Get ready for some serious thrust, baby…because I’m sick of people who think simply posting ideas on the Internet makes said ideas worth posting on the Internet. And as far as I can tell in my quasi-drunken noncommittal surfings of this vast thing we call the Internet, atheists are one of the most boring, insipid subgroups of this botched petrie dish of human intelligence. This could have been written better, but I don’t have a lot of time right now (sometimes, however, you just need to let your hair down though…)

But first, by way of introduction………

Internet vs. “Intardnets”

There are occasions when I’m asked something like “why do you bother trying to communicate with people over the Internet?” “Are you on some sort of stupid crusade to rid the Internet of misinformation and bullshit?”

To be honest…I mean really honest…part of me remains an idealist; part of me really wants to believe that the Internet can become the productive thing it began as, and that it can be productively used as a tool to educate people. Does anyone, like me, remember the first days/months/years of the Internet? Those days of heady promise before porn and spam where people (naively) touted the Internet as the arrival of real democracy and truly decentered free speech for everyone across the world? Yeah, yeah I know…those days are long, long past – but I do miss them, even if I never believed the hype even then…even if at that early stage I realized that the servers that form the backbone of the Internet were owned by companies, and as long as we have capitalism and people owning things there will never be “true democracy” (if even that exists…sigh).

Now I know this nagging, persistent belief in the potential of the Internet is unrealistic; I know that for every person who uses the Internet there are a thousand who make the Internet into the Intardnets – a dumping ground for every moronic opinion that happens to traverse the garbage-strewn ghetto of the average Gee-I-have-an-opinion-and-a-webpage-so-I’m-like-a-real-intellectual‘s brain. But being an “intellectual” isn’t about having opinions and spouting them all over cyberspace – it isn’t even necessarily about being in the academy (university) and writing lots of articles and getting grants and teaching courses (although the training one gets in university is crucial for this endeavour). It’s about devoting the time and work to developing a process of critical thinking that one makes one’s own and can then apply to everyday life in a productive way (which is definitely not something most academics do).

So with all this in mind, let’s talk about religion and all the crap that’s been ladled on the concept since before the Internet came into being. But for the record, and this is important: I am not an atheist. I am not a theist. I adhere to no religious denomination (anyone who’s read the site’s splash page is muttering duhhhh… at this point!). When someone asks me what my religion is I typically respond that I’m a conscientous objector, but this shouldn’t lead you to believe that I have no respect for religion…quite the opposite, in fact (while being very aware of the atrocities every religion in history has been responsible for at one time or another). I just don’t want to get embroiled in arguments that for me are trite and banal and almost never lead to any interesting or constructive knowledge about lived experience. And sadly, this is what almost every atheist argument is – trite, banal, rife with the same pop-cultural reductionisms you find in religious fundamentalism…1

“Religion” vs. “The Religious”

Now don’t get me wrong – I love George Carlin (RIP, brother) and have a lot of respect for him. He, along with Bill Hicks (RIP, brother) and Jon Stewart, constitute my Holy Trinity of comedy. But let’s face it – he was human, and he had his issues like every one of us do. So when he talks in his typical down-to-earth fashion about drugs as a pharmakon 2 to the human condition, I’m right there with him. But when he talks about “religion” as bullshit…well, that’s another story. Needless to say, irrespective of George Carlin this sentiment has been picked up by atheists all over the world as a way of venting their frustration and hatred on religious institutions which are purportedly responsible for a great share of suffering, death, and oppression in the world.

Now I happen to agree with this – I am personally very critical of organized religion of all denominations (remember – even Buddhists have gone to war). Without being atheist or theist, I agree with the general assertion that organized religion is responsible for a lot of misunderstanding and hatred in the world; no one who has the slightest acquaintance with history can disagree with this. But the question I am about to ask is a question that the atheists I’ve surveyed in my (admittedly unscientific) survey of the Intardnets never ask themselves or others – a question George Carlin, bless him, never asked as far as I know – the single most important question, painfully obvious, that all these lesser atheists, in their rush to assert their orgasmic self-assuredness against lesser “believers” – let fall by the wayside in their emphatic belief in the doctrines of atheism. That, my friends and enemies, is this:

What is religion?

