7/24/08

The BOBA Digest, Part 2: Daniel Dennett’s Desperation

I perceive that Professor of Philosophy Daniel Dennett is a pretty bright personage (pun intended). Unfortunately, when he gets into the neo-atheist mindset he appears to lose his wits, his cool and his erudition as a professor of philosophy.

To read/Or not to read





With regards to accountability, or responsibility, Prof. Dennett wrote:
“Those who maintain religions, and take steps to make them more attractive, must be held similarly responsible for the harms produced by some of those whom they attract and provide with a cloak of respectability. Defenders of religion are quick to point out that terrorists typically have political, not religious agendas, which may well be true in many or most cases, or even in all cases but that is not the end of it. The political agendas of violent fanatics often lead them to adopt a religious guise, and to exploit the organizational infrastructure and tradition of unquestioning loyalty of whichever religion is handy. And it is true these fanatics are rarely if ever inspired by, or guided by, the deepest and best tenets in those religious traditions. So what? Al Queda and Hamas terrorism is still Islam’s responsibility, and the abortion-clinic bombing is still Christianity’s responsibility and the murderous activities of Hindu extremists are still Hinduism’s responsibility.”[1]

I must first point out that just as Prof. Richard Dawkins did, Prof. Dennett uncritically and without providing statistics, correlates Islamic terrorism with “Christian” abortion-clinic bombings. I will not give it away here for the sake of suspense but if you are interested in facts take a moment to consider the statistical relation between the two and then see my essay The Dawkins Correlation.

Note Prof. Dennett’s insistence that any and all Islamic terrorism is Islam’s responsibility, that any and all “Christian” abortion-clinic bombings are Christianity’s responsibility and that any and all Hindu extremist acts are Hinduism’s responsibility. Let us grant this for a moment and ask the logical question, “Is this only so regarding religions and their extremists who often are violating the very tenets which they claim to be upholding?” Now more directly, let us ask, “What about atheism? Does atheism somehow and for some unstated reason get a pass? Is atheism not responsible for the greatest body count that the world has ever known?” At least according to Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Prof. Dawkins and Prof. Dennett, Austin Cline, Dan Barker, et al, the answer is clearly that atheism gets a pass and is not responsible.

But why do they get a pass and sidestep responsibility? Well, one answer provided by Prof. Dennett is quite intriguing. During his debate with Dinesh D'Souza entitled “Is God (and Religion) a man-made invention?” Prof. Dennett stated:
“…it occurred to me - let's think about Stalin for a moment. Was he an atheist? You might say well of course he was an atheist. No, on the contrary. In a certain sense, he wasn’t an atheist at all. He believed in god. Not only that, he believe in a god whose will determined what right and wrong was. And he was sure of the existence of this god, and the god’s name was Stalin.”



So, now theism is not only responsible for everything and anything done in its name but theism is also responsible for everything and anything done in the name of atheism including the actions of those atheists who suppressed and oppressed theism. This is merely a hyper-convenient argument. Perhaps Prof. Dennett ought to curve his zealousness for his worldview and return to the realm of philosophy. However, granting his statement, if this is true of Stalin it is likewise true of all atheists. Thus, atheism is self-refuting circular logic since all atheists are theists.

Discarding supernatural god(s) atheists encounter the highest being in the universe, a materialistic god, in their mirrors. And claiming that atheists are not responsible for the atrocities committed in its premise because atheists are theists (matter-theists perhaps) is no way for anyone to argue much less a professor of philosophy.


[1] Dennett Daniel, Breaking the Spell - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penguin Group, 2006), p. 299

31 comments:

  1. Interesting blog! I just discovered it via Google Alerts.

    I look forward to digging a little deeper!

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  2. How dare you; don't you know that you're only allowed to criticize Dennett after you've grown a superior beard!

    Speaking of which, is the updating of comments to AiD now happening biweekly or something?

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  3. The quote you offer of Dennett is a rather stupid one actually.

    What does it mean to hold "Christianity" responsible for something? You mean an Amish pacifist in Ohio (I'll use the Schwartzentrubers since they are the most conservative group) are responsible for lynchings done by the KKK or the murder of Muslims in the Balkans?

    It's philosophically irresponsible and takes absolutely no accounting for the social structures in play. It derives culpability based on belief in God alone as if the epistemological claim to faith is the sole reason that people kill others.

