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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Atheist Atrocities? (Part 1 of 3)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Atheist Atrocities? (Part 1 of 3)

The other day I went YouTubn’ around and found this little gem called “Atheist Atrocities: Frightening Stats About Atheists.” Throughout history, people have killed and been killed in the name of a religion and/or in the name of a god. Every single day, somewhere in the world believers of various religions kill “infidels” who believe something different than they do. Could the same be said about atheist, agnostics, and other freethinkers? When was the last time an atheist strapped a bomb to himself to kill complete strangers on a bus, in a pizzeria, a church, mosque, or synagogue? Previous to watching this video, I was unaware of any mass killing in the name of atheism. The title of the video intrigued me; I’m always willing to learn even if what I learn challenges what I believe to be true. This video mostly failed to make the case.

Near the beginning of the video, the infamous atrocities of the Catholic Church are pointed out: The Inquisition, The Crusades, The Conquistadors, and persecution of Protestants and Anabaptists. But instead of recognizing these as atrocities committed by Christians, the video’s creator “Skeptic Antidote” makes the bizarre claim that these were not Christians committing these atrocities but “pagan temple worshipers led by a pope.” Based on this statement, I’m not sure if Skeptic Antidote is anti-Catholic or not; maybe he believes that Catholics are not really Christians. He does admit, however; that these acts were carried out IN GOD’s NAME. I also believe the use of the term “pagan” was intentionally used to confuse people (or maybe he’s confused?) who do not understand the difference between a pagan and an atheist (sometimes these words are used interchangeably). Of course atheists are pagans but not all pagans are atheists. A pagan is a pejorative term referring to someone who is not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. Atheists would obviously fall into this category because an atheist is simply someone who does not believe in a god or gods (even theists are atheist when it comes to gods other than the ones they believe in). Last time I checked, there are many other religions which are completely separate from these Abrahamic religions (though it’s fair to say that most people in the world belong to one of these religions one way or another). If you do not belong to one of these religions, guess what: you’re a pagan too!

In the next part where the video Skeptic Antidote goes on to list the atrocities of atheists; the viewer is supposed to discount the aforementioned Christian atrocities but any and all atrocities committed by atheists are supposed to attributed to atheism. The first part regarding “The Reign of Terror” is the only legitimate atheist atrocity in the video. However, some context is necessary to understand the conditions which led to the Reign of Terror. The Reign of Terror took place in the height of the French Revolution. This era of French history was embroiled in extreme economic, political, and social chaos; France was a complete basket case. As one political party gained power, the minority rival party members were treated like enemies of the state who could face imprisonment or death. This was a constant vicious cycle.

During the Reign of Terror, the Jacobin faction led by Maximilien de Robespierre controlled the French government. Robespierre and the Jacobin’s put in place the Reign of Terror which was a policy that gave the government the power to violently put down any resistance to the government or the current aims of the revolution. Shortly thereafter, another law was passed called the “Law of Suspects” which allowed the government to extend the terror to anyone who was believed to be a counter-revolutionary. A counter-revolutionary was loosely defined as someone who committed “crimes against liberty” (sounds kind of Orwellian doesn’t it?).

As Skeptic Antidote points out, the clergy were among those who were considered “enemies of the revolution” and many were executed without trial. Why was the clergy believed to be such a threat? Prior to the revolution and during the time of the Monarchy, the clergy enjoyed power and privileges the average French citizen did not. The clergy along with the nobility prevented the middle class from advancing socially and politically, persecuted religious minorities (such as Jews, protestants, and atheists), and used the government as a tool to intrude in the private lives of citizens. In the early part of the Revolution prior to the Jacobins rise to power; the clergy became part of the state. When economic hardship worsened, the government decided to sell some of the church’s property; the rationale was that the property belonged to the government and could do with it whatever the government wished. This did not sit well with the clergy. As the clergy pushed back, new laws were enacted to allow individuals (of any religion or no religion at all) to run for the office of clergy. The clergy were further required to swear an oath of loyalty to the state (as opposed to the Vatican, which revolutionaries thought had entirely too much influence in France’s internal affairs). Understandably, many of the clergy refused and paid with their lives from that moment forward.

The saying “power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely” seems to apply here. When the Catholics controlled the levers of power, they made life difficult on religious minorities. When the atheists took over, they did much the same and exacted revenge. But as I said, this wasn’t merely a jihad against the religious by atheistofacists. About 15% of the 40,000 victims of the Terror were clergy and nobles. The remaining victims were suspected enemies of the Revolution and even others who supported the Revolution who were considered too moderate by Robespierre and more radical elements of the Jacobins. Thomas Paine, who wrote the pamphlet The Age of Reason (which was a scathing rebuke of the Bible and organized religion), narrowly escaped execution by the Jacobins. Luckily for Paine, Robespierre was captured and summarily executed by his own party before Paine had his turn at the guillotine.

Now that we know the context of the Reign of Terror, we can sufficiently comment on these atrocities. Roughly 6,000 Christians were killed at the hands of atheists in the name of atheism. Such acts are atrocities and are shameful. Skeptic Antidote would have us believe that such atrocities are the rule not the exception; I argue the opposite. Among the leading outspoken atheists in the public eye such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who among them would support a similar Reign of Terror against today’s theists? Though they and many atheists loath religion, few would support any such policy.

In the next post I deal with the rest of Skeptic Antidote’s atheist atrocities.


Blogger Joseph said...

Got a quick question for you: when you mention people killing in the name of religion (or atheism for that matter), do you mean to say that these people's religious (or atheistic) beliefs influenced or even caused the killings? Or do you just want to say that history is full of people claiming religious justification (or again, atheist justification) for the killings?
In my experience people are not inclined to do the right thing if left to their own devices- and I was wondering if you really thought that either world-view legitimatly led one to killing?

11:42 PM  
Anonymous RickU said...

I think there's an important difference to be noted here. While atheists can be killers these folks weren't killed in the name of atheism. They were killed in the name of a social movement. The same is true in the USSR and under Chairman Mao.

The religious atrocities happened in the NAME of their religion/god and I think that's an important distinction.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick observation. While I am in complete agreement on the misinterpretation of "religious justification" argument often most by theists (I am an atheist myself), and while I loathe having to answer to theists' twisted version of the truth when they invoke them, I must take exception to the characterization of Thomas Paine's Common Sense as a "scathing rebuke of the Bible and organized religion". I seem to remember it being a scathing rebuke of Britain's dominance world dominance as opposed to a work of primarily religious dissent. Am I wrong?

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry about the grammar. I was on the phone. You get my point though?

3:44 PM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

Anonymous, you are correct. When I wrote this (almost a year ago), the work I should have referenced here would be "The Age of Reason." "Reason" was the scathing rebuke of organized religion, "Common Sense" was aimed at American colonists to raise up against the British to fight for independence.

I have since corrected the post.


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