If one is going to attempt a rational debate about cultural phenomena (and atheists loooove to call themselves “rational”), well then, “let us define our terms, ladies and gentlemen”…what do we mean when we refer to “religion?” Atheists take this question for granted so often that the assumption that “everyone knows what religion is” has become naturalized like some Althusserian Ideological State Apparatus. But naturalizing an answer doesn’t dispel the question. So to begin with, I’ll take Christianity as one example of many here – certainly not because it’s the most important religion, and certainly not because I’m Christian (which I’m not – in case you missed it), but because it’s a favourite target for atheists.

So here we go:

Is religion really nothing more than believing in some bearded crusty old fart in the sky who will smite you with lightning for touching yourself at night? Is religion really nothing more than believing that the world was created in 6 days, or that the universe is roughly 6000 years old, or a massive denial of the inexplicability of the sheer facticity of the universe’s existence (which, incidentally, nobody, theologian, philosopher or scientist, has been able to satisfactorily explain)? Let’s face it – if this is all that religion has ever been in the world, then yes, of course it’s a lot easier to point to the heterogeneity of the universe and the scientific knowledge we’ve managed to amass over the past several hundred years and argue that religion is a fiction. Notice, however, that I said a fiction and not a stupid fiction…but I need to bracket this question for now, since it leads into different territory from the issues before us here.

But let’s get back to the question by way of complicating it. What if this weren’t everything that religion was, is or shall ever be? Because I have news for you atheists….it ‘aint. Now I’m not going to give out any definitive notion of religion – I’m a Deleuzian and believe that, in this case, exploring the infinite productivity of the Question is way more interesting than attempting to “solve” it. So let’s look at one of many examples of how thinking people – people patient enough to inquire into a phenomenon with a balanced and tolerant attitude – have tackled the question of what this thing is we call religion instead of taking it for granted as some commodity in a window we’ve all seen at one point or another (which atheists love to do).

Until his death in 2001, Ninian Smart was widely known for his 7-dimensional definition of religion. His take on religion was profoundly secular (sorry Chris), concentrating on its social functions and not the specific theological or philosophical beliefs championed by any one doctrine (indeed, he was responsible for the differentiation of Religious Studies from Theology; Religious Studies focuses on the cultural/anthropological aspects of religion and not strictly on matters of belief). By focusing on Smart I’m not implying that this is the one correct way of thinking religion, but his importance in scholarly discussions of religion cannot be denied. Here are the seven dimensions of religion he defines:3

  1. Doctrinal: a collection of codifications and beliefs about the nature of reality and humanity’s place in that reality.
  2. Mythological: Parables, sacred stories (which can change over time) narrating and explaining the origins of the world/cosmos and of various aspects of human experience (birth, death, sexuality etc).
  3. Ethical: a set of rules and precepts telling human beings how to act in relation to themselves and the Divine; a framework of judging human actions as “good” or “evil.”
  4. Ritual: Actions and ways of communicating with the Divine that confirm (and reconfirm) a religious group’s relation to the Divine.
  5. Experiential: the feeling/affective aspect of religion; one’s feeling of immediate contact with the Divine that provokes various responses, i.e. fear, love, awe, reverence, ecstasy.
  6. Institutional/Social: the societal organization (or organizations) which cohere a religious group as a relatively discreet entity; churches, schools, mosques, etc.
  7. Material: Artifacts; books, buildings, etc.: manufactured objects that signify or symbolize various aspects of the group’s religious beliefs.

