Dr. David Aikman defends his views, and my reply

It seems I have a knack for provoking a response from major Christian apologists who’ve promulgated the idea that atheism and the atrocities committed by the 20th centuries’ totalitarian regimes are indelibly linked.  Dinesh D’Souza has previously responded, though in a perfunctory and inadequate manner, and now Dr. David Aikman does too, but not much better.  In his email to me, which can be read in full as the first reply to this post, Dr. Aikman claims he doesn’t have time to craft a full rebuttal to my comments right now, though that doesn’t stop him from searching my blog (I had included a link to the blog version in my email to him) to try to find out who I am, chide me for some comments I made about myself, bizarrely imply that I’m a sexual predator, and cry foul over the tone of my missive.

A couple words on that last charge, which is the only one worth dignifying with an answer.  This blog has several regular Christian readers, at least one of whom has commented on its relatively acrid-free atmosphere.  Nonetheless, there are times when I take a more belittling approach, as I did with Dr. Aikman.  The reason for it in his case is that I feel he is being purposely deceitful, at least in the work of his I read, which I strongly object to and believe is unprofessional.  It is one thing to have a difference of opinion on matters, but quite another to deliberately skew, make materially false claims, and ignore evidence in order to make one’s case.  I cannot be polite to individuals who do this. 

With that said, here are my comments on the substantive points he raises in reply.

Aikman: I can only say that if you hadn’t heard of any reputable scholar supporting the notion that Communist tyranny was directly related to atheist thought, you certainly didn’t spend much time in the library or worse, your professors were uniformly unwilling to reveal that quite a lot of scholars — yes, including Jesuits — have made the connection.  Ever read any Dostoyevsky, Robert?… I don’t know what your definition of “objective” is in your phrase “objective scholars,” but if you looked up my Ph.D. dissertation you’d find quite a lot of objective scholars who have connected the threads between atheist thought and terror.  Ever heard of Nechayev?  Or don’t they like to mention him in your version of Russian history 101?

Despite all these scholars Aikman claims supports him, he gives only one name: Dostoevsky – a 19th century novelist and Russian Orthodox sectarian, who was not just anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic, holding a special hatred of Jesuits in particular, but a radical slavophile. Does Aikman endorse these views too?  Dostoevsky was assuredly a brilliant writer, but when he claims without intentional hyperbole that “The demons are ideas,” (that came to Russian from the West), “that legion of isms: idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and, underlying them all, atheism”, one can safely doubt his objectivity.  Though Dostoevsky is clearly one of Aikman’s key intellectual influences, cannot he reach outside the echo chamber of militant theists to support his views?  (Nechayev, one of many of the 19th century’s radical communist revolutionaries, was a sort of proto-Stalin, i.e., an individual who believed that the ends justified the means when birthing the new communist existence).

When I say objective scholars, I mean those individuals who have no horse in the race, whose professional careers depend on their ability and renown to make the most sense out of history in the most non-prejudicial manner as possible.  Scholars like Hannah Arendt, Richard Pipes, Moshe Lewin, Stephen Cohen, Robert Conquest — historians who’ve examined the evidence with a bird’s eye view and come to different conclusions than his.  In a sentiment echoed by atheist Sam Harris, Conquest writes in his classic Harvest of Sorrow (pg. 6-7):

For the events we recount here were the result not simply of an urge to power, an insistence on suppressing all autonomous forces in the country, but also of a set of doctrines about the social and economic results achievable by terror and falsehood…it is at least clear that, at more than one level, the sort of rationality sometimes allowed even by critics opposed to the programme was not really much in evidence, or only at a shallow level inappropriate to the complexities of reality.

When I scoff at the Christian apologists’ attempts to lay communist and Nazi atrocity at atheism’s door, I’m merely echoing the implied or stated views of these historians and experts.  One such expert, Dr. Rudolph Rummel, who has extensively examined the sources of mass political murder, which he calls “democide,” has specifically repudiated the link:

Q: Is atheism the principal factor in democide, such as that committed by the “Big Three,” Stalin, Mao, and Hitler?

A: No. I find that religion or its lack – atheism – have hardly anything to do in general with wide-scale democide. The most important factor is totalitarian power. Whether a church, atheists, or agnostics have that power is incidental – it is having the power that is a condition of democide. Incidentally, some ideologies, such as communism, function psychologically and sociologically as though a religion. The only distinction is whether the subject is a god or a man, such as Marx, Lenin, Hirohito, Hitler, Mohammed, Kim Ill sung, Mao, etc.

Not only must Dr. Aikman explain the absence of support among his contemporaries for his claims, he must rebut their own arguments.  An authentic scholarly treatment of a question typically does this, but his failure to reflects the fact that he’s writing propaganda for the Christian masses, where objectivity and a balanced consideration of the evidence are studiously avoided.

Aikman: It is absurd to complain that I don’t go into the private property issue. If I’d been writing a comprehensive account of Communist tyranny, I would obviously have discussed it. I wasn’t; I was dealing with the dangerous consequences of the coerced suppression of religion.

When your need is to establish that the Marxist-Leninist program consisted primarily of the forced eradication of religion, of course it’s “absurd” to go into the issue of private property.  But what those of us without theological blinders know abundantly well, the religious question was but a sideshow to this program.  As Lenin wrote in Socialism and Religion,

It would be bourgeois narrow-mindedness to forget that the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society. No number of pamphlets and no amount of preaching can enlighten the proletariat, if it is not enlightened by its own struggle against the dark forces of capitalism.