    Here's where it gets more absurd. In every religion or other social group there are critics and reformers. What this "argument" does is hold those reformers responsible for the very wrongs they are trying to right! So the logic indicates that we must hold Luther responsible for papal indulgences because he was a Catholic even though he was adamantly opposed to them on both religious and political grounds!

    This and the former pope have also made strides to apologize for previous wrongs committed by the Catholic church. The PCUSA has made strong statements against the Iraq conflict. Then we have documents like the Barmen declaration and the Confession of Belhar which Dennett and supporters of this idiocy blindly and conveniently ignore.

    Alister McGrath argues correctly that these sources of violence are social in nature and religion is but a catalyst. It was science, after all, that invented the atom bomb and napalm.

    With that, it reveals what a farce the comment about Stalin is. I think Dennett is the most erudite of the bunch, but he is clinging to his atheism far too strongly here and it leads to irrational muddle. I would venture to say that if Stalin was his own "god" atheism here is Dennett's own "god". He should probably consult Tillich's understanding of religion before saying things like this.

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  4. Ah yes, the old, "bad atheists never do bad cause they were just acting religious" argument.

    Apparently to some atheists, doing anything bad at all is called "acting religious", and is justly the fault of some religion or another, but certainly not atheism.

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  5. It's amazing to me that you can be that educated, and still say something that laughably stupid.

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  6. What could it be that makes the Neo-atheists say such things (I know there are atheists who do accept evil things done in the name of atheism, but they do not display the "fundamentalist" attitude/approach as Dawkins Harris etc do)?

    Why do they never accept responsibility, but are adamant that theists e.g. Christians (even today) must take some responsibility for the actions of the crusaders from hundreds of years ago?

    Is it their pride? Or fear of feeling some sort of inadequacy (due to the reality being that the very base of their worldview has been used to commit millions of deaths last century).

    I think that to make such deflections, especially the silly type that Dennett did, reveals some sort of underlying fear; That they know they cannot give a reasonable answer without accepting and admitting that certain atrocities were commited by people who shared the same basic and fundamental part of their worldview - that there is no god.

    The trouble for Dennett, Dawkins etc is once they publicly accept the admission of stalin being atheist = atheism responsible for millions of deaths (via debate or in books) it puts a dent in their "mission to seek converts" and will probably cause major disatisfaction/division for their devotees.

    That is something that the secular agenda (I am tempted to say conspiracy!) cannot afford...

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  7. And he was sure of the existence of this god, and the god’s name was Stalin

    Stalin didn't think he was God but he thought that he could replace God's order with materialist "reason". Accordingly, the murder of 20-61 million became a mere statistic that could be rationalized as moral and necessary.

    It's ironic that Dennett sees how atheist murderers feel that they can supercede God's order (because he doesn't exist), yet he can still be dishonest in attempting to rationalize it away as not atheistic. Such is the great tradition of totalitarian double-think.

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  8. [This is just a editing note to the author. Please do not approve this comment for public display.]

    "ought to curve his zealousness" -> "ought to curb his zealousness"

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  9. I would highly suggest for you, and any one else interested to read the book ""The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions." by self-professed secular Jew and mathematics/philosophies teacher David Berlinski.
    This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. "If you have the time please check the book out

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  10. Great points and discussion all around, I must say:

    Daniel Wesley,
    Welcome to our site, glad to have you on board.

    adonais,
    LOL, come one now, have you seen my profile photo? My beard is right up there with the shaggiest of them (at least during winter). As for comments – we try to keep up but definitely had a quite a bit of backup lately, sorry y’all.

    Drew,
    You nailed it, atheist activists only take factors other than their own prejudice into consideration rarely if ever, and then only when pressured to argue in the real world.

    Vigilante,
    Indeed the “old, ‘bad atheists never do bad cause they were just acting religious’ argument and its partner in crime, the old “no one ever did anything bad in the name of unbelief” are either philosophical hoaxes or else the utter bankruptcy of atheism’s arguments.

    IrishFarmer,
    Good to hear (or, read) from you.

