by Chuck Doswell
Posted: 10 December
2014 Updated: whenever
As usual, this is my opinion, to which I have a legal right.
you have a question or comment, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- but if you don't agree to my posting it here (and perhaps
responding), save us both the trouble.
What follows is my response to an essay by a friend, evidently in response to arguments like this one. Diving right in, what follows is a point-by-point response (in red):
A notion handed down from Richard Dawkins to assorted atheistic
Whoa, hoss! This is nonsense. There's no atheist
clergy, so calling someone an "atheist layperson" has no meaning. Richard
Dawkins is a famous atheist who has many followers (and detractors,
even among atheists), but that doesn't mean
he's been "ordained" as an atheist clergyman, with the possible
exception of some over-enthusiastic followers. There's no
authoritative body of atheists or mechanism capable of
ordaining someone as an atheist clergyman/woman and, even if there were, not
all atheists would accept it.
goes to the effect of this: the Inquisition and Crusades were mass
killings in the name of religion; however Stalin's (and other atheist
dictators') genocides of millions weren't done in the name of atheism.
Notice the subtle semantic dodge? Because Stalin et al. didn’t
specifically state to the world their atheism as the reason for their
genocides (most of which were kept secret at the time anyway), it must
be a "false equivalency". My my, how convenient.
It's not convenient at all ... for christian
apologists, who go to great lengths to avoid recognizing this distinction. It's not a
"semantic dodge" at all. Rather, it's a recognition of an important distinction between different evil deeds. And whatever Stalin et al. claimed is irrelevant.
Well, if you drill deep enough into any literal comparison, it becomes
a "false equivalency". For example, two slightly different
isotopes of sodium are indeed slightly different at that level, and
therefore, not truly identical. Nonetheless, they give you the same
salty effects in molecular bond with chlorine, offering the same level
of taste, electrolytic action and solubility.
I simply can't imagine what possible
relevance this comparison has. Yes, of course, any comparison has limitations, but using this as a talking point is a
pretty substantial stretch. See below …
Of course, even that can be arbitrarily declared a "false equivalency"
by someone who doesn't like the idea. Just because somebody claims it's
a "false equivalency" doesn't make it so. "False equivalancy" does
happen: witness, for example, the ridiculous yet common comparison of
homosexuality–a behavior–to skin color, an immutable genetic
characteristic and not a behavior. Yet, "false equivalency" more often
is a buzz-phrase used as a weapon to stifle discussion.
Nor does simply claiming it's not a false equivalency make it
You seem to accept the discredited notion that homosexuality is
completely independent of genetics
and the fetal development process. Science suggest that genetic
issues do play some role, as can other factors, besides environmental
influences. Parents can give birth to
children of different physical characteristics (even "identical"
twins), and one of those
characteristics is sexuality. If sexuality truly is pure choice, then
when and for what reason did you choose to be a
It seems to me that if anyone is seeking to
stifle discussion, it's you, with your effort to discredit the very notion of false equivalency in this argument.
Self-proclaimed Christians killed many during the Inquisitions and
Crusades, true. Self-proclaimed atheists killed many in the Stalin/Pol
Pot/Mao regimes. True. Each set of killers was motivated by
psychopathically warped version of their personal ideals (whether
rooted in faith or lack thereof) which don’t represent the basic tenets
of either Christianity or secular humanism/atheism, respectively.
Really, those are two sides of the same evil coin. The atheists and
Christians I’ve known would not murder millions, given the
opportunity–but then again, I don’t make a habit of hanging out with
None of us disagree that both are evil.
Whether or not the Crusades were somehow unrepresentative of the basic tenets of
christianity is certainly not a foregone conclusion. In the context of the times during which the Crusades
took place, it seems that many christians of that era accepted the Crusades as an obligation of true christians.
