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Does Atheism Poison Everything?

Correction: The debate airs at 10:00 PM tonight on C-Span 2 - which my cable company, alas, does not support. Let me know how it is....

CSPAN is airing a Fixed Point Foundation debate between Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski on the question of whether atheism poisons everything (a counter-point to Hitchens' latest book subtitle: "How Religion Poisons Everthing"). The next (and final) CSPAN showing should be tonight at 9:00 PM.

Amanda Read has a brief review of the debate in the Washington Times, and the Fixed Point Foundation has a series of related debates worthy of a view.

Categories > Religion

Discussions - 3 Comments

Your best post yet, Justin. (ignoring the good, better, best concept there)

Had not heard of Fixed Point before, but they seem worthwhile. They host debates with atheists (although I think they could do better than Hitchens - were they just after star power?), get a recommendation from Peter Singer, and they have the guts to post this quote from Francis Schaeffer:

"Sadly enough, there is a kind of anti-intellectualism among many Christians. ... [It] cuts away at the very heart of the Christian message."

I suggest this for a future debate:

"Does religion poison everything?"

Or have they already covered that?

"Does Atheism poison everything?" was the derivative of the subtitle of Hitchens' book: "God is not great, how religion poisons everything."

This would explain Hitchens rather than another aitheist, and the title of the debate.

I don't think that either debate framed in that way can be very good.

I mean authors like subtitles because they provide good "bang". But just because something provides the biggest bang doesn't mean its a great question.

It isn't a great question, because it has an easy answer: No, No. With the caveat that both religion and atheism are such broad categories that they should be void for vagueness.

What these debates all lack is an adequate formulation of the proximate cause of atheism or religion. In point of fact causation is lacking, and you have to reach out to a certain derivative spin off. You are basically over-reaching and guessing at what the result would be.

From a narrower political view you can say that more religious people tend to vote Republican, and using Pew you can back this up. Aitheists tend to be democrats, except for the objectivists who tend to be hard right tea party folk.

If you are a farm bureau type and you want to know what is better for selling the other white meat, then china being a huge consumer of pork and argueably atheist seems a better market than Iran being largely Muslim, albeit american christians probably consume more bacon and christmas ham per capita than do folks from China(and while arguably aitheist, China probably has more christians than the U.S.)

There are more ultimately unproductive ways to argue the aitheism vs. religion question, but one of my favorites is the view that World War II was essentially a war that pitted a religious Axis against a secular britain and United States and an atheist Russia(Allies)

I mean World War II is Germany: the home of serious protestantism, Luther and the Lutheran denomination (also the birth place of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and perhaps most importantly Bismarck.)

World War II is also Italy: the home of the Vatican and serious catholicism. while Mussolini's mother was a catholic school teacher, mussolini himself a baptized catholic and defender of catholicism, all of this in some myth building aggregate fashion is Fascism, or the identification of the Nation if not by race then by a sort of religious culture, albeit Mussolini was much more cosmopolitan than Hitler. So In addition to getting catholic blessing of Muslims of Libya who pronounced him as the "Protector of Islam."

You thus have the Lutherans and the birthplace of all protestantism with the Catholics, and via Lybia the "protector of Islam" designation....So the Axis was blessed by protestantism, Catholicism and Islam.... but that is not all. While India was on the side of the allies, in spirit seeking to overthrow Brittish colonialism, a good chunk of radical Hindu's in the INA sided with Hitler, and it was only the more secular Gandhi who parlayed this into support for the allies by securing independence. Hinduism war like component was close to breaking for the Axis, in addition its caste system and "aryan" origins...in Sanskrit meaning "honourable, respectable, noble".

Then you have Japan and what at the time was a flourishing Shinto religion. The suicide bombers or kamikazee's were certainly motivated by a religion of emperor worship as part of the way of the Gods, this was the closest thing to a theocracy that has ever existed, Iran included.

Some in the military that had followed this for a long time and really were or are the closest believers in the proximate cause of religion, i.e. they believe that one can say something about Shintoism(or Islam)....these had warned about a pearl harbor...these also gainned credence and because of a different way of predicting proximate cause believed the Japanese living in america since Shinto posed a grave danger...so they manufactured evidence and lied to the supreme court for the "greater good", and so you have Korematsu, and the coram nobis retrials. (someone should have realized that perhaps the Shinto in the US came here to escape the religious persucution, deformation and theocratic attachments of state shinto.)

But Japan's part in World War II was very close to Shinto v. Allies. When Japan lost God died, factually according to state shinto, and literally in terms of the will of its adherents. All the truest believers had died World War II, or suffered an experience incompatible with future faith. Japan still has religion,but I count it as perhaps the purest aitheist country, or a country with business that takes care of people, were loyalty is to the employer, be it Honda, Toyota, Sony, Mitsubishu, Mazda or all that trades on the Nikkei Index(the Japanese buy and hold stock out of loyalty and thus have felt even more pain recently than investors in the lost decade.)

So in order of saying that a religion endorsed the Axis: Shintoism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, some Buddhism via Japan but this is stretching things.

On the side of the Allies you have the anglican church, but neither the US nor Russia had an established state church and while Russia was aitheist it was probably more or just as eastern orthodox, and you have turkey which joined late making the eastern orthodox official if it was not so by virtue of Greece's struggles.