Daniel Peris explains why religion wasn’t really a huge concern until late in the game:

Revolutionaries inspired by Marxism were not supposed to have to contend with religion after a proletarian revolution. Bolshevik policy makers were operating within an ideological framework theorized for an industrialized nation with an already secularized working class.  The Revolution, however, took place in the still largely rural, agrarian, and Holy Russia.  While political aspects of Marxism had been modified (if not fully reversed) by Lenin to justify a takeover in Russia, the revisionary process had not extended to cultural transformation, and certainly not to the dissemination of atheism.  Direct antireligious propaganda, however framed, amounted to ideological voluntarism, and Bolshevik leaders repeatedly stated that the ultimate “liquidation of religion” would require the completed construction of socialism (Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless, pg. 24).

So Dr. Aikman is simply being disingenuous.  He’s alleged in his work that the basis of 20th century tyranny is atheism.  But as I pointed out to him, the disregard for private property as a key basis for tyranny is a notion that’s been recognized for centuries, even by his fellow Christians.  In other words, there’s long existed a rival hypothesis to his, which he simply ignores in order to bolster his own.  I suggest there’s another reason for this: communist antipathy toward private property has a direct lineage to the Bible.  For Dr. Aikman to acknowledge this would open up a Pandora’s Box of difficult questions that would fatally undermine his claims.

Aikman: If you knew anything about Lenin’s furious tirades against Bolsheviks who were interested in religious ideas, you’d have known that his antipathy for both Christian belief and the Orthodox Church far predated the Russian civil war.  You seem to think that Lenin smacked the back of his wrist on his forehead and said, “Gosh, those Orthodox priests, that’s why they’re so horrible.  They’re supporting the Whites!”  Oh, and speaking of canards, it’s quite silly to say that Lenin was an atheist because Orthodox priests were so corrupt and — as you do rightly say — had supported the worst of tsarist autocracy.  People can make quite a variety of different choices when they encounter corrupt priests.  They can become Protestants, for example.  Luther did.

 “Furious tirades” like this one?

Religion must be declared a private affair. In these words socialists usually express their attitude towards religion. But the meaning of these words should be accurately defined to prevent any misunderstanding. We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned. Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority. Everyone must be absolutely free to profess any religion he pleases, or no religion whatever, i.e., to be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule. Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies. These should become absolutely free associations of like-minded citizens, associations independent of the state. Only the complete fulfillment of these demands can put an end to the shameful and accursed past when the church lived in feudal dependence on the state, and Russian citizens lived in feudal dependence on the established church, when medieval, inquisitorial laws (to this day remaining in our criminal codes and on our statute-books) were in existence and were applied, persecuting men for their belief or disbelief, violating men’s consciences, and linking cozy government (Socialism and Religion, 1905)

I never claimed that Lenin was an atheist because of corrupt Orthodox priests.  Rather, I objected strongly to Dr. Aikman’s failure to note the Russian Orthodox Church’s corrupting influence and reactionary role in Russian history, instead giving the impression it was some innocent persecuted bystander.  Lenin’s attitude toward religion and Christianity was informed not just by Marx, and not just by Orthodoxy, but also by the mundane observation they were destructive for much of their existence.  But as we know, Lenin, like many communists, believed religion would ultimately fade away on its own accord, so he could afford to be ambivalent, as the above quote demonstrates.  When it proved far more reactionary, dangerous, and persistent than his ideology allowed, Lenin turned antagonistic (for a time).  It’s simply false that “religious opposition in no way posed any kind of threat to [Lenin’s] regime,” and Aikman knows it.

It’s curious that Aikman cites Luther as an example of an alternative path that could be followed.  Is he suggesting that it’s appropriate to become a raving anti-Semite as well?

Aikman: Yes, Robespierre was a deist, but he hated Christianity and the Terror was a continuation of the de-Christianization period of the French Revolution.  Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but he hated Christianity was well.  Jefferson liked to call himself a Christian, though he clearly wasn’t a believer and he despised every Christian he knew except John Adams.

I’m heartened to see that Dr. Aikman is not completely blind to the patently obvious.  Despite his chapter header, “The Problem of Wicked Atheists: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot,” he now acknowledges that “Hitler wasn’t an atheist.”  He also acknowledges the primary role deists played in the Reign of Terror.  The hole in his argument should thus be blazingly obvious.  If atheism is not a necessary component of totalitarian terror in general or of religious persecution in particular, then, logically, it’s quite possibly not a component at all.  Is the real problem “de-Christianization,” as he seems to suggest?  If so, then the hole in his argument is now large enough to fly a 747 through, because it’s a policy that even his fellow theists have pursued.  The truth of the matter is that anyone can be irreligious, or simply anti-Christian, for reasons wholly unrelated to atheism.  Since that is so, his argument collapses.  The problem is not atheism, but of state-directed illiberalism and the centralization of power.  I invite Dr. Aikman to read the works of Lord Acton, whose observations, while meant for a different set of tyrannical dictators (namely, the Popes in Rome), remain relevant.