Notice how belief in a theist God isn’t mentioned (even if it’s allowed for in the dimensions). What’s important for us here is that these dimensions do not tidily coexist side by side; they interpenetrate each other and often contradict each other. This is nothing more than saying that “religion” is a complex and contradictory social formation just like any other human phenomena. The salient point here: any “ism” – including atheism – can be seen as a religion. As Smart and others demonstrate, “religion,” although it may include “a” God, is more authentically defined as a human organization attempting to articulate a Being that will forever remain irreducible to any explanatory paradigm – religious or scientific (by “Being” I’m not talking about a theist God – I’m talking about the philosophical concept of Being as existence). Atheists don’t get out of this “dilemma” of a belief system by distancing themselves from some crusty old fart in the sky. And believing they can by making up their own definitions as to what “religion” is without looking at broader scholarship on the issue is an instance of what Freud called magical thinking – saying something and believing it to be true as a result.4

Using this model, one can argue that Elvis is a religion: for the devout, Elvis is a “religious” figure to whom one can make pilgrimages (Graceland), whose pelvis gestures one can ritually imitate, whose mythological narrative leads some to believe that “Elvis lives!”…and what about the ecstatic feeling people had when he performed? Or perhaps when his Apostles – Elvis imitators – perform nowadays? While some think this foolish, ask the devout what they think.

But if that example doesn’t work for you, try capitalism as a religion: its mythological narratives of the “overcoming” of “socialism”/”communism,” those ritual trips to the bank, business rules and regulations…and how about that fervent desire to communicate directly with the divinity of capital as we wish for that numinous moment of winning the lottery? the list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the idea – the idea of religion is less to do with one or another Big Father In The Sky and more with the articulation of a universal human social formation with both positive and negative outcomes in lived experience.

But there’s one important – in fact the most important point to be made here: fundamentally, religion is not reducible to rational thought. While as we’ve seen there is logic to certain aspects of religion, at its core is the fact that what we call “reason” is only one way of apprehending the world and experiencing it. There is an element of belief here that you can’t simply oppose to “reality” and dismiss.  Christopher Hitchens, in his fervent desire to destroy religion (or “evolve past it” or whatever), represses this fact in his discourse. No surprise that he does, because it fatally undermines his rational-idealist effort to dismiss religion as mystical hogwash, which is really nothing more than the logical equivalent of scolding one’s dog for being a poor excuse for a watermelon. So much for Hitchens’ logic.

But to my mind, one can make a useful distinction between (institutionalized) “religion” and “the religious” – what Smart would call the experiential aspect, the profoundly personal apprehension and experience of the numinous in human experience which is irreducible to any logical paradigm (although belief systems certainly can – and have – come out of such experiences).  My point is that one can “be religious” (some might call it “spiritual,” but I don’t) without subscribing to a religion.  For those of you who have never had such arational, acausal experiences: I hope you do at some point. I have no problems with “rationalism”…but it’s only one way of experiencing and understanding the world.

So with all this in mind, let’s briefly turn to some of the main points that atheists believe dispels “religion” as hogwash. I take some of these from Lady Atheist (who, like many self-professed atheists, makes comfy-cozy distinctions that don’t stand up to criticism – she makes me giggle), That Fat Atheist and a few other such intellectual dump-sites in cyberspace…they’re all pretty much the same. Sooo, my freehand rebuttals:

The Typical Atheist Arguments.

“Faith is anti-scientific.” This belief reflects one of the grossest misunderstandings of religion (let me give it a Big Bang Theory episode title: The Dog-Watermelon Misconception), and one that comes up again and again in so-called critiques of religion. Two problems: 1) duhhhhhh…of course faith isn’t a rational experience! 2) The conception that science sees things “as they really are” is seriously outmoded…like the old belief that the atom is the smallest particle in existence.

This also applies to accusations that “mythology is ‘false’ because it ‘never happened'”…if you really think that entire cultures unilaterally, absolutely believed in the same story (cf. the exploding of absolutist statements below) – that skeptics and disbelievers only came about in the past few years – your problems are bigger than you think.

“People take religion too extremely [sic].” Massive generalization. Some, yes. Others, no. Duuhh.  Next…

“Religion enourages tribalism and closed-mindedness.” Funny how yes, religions can do this (although I wonder what the Bah’ais would say to this), but gee….so do atheists! In fact, a certain amount of tribalism is precisely what differentiates one group from another and gives them their identity (see Societal aspect of religion, above). Next….