All of this is in a way ridiculous, or rather one should hope that it is ridiculous. Hypothetically speaking you could try to rebirth state shintoism, or you could join the lutheran church to share kinship with the germans who gassed jews. Just by being catholic you share in communion with Mussolini, or you embrace the crusades against muslims. That is if religion is evil, then religion becomes a derivative play for evil. If Atheism is evil then aitheism becomes a derivate play for evil. But folks are not catholic to bind themselves to the inquisition, and Aitheists are typically rather analytic and aren't atheist to celebrate the achivements of the Soviet Union and its Gullag, or the crushing of catholics in the Vendee. Perhaps they all lack immagination.

But a problem with imputing horrors to religion or atheism should stem from a respect for individualism and an accompanying ridicule of vicarious derivative plays. There is simply an illusion of continuity, created in part by a selective telling of history as above.

In some sense if either side in the aitheist, or religious camp could make a clear case that attachment to either stemmed from a desire to be associated with past atrocities then the story would be different. As it is catholics claim Hitler was an aitheist, and aitheists claim Hitler was catholic. A catholic who with pride claimed Hitler was Catholic, or an atheist who claimed Hitler was atheist...these quasi-hypothetical beings would be scapegoats for arguments that seek to show that a belief system poisons everything.

Hypothetically there is a certain type of interesting scapegoat. One who goes so far as to completly reject the vicarious derivate play. In other words if the facts marshalled demonstrate that Hitler was baptised and was a "catholic", he is not bothered in calling him such, because he recognizes that the evidence marshalled is simply indicia. That he is also catholic is a fact, but he was born and came to the faith for a completly different set of reasons.

Potentially also there is an aitheist, who realizes that despite baptism, or indicia pointing towards catholicism(or lutheran since this was the german religion)no one who commited such atrocities could believe in eternal judgement, thus he willingly agrees that Hitler was an atheist(or someone whose actions demostrate no fear of a just God). He is also atheist, perhaps because he agrees with David Hume

Importantly neither of the hypothetical scapegoats take pride in any kinship to the evil actionsof a historical evil dooer, resulting from a loose analogy to a broad category.

Then of course there are the scapegoats who play with fire, among these you have to mention because of its vicarious derivative play elements depite its not being a recognized religion, those who fly the confederate flag.

To bring in a christian idea, the idea that you can commit adultry in the heart without actually commiting it...one might say that Christianity recognizes the vicarious derivate play.

Do those who take part in flying the confederate flag in some sense relive slavery in their hearts?

Under american/secular law we can't punish this. Would we be better off with more christian law(actually only God is witness) but supposing we recognized certain symbols as evil vicarious derivative plays. Say we fined the Klan, or neo-nazi groups for purposefully celebrating the death of american indians by small pox on columbus day? Say radical muslims celebrate 9-11 by making flight school shirts with twin towers on the front and a Mosque on the back?

In other words I am perfectly happy to argue that we can't know if Religion or Atheism poisons anything let alone everything....but in clear cases where religion or atheism could be used as a symbol of poison..(I would say all evil derivative plays).

What is an evil derivative play? Making the atheist argument that religion is poison and then claiming pride in religion, or vice versa. i.e. Hitler was catholic, so I am catholic. Or I am lutheran because I want to experience the mass than most germans experienced while jews were being made into ash and rainning like snow.

In the uproar over the Mosque controversy, a lot of christians/conservatives and some liberals made the argument that the Mosque near ground zero was an "evil derivative play". That is just building it and knowing it was there, gives psychic enjoyment to folks in Afghanistan that cheered and waved flags when 9-11 happened (If they were smart they were cheering the second derivative of 9-11, now the americans will come bomb the oppressive taliban, and help us restore and rebuild our country, fix our cleft pallates and give us a modicum of healthcare. Development economics 101, have a scapegoat leader declare war on america, then surrender.)

Note: Germany, Japan and even Italy are so prosperous that it is hard to tell they lost World War II.

Of course it makes quite a difference if folks play the evil derivative for the first and evil reason or for the second derivative reasons.(example above). Folks in Britain might have cheered a bit when Pearl Harbor was attacked...a self-interested second derivative, not an evil vicarious first derivative.

In some sense the folks with evil first derivative confederate flags, are really just second derivative bonuses to the NAACP and the liberals.

If folks believe that opposition to Obama is held afloat in part by folks who wish to commit slavery in their hearts, then while it is protected speech and not legally actionable it has to help Obama on the second derivative, call it "white guilt" or not.

In part the call by conservatives against the Mosque was an attempt to find "muslim guilt". The Muslim reply is probably to link themselves to Korematsu, and argue towards "white guilt" for the handling of proximate cause vis a vis religion and race after a domestic attack in a time of war.

Of course this so called guilt doesn't have to exist, the history may be real but the knowledge of it is almost always a fiction. When I say that the knowledge is a fiction, I mean you can't presupose a historical meaning, if folks lack a knowledge base.

A lot of historical derivative plays, be they evil or not are just not known, or attributable, and this gets back to why I say that a sort of historical tally of goods and evils perpetrated by the "religious" and "aitheist" really doesn't answer the question, but instead points to a common moral understanding between them, that acts to negate the efficacy of these broad categories.

Actually it is true that while the Christian/Muslim(religious) would say that watching porn is commiting adultry in the heart and thus a sin, the aitheist might agree based on some sort of empirical data, or disagree and find watching porn of no consequence. So the debate over the poisons of religion and atheism does have some potential disagreements but none that necessarily follow from atheism, which is why in talking points both sides end up argueing similar ethics with different factual emphasis.

Even water, if consumed to excess, can harm.

Religion improperly embraced poisons; atheism improperly embraced poisons.

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