I found it odd that Aikman spared not a single comment or a defense of his claim that, “The Soviet experience thoroughly demonstrates that if God is eliminated from public life, a much worse deity inevitably is erected in his [sic] place”, since it’s so central to his case.  And yet, how could he? When sociologists have found that such irreligious societies as Sweden and Denmark to be “moral, stable, humane, and deeply good,” it is simply an untenable position.

Aikman: You seem to have a profound rage against Christianity  Are you recovering from unpleasant childhood experiences of religion?  It always amazes me that secular humanists, who claim either that there is no god or that it doesn’t really matter whether there is one or not, get so angry when people suggest — terribile dictu — that God might exist and might have something to say about our world.

Goodness, not this canard again.  I suspect Christians love to believe it because it helps relieve the massive cognitive dissonance they must deal with on a daily basis.  Fortunately, I’ve already addressed it.

22 thoughts on “Dr. David Aikman defends his views, and my reply

  1. The full text of Dr. Aikman’s email to which I replied.

    ———–

    February 26 2009

    Dear Robert (whatever your last name is; your blogsite doesn’t tell us much about you save that you give the impression of being rather conceited about your looks and your dancing skills).

    Thank you for your long tirade. I’ve actually got quite a lot of writing to do so I can’t respond in full to it right now. I can only say that if you hadn’t heard of any reputable scholar supporting the notion that Communist tyranny was directly related to atheist thought, you certainly didn’t spend much time in the library or worse, your professors were uniformly unwilling to reveal that quite a lot of scholars — yes, including Jesuits — have made the connection. Ever read any Dostoyevsky, Robert? Or have you been too busy watching the ladies admire you to do that?

    I don’t know what your definition of “objective” is in your phrase “objective scholars,” but if you looked up my Ph.D. dissertation you’d find quite a lot of objective scholars who have connected the threads between atheist thought and terror. Ever heard of Nechayev? Or don’t they like to mention him in your version of Russian history 101?

    It is absurd to complain that I don’t go into the private property issue. If I’d been writing a comprehensive account of Communist tyranny, I would obviously have discussed it. I wasn’t; I was dealing with the dangerous consequences of the coerced suppression of religion. If you knew anything about Lenin’s furious tirades against Bolsheviks who were interested in religious ideas, you’d have known that his antipathy for both Christian belief and the Orthodox Church far predated the Russian civil war. You seem to think that Lenin smacked the back of his wrist on his forehead and said, “Gosh, those Orthodox priests, that’s why they’re so horrible. They’re supporting the Whites!” Oh, and speaking of canards, it’s quite silly to say that Lenin was an atheist because Orthodox priests were so corrupt and — as you do rightly say — had supported the worst of tsarist autocracy. People can make quite a variety of different choices when they encounter corrupt priests. They can become Protestants, for example. Luther did.

    Yes, Robespierre was a deist, but he hated Christianity and the Terror was a continuation of the de-Christianization period of the French Revolution. Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but he hated Christianity was well. Jefferson liked to call himself a Christian, though he clearly wasn’t a believer and he despised every Christian he knew except John Adams.

    You seem to have a profound rage against Christianity Are you recovering from unpleasant childhood experiences of religion? It always amazes me that secular humanists, who claim either that there is no god or that it doesn’t really matter whether there is one or not, get so angry when people suggest — terribile dictu — that God might exist and might have something to say about our world.

    I wonder what the highest values are in the cosmology of secular humanism. Salsa dancing? Incidentally, I’ve always been fascinated by Aldous Huxley’s admission that his own secular humanism was governed by the desire not to have to face any religiously-based moral restraint on his sexual freedom. I hope — for the sake of the women — that is not so in your case.

    Incidentally, I’m not prepared to continue this email conversation unless you drop your sneering and intemperate tone. Good manners, at least, is something believers and humanists ought to be able to find common ground on.

    Best, David Aikman

  2. What a bizarre coincidence. This is twice in as many days I have come across this Huxley quote.

    Dr. Aikman: Incidentally, I’ve always been fascinated by Aldous Huxley’s admission that his own secular humanism was governed by the desire not to have to face any religiously-based moral restraint on his sexual freedom.

    Edward Babinski has written a long blog entry on this. To sum up: This is misquoted from Huxley’s book “Ends and Means” where he was talking about the rising concept of meaninglessness after the First World War, and how the masses were looking for meaning in materialism. In the same book, Huxley goes on to state how he, personally, found meaning in the cosmos (in a mystical way) and goes on to rebut the philosophy of meaninglessness.

    Now, as a disclaimer, I have not read Huxley’s book and take this from Ed Babinski’s blog. But I can’t help wondering if Dr. Aikman is taking this from the short article “Confessions of an Atheist” rather than from the book itself.

  3. Hi Robert,

    Interesting reply from Aikman. I was surprised at some of his sneering remarks. But I completely agree about his unwillingness to even justify his claims. I got the same attitude from someone who cites Aikman all the time when discussing this issue. His name is David Marshall (who also studied under Aikman) and I’ve debated him on this issue several times, though he just repeats the same old argument from authority citing Aikman, and telling me that because Aikman (and Marshall too) knows so much more than I do about Soviet history I’m wrong. It’s terribly absurd that they make these claims and when called on it can never back them up. Of course after you point out the fact they have no case they insult you and talk down to you. These apologists are all the same.

  4. @DagoodS – Thanks for the link. Interesting read.

    @AA – I read some of your debates with David at Amazon.com. I found it interesting that he failed to convince even fellow Christians. Feel free to direct him to this site, or let me know where you guys are debating so I can add some thoughts.