What authority determines who is a "true
christian", and how might that have changed since the time of the
Crusades? Do you really want to go down this road? The Crusaders unambiguously were driven by the
desire to re-conquer the Middle Eastern "holy
lands" for christianity, to free them from the evil muslims. To
claim this was not a religiously-motivated war is
equivalent to saying that the 9/11 terrorists merely were engaged in violent urban renewal.
The ideals of the Socialists-Marxists-Communists were unambiguously political/economic and primarily concerned with
the now thoroughly-disproven notions of
Utopian socialism. As argued elsewhere, the communist dictators
were only concerned with religion as
competition for control of the people. The "religion" each such dictator installed in place of the national
religion was a cult of personality that had no tolerance for any competitors, religious or otherwise. We
certainly don't deny that many religious people were persecuted, but you seem persistently unable
to grasp the notion that the civil war,
purges, and state terrorism in the Soviet Union were to gain power and maintain control,
not just to advance the non-religion of
atheism. They would not have
wanted to advance atheism if, in the process, they somehow would have
control. Advancing atheism never was the primary motivation for
their despotitic deeds. Your
perspective suggests you don't know the history of Soviet Communism so well as you seem to think.
The oft-repeated regurgitation of Dawkins’ "in the name of" semantic
dodge, in the context of Stalin (as if Dawkins is an authority on
anything in particular aside from genetic biology…but that’s another
story) is popular, is viral, makes a nice catchphrase…and doesn’t stand
the salty taste test, nor is it backed up by historical truth.
Just whom would you recognize as an authority
figure on this topic? Clergy? Religious scholars? I
thought intellectual argument recognized no authority figures.
Historical "truth" according to your understanding of history,
To the contrary, I (no more nor less an authority than Dawkins on
religious matters) have decided that the Stalin/Inquisition comparison
is is NOT a false equivalency at its fundamental root. Here's one
example why: The League of Belligerent (or Militant) Atheists, about
which Stalin's loyal aide Yemelyan Yaroslavky said, "It is our duty to
destroy every religious world-concept ... . If the destruction
of ten million human beings, as happened in the last war, should be
necessary for the triumph of one definite class, then that must be done
and it will be done."
Nice touch to put Dawkins and you on the same footing. The Wikipedia article on Yaroslavsky (Google
outbreak of the German-Soviet War, the state reduced its anti-religious
activities somewhat as the Russian Orthodox
Church was seen as an institution
that could be of use in rallying the
population to defend the nation. The journals
"Bezbozhnik" and "Antireligioznik" ceased
publication and the League of the
Militant Godless fell into obscurity (The
official reason was the lack of newsprint,
now needed for the war effort.)
This makes it perfectly clear that the persecution of religion by Stalin was of secondary importance to him. Stalin was always a
pragmatist, and if religion could be useful in winning the war, then the campaign against it
could be shelved with no particular qualms.
Yaroslavsky didn't set policy - he was a functionary, faithfully
carrying out his orders
enthusiastically within his sphere of influence.
That statement alone damns the notion that atheism was an irrelevant
sideshow of the Stalin regime–not to mention the exemplifying behavior
of the regime within which the "League
of Militant Atheists" thrived.
That statement alone actually makes it clear that
"class triumph" is the ultimate goal of their persecution and is most valid in the context of Stalinism before WWII. You of all people should be aware of context,
since crying "context" is a common tactic of religious apologists! And your characterization of the atheist position as saying that
atheism was an "irrelevant sideshow" is
inaccurate and far too black and white (a common problem among
religious believers, who tend toward a tribalist position of "You're
either with us or against us." and project their own flaws on others).
This group also participated directly in killing and fatal prison/Gulag
exile of religious individuals, including clergy, bishops and monks*.
state atheism was a central creed of the USSR, and the LMA was
disbanded officially only under great pressure from the Allies in World
War 2. Other purges of religious figures and believers followed,
however–the death toll numbering in the millions as part of one of the
largest genocides in history.