[From Lady Atheist] “Fantasy of being able to make things go your way. This has probably been going on since before recorded history. Make it rain. Make it stop raining. Make the crops grow. Make the antelope slow down. Make the stock market improve. Make my team beat your team. Make the little girl with leukemia survive. ” Funny how every point she makes here is applicable not only to religion, but to scientific endeavours, from insider trading to genetically-modified foods to steroid abuse. Science has its fantasies too (artificial intelligence and “conquering death” being two doozies). It isn’t a religious idea per se to want everything to go your way – it’s a fundamentally human wish.

She makes one other point (there are others – go to her site if you want) about “resistance to change.” Again – while some fundamentalists want to either maintain the current status quo or to return to an earlier nostalgic picture of the world, it’s impossible to paint all of “religion” with this brush. In fact, if one recognizes that religions around the world (and any other life-encompassing paradigm, I suppose) are ultimately about accepting and dealing with death as the ultimate change….this criticism sounds just stupid.

But simply trawling random stupid atheists on the Intardnets isn’t a real challenge. For that – well, for something closer to that at any rate – we need to look at someone like Christopher Hitchens, who presents himself as an articulate, serious thinker. Articulate? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. Serious? No. But still, we have all the ingredients here for what one, using Smart’s schema, could describe as atheism’s religious icon.

Christopher Hitchens: A Naive Mouthpiece For Pop-Cultural Angst.

I’ve been aware of Christopher Hitchens for a while now, but have never bothered until recently to look into what he says. As a doctoral student in English and a trained reader, I see book titles like God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and think to myself “Come on, dude…I know that you know that being controversial about religion will sell books and give you a tidy retirement sum, but can you possibly throw around any more unrealistically absolutist terms? Hell, even studying for the American GRE taught me that people who use absolutist arguments like “everything is X or Y” are logically flawed”…ditto with other such book titles as What X Really Said or X Was Wrong: etc. etc. So when I see a book title arguing that X Poisons Everything I bin it with Amway scams, spam email and other such snake-oil projects.

Now Hitchens isn’t wrong – he’s “wrong.” Lemme qualify this: if one chooses to define religion as Hitchens does – solely in terms of a bunch of hateful fanatics who believe in the Bible’s literal truth – then he isn’t wrong to criticize it (and I’m right there with him on that point). But let me be blunt: Hitchens’ conception of religion is that of a pimply-faced, rebellious 15 year-old who hates his Dad because he was told to go to his room.  Hitchens’ line of argument – “religion has produced hatred and intolerance, so religion is hateful and intolerant, we must get rid of religion” is nothing more than the logical equivalent of arguing that “some homosexuals have molested children, therefore all homosexuals are child molesters so we need to get rid of all the homos!”  Think for a minute and you’ll see how absurd this method of argumentation is.

Thankfully, the reality on the ground is quite different; if one chooses to accept a more comprehensive definition of religion – one that takes into account its complicated existence in human culture as constituted by human beings whose beliefs are paradoxically similar and differentiated (“you and I believe in the Christian God, but He appears differently to both of us”), then Hitchens’ arguments get into a lot of trouble. Hitchens apparently considers himself above such niggling questions as to exactly what the material, existential phenomenon of religion is. Instead, like all the naive thinkers he panders to, he takes the term completely for granted, happily constructing it arbitrarily as the scapegoat he needs to blindly perpetuating the naive binarism between “religion” and “rational evolutionary thought” (but this said, someone please let me know if there is a point where he tries to define the term).

Any thoughtful understanding of history must accept the fact that such human disciplines as “religion,” “science” and “philosophy” have never developed independently of each other; human history is constituted only through the cross-fertilization of different areas of human knowledge.  For example: Schelling and Hegel, as philosophers in late 18th/early 19th century Germany, did more to explore issues of evolution, ontogeny/phylogeny (recapitulation theory), theories of the organism and the earth sciences than Hitchens ever could.  Now, of course, their inquiries were focused through their knowledge of science, and much of the empirical science of their time has been disproven.  Leaving aside the fact that the underlying theories behind these insights are beginning to be reappraised, and that they aren’t so far off from some contemporary theoretical insights, my point is this: in their own ways they thought God in terms of the very evolutionary processes of change and natural mutation that we now take for granted as, broadly speaking, “evolution.”  This is far different from simply thinking about some crusty old fart sitting on a cloud, and it isn’t what atheists understand as “theism.”