  5. Hi there again Robert.

    I’m afraid I’ve bowed out of trying to get Marshall to admit his errors. I’ve been trying for a year believe it or not and have had no success. It gets very irritating arguing with someone who’s views are so out of touch with reality; their arguments don’t make the least amount of sense. At one point I got so frustrated about his lack of rationality I actually cursed at him. Shame on me for not keeping my temper and frustration under wraps but his constant evasions of my questions just got to me about how a negative – atheism – can influence someone and that it was the communist ideology which influenced them.

    But I suppose I’ll go ahead and give him the link to your blog posts (your original article and Aikman’s reply. I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of that) and see if he responds to your arguments. He is odd though. He’s always told me that he won’t debate me at my blog or comment on my rebuttals to his or Aikman’s book on my blog; that he does all his debating on the amazon forums. I have no idea why…

    I had also left a comment on your post called “The incoherency of the anti-atheists” and was wondering if a quote you made about communism is similar to something I read Marx had said.

    You had said:

    “Atheism is a part of Marx and Engels’ conception of communism, though communism is certainly not irrevocably linked to it.”

    Which I replied:

    This reminds me of a quote I found of Marx’s once:

    “Communism begins where atheism begins, but atheism is at the outset still far from being communism; indeed it is still for the most part an abstraction.”

    Unless I misunderstand this quote it seems that’s what Marx himself is saying, that atheism isn’t much a part of his ideas.

    I’m very curious if this is what Marx’s quote meant.

  6. Dear Mr. Aikman,

    I tend to doubt that the 1st-19th centuries would have had far less bloodshed than the 20th century if the populations back then were as huge and if the weaponry and abilities to travel and communicate were also the same as in the 20th century. It was only in the mid-19th century in fact when humanity reached its first billionth in terms of population numbers due to improved plumbing and vaccines and it kept growing exponentially since then.

    Secondly, the nations were not atheist in the First World War which led to the Second World War. Even in the Second World War, Hitler was elected by a heck of a lot of rural Christians (his poll numbers in the big cities ran about even with all the other many candidates, but outside the cities Hitler’s numbers surpassed those of rival candidates), neither was Mussolini an atheist, nor Hirohito. In fact all the bickering between Christianized European nations during the first World War lent status to the Bolshevics in Russia and allowed them to successfully revolt against the Czar since the Russian revolution took place during the last year of World War 1 when the European nations were in disarray. Likewise, the Chinese communist revolution succeeded near the end of World War 2. Even Pol Pot and his Kymer Rouge gained in status and numbers and started their revolution after the U.S. began illegally bombing parts of Cambodia during the Viet Nam war.

    On Atheist Morality

    Wealthy non-theists like Bill Gates founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by donating tens of billions of his own wealth along with tens of billions of additional dollars added by agnostic billionaire, Warren Buffet. Gates and Buffet were ranked as the top two wealthiest men on earth (at least that was their ranking before the recent stock market meltdown). Andrew Carnegie of a previous generation was another noted atheist philanthropist.

    Also, have you been to cities or countries with very little church attendance? I’m not talking about countries whose leaders tried to enforce atheism as a super ideology (linked to an “infallible political creed” like communism with “dialectical materialsm” explaining all the mysteries of history and promising a “worker’s paradise,” and having a devil in the form of “the bourgousie” and the unforgiveable sin being “decadence”), but I am talking about countries with religious freedom yet where large percentages have chosen not to worship, or say they don’t believe in God. There’s Japan, Sweden, Denmark, even England. They have legal systems and pursue justice. In fact justice was around before Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments. Other nations, huge nations, were making laws and handing out moral advice before ancient Israel. Practical moral wisdom sayings are universal. It’s the specific religious beliefs and practices that differ the most from culture to culture.

    I work at a university and know several students who became Peace Core volunteers, and who told me all about their experiences. The ones I knew were some of the most secular students on campus. One even got a master’s in world health and is in Africa right now in a U.S. government capacity, helping people. I suppose there are many secularists and/or not very religious people working for the Red Cross and Red Crescent (the Muslim arm of that organization). I recall meeting a woman once who worked for charities in Greenville and was miffed when a lady told her what a nice Christian thing it was she was doing. The woman was not a Christian who was being told this, she replied something to the effect that “religion had nothing to do with it.” The United Way also funds many non-sectarian non-religious charities under a huge umbrella of gathering funds for them. The Will Rogers Foundation, The Heart Association, the Cancer Society, walk a thons galore. Lance Armstrong is an atheist and cancer survivor who has done a lot of work supporting that charity. The inspirational, Helen Keller, was both a “heretical universalist” Swedenborgian and a member of the first Humanist Society in the U.S. I believe she also was a member of various pro-communist labor groups. But her story continues to inspire many.

