other. But from what I have observed of the diversity of people's religious experiences (to say nothing of my own when I was having them), I would be very surprised to discover that organized religions, at any time in human history, had more in common than you'll find in any dictionary definition of "religion."

  • Papalinton

    What's missing in this article is honesty and a partial disclosure of the circumstances, particularly when referring to the relationship between Nazism and Christianity during the 1930s through to 1945. Doris L. Bergen writes in her “Nazism and Christianity: Partners and 
Rivals? A Response to RichardbnSteigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich. Nazi
Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945″ (Journal of Contemporary History Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, Vol 42(1), 25–33. ISSN 0022–0094.DOI: 10.1177/0022009407071629)
    “Richard Steigmann-Gall has vigorously argued (following here some other scholars) that ‘the insistence that Nazism was an anti-Christian movement has been one of the most enduring truisms of the past fifty years’.
    While Bergen generally agrees, she identifies certain weaknesses both in the analytical framework and the empirical adequacy of Steigmann-Gall´ work. In effect, Bergen argues that Steigmann-Gall both overplays and underplays his case. One cannot make any justice to the insights of either Steigmann-Gall or Bergen, but the following crucial point stressed by Bergen should be widely known:
    “The overwhelming majority of Germans remained baptized, tax-paying 
members of the official Christian Churches throughout the 12 years of nazi rule. In hindsight, it may seem impossible to reconcile the vicious hatreds of nazism with Christianity’s injunction to ‘turn the other cheek’ or to square the circle of nazi anti-semitism with Christianity’s obvious origins in Judaism. But the vast majority of Germans — over 95 per cent by the last count in 1939 —evidently had no problem doing so.”
    Indeed. The Nazis could never have overrun Germany except by appealing to interests, beliefs, hopes and fears of Germans who viewed themselves as good Christians. The Nazis did not come to power thanks to some imagined ideological void following the acceptance of “God is dead”. They came to power on the shoulders of German Christianity.”

    • Religion in the sense of being registered in the Lutheran or Catholic church has no power at all. Religion in the sense of actually reordering your life around a certain set of beliefs has huge power. A huge power for good if those beliefs are basically true. A huge power for evil if those beliefs are basically false. Those Germans who did live their faith were quite powerful despite the fact that many of them were martyred.

      Evil can only be restrained by cops or consciences. When we use cops we impose our faith on others and that does not go well. When we use conscience there is always to choice to say No. People and even whole cultures can ignore their conscience and do evil. It seems not just religion but any power trying to do good would have this problem.

      • Papalinton

        "A huge power for good if those beliefs are basically true. A huge power for evil if those beliefs are basically false."

        Therein lies the rub. With 95% of the German population being Christian, that is, for every 100 soldiers in the German army 95 of them were self-identified Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Let's put a few numbers to that %. Germany's population in 1939 was 80,600,000+. A cursory calculation puts the number of Christians at 76,500,000, all Jesus followers, whose beliefs one must assume by your reckoning were basically true. What huge power for good do you imagine their belief in Christianity resulted in?

        "Evil can only be restrained by cops or consciences. When we use cops we impose our faith on others and that does not go well. When we use conscience there is always to choice to say No."

        So what you are saying when you characterise the Allied forces as cops imposing their faith on others [Germans], that such imposition was a bad outcome, 'and that does not go well'. Because those 76,400,00 Christians [I'm being fair here and deducted some 100,000 Christian martyrs who might have gone with their conscience] sure as hell didn't exercise their Christian conscience for the power of good, except for a minuscule few who might have practiced their conscience and attempted to thwart the German juggernaut by attempting to kill Hitler or his commanders. But even for those who might have paid such high sacrifice it can never be claimed that Christian conscience was ever likely THE motivating factor. Those 76,400,00 Christians for the duration of the war did not exercise their choice to say No.

        Can you even sense a glimmer of understanding of the elephantine flaw in your argument? I simply don't think you can.

        I reiterate: If religion cannot restrain evil, it cannot claim effective power for good. Those 76,400,000 Christians make abject mockery of your argument.

        The historical evidence for the callowness and opportunistic nature of Christian conscience can equally apply with the advent of Communism in Russia. Russia was an overwhelmingly Christian country, as were most of the satellite countries that were subsumed into the Soviet Union. Apart from those Christian martyrs who did exercise their conscience against Communism, the overwhelming majority of Christians morphed into publicly declared communists, even President Putin, who represents the archetypal soviet Communist and political policeman in the top echelons of the dreaded KGB.

        When it finally dawned that Communism was a failed experiement and fell over in the 1990s, Communists effortlessly segued back into christianity. The Russian population in 2010 was 142,905,200. 76% are professed Christians, at 108,607,952. Those numbers don't appear overnight. They were deeply embedded in the communist paradigm. One reasonably asks the question: Where were all those Christians that should have exercised their power for good?