    Mr Patel,
    It is sad for the vast majority (I would imagine) of live and let live atheists that they are being represented by the militant-activist-neo-sect. I think that the neo-atheist sect panders to the not necessarily concerned about logic or history youth. Youth rebels against authority: so rebel against the ultimate authority – God. Youth has limited life experience and knowledge of history and the history of ideas: no problem, we erudite professors of scientists and philosophy will tell you what you need to know. Youth find morality restricting: fo’git’abow’it, there is no moral accountability just don’t hurt anyone but otherwise do whatever you want and hope that your idea of “hurt” is the same as the person that you are “hurt”ing. Etc., etc., etc.

    AGS,
    “double-think” indeed theirs are clearly arguments form convenience.

    kuhlmann,
    Sorry, but someone else approved this comment. I do thank you for the correction English still mystifies me :o)

    aDios,
    Mariano

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. JaaJoe
    Apparently to some atheists, doing anything bad at all is called "acting religious", and is justly the fault of some religion or another, but certainly not atheism.
    The "acting religious" statement is probably a reference to the zeal that ideologues can get: the absolute idea that they are not only right, but that anyone who disagrees with them is "evil" or must be wiped out.

    One could note that atheism has not "holy book" that has any commands like "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" etc.


    JaaJoe said:
    This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. "If you have the time please check the book out

    For the record, atheism had precious little to do with anti-semitism. I posted as much here.

    Problem is, that blog's owner doesn't allow URLs on his site, so some of what I posted you'll have to get to "manually".

    The historical evidence is clear though. It was not atheism that was responsible for the holocaust as Berlinski and "JaaJoe" say.

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  13. It is not enough that someone was killed and the killer was an atheist to make atheism responsible. And no atheist would blame a killing on Christianity if it weren't for the killer(s) saying, "I did this for God!"

    Yes, on the face of things, Stalin was an atheist. But where is the evidence that he killed millions in the name of atheism?

    Stalin was also opposed to Darwinism. By the logic that appears in this post and its comments, we should also attribute those millions of murders to anti-Darwinistic fervor. Or how about Stalin's moustache? Tens of millions killed by moustachioed men. Stalin was also a white man, so shall we blame white men for those murders as well?

    How many of the people here will cop to such atrocities through the same illogic that leads to "atheism is responsible for millions of deaths?" Nobody should.

    And as soon as someone comes up with evidence that Stalin killed anyone "in the name of atheism," I'm sure that atheists will accept the responsibility as much as Christians accept responsibility for those who claim to kill for Jesus, and Muslims accept responsibility for those who claim to kill in Allah's name.

    Because - fair play - there are thousands of murders committed by theists every year which atheists do not try to pin on theism. A self-professed Christian who shoots a shopkeeper during a bungled robbery did not kill due to his religion. Christianity would be blameless for that. Even the woman who drowned her kids because God told her to was simply insane (Christianity again blameless). However, Arthur Shelton killed for God, was mentally competent and his family shared his beliefs.

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  14. Hey maybe you should change the name of this blog to: "This Blog is Dead". Zero content. What you've got 6 or seven contributors and you can't manage to squeeze out more than 1 or 2 articles a week? maybe you should get Frank walton back. He sure knew how to keep things interesting.

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  15. I think you have missed the force of Dennett's point with respect to Stalin. While its true to say that Stalin did not believe in the Christian God, or any supernatural gods, he both indulged himself and exploited theistic attitudes as part of his cult. The objection, then is not primiarily the positing of supernatural deities -- that's the common form of packaging such ideology, historically. Rather, the problem which I understand Dennett to be pointing to is the promotion of cultic credulity by Stalin (and to some extent he seemed to have believed his own BS), and its embrace by the masses.

    Stalin was a "natural god", a kind of demigod, and it is this aspect that Dennett is pointing to as problematic -- the mindset is in form and structure theistic: credulous, irrational, authoritarian.

    Emperor Hirohito in WWII is another example to look at. By strict "supernatural" standards, Hirohito would probably qualify as an atheist -- he recognized no supernatural deities in the ether, so far as I'm aware. Yet he himself was considered by the Japanese to be a "living god", and was, to that extent, a form of theism unto himself and his subjects. I imagine those who think atheist/theist body count ledgers a worthwhile calculation would put the victims of the Japanese in the atheist column, but that just reveals the crude and misleading nature of such counts and analysis.

