Saturday, October 21, 2006

Atheism's Toll

Working this weekend on a sewing project and listening to downloaded radio shows from NPR, particularly Krista Tippet's Speaking of Faith. (you can access these shows here)

The mind-body connection discussed in an interview with a paraplegic yoga teacher, an interview with Karen Armstrong, the topic of Gay Marriage discussed by a liberal and a conservative Christian, and this last; an interview with a Chinese author who survived the cultural revolution and what she calls "The Religion of Mao", on Chinese culture and religion (which has been basically atheist for millennia) in general. It's been a rich morning.

From foot binding to the forced labor camps of the 1970's, this atheistic Chinese culture has certainly had it's terrible moments, I thought, and then it occurred to me that of all the people who have shaken their heads sadly over the harm traditional theism has done in the world in my hearing, I've never once heard anyone shake their head over the harm atheism has done in the world.

So I hereby do it. So sad, all the harm atheism has done in the world. Of course, some of my good friends are Atheists, so not all atheists are prone to misguided activity. But one does have to shake one's head over Communism, doesn't one? I wonder if Communism killed more people than the Crusades?


Steamhead said...

I think you can confidently say that Communism killed far more people than the Crusades. The numbers are very difficult to assess, but it looks like around 20 million Russians died needlessly under Stalin's rule in the 1930s alone [source].

Add to that the Mao's rise and the Cultural Revolution (which probably killed about 40 million [source]), Pol Pot's "re-education" campaign in Cambodia (which killed something like one in three people in the country), and other "petty" authoritarian regines, and you have a staggering number. I don't think the Crusades came remotely close to that [highest estimates are about 7 million source]).

It occurs to me that Communism was probably so successful in murdering people because it was such a seductive and attractive philosophy, and thus successfully established itself in a huge geographic area. When it got absolutist and authoritarian, the dream went horribly wrong. You can't murder your own citizens unless they are, in fact, your citizens, so great political success paves the way for great political abuses.

I agree with you that atheism has been associated with some horrible atrocities, but I don't think you can establish causality, just correlation. We didn't bomb Hiroshima and imprison 100,000 American citizens because we were a Christian nation; but we were a Christian nation, which is correlation, not causality.

At the risk of violating Godwin's law (or some variant), it seems to me that the combination political power, absolute philosophical self-assuredness and authoritarian tendencies are shared by Communism with another originally utopian and communitarian, but now iron-fisted and dogmatic, political movement in this country. I won't name names, but you are encouraged to make informed guesses.

I don't know what all this means. Communism is bad. Atheism may be bad, but it's not necessarily demonstrable from its association with Communism. Authoritarian governments are bad (Communisits, Crusaders, Mullahs, or Karl Rove).

Christine Robinson said...

Thanks for the history, Steamhead. Here are some random second thoughts.

And I guess I didn't make clear enough that I don't think that you can blame atheism for the atrocities of an atheistic communisit government any more than you can blame what's going on now in the Middle East simply on religion.

Even communism itself, as a philosophy, has considerable merit and nobility. It doesn't seem to work out very well in practice; at least it didn't in it's first incarnation.

The relationship between communism (in its 20th century incarnations) and atheism was much closer even than the relationship between democracy and monotheism, which could be seen as incidental. You had to be an atheist to be a communist. Communism actively persecuted belief wherever it was found.

At any rate, there are a variety of ways to amass power and then to abuse the rights of others. Religion is one. But some religions, including Christianity and Unitarian Universalism, include a corrective to that tendency, what we call the worth and dignity of each person and what Christians would say is "All persons are made in the image of God." And that's where religion comes in handy in preventing atrocities.

Turtle Mountain said...

It is important to reaiize that atheism is a very recent phenomenon. Homo sapiens sapiens is fully emerged by at least 20,000 to 30,000 BCE. As nearly as we can tell, virtually all were theists until, at best, c. 500 BCE. That means that from 19,500 to 29,500 years, virtually all interhuman killing was performed by theists. As for the Chinese, I have not heard such sweeping implications since I was a boy and "Japs" were put in internment camps.

Are theists more prone to killing than atheists? Of course not. And neither are "Commies." (Another retun to my youth.) I believe all humans are equally frail, and equal. My religion is one which does not sort them out.

kim said...

Of course, Communism wasn't actully communist, in the Marxist theory of it. It pretty quickly devolved to plain old despotism. As our country is doing now.
It isn't theists or atheists, communists or democrats or any other theory -- it is that "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- and we are losing our liberty and our representitive democracy because, as someone said, "When you let the winners of this round make the rules for the next round, they make it so only they can win." Our founding fathers were aware of the corrosive effect of power and tried to put in "checks and balances" to slow it down. And it did slow it for a while. But they have been disassembled, and we are sinking down....
While it is a built-in part of human nature that power corrupts, it is also true of human nature that we are capable of much love, justice, mercy, and generosity. But we have to work to keep the "good" parts on top: The price of freedom is eternal vigilence. That's eternal, and we have let our guard down for too long....

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, Speaking of Faith is produced and distributed by American Public Media, not National Public Radio. SOF Fan

The Emerson Avenger said...

One does have to shake one's head over Unitarianism, as practiced by the fundamentalist atheist faction of Unitarianism doesn't one?