    It was I think, during the Victorian era when non-sectarian charities, universalistic charities, and government charity assitance programs arose. It was a time when people realized that the churches could not be society’s safety net. More had to be done, much more. And at that same time universalist Christianity also grew. Florence Nightingale made nursing a legitimate modern profession, and revolutionized hospital care. She was a universalist Christian who taught that hospitals must serve sick people no matter what their religion or sect, and allow people to see whatever clergy they wished. Hospitals up to her day had been sectarian in nature, built mainly to aid those of the same religious sect, and/or evangelize those in their care. Florence put care above evangelization, and taught that hospitals must allow people to see whomever they wished when it came to their soul’s needs. The founder of the Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay it turns out. His family burned his love letters after he died. And Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross was another universalist Christian. Since then, charity for its own sake has been increasingly recognized. Ever heard of Jane Addams and “Hull House” in Chicago? Some claim that the work of the Hull House marked the beginning of what we know today as “Social Welfare.” Interestingly, Nightingale, Dunant, and Addams, all appear to have helped revolutionize charity, and all three held an open view of religion, were not into the Jonathan Edwards’ hell-fire stuff at all, but into universalistic acceptance of others. And Dunant, being gay, with Addams living with a woman and mentioning how much she loved her is certainly suspected of being gay, and Nightingale also mentioned her love of another woman in some strongly worded prose, and is at least suspected of having homosexual urges. Today people of all religions or none work in hospitals, and work for the betterment of mankind via agricultural science and medical science.

    Some of the hardest work that has been done (which has saved the most lives) has often been done by people who either aren’t very religious or who choose not to mention religion, nor connect their work with it. Take Maurice Hilleman and Norman Bourlag, two guys so into their work they never seem to have taken time to be widely recognized for it, except by fellow specialists in their fields. Have you ever heard either of their names?

    In an April 2005 obituary, the New York Times described Maurice Ralph Hilleman (who died at age 85) as the man who “probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.” His vaccines probably saved more lives than any scientist in the past century, and his research helps the medical establishment predict and prepare for upcoming flu seasons. As a young man in a small midwestern town Maurice felt that life must have more to offer than selling goods to cowboys and their girlfriends. He built his own radio which could just pick up talk and music programes from distant Chicago. He also loved to visit the local public library where he found a copy of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” that had avoided the censorship of the town’s fundamentalist church. In eighth grade he was caught reading “The Origin of the Species” in church. His curiosity led him to pursue education at a local branch of the state university and then to the University of Chicago, where he studied microbiology. In 1988 President Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, America’s highest scientific honour. His peers said that he had done more for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur. Dr. Hilleman developed 8 of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (which brings on a variety of symptoms, including inflammation of the lining of the brain and deafness). He also developed the first generation of a vaccine against rubella or German measles. The vaccines have virtually vanquished many of the once common childhood diseases in developed countries.

    Norman Borlaug’s religious views remain a bit of a mystery since he’s very practial simply about feeding the world via agricultural science that raises more productive and hardy crops that he has done on nearly all the world’s continents. He’s credited with saving a
    billion lives from starvation. I couldn’t find what Borlaug’s religious views were on the internet, and he never seems to mention them in connection with his work, since he’s as I said, more interested in works, not faith.

    Among philanthropists, the biggest in recent days are not Evangelical nor even orthodox Christians, there’s Andrew Carnegie, atheist. Bill Gates, agnostic, and his friend and fellow billionaire philanthropist, Warren Buffet, a non-Christian, pretty near agnostic.

    As for saving the most lives, the grand prize probably goes to the plumbers of the world, and water and waste engineers. Without the development of plumbing the spread of diseases from unsafe water supplies and the mosquitoes and flies that carry disease back and forth from them, would have been epidemic. I’ve read other essays that agree, voting for the plumbers and the engineers who developed plumbing, makes the most sense.

    On Ethical Standards

    Where did Jewish and Christian laws and ethical standards come from? Where did Egyptian and Babylonian laws and ethical standards come from? And Chinese ones? All we know for sure is that human communities came up with them. Whether or not they got them “from God” is another question. But you can’t simply assume a divine origin, and if so, why did the laws concerning the worship of that God differ more from culture to culture than did the general laws regarding how people treat people? I suspect that laws and ethical standards arose naturally in human communities around the world [this is not to say some form of theism might not also be true] due to shared experiences and recognition of pain and comfort, both personally and socially. Atheists are humans who also live in communities, and they recognize the same standards since both atheists and Christians see a value in keeping peace, and don’t want to have things stolen from them, or have their lives taken from them at someone else’s whim. HOWEVER, SUPER IDEOLOGIES, whether religious or atheistic ARE ANOTHER MATTER, and THE ETHICAL RULES CHANGE IN SUCH CASES TO “UNIFORMITY OR DEATH.”

    I suspect that religious ideologies can be frightening and get deep inside people’s psyches because of the fear of what they threaten after death (though the fear of hell has been used primarily to support one religious sect over and against another), and that one “auto da fe” back in the Middle Ages could keep a LOT of people in line since back then such executions were public spectacles and there was NO OTHER MEDIA to distract a person, no radio or TV, and most were illiterate, and everybody had the day off on public execution days. So every eye was there to see such spectacles. This had a great effect at enforcing uniformity of belief.

    On the other hand, any society that is able to capture lawbreakers and bring them to trial fairly swiftly is going to have a low crime rate. Take China. One of the lowest if not the lowest on earth. They also employ the person’s family to convince the criminal to change their life, and they give the criminal a job. At least that’s blue collar criminals. China also puts pronographers in prison. And people of any religion or cult or political group that they perceive to be a threat. They don’t have freedom. They also have white collar corruption.

    But can people who believe that God commanded the slaughter of every living thing in certain cities in order to “bless his people with land” really claim to be functioning via a “higher standard?” SUPER IDEOLOGIES are the trouble.