    Stalin, Hirohito and other "living gods" -- Kim Jong Il in North Korea is another atheist "living god" in our current world -- exploit the very same corrupt and irrational ideologies as classical theists do in justifying and motivating mass killing. Atheism is lack of belief in gods, and the dispute here seems to turn on the idea that Stalin, Hirohito and Kim you may want to disqualify as "theists" because they were themselves the gods in question.

    My understanding is that Stalin was something like Yahweh in recognizing no other gods beside himself, though. They are both "atheist" with respect to others than themselves, right?

    That's different than an atheist who supposes they must think for themselves, and are not under the cosmic authority of any gods or demigods -- human or other otherwise.

    -Touchstone

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  16. And as soon as someone comes up with evidence that Stalin killed anyone "in the name of atheism,"

    I find this to be extremely dishonest because this indicates a belief based on faith. By what evidence have you (or anyone else who makes this assertion) come to conclusion that atheism did not contribute to Stalin's disregard for human life?

    I know that Dawkins and other atheist prophets have said it, but Dawkins is notoriously ignorant of history as are most of the other "New Atheists". Have you personally read primary source documents, personal accounts or diaries from the period? The fact is, that not much is easily available from the period and most of what is available is written in Russian.

    Therefore, it's a logical conclusion that unless you have had access to such documents and are fluent in Russian, denial of a connection between Stalin's atheism and his inhumanity are premature and not at all based upon a rational process of reasonable deduction.

    The onus is on you to show that you have a rational reason to believe what you believe.

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  17. I think that touchstone and dave w have missed the point... or misunderstood it:

    If someone has killed in the name of Christianity, then I, and I know many other Christians, would hold their hands up and say "Yes it was done by Christians, but the actions are not at all reflective of what Jesus taught" It really is as simple as that. We can say that an unlawful/evil killing by a Christian IS NOT representative of Real/Mere Christianity. Our doctrine allows us to conclude this because it is based on the belief and teachings of Jesus Christ first & foremost.

    However some (militant) atheists are SO defensive that they cannot accept that there have been mass-murders done by someone who professed atheism as their "belief"

    Atheism at its roots, strictly speaking, is completely AMORAL (therefore no doctrine to say what is right/wrong). Therefore if Stalin embraced atheism and its amoral base, and as he did commit much evil under a marxist system that also embraced atheism (read Twilight of Atheism by Alistair McGrath), why oh why do athiests go so defensive and try to imply Stalin (or any other atheist leader) was some sort of pseudo theist. He was not. The beliefs he held show that. He thought he was his own god, as in some sense does every single other atheists. The belief system he used to oppress was godless. It is simple. Read the book I mentioned above.

    I think it is revealing, in a sense, that this sort of post (from Mariano) reveals the militant atheists. I personally know atheists who have said that Stalin did do such attrocities in the name of atheism. They are still atheists, but they have no where near the knee-jerk defensive reaction of those who post on here trying to deflect Stalins actions away from atheism.

    I think my frustration could be showing here!

    Peace out

    Mr. Patel

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  18. Touchstone,
    Interesting points. I wonder if this is why, for example, Communism spread so far and wide. If there are no gods then human beings are the highest beings of which we know. And powerful human beings are higher than the common one. Thus, these leaders are godlike in that they are the highest and most powerful being.
    While I understand and share you concern about the crude and misleading nature of atheist/theist body count ledgers, I think that to the generic charge of “religion causes war” a retort of ditto is valid (at that level of argumentation anyhow).
    Overall, I think that attempting to sidestep atheism’s responsibility for the death of hundreds of millions by blaming god belief is simply preposterous and one of many ways that neo-atheists are trying to pretend that they alone are spotless.
    [Even while referring to “atheism’s responsibility” I do recognize that for any war, etc. there are a myriad of complex motivators].
    aDios,
    Mariano

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  19. AGS, you're running the logic backwards. There is no reason to think that there is a causal connection between atheism and mass murder. Until such a connection is demonstrated, blaming mass murders on atheism is nothing more than speculation.

    Furthemore, it was Mariano who introduced the concept of actions done "in the name of atheism." If he's got evidence that Stalin did, indeed, slaughter millions "in the name of atheism" (preferrably from the "primary source documents"), he can trot it out here for all to see.

