Tag Archives: Stalin

Outsourcing moral decisions to justify genocide

A while back I participated in a discussion involving a number of non-theists and theists. You can guess which side I was on. But I bore no ill feelings to the theists – and why should I have? These discussions are largely harmless.

But when the discussion turned to biblical genocide I found I had very strong feelings of hostility to one of the theists, a local minister of religion. Why? Because here I found someone who was blatantly justifying the slaughter of thousands of people. Genocide! And he justified it because he thought those people had been sinful!

Perhaps some people might think my reaction naïve. But I feel exactly the same hostility towards people who justify the Stalin terror, the victimisations and murders of Mao’s so-called “cultural revolution”, Pinochet’s slaughter of Chilean democrats, Hitler’s slaughter of Jews, Slavs, homosexuals and communists, Pol Pot’s murder of intellectuals, and so on. And in my life I have come across people arguing to justify the genocide in all these cases. I really don’t see the justification of biblical genocide any differently. If you can make such  justifications perhaps you are also capable of carrying out such atrocities.

So I can understand why Richard Dawkins recently expressed such feelings of disgust about the justification of biblical genocide by William Lane Craig (see Dawkins responds to a stalker – Craig gets his debate).

We have yet to hear Craig’s response. But he has clearly endorsed that genocide
and I can’t see that his response can be at all human – unless he withdraws that

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Blaming the victim

galileo_31This year is the International Year of Astronomy and, in part, marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first use of telescopes for astronomic observation. And we can’t remember Galileo without also remembering how he was treated by the Church.

I find it interesting, however, that there seems to be a fashion amongst some Christian apologists, and even some others, to blame Galileo for this experience. In other words to blame the victim.

The basic facts are well known. The Catholic Church had banned the advocacy of heliocentrism, the idea that the earth orbited the sun. They declared that it was contrary to the literal meaning of scripture. Despite Galileo’s forced recantation of these ideas he lived out the rest of his life under house arrest on orders of the Roman Inquisition.

A classic example of dogmatism preventing honest scientific investigation.

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Lysenko and the creationists

I used to have a theory that you could deduce a writers political allegiance from the words and phrases they used. This provided a sport for me and some friends as we would attempt to deduce the political party membership of speakers. It didn’t work very well with the mainstream parties but we were quite successful with the minor parties. For example “at the end of the day” was often used by New Zealand First members and “the reality of the situation” by members of the Socialist Unity Party.paradigm

Francis Wheen, in his book: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, describes a similar situation during the early period of the Thatcher’s Tory government in the UK. He says that people were wise to cover their ears and run away whenever politicians or commentators of the day used the word paradigm as it was an indication  of dishonest, and often inhuman, policies. We had the same thing here in the 1980s with the phrase “there’s no other way.”

I react the same way to the words “paradigm,” “materialism,” “naturalism,” “Darwinist,” and “Darwinism.” They usually indicate to me a dishonest attempt to attack science and/or impose anti-scientific ideas.

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Now I’m to blame for Stalin!

The Stalin terror was an argument used against communism or socialism but now it’s atheists who are getting the blame. To an extent this is a reaction by some Christians to the recognised role of religion in modern terrorism (especially Maoafter the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA). Maybe its also a Christian reaction to recent atheist writings on this. I can’t help thinking, though, that the motivation behind this blame is the old religious argument that one cannot be moral without religion and a new attempt to demonise atheists.

Some of the atheist writing on the role of religion in terrorism need criticism (see my post Sources of evil?). However, I want to deal with arguments about Stalin and Mao Zedong here because, though inappropriate, these arguments are getting some traction.

In a sense, the crimes of Stalin, Mao and the Christian Inquisition are problems for all of us.

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Sources of evil?

Since September 2001 we have become more aware of how religious belief can promote evil deeds. This is not new, however. The history of evil perpetrated in the name of religion has been discussed by authors such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great), Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation) and Michael Jordan (In the Name of God : Violence and Destruction in the World’s Religions).

One would have to be blind to disagree with these authors. However, I think the problem of their analyses is that it is restricted to considering only religion. This doesn’t help us understand the origins of evil in secular situations or evil activity carried out by mankind in general.

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