    Next time you’re in Scandinavia start ranting against the Soviet and Chinese death toll, and see how they AGREE with you, atheists agreeing with you.

    On “Suffering for the Gospel”

    Human beings have “suffered” at each other’s hands for as long as human beings have had hands. “Suffering” for almost any conceivable reason, including “suffering for the Gospel,” is therefore not unique. Throughout history and in fields of human endeavor as diverse as religion, politics, science, art, and education, great minds have suffered at the hands of little minds; great hearts and souls have suffered at the hands of the heartless and the soulless; obstinate hearts, minds and souls have suffered at the hands of equally obstinate hearts, minds and souls. Those inflicting the suffering often thought they were “right” to do so. And those experiencing it took succor in believing that their faith, or ideas, or actions, were “right.”

    Speaking of non-Christians who have suffered: Jews have suffered for over a thousand years at the hands of Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Moslems, and Germans. Which reminds me of the Jewish story of a rabbi facing the Inquisition, who was asked to deny his faith. He asked for time to think it over. The next morning he said, “I will not become a Catholic, but I have a last request – before I’m burnt at the stake my tongue should be cut out for not replying at once. To such a question ‘No!’ was the only answer.”

    Christian antisemitism has been the cause of much Jewish suffering over the past 1900 years. And, like the modern day disavowal of the importance of pro-slavery Biblical passages, most of today’s Christians disavow the importance of anti-Jewish New Testament passages, which is certainly an improvement over the past. Still, neither the antisemitic passages, nor the pro-slavery passages, have been erased from the Bible, and some people continue to find such passages “divinely inspired.” According to the author of Antisemitism in the New Testament, “Nearly every book in the New Testament expresses slander and contempt for Jews. Most Christians have maintained that the New Testament is not anti-Jewish but that antisemitism arose as a result of the misunderstanding of it. Examination of the contents of the New Testament does not support this claim.”[155]

    And what about the religion known as “Bahaism?” It began when the Persian holy man, Ali Muhammad (1819-1850) set out to reform Islam and bring people back to the worship of a purely spiritual God (not unlike how Jesus set out to reform the Judaism of his day). His movement caused much religious ferment. This led to his execution in 1850 by order of the Shah’s chief minister and at the instigation of Muslim clerics who saw his movement as a threat to orthodox Islam. Besides Ali Muhammad, 20,000 of his followers were martyred for their beliefs. Yet the “Bahai” religion survived, and it has communities in 205 countries.[156]

    The early Mormons were persecuted by the “orthodox” Christian majority, and the founder of Mormonism was killed by a mob. Yet that religion continues to do quite well.

    And what about agnostics, atheists, “heretical” Christians and “heretical” Muslims, all of whom have suffered at the hands of “orthodox” Christians and “orthodox” Muslims for daring to speak and publish their “blasphemous” or “heretical” ideas? Christians and Muslims have publicly burnt the books of their critics, so that even today, the words of Christianity’s earliest critics only survive in the form of excerpts in the works of their Christian opponents. In colonial America, there were laws that made “blasphemy” a crime punishable by death. Even up till the early 1900s, the authors of “blasphemous” literature in Great Britain and America could be put on trial, fined, and/or imprisoned for their “crime.” Some Muslims still view “blasphemy and heresy” as crimes deserving the death penalty.

    As I said above, human beings have “suffered” at each other’s hands for as long as human beings have had hands. “Suffering” for almost any conceivable reason and belief is therefore not unique.

    Lastly, speaking of “suffering for the Gospel,” I should mention Richard Wurmbrand’s organization, “Voice of the Martyrs,” and his books as well. Lutheran minister, Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured by communists in his homeland of Rumania. But Wurmbrand was not the only person imprisoned and tortured for his faith. Wurmbrand admits there were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarian ministers, members of a sect called “Students of the Bible,” Catholic priests, Eastern Orthodox priests, liberal Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, Muslims, political prisoners, artists, poets, farmers, etc., in prison with him. They were all suffering for their religious and/or political beliefs. [157] For instance, one Unitarian minister was imprisoned because he “always sided with the workers, started a school and a co-operative, and doubled his congregation.” (The communists wanted ministers whose churches were always empty.) “When the communist police came to arrest the Unitarian, they found among his hundreds of books a copy of Adler’s Individual Psychology. ‘Aha!’ said a detective. ‘An individualist!’ and carried the books off as evidence.” [158] During the final period of his imprisonment, Wurmbrand was removed from the general prison population and crammed into a portion of the prison reserved solely for pastors and priests. “That evening, in the hour which the priests’ room had set aside for prayer, Catholics collected in one corner, the Orthodox occupied another, the Unitarians a third. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had a nest on the upper bunks; the Calvinists assembled down below. Twice a day, our various services were held: but among all these ancient worshippers I could scarcely find two men of different sects to say one ‘Our Father’ together. Far from fostering mutual understanding, our common plight made for conflict. Catholics could not forgive the Orthodox hierarchy for collaborating with Communism. Christians of minority beliefs disagreed about ‘rights.’ Disputes arose over every point of doctrine. And while discussion was normally conducted with genteel malice, as learnt in seminaries on wet Sunday afternoons, sometimes tempers flared.”[159] Their “quarrels…came to a halt”[160] only after the communists tried to “convert” all the priests and ministers to the one true faith, i.e., communism. The imprisoned clergymen were forced to endure long lectures on the goodness of communism and the evils of religion. Loudspeakers were placed in their cells that blared propaganda slogans day and night. That was when the priests and ministers began to value the most basic human similarities they shared, rather than their separate religious doctrines, since now they were all being driven mad by the same enemy: “We learnt that all our denominations could be reduced to two: the first is hatred, which makes ritual and dogma a pretext for attacking others; the second is love, in which men of all kinds realize their oneness and brotherhood before God…More often now it was as if the cell were ablaze with the spirit of self-sacrifice and renewed faith.”[161] But if the communists had ceased trying to “convert” them, would they not have reverted to quarrelsome attempts to “convert” each other? Did not the Americans and British and French put aside their differences and band together “with a spirit of self-sacrifice and renewed faith” during two World Wars when Germany tried to “convert” the world’s property to her own? Sharing a common enemy that will stop at nothing to achieve its goals, can instill a marvelous sense of “oneness, brotherhood, and self-sacrifice” in those who band together to oppose it. That is human nature and there is nothing “unique” about that.