    Mr. Patel, it's just as simple for atheists to proclaim that murder is not what atheism teaches. In fact, atheism doesn't "teach" anything. The position that there is no god saying nothing whatsoever about morality, either positively or negatively. It is purely amoral, in the same way as saying "Martians don't exist" is purely amoral. The statement doesn't say anything about what morals a person should have or shouldn't have.

    Nevertheless, atheists tend to be moral. We simply get our morality from sources other than a God who we don't think exists (and if we're correct about that, then theists also get their morality from somewhere else).

    And just as there are immoral Christians, there are also immoral atheists. Neither one did any immoral act because of the teaching of their "religion" (Jesus taught otherwise, and atheism doesn't teach immorality).

    The question then goes back to whether or not atrocities have been committed "in the name of atheism" like we all know they have been committed in the name of God.

    Stalin killed people for lots of different reasons, undoubtedly including seeing some people as a threat to his own power. When we can all see documents from Stalin condemning someone in order to further the cause of atheism itself (not Marxism, not Stalin's rule), then we will all be able to agree that Stalin killed for atheism itself.

    Otherwise, if the folks here really want to blame all of the millions of Soviet deaths on atheism just because Stalin was an atheist, then we atheists should be free to blame every bad act by self-professed Christians on Christianity. In other words, if theists insist on ignoring the motivation for actions, then there's no reason for atheists to ignore motivators, either.

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  20. Mariano said (in italics)

    Interesting points. I wonder if this is why, for example, Communism spread so far and wide. If there are no gods then human beings are the highest beings of which we know. And powerful human beings are higher than the common one. Thus, these leaders are godlike in that they are the highest and most powerful being.

    By "there are no gods", I think you are meaning "there are no supernatural gods", and that would be a feature of Stalin's worldview. But a good case can be made that Stalin did believe in a natural god -- himself -- and that right there represents the kind of fundamental error in thinking that atheism eschews, the idea of "might making right", or that there are transcendent beings which ontologically trump your average, work-a-day human.

    As you say, these leaders are godlike, and traffic on the same kind of credulity and irrational worldviews of the masses as more established religions do. Stalinism in that sense, was "religion in action", just with a natural god on the sacred throne rather than a supernatural one.

    Atheism, I believe, eschews claims of transcendence and "godness" by humans as well as imaginary, immaterial beings that are supposed to be "God" or gods, as well. In that sense, Stalinism really is a testimony to the dangers of religion, even with Stalin declaring on many occasions that there "were no gods". What he forgot to add was "besides me!".

    When you think about the society he "inherited" when he came to power, so deeply entrenched in Russian Orthodox Christianity and the unique power and role of the Czars, Stalin would have been a fool in practical terms not to exploit the mass credulity and disposition to god-worship all around him. He had a mass religion just waiting to be forged around his peronality.


    While I understand and share you concern about the crude and misleading nature of atheist/theist body count ledgers, I think that to the generic charge of “religion causes war” a retort of ditto is valid (at that level of argumentation anyhow).

    I have no problem with that. I generally don't think much of the "answering a fool according to his foolishness" kind of response, but the "religion causes mass deaths through war" argument is pathetically crude, and really doesn't merit much by way of refutation. "non-religion" also causes mass deaths through war.

    It's too bad the proponents of those ideas offered their arguments in such crude fashion, but as it is, it's been good fodder for Christian apologists to go after the new atheists. Dinesh D'Souza goes to town on this topic, which is too bad, because there is a good argument under there that is a little more nuanced, but much more devastating and defensible concerning the "poisoning" effects of religion in terms of war and conflict.

    Overall, I think that attempting to sidestep atheism’s responsibility for the death of hundreds of millions by blaming god belief is simply preposterous and one of many ways that neo-atheists are trying to pretend that they alone are spotless.

    I don't read Dawkins, Dennett or Hitchens as claiming that atheism has a spotless record -- manifestly it has not, and I think they would not contest this. Their claims (voiced differently by each of them) is that religion kills in a senseless way that atheism does not. The combat point there obviously being "senseless". But I think if the New Atheists were to take a review on their arguments about war and religion, a better formation would be "one death in the name of credulous faith is one too many".

    This avoids the intractable and conflict-generating debates like the "body counts" we've seen, which putatively hand skilled debaters like D'Souza a "win" in mathematical, if crude, terms, rather than point in favor of atheism.