(Brief) Case Study: Christopher Hitchens – Religion and the Neurotic Construction of Knowledge

Ok, so I picked a clip on YouTube that seems to encalspulate what Hitchens has to say on the phenomenon of religion (link in section title), which is pretty monolithic across the clips of his I’ve seen (had he lived longer, I’m not getting the sense he’d have changed his opinion on this one!). Apart from building himself up as the self-anointed martyr of atheism (I’ve had death threats, bla bla bla…ok, death threats aren’t cool, but what did he expect when criticizing intolerant Muslims?!)…notice what else Hitchens does in this clip – the topic is about “religion,” but his rhetorical strategy is to implicitly define religion in terms of “loathing, hatred and bigotry” – militant Islam, homophobia, etc.

He can differentiate (as he rightly does) between “Anti-Islam” and “racism” but is incapable of providing anything even remotely close to a reasonable definition of religion?? Does he really subscribe to a simplistic, naive reading of Freud’s Future of an Illusion so wholeheartedly? Can someone so insensitive to the nuance attending these questions really pretend, through the odd sophistic rhetorical turn and quasi-pompous British persona, to be dealing seriously with such a complicated philosophical, political, theological, social phenomenon such as religion?  To invoke the Freud he likes to cherry-pick: insisting on such rigid binarisms is part of what constitutes neurosis, and insofar as Hitchens insists on this his is a neurotic structure of knowledge – a case study in it, if you will.  Fundamentalism: it’s not just for theists anymore…

It needs to be said: Christopher Hitchens is to atheists what Oprah Winfrey is to bored, disenfranchised housewives – a naive mouthpiece for pop-cultural Angst that revels in its own either/ors, reductive binarisms and unsophisticated fork/spoon arguments. Atheists come from far and wide, confirmed in their beliefs, and they leave even more confirmed in their beliefs than before, satisfied that they’ve been corroborated by pompous rhetoric (perhaps the English accent helps?) based on several grains of perfectly valid truth sandwiched between layers of contempo-atheist-chic pop-cultural reasoning.  I couldn’t care less what Hitchens “believes” or doesn’t, rant as he may about it; his ham-handed rationalism does nothing more than create paper tigers that a high-school student could tear down. 5

I’ll go you one further.  I don’t typically use terms like “good,” “evil,” or “monster,” and I don’t know what happened in Hitchens’ life to make him so neurotically fixated on invalidating religion, but if “monsters” exist, those who insist on fundamentalist binarisms (good/evil, religion/science)…those who want to destroy an archetypal human phenomenon because of its potential to work both “good” and “evil” in the world – a potential shared with science, philosophy, psychoanalysis and the felafel truck on my university campus – they are the real moral monsters.

Note to Hitchens’ pilot fish (err, ardent atheist admirers)…thinking for yourself and educating yourself will more than likely lead you not toward “religion,” but away from Hitchens. There it is – your daily dose of non-dualism. Thank god…

For those of you who just skipped to the bottom…some recap:

  1. Despite Hitchens’ most ardent desire to accept this as an article of faith, “theism” is not absolutely synonomous with “religion,” taken in its most encompassing view; cf. my distinction between “religion” and “the religious.”
  2. Once one accepts the fact that “religion,” “philosophy” and “science” have never been completely separated domains of knowledge (no domain of knoweldge exists hermetically sealed) and that, as a result, there are aspects of “Christian religious thought” that deal with precisely the issues of evolution, process and change Hitchens focuses on (Schelling and Hegel, for example, deal with these issues with much more thought than Hitchens is capable of), then his crusade against the negativity of what he understands as “religion” is severely undermined.
  3. Despite Hitchens’ rational idealist view of the world, “reason” (whatever that is) is not the only way of apprehending and experiencing the world…arguably, it isn’t the happiest either.
  4. Hitchens’ neurotic repression of the numinous/that which cannot be thought but only felt and rendered artistically/mythologically after the fact must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism
  5. When coming across anyone who insists on unilaterally dismissing something with such passion and single-mindedness without bothering to provide any kind of sensible definion, thinking people should ask themselves why.