    See also
    Darwin to Hitler: Weikart, the Discovery Institute, and History
    by Edward T. Babinski
    http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/darwin_hitler.html

    1. Unfortunately, no. Much of his case is built on the idea that atheism and irreligion are the same thing, which I demonstrated is not the case. He also conceded that Hitler was no atheist, despite claims to the contrary in his book.

  7. Your citation to Rudolph Rummel is curious. You mention his conclusion that atheism doesn’t appear to be a factor in “democide.” But you don’t cite his point that “Race and religion are variables that researches have included in a number of statistical analyses of democide (genocide and mass murder by governments) across all nations. They have very little relationship to democide.” http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/QA.V2.HTML

    This whole debate got started when atheists claimed that religion is a major cause of conflict, killling, and evil in the world (“Religion ruins everything” and all that) and that the world would be a much better place without religion. Theists responded that, you know, atheists don’t have such a great track record either. You’ve responded by arguing that atheim wasn’t the motivation for atheists’ bad deeds. I disagree, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re right. In making your counterargument and citing Rummel, you’ve undermined atheists’ main argument — that religion is a particular cause of evil and conflict in the world. As Rummel says, it just isn’t true.

  8. Anon,

    Democide, as Rummel defines it, is but one manifestation of evil, not the only one. Thus, Rummel’s view is not necessarily inconsistent with, say, Hitchens’s or other atheists’. Moreover, the argument didn’t even originate with atheists, but has been around for centuries. Deists have never been keen on religion, for example.

  9. “Democide, as Rummel defines it, is but one manifestation of evil, not the only one.”

    Yeah, but the massacres, crusades, and jihads are the headlining evils that atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens love to trumpet. Without being able to point to the killing of innocents as being a function of religion, their complaints about religion are relatively small potatoes.

    I close with a quote from David Bentley Hart:

    “Some [men] kill because their faiths explicitly command them to do so, some kill though their faiths explicitly forbid them to do so, and some kill because they have no faith and hence believe all things are permitted to them. Polytheists, monotheists, and atheists kill – indeed, this last class is especially prolifically homicidal, if the evidence of the twentieth century is to be consulted. Men kill for their gods, or for their God, or because there is no God and the destiny of humanity must be shaped by gigantic exertions of human will . . .

    Men will always seek gods in whose name they may perform great deeds or commit unspeakable atrocities . . . Then again, men also kill on account of money, land, love, pride, hatred, envy or ambition.

    Does religious conviction provide a powerful reason for killing? Undeniably it often does. It also often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill, or for being merciful, or for seeking peace; only the profoundest ignorance of history could prevent one from recognizing this. For the truth is that religion and irreligion are cultural variables, but killing is a human constant.”–David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, 12-13

  10. Anon wrote,

    Yeah, but the massacres, crusades, and jihads are the headlining evils that atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens love to trumpet. Without being able to point to the killing of innocents as being a function of religion, their complaints about religion are relatively small potatoes.

    Crusades and jihads are unquestionably religiously motivated. They simply don’t rise to the level of democide, as far as I can tell from Rummel’s site.

    Quote from David Hart:

    “Men kill…because there is no God…”

    Hart needs to substantiate this bizarre claim.

    “Does religious conviction provide a powerful reason for killing? Undeniably it often does.”

    Since Christianity is included among “religious conviction,” one would rightly ask why the Christian “god of love” would provide powerful reasons for his followers to kill others.

    “[Religious conviction] also often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill, or for being merciful, or for seeking peace;”

    The “sole compelling” reason? Another claim that seems to vastly overreach.

  11. Rummel definitely includes the crusades and jihads in his definition of democide (see http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/MURDER.HTM and http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/QA.V2.HTML), and yet still comes to the conclusion that religion has “very little relationship to democide.” That, obviously does not mean democides have never involved religion or have never been religiously motivated. The point is that religious people don’t seem engage in democides in any greater numbers than non-religious people. That undercuts the Hitchens/Dawkins point that the world would be so much better without religion.

  12. Hi Anon, sorry for the tardy reply. I’ve just returned from vacation!

    You wrote, “The point is that religious people don’t seem engage in democides in any greater numbers than non-religious people. That undercuts the Hitchens/Dawkins point that the world would be so much better without religion.”