        No Randy, you have not made the case. The historical narrative that best and more evidentially and truthfully reflects what occurred is that after Communism quite properly dissolved, Christians cockroached out of the communist woodwork in droves where they had been hiding their debilitated and fragile collective conscience for all those years. The real narrative here is that Christian conscience is pretty much a rubber ducky, an opportunistic mooch.

        How ironic it is, with Christianity now very much in the ascendancy in the Kremlin and the Russian psyche, with Putin sporting an ever-so conspicuous crucifix against his bare macho chest, that Russia looms once again a clear and present threat and danger to humanity with its belligerence, nationalistic pride, all aided and abetted by Patriarch Kirril of the Russian Orthodox Church, just as Christianity did with the Tsars of old. When will Christians learn that Christianity is not a force for good? It is by its very nature recklessly ambivalent and prevaricating, ever exploitatively inveigling its presence into positions of influence and people's lives without warrant,

        Religion may not alway be responsible for global violence, but it sure as hell as useless as a toothless tiger in preventing it. Again, if religion cannot restrain evil, then it cannot claim effective power for good. How many fingers has humanity to burn before this' revelation' is consciously realised? [borrowing a concept from the christian lexicon].

        • The trouble is that you and I have such different definitions of Christianity it is not even in the same universe. It would never occur to me to think of Putin as Christian. Whether or not he wears a crucifix certainly would not make for very strong evidence either way.

          I would admit that a great many people who fit your definition of Christian it does not make much difference in their lives. Yet I would see this as a reason for rejecting that type of Christianity. I think there is a more radical form of Christianity that is the one worth talking about.

      • People and even whole cultures can ignore their conscience and do evil.

        Also, as we discern such failures to cooperate with grace, mindful of the Gospel injunction not to judge, we draw a distinction between human finitude (inabilities to cooperate, e.g. invincible ignorance) and moral culpability (refusals to cooperate). Further, we draw distinctions between social and institutional failures versus those of individuals.

        If the assignment of war guilt to governments is generally problematic and the collective assignment of prima facie guilt for crimes against humanity collectively to mass conscripted armies is even more problematic, we can see how this would even more so be the case regarding crimes against peace. Drawing on political versus military versus civilian distinctions and on the invincible ignorance imputed to the just war calculus, neither soldiers nor civilians are ever presumed culpable.

        To wit, consider this famous reflection from Thomas Merton:

        Hence it becomes more and more difficult to estimate the morality of an act leading to war because it is more and more difficult to know precisely what is going on. Not only is war increasingly a matter for pure specialists operating with fantastically complex machinery, but above all there is the question of absolute secrecy regarding everything that seriously affects defense policy. We may amuse ourselves by reading the reports in mass media and imagine that these “facts” provide sufficient basis for moral judgments for and against war. But in reality, we are simply elaborating moral fantasies in a vacuum. Whatever we may decide, we remain completely at the mercy of the governmental power, or rather the anonymous power of managers and generals who stand behind the facade of government. We have no way of directly influencing the decisions and policies taken by these people. In practice, we must fall back on a blinder and blinder faith which more and more resigns itself to trusting the “legitimately constituted authority” without having the vaguest notion what that authority is liable to do next. This condition of irresponsibility and passivity is extremely dangerous. It is hardly conducive to genuine morality. ~
        From Passion for Peace: The Social Essays of Thomas Merton, edited by William H. Shannon, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1995, pages 113-114

        Any interested in a more serious consideration, see the chapter regarding the moral diligence and responsibilities of soldiers in war in __Just War in Religion and Politics__ edited by Jacob Neusner, Bruce D. Chilton, R. E. Tully

  • Jacob

    Neither religions nor ideologies are violent, but people are violent and kill one another. And, people will "justify" their violence through rationalizations. Even simply on the level of anthropology this is what the Cross reveals: we kill even innocent people and then cloak our actions with righteousness. These actions only reveal the sinister underbelly of people and not the "will" of some god. To point to violent political organizations in order to shift discussion away from the "violent religion" meme keeps violence in an abstraction. Ideas, whether "religious" or "political," kill no one, but people do. People need to change, and then the reasoning will follow.

  • Asemodeus

    The problem isn't religion but authoritarianism. When you get groups of people that trust established authorities too much and allow them to get away with anything they want is when you get into trouble.