My only jihad is against sloppy thinking.

(I use italics cos I mean it, baby…)

  1. “Huh? Are you calling atheists fundamentalists?? Why, only religious people can be fundamentalists!”…..wrong. Fundamentalism in itself has nothing to do with God – it is a pathological emphasis on one organizational paradigm and a pathological denial of any contesting paradigms.
  2. Jacques Derrida’s term for something that is paradoxically both a cure and a poison.
  3. My description of these dimensions is very freehand because I don’t have time to research them…anyone who wants to do so can look ’em up.
  4. There is an interesting consequence to this argument: even atheists retort that I’m doing the same thing – offering one interpretation among many and asserting it to be true – this only underscores the interpreted nature of reality. If one is forced to accept this, then, one must include scientific discourse with religious discourse as bids to articulate a reality while being painfully aware of its own lack, its ultimate gaps in knowledge that make this Being forever inaccessible to full explanation.
  5. Gee, Chris….explaining how believing in the literal truth of Genesis, Noah’s Ark or archangelical dictation is a bit flaky from the objective side of things? Ooohhhhh, what a challenge!
  1. JTD says:

    Yeah, religion isn’t bullshit… There are a billion Muslims out there who do wonderful things as per this website:

    Where’s the daily “death count” for us godless Atheists? Where’s the destruction?

    There are rovers on Mars now… How’d they get there? Through Science and Technology… They weren’t Prayed There… Religion did nothing but kill people and turn people against one another and against Science itself…

    • JTD:

      I’m not sure how your comments relate to what I posted; I’m certainly not dismissing Science outright as you do with Religion. But while I’m not interested in tallying up numbers (of which many people have many different readings), atheism DOES have a “death count,” Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge being a great example of the atheist persecution of the religious (as well as other ethnic and class groups). One could also list Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung here.

      Since your comments aren’t very well thought-out I’ll be brief (but I honestly welcome any responses you may have): saying that “Religion did nothing but kill people and turn people against one another and against Science itself” (as you do) is the logical equivalent of stating that “Science” is nothing but thalidomide babies, hydrogen bombs and nuclear disasters. What about Church reports of human rights abuses in Africa that are never reported in the mainstream media? What about the ways in which religion binds communities together – communities of people who DON’T go out and slit people’s throats or blow shit up? We don’t hear about THEM on the news, now, do we?

      Such a reductive position on either science or religion is consummately unscientific; it fails to properly define its object of inquiry and ultimately does nothing but lapse into ideological cock-blocking.

      • GBus says:

        “One could also list Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung here.”

        Nice try on pulling a fast one. 😉 Being atheist and committing atrocities does not equate to committing atrocities because you’re atheist.

        • traumaturgist says:

          And actually, thinking about your comment leads me to ask another question: if a believer commits a crime or “atrocity,” must we (or do we?) always attribute it to their religious belief? To rephrase it in line with your reply: does being religious and committing atrocities always equate to committing atrocities because one is religious? In this day and age when the world is growing smaller, tighter and meaner, I wonder if there’s enough global subtlety left for a meaningful distinction?

          • pleasantlydone says:

            “If a believer commits a crime or “atrocity,” must we (or do we?) always attribute it to their religious belief?” No and I don’t believe GBus was stating that in his/her response. We will and should however attribute these atrocities to a person’s beliefs when they believe they are justified because they are carrying out “Gods” will or doing it in the name of Jesus or Allah. While it’s a good question, best tabled for another discussion, it’s a miss direct that takes the focus off his very valid statement of “being atheist and committing atrocities does not equate to committing atrocities because you’re atheist.” You were overreaching there in an attempt to make a point as the numbers would not add up. And Hitler was not an atheist, he was Christian, however he committed his crimes because of who he was and not because of a religious crusade (Although Christian Anti-Semitism may have played a role in which he got his ideas and expanded on them by putting action behind his craziness). Pol Pot was not atheist either. Stalin was atheist but his actions were not because he was atheist, and I’d have to argue his idea of Communism was rooted in his Christian upbringing (the names were just changed – to make it stand out as a novel idea).