    Just stating the tragedy that many people have died because of irrational faith commitments seems to me to be a sobering, powerful point on its own. In those terms, it's not vulnerable to the same kind of counter-attack.

    [Even while referring to “atheism’s responsibility” I do recognize that for any war, etc. there are a myriad of complex motivators].
    aDios,
    Mariano


    There's an asymmetry here, and the fact that it routinely gets obscured is a good indictment of the clumsiness that is the pursuit of this argument by the New Atheists. If we consider the story of Moses believing Yahweh commanded the complete slaughter (save the virgin females!) of the Midianites in Numbers, we can see the DIRECT causal connection between irrational God-belief and mass killing (assuming this story to be historically true, a dubious assumption at best).

    But on the *converse* side, if we look at someone like Stalin, he was commanded by "NON-GOD" to go kill and starve millions of Ukrainians. Mass killing of Ukrainians may have served Stalin's own evil purposes, but the absence of any (other) god just means that Stalin had no supernatural deity in view he supposed he might be held accountable by. NON-GOD didn't command the killing, because, well, there's no god there in that scenario. NON-GOD doesn't stop it, either, for the same reason.

    This is asymmetry. Without a belief in God, moral authority devolves down to man himself. And while this produces all manner of horrors and atrocities, Stalin being a good example of this, the *source* of the evil comes from the immoral, evil choices of man himself. NON-GOD is not a factor. Stalin's evil needs to considered, addressed and resisted in the interest of avoiding tragedies like that ever again, but pointing at atheism as the problem completely misses the source -- evil choices and objectives, which are available to theist and atheist alike.

    When looking at Moses and the Midianites, or Hamas trying to liberate alQuds, and slaughter all the Jews in vengeance for its desecration, we can identify attitudes that are themselves evil and destructive because they are religious in nature. Telling Stalin to "knock off the atheism" wouldn't help anything, as he was arguably a god unto himself and many, many others, already. But even if we said it to... Mao (? was he an atheist?), theism isn't arguably a cure for the killing mindset that is the problem.

    In the case of Hamas, if we could convince Hamas (hah!) to "knock off the Islam BS", we would *necessarily* eliminate a catalyst for conflict, suffering, and hatred. I don't suppose Hamas would stop wanting to reclaim Jerusalem or abandon their thirst for Jewish blood to be spilled, because a good measure of their goals really are secular and pragmatic, with "religious fervor" serving as a kind of "frenzy factor", a motivator for vulgar aims that works better if dressed up in pious terms.

    That right there is a good, solid criticism of faith and religion, though. Even if it is NOT the first order cause of conflict and bloodshed, it's a very effective, cynical tool in advancing evil goals and strategies. Without the credulity and irrationality that much religious faith depends on, the ability to whip up mass support and participation in violence and atrocities would be diminished.

    Thanks for the comments, Mariano.

    -Touchstone

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  21. Mr.Patel's words are in italics...

    If someone has killed in the name of Christianity, then I, and I know many other Christians, would hold their hands up and say "Yes it was done by Christians, but the actions are not at all reflective of what Jesus taught" It really is as simple as that. We can say that an unlawful/evil killing by a Christian IS NOT representative of Real/Mere Christianity. Our doctrine allows us to conclude this because it is based on the belief and teachings of Jesus Christ first & foremost.

    I agree with that, and as one who was a Christian for more than 30 years, I have deep familiarity with the peace ethic of Jesus Christ. The problem of faith as a catalyst and enabler for war and conflict obtains elsewhere though. The same credulity and uncritical thinking that enables people to accept the teachings of Christ, peaceful as they may be, is the kind of credulity and uncriticality that enables faith-powered atrocities to happen. If you are willing to assign over moral authority to the Bible like that, even for peaceful admonishments like the Sermon on the Mount, you aren't even nominally careful about where you attribute moral authority. And that's dangerous. Atheists also often have problems with authoritarianism and the grounding of ethics, but religions like Christianity, Islam and Mormonism are predicated on the illicit assent to unjustified authority, and that has led and will lead to problems, sometimes big ones.

    However some (militant) atheists are SO defensive that they cannot accept that there have been mass-murders done by someone who professed atheism as their "belief"

    It's not nearly so clear cut as some arguments pretend it is, I grant. But consider the argument someone hit me with recently: *Vegetarianism* is responsible for millions and millions of dead from war and state violence. Hitler was a vegetarian, and so was Mao (I didn't know this, but, arguendo...).