    • So you need some rules that those in power must follow? Who makes those rules? What if some people just don't agree with them? The US Constitution makes some such rules. It claims people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. When there was general agreement that this was true and what those rights were then it worked well. When people start denying that everyone has the right to free speech or whatever you get problems like when we tried to institute democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      You also get problems when people manufacture new rights like the right to have an abortion or the right to have the state recognize their marriage. Their is no discernible source for these rights other than the state. So then is becomes another form of authoritarianism rather than a solution to it.

      • Asemodeus

        "The US Constitution makes some such rules. It claims people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights."

        That's the Declaration of Independence you moron. The Constitution gives no god authority over men.

        The rest is gibberish. The 9th amendment makes it clear that the numerated rights are not the be all end all rights for Americans. The Constitution was left deliberately open ended so rights can be discovered that conform to the Constitutional protections. This includes abortions and gay marriage.

        • OK, you are still not really grasping the point. You see authoritarianism as a problem. What does that mean? Those in power need to be limited somehow. I agree. Yet how does it work? How can there be a source of rules that even applies to those who normally make the rules? What is to stop them from just declaring those rules to be gibberish?

          • Asemodeus

            Not my fault you cannot get basic civics right.

            Authoritarianism is a problem caused by the followers not the leaders. It is people like you that are too intellectually lazy to parse out a worldview by themselves, so they have to parrot one from someone else. That opens you up to cultural and economic exploitation because you have no internal means of realization.

          • So your world and life view is totally original and not following any popular line of thought? I doubt many people do that. I doubt it is a good thing when they do. So many people on the planet and you think they are basically all wrong?

          • Asemodeus

            Everyone is at some level authoritarian. The trick is moderation and to keep a critical open mind about yourself and your capacity for error.

          • It is not your mind that is the issue. It is the mind of those in power. The trouble is you need quite an ego to win power. The kind of person who wins power tends to be precisely the person who lacks this capacity to see his own potential for error.

          • Asemodeus

            The minds of the followers is the real trouble. We are going to have tyrannical people always, but their damage to society can only cause serious problems if they get a following.

            A tyrannical leader is still just one person. What he can do as a individual pales in comparison to the damage a overly authoritarian populace can produce.

            No crowds of screaming devoted followers, no problems.

            Authoritarian impulses in society can be repressed through higher education, since the systems that control authoritarian populations rely primarily on patriotism, xenophobia, and religion. Three things that cannot stand up to the light of secular education.

          • I guess I don't see educated people as less likely to impose their ideas on others. In fact, your statement just sounds like a demonizing of one side in order to justify domination by the other side. Replacing one authoritarian regime with another.

            The solution seems like true respect for human dignity and free will. The trouble is even that is an idea that people can disagree with.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There are multiple ways of grounding a political philosophy or a system of rights without having recourse to a deity.

            Aside: Saying that a creator gives us rights is not much of a grounding.

          • There are multiple ways. Not sure exactly what you are referring to. The biggest problem is somebody can simply disagree. If your system is based on reason then there will always be someone arguing a different line of reasoning.

            Similarly, saying God endows us with rights is ineffective if someone does not believe in God or believes in a very different kind of God. Still it is outside you. You can change your opinion. You cannot change the truth about God. So you need someone who is truly convinced of another reality. It more possible to avoid putting such a person in charge.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Multiple ways meaning things like Social Contract Theory, Utilitarianism, Marxism, etc. Sure people will argue for other types of government systems and different ways of being governed, but that does not mean that all reasoning about government is wrong or futile. In some ways that fact argues for various principle of limited government, which is something that the religious right has abandoned.

            Different people also reason differently about God. Does that mean we should abandon thinking, arguing, or believing in God? I do not believe in any type of Deity, but if there was a God, I think he would be different from the Abrahamic conception of God.

          • Marxism is a good example. One of the huge problems Marxism had was that not everyone agreed that Marxism was a good idea. So what did they do? Executions, indoctrinations, imprisonments, etc. The system could not work and still leave people free to disagree.

            I was actually a lot less interested in theology as a protestant. One big reason is there was no way to know for sure who had the true teachings. Once I saw there were very good reasons to believe Catholicism had the fullness of truth then spending time to develop a deeper understanding of it made a lot more sense. So yes, different opinions about God can lead to a functional atheism.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Marxism is a good example. One of the huge problems Marxism had was that
            not everyone agreed that Marxism was a good idea. So what did they do?
            Executions, indoctrinations, imprisonments, etc. The system could not
            work and still leave people free to disagree.

            That is not the point. These are reasons why we would reject Marxism as a political philosophy. These are reasons why we don't need to appeal to a deity to decide on our government.

            Once I saw there were very good reasons to believe Catholicism had the
            fullness of truth then spending time to develop a deeper understanding
            of it made a lot more sense. So yes, different opinions about God can
            lead to a functional atheism

            I think you will find that most of the atheists on here were raised Catholic.