            Please do not read into my comments to insinuate that I am attributing any of their atrocities to Religion, I am just stating that you are perpetuating a fallacy long used by religious apologist as an attempt to not shatter their fragile egos. It is the same argument used by some people of Caucasian decent to take the focus off their ancestor’s transgressions (deflect white guilt), “Black people had slaves too” (yawn). I am stating that using Stalin, Pol Pot, or Hitler does not help your argument and GBus statement is valid, “being atheist and committing atrocities does not equate to committing atrocities because you’re atheist.”

          • traumaturgist says:

            @pleasantlydone: I’m still on my first coffee of the day so I hope this is coherent…

            Not belonging to any religious denomination I’m certainly no apologist for religion, and I wasn’t attempting to do that with the question; I was reframing it in terms of religion, in which context it remains equally valid and not to my mind a misdirect at all. My radar spikes, though, when I read anything that sounds like the magical thinking, relied on by some atheists that atheism is somehow magically pure and possesses an Archimedian point of objectivity with which to view everything else with disdain. I’m not saying you do this, but I read GBus’ comment as, if you will, “atheist apologism.” There are a lot of atheists who are neurotically hell-bent on 1) the belief that atheism “has never killed anyone,” and 2) disavowing the “ism” in atheism by denying almost any ideological coherence. I don’t accept either of those premises, but I’m not out to persecute atheism either. So I’m not sure what you think is a “fallacy” in my attempt to expand the question

            And when you say that “We will and should however attribute these atrocities to a person’s beliefs when they believe they are justified because they are carrying out “Gods” will or doing it in the name of Jesus or Allah,” well, I don’t think that really solves anything. Hitler, who I don’t believe was Christian in any meaningful way for a second, is actually a good example. The question of what motivates their actions will always remain open, and just because someone was baptized a Christian and invokes “God” in political speeches doesn’t MAKE them Christian. You can’t prove to someone you have a headache, let alone that you believe in God – and even when someone says they committed act X for God, Allah, Jesus, or the advancement of Science, one always has to try to attune oneself to context.

            There’s a good summary of Hitler’s religious views here from which I crib a bit:


            While I do believe that there were religious ELEMENTS to Hitler’s thinking, I do not think they were Christian, given his move to eradicate the Church later in his career. Hitler was a political opportunist, and to do justice to the complexity of this issue one has to look at trajectories, which many atheists I’ve debated this point with don’t seem to do (you’d think that people sympathetic to evolutionary theory would be interested in how political agendas, well, evolve…)

            I also happen to think that Hitler’s example leads to far more interesting questions for me – namely, the interplay of religion, ideology, and scientific paradigm and the difficulty in disentangling them. The “religious” and the idea of transcendence is by NO means limited to mere denominations or schools of thought, and the psychological aspects of “religious experience” to my mind are not limited to God or church; one can become an “enthusiast” about any idea or discipline, but I think that is too often lost in efforts by both sides of the debate to put “religion” in one place.

  2. traumaturgist says:

    @GBus: ha…thanks for calling me out on my lazy language :D. Actually, that wasn’t what I intended to say. I was TRYING to say that death counts are associated WITH atheism just as they are with religion. Of course, many more people kill explicitly out of religious fanaticism after having one too many drinks at the Allahu Ak Bar, for example, BUT it’s interesting that in recent news there has been the odd self-styled atheist who specifically targets believers. Which leads me to ask myself about the blurry boundaries between “religion” and “ideology”/”paradigm.” Obviously you don’t have to be “religious” to be a fundamentalist, so to what degree is it just a matter of how loud-mouthed one is about who/what one kills for (god, king or state)?