No one is saying that aggressive, violent
actions against believers were not prevalent in the USSR, carried out by many different parts of
the Soviet bureaucracy. It's part of the socialist inheritance that preceded Soviet
Communism. But see the above – it was one means to an end, not the end game for the
Soviets. Not coincidentally, genocide against any non-Great Russian minority (e.g.,
Ukrainians) would necessarily be committed
against a population that was predominantly (but not totally) orthodox christian, because
orthodox christianity was the state religion of
Imperial Russia (which had forcibly annexed neighboring nations, as did the Soviets). Remember that religious minorities were persecuted under the orthodox
christian tsars, and that clearly was state-sanctioned religious discrimination. Although you evidently claim such acts of Stalinist genocide were essentially a
religious persecution, such a claim fails to take into account that Stalin's axe fell on virtually everyone, not just orthodox christians. How do you separate the multiple causes behind such persecution? Picking on clergy would certainly be one clear indication of an antireligious influence, but
the vast majority of the victims were not clergy. If heartless genocide
simultaneously discouraged "counterrevolutionary" (i.e., against the
Soviets) religious notions, that was a
bonus for the Communist ideologues, not the main intent.
"NO evidence"? There goes that idea. The League of Militant Atheists,
and the philosophy with which it was associated far beyond any official
membership numbers, makes one hell of an "inconvenient truth" for the
field of secular apologetics.
It's not inconvenient at all. See the
Yet the tiresome "false equivalency/in-name-of" tenet of atheistic
catechism will persist for a long time, because it does make a tasty
piece of gristle for militant atheists–the modern version, not as a
capitalized league, and thankfully not genocidal–to latch on with fangs
Nice, colorful rhetoric with a large measure
of smug superiority ... but rather a weak denial. That atheism
characterizes 20th century communist dictatorships doesn't mean that atheism is the
root cause of their cruelty. You keep saying it's not a false
equivalency between that and the Crusades, but I see no solid evidence to support that position. Wikipedia
describes the Crusades as "medieval religious military campaigns"led by
the Catholic church, but Soviet persecution led by atheists fell on all
religions, not just the orthodox christians, and even on atheist
members of persecuted nationalities - it even went to far as to befall
atheist Communists during the so-called purges. To say they're
equivalent is just incorrect.
And what does 'fangs bared' actually mean? Just what's your
Personally, I'd like to see the mutual mistrust and animosity cooled
off between atheists and the religious; we all have at least some
common goals and interests and should be able to get along much better.
I'd like to see that, too, but so long as
religion continues to seek to intrude into the laws of our secular
nation, I’m compelled to oppose that. And misrepresenting
the atheist viewpoint also requires a response.
If I somehow have contributed, through my unwillingness to let what I
see as heretic falsehoods propagate, then please forgive me.
Sorry, but I doubt seriously that you’re asking
for forgiveness at all. Your rhetoric ("heretic falsehoods" and others)
belies that stated intention: it's in direct contradiction to your wish
for a more civil interaction.
Meanwhile, I say: God bless all atheists; for they, as for me and
everyone else, religious or not, whether one chooses to have faith or
not, are made in His image and have become imperfect through sin.
Denying God won’t make Him disappear. Good thing I live in a place and
time where I’ll not be burned at a stake by an Inquisitor or made to
disappear by the Soviet League of Militant Atheists for saying that!
Nor will your unswerving faith in your
deity's existence make him real. It's a good thing I don't live
in a time and place where I'd be murdered by the self-righteous for
* For more information, I highly recommend this book: A History of
Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Antireligious Policies (History of
Soviet and Atheism in Theory and Practice, and the Believer), by
Dimitry Pospielovsky. It’s a text, and very expensive, so if you can
find the book in a major library (as I did when studying all sorts of
material about the USSR during the early ’90s), that’s the best bet.
Given Pospielovsky's publications, it seems
likely that he was predisposed to a certain perspective. A
source, yes, but one that is likely biased in a certain
direction. No one can claim to be completely unbiased, of course
- I'm certainly biased, for instance. but I at least admit it.