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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sam Harris - Myth Buster or Myth Maker?, part 2 of 10

Please note that this post has been moved to True Freethinker where it was posted at this link


  1. I agree that Harris' argument isn't the best, however he is correct to some degree.

    When Harris said the following about the second myth, that Atheism was responsible for the greatest crimes in human history, he got it pretty much right:

    "People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable."


    Communism, which is a subject I've been doing much reading on, was not done in the name of non-belief but because of the communist ideology.

    First of all, atheism completely lacks any kind of influencing ideology. Because of this one must look towards the ideology of those who committed the atrocities. Marxism, with it's ultimate goal of creating a "classless society," and the belief that religion is a byproduct of capitalism, and that private property should be abolished, these are the beliefs which inspired the actions of the communists. Because these things did not fade away as Marx envisioned, Stalin forced these events to take place, in an attempt to create this "classless society."

    Marx felt that "religion is a symptom of inadequacy in the human condition and can therefore ultimately only be exorcized by changing the actual human condition through Communist revolution." - "The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief", edited by Tom Flynn, page 523

    After the communists gained power they found that religion wasn't going to wither away as easily as they originally thought, so they began to initiate anti-religious campaigns. By doing this, they thought perhaps they could force people to give up their religious beliefs and help the "classless society" to develop, as was required of Marxist doctrine. It was their attempt to initiate this phase of socialism by forcing religion out of the communities and gain this "classless society," and had nothing to do with atheism itself. But this contradicted the teachings of Marx. - "The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief", edited by Tom Flynn, page 621

    The atrocities were not done because of any lack of belief, or atheism, but their communist ideology.

    More proof of this is the fact that religion was not the purpose of the purges. They targeted EVERYONE, not just religious individuals - even ATHEISTS. So to say that they persecuted theists more is completely false. They targeted anyone they felt was a threat to their power and anyone who did not follow their guidelines for the collectivization of all farms and other work.

    Even renowned historian Robert Conquest in his book "The Great Terror: A Reassessment" he says on page 258,

    "A recent Soviet comment on the purges is that as against the argument, sometimes met, that the purges were largely confined to party officials, 'they hit everyone - doctors, intellectuals, peasants, atheists, priests, industrial managers, diplomats, former private business men.' In the Butyra, Eugenia Ginzburg's cell mates were, as she puts it, 'a much broader section of the population' than in the 'special block' in Kazan: 'There were many peasants, factory workers, shop girls, office clerks'"

    They did not concentrate on just one group...but everyone, even atheists, as I said before. If it was truly atheism that caused their crimes, why in the world would they target other atheists???

    It makes no sense, UNLESS it was their communist ideology and not their non-belief.

    I honestly think you need to read about the history of Russia in much more detail. There are many, many myths and false claims floating around the internet.

  2. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I must say that indeed Sam Harris has a one word answer for all of the world’s ills: “religion.” Little does he know how many people whom he would consider “religious” would completely agree. Even though I fully affirm that religion is not only corruption but that it gets between humans and God. Yet, it is quite clear to me that, that he is desperate to pretend that atheism perfectly pure is mere propaganda.

    He is excommunicating the atheists who premised Communism on atheism. That is not to say that various “examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok” are fallacious but the point is that he simply considers any ill done by atheists in the name of atheism and calls it “religion.” For that matter; football teams are like a religion, orchestras are like a religion, classrooms are like a religion, families are like a religion, prides of lions are like a religion, etc., etc., etc.
    Professor of philosophy Daniel Dennett went as far as claiming that that atheist Joseph Stalin was a theist because he told himself what to do (see here).

    When you begin with a definition of atheism as “non-belief” you are beginning with a fallacy: even non-belief is a belief. But even granting your definition; I think that you are failing to connect “non-belief” with “communist ideology.”
    Begin with a non-belief in God: no creator, no ethos, nothing but matter and bio-organisms that move about for a few decades and then turn to dust. Well then, we still need a worldview, a way to explain and understand the world/the universe and society/government. Premised on non-belief; materialistic/naturalistic theories filled the void. Thus, we ended up with various concepts of struggle for survival and the individual being subservient to the regime, etc., etc., etc. these ideas were internally consistent whether Sam Harris wants to re-write history for the purposes of propaganda or not.

    Atheism provided the atheists who premised Communism on atheism with the blank slate that they needed in order to build their particular ideologies. Thus, piggy backing on your claim I would say “The atrocities were not done because of any lack of belief, or atheism, but their communist ideology” and yet, it was atheism as “lack of belief” that opened the door wide to Communist ideology. People do not live on “lack of belief” but always end up filling that “lack” with something: in this case Communist ideology that was premised on rejecting theistic worldviews and filling the void with atheist worldviews.

    I am not certain who said that “they persecuted theists more” but Communists attempted different tactics from full on persecution of the “religious” to allowing the “religious” to join the party in order to indoctrinate them with a slow and steady flow of propaganda to leaving “religious” people alone in order to slowly chip away at them when it seemed that persecution only helped “religion” grow.

    Thus, “If it was truly atheism that caused their crimes, why in the world would they target other atheists???” It was “truly atheism” upon which Communism was premised but Communism, like any regime or religion, acted based on various motivators; power, territory, goods, wealthy, etc., etc., etc. they targeted other atheist if other atheists got in the way of their goals.