    The underlying problem doesn’t seem to be religion per se, but rather dogmatic adherance to a set of unproven, unscientific, and irrational beliefs, and the effort to make the rest of us follow them whether we like it or not. It’s just that religion is particularly susceptible to this problem.

  13. Your refutation of his two sources is quite sloppy for someone who has done stellar research thus far. Your attacks on Dostoyevsky, and Nechayev are simply ad hominem. You attack their views which quite frankly hardly have any bearing on their objectivity. Ignoring their works makes this article a large waste of time for any real scholars. Having read Dostoyevsky I don’t find any of your objections having merit. Each was around during that time and came to the conclusion through their own experience. To simply dismiss them on their views is quite unprofessional.

  14. Matthew, of course Dostoevsky’s views bear on his objectivity. If I told you the government was monitoring your thoughts via a special satellite in space, you’d wonder about my objectivity too. Presumably, you disagree with Dostoevsky’s anti-semitism, yet why don’t you (or Aikman) treat it with such deference as you do his anti-atheism?

    The larger question is what make Dostoevsky an expert on the question of atheism and morality such that he would rightly be cited? Was he educated in philosophy? Did he conduct years of research? Did he write any treatises? The answer to all of the above is no. Those who cite Dostoevsky are merely trading on his fame as one of history’s best writers, which is somewhat like referring to Tom Cruise’s views on psychiatry because he’s a successful actor. You say Dostoevsky came to his views based on experience. You do know that he died in 1881, right? Forty years before any socialist state was established. And you do realize your rationale works for Dostoevky’s anti-Catholicism too…

    As for Nechayev, he’s held up as a logical product of atheism. If that’s valid, one wonders where are all the present-day Nechayevs given the millions of atheists in the world.

  15. Ah sorry my apologies on Dostoevsky. I was actually reffering to this man Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn. I got the name mixed up. Apologies.

    As for views being objective I must point out that your views are completely objective in writing this article as a) you are an atheist, therfore you have a bias towards this b) You wrote this article to dismiss the claim of atheism being involved. Which is factually incorrect as it is simply throwing out a motivator. Not the primary motivator but a good motivator for many dictators. Mao, Pol Pot, and Envher Hoxha fall into that category quite well.

    You also use the claim that the violence was indiscrimate. You must realize that is not the case. The Great Purge targeted select threats, then branched out to those threats known associates and then on. The Cultural Revolution was quite discriminate against the old Chinese culture. Hoxha didn’t hesitate to close down every religious institute in Albania. For the commusnists to be indiscriminate would be completely contrary to their goals and success. Their followers weren’t stupid. Not one of those dictators could have gone on a random orgy of true indiscriminate violence without his entire state collapsing. That is the nature of communist purges, target a group the solidly eliminate them, repeat.

    Also I would like to point out that this simply gives religion a free pass on many of the atrocities you would like to pin on it if your article were to be true.

  16. “Arizona Atheist” has been spreading silly propaganda about me all over the internet. Not surprised to find Robert here endorsing it.

    Ken’s claims to have beaten me in argument can be pretty accurated evaluated by the accuracy of his other claims.

    No, I didn’t study under David Aikman, as he claims here.

    No, I don’t just have a BA, as he claims in your other thread.

    These are the kind of irrational leaps in logic that take Ken to just about any conclusion . . . kind of like a wormhole, you never know where he’s going to pop up. You can take it for granted that wherever you find one of his attacks on me, it’s all equally nonsensical and inaccurate, if not the exact opposite of the truth.

  17. “Arizona Atheist” has been spreading silly propaganda about me all over the internet. Not surprised to find Robert here endorsing it.

    What “silly propaganda” about you have I endorsed?

    The only silly propaganda I’m aware of is that issued by the likes of Dr. Aikman. As you can see above, however, this propaganda was easy to debunk.

  18. Hi Robert! I see Marshall commented on your post! Just like Marshall he can never seem to understand what words mean. I don’t see how my mistake about his credentials or whom he studied under could be considered “propaganda”. I read these things in the Amazon forums and I could’ve sworn Marshall himself said he had studied under Aikman. But maybe I was wrong. Either way, it appears he can’t read since I never said anything about ‘beating’ him in debate, though I did say he couldn’t back up his claims.

    I like the new blog layout!

  19. Hi there and thank you! for so intriguing a thread. Robert, I was a kid when Jozef Dzughashvilli Stalin died in 1953, and I recall my parents explaining the circus which ensued as leaders came and went until the arrival of Nikita Khruschev. I mention him for two reasons ~
    1. I no longer recall the Where or When, but Khruschev and his wife were leaving a church while visiting another country; and dear Ms. Khruschev was caught on camera making the sign of the cross. Were the Soviet atheists as viciously anti-religious as Christian apologist make them out to have been, the old girl should have been shipped to Siberia with Nikita in the same boxcar. Didn’t happen. Perhaps the Soviet leadership held what Lenin said about religion being a purely private affair to be the status quo?
    2. In 1963 John Kennedy promised to start a nuclear war if Soviet ships carrying missiles to Cuba weren’t turned around. Atheist Bertarnd Russell contacted them both and did his best to tell them that an atomic war would likely kill all life on earth. It meant that either Kennedy would allow the missiles to get to Cuba or that Khruschev would order the ships back home. Atheist, Communist Nikita Khruschev prevented the destruction of our world and ordered them back to Mother Russia. Christian John Kennedy would have destroyed it.

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