    As Joe Keysor notes,
    Parenthetically, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics should not look with derision on these groups as evidence of the folly of religious belief. The various Communist groups, committed to diagnosing and solving mankind's problems by reason alone, were also groping in a dark world of false theories and false solutions. Many of them saw the Soviet Union as the beacon of humanity, and considered Stalin to be in the vanguard of human progress. Christians who reject the authority of scripture and invent their own philosophies to suit the times are spiritually akin to atheists who do the same-the only difference is that one group disguises its unbelief with religious language while the other does not.(Joey Keysor, Hitler, the Holocaust and the Bible (Athanatos Publishing Group: pre-release review ed., 2009), p. 171 which I reviewed here)

    I realize that the less the new generation learns of, even recent history, and the more they are urged by celerity atheists to commit the ultimate rebellion the more they will buy the concept of atheism as perfectly pure. Yet, those who are truly skeptical will have more respect for atheists who admit the facts of history and say, “We also have blood on our hands.”
    FYI: on April 22nd I will begin posting a parsed essay at Atheism is Dead responding to Prof. Richard Dawkins’ claims about Stalin, Hitler, Communism and Nazism made in “The God Delusion” which I get a feeling is what you read and what set you off to study Communism.


  3. You said:

    "Atheism provided the atheists who premised Communism on atheism with the blank slate that they needed in order to build their particular ideologies. Thus, piggy backing on your claim I would say “The atrocities were not done because of any lack of belief, or atheism, but their communist ideology” and yet, it was atheism as “lack of belief” that opened the door wide to Communist ideology."

    Well, the problem here is that, this just wasn't the case with what happened in Russia. Stalin was following the communist ideology and that was the reason for the massacres. As far as "filling" some gap, there was no gap to fill. Communism was an ideology that wasn't taking the place of anything. To Marx, he thought his ideas would liberate the working class and felt that religion was something that kept the working class subdued so they would not feel the need to attempt to change their status, to improve their lives. This wasn't a lack of morality, or any such thing. They thought they could create a better society based upon the ideas of Marx, and create a socialist utopia. Atheism and communism are not even linked in any real way.

    I honestly think you need to read up on the history in order to truly understand what was going on and why.

    Also, your article didn't cause me to study anything; I've been reading about this topic for a while now.

    Atheists, as a group, do not have blood on our hands. There is nothing linking atheists, unlike the various beliefs of the many theisms, that have caused many problems.

  4. Anon.,
    Thanks for writing back.

    I understand the desperation of modern day atheists who are attempting to rewrite history so as to take advantage of the gullible and apathetic.
    The argument runs something like this:
    The atheist states, “Evil has been done in the name of theism therefore, theism is discredited.”
    But then the theists states, “Likewise, evil has been done in the mane of atheism therefore, atheism is discredited.”

    Thus, in order to hold on to their fallacious claim the atheist has to deny well known historical facts and claim that no evil has ever been done in the name of atheism or due to atheism or what have you.

    All you have to do is read as far as the Communist Manifesto, at the very least, to learn that the atheists who conceptualized Communism premised it on atheism. The gaps I referred to are things such as considering that since there is no God why is there something rather than nothing? How did life come to be? What morality? What is humanity? Etc., etc., etc. the atheist Communists came up with answers to these sorts of questions.

    By the way, I did not claim that it was my article that cause you to study I stated that it seemed that it was reading “The God Delusion” that had done so since you and he are both attempting to rewrite well known and recent history.

    Now to you particularly worded last sentence:
    Atheists, as a group, do not have blood on our hands.
    Quite right, I do not adhere to blood libel ideas and so would stated that there is only blood on the hands of those atheists who have blood on their hands.

    There is nothing linking atheists.
    If this was the case then you could not use the plural term “atheists.” Something does link “atheists” whether it is “lack of belief in god(s)” or what have you.

    Now, you will have to be much more particular than simply referring to “various beliefs of the many theisms, that have caused many problems.”
    For example, atheists generally claim that “atheism” cannot be blamed for any evil since it is merely a “lack of belief in god(s).”
    Likewise, we may argue that “theism” cannot be blamed for any evil since it is merely a “belief in god(s).”
    Moreover, “religion” cannot be blamed for any malevolence since it is merely a systematization of worship of god(s).

    It is the “various beliefs” upon which we must focus. Most certainly, some are to blame and are discredited by evil done in its name while some claim to do evil in the name of a belief that does not logically or theologically support the doing of any such evil.

    Thus, ultimately atheism, whether as positive affirmation of God’s non-existence or merely a lack of belief in god(s), may not be responsible for anything at all. On the other hand, since atheism presents an aethical open door it allows for any atheist to walk right in and do as they please.
    Yet, in that case can we say that atheism is to blame? In a truly atheistic, absolutely materialistic, universe no one and nothing is to blame since no one/nothing is really “evil” since there is no ethos but only personal preferences as to morality and arguments from impotent outrage. There are only iron fists struggling to be the fittest and nice but unrealistic ideas about utopias in which people are “good for goodness sake.”

    Moreover, atheism guarantees that evil will not be redeemed, that evil is for the benefit of the evildoer who enjoy their evil deeds, and that if they get away with it—if they suffer no consequence from an earthy judicial systems—then they simply got away with it.

    They do evil, enjoy evil, and get away with evil.

    The fact of evil in the world is one of the very best reasons for rejecting atheism.



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