    Does that stand, if true? It's true that Hitler was a vegetarian, so we might say "Vegetarians" killed more than 6 million innocent people, and just in the 20th century!

    Hopefully, the problem with that is clear. We don't have grounding for moral connections between Hitler's vegetarianism and his murderous enterprises (that I know of, anyway). With atheism, it's fair to say that "non-belief in God" is not sufficient in and of itself to stop a mind that is committed to mass murder for other reasons. But it's no more a *positive* call for mass killing than one's vegetarian diet is.

    That's not the case with many instances of faith-based conflict. bin Laden saw his attacks on America as moral imperatives placed on him by God.

    Atheism at its roots, strictly speaking, is completely AMORAL (therefore no doctrine to say what is right/wrong). Therefore if Stalin embraced atheism and its amoral base, and as he did commit much evil under a marxist system that also embraced atheism (read Twilight of Atheism by Alistair McGrath), why oh why do athiests go so defensive and try to imply Stalin (or any other atheist leader) was some sort of pseudo theist. He was not. The beliefs he held show that. He thought he was his own god, as in some sense does every single other atheists. The belief system he used to oppress was godless. It is simple. Read the book I mentioned above.

    The argument, I think, is that Stalin was a "theist" or "self-god" in a way that your garden-variety atheist is decidely NOT. It's been a couple years since I read Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar, but if you dive into Stalin biographies, you cannot help but come up with a deep sense of the man's megalomania, even kind of "religious delusion" about himself as a (demi)god. At first, it seemed a purely cynical bit of Machiavellian realpolitik, taking advantaged of the oceans of religious credulity in the aftermath of the Czars. But over time, he came to believe his own self-theology, falling into a kind of religious credulity about himself, and the wider "Stalinism" of Soviet Russia reflected that.

    I think it is revealing, in a sense, that this sort of post (from Mariano) reveals the militant atheists. I personally know atheists who have said that Stalin did do such attrocities in the name of atheism. They are still atheists, but they have no where near the knee-jerk defensive reaction of those who post on here trying to deflect Stalins actions away from atheism.

    I would say that atheism failed to provide a moral barrier to Stalin's mass killing enterprises. But that's not saying anything interesting, as atheism is not a moral framework, itself. Perhaps theism would have produced a kinder, gentler, Stalin... although Russian jews from the 19th century pogroms under the Czars might laugh a sad laugh at that idea.

    Atheism is very limited proposition, though, and is again, asymmetric with respect to theism. There is not a lot that obtains of necessity from atheism, beyond what it directly asserts: that there is no known basis for a belief in God (or, more strongly, there is no God). There isn't much beyond that to support "in the name of" for atheism itself. Theism, on the other hand, necessarily brings with it all the ramifications of whatever God is being posited. It has a "huge footprint" in terms of what can be and is done "in the name of" theism. Atheism just doesn't entail very much, and is 'ultra-lightweight' in that respect versus theism.


    I think my frustration could be showing here!

    Peace out

    Mr. Patel


    Thanks for the comments.

    -Touchstone

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  22. dave w

    You are talking nonsense. There are many reasons to at the very least suspect a causal correlation between atheism and and mass-murder.

    Stalin is well-quoted as saying...."I believe in one thing only, the power of human will", and (my favorite) speaking of Ivan the Terrible who "executed someone and then he felt sorry and prayed for a long time. God hindered him in this matter. Tsar Ivan should have been even more resolute."

    Absence of belief in God made it easy for Stalin to order the deaths of millions. Let's also not forget that Stalin didn't personally kill 20+ million. That was performed by thousands of other atheists, with no documented cases of dissent. They saw nothing morally wrong with what they were asked to do and didn't believe that they would ever be accountable.

    Stalin aside, I can think of at least twenty atheist regimes of the 20th century that engaged in mass murder. The atheists of the French Revolution also engaged in the sport. That's a high percentage of atheists that mass-cull and a good reason to suspect cause.

    To dismiss this correlation out of hand because of "no-evidence" suggests that you and others who hold the same opinion as you have researched the subject thoroughly and found no evidence. I'm skeptical.

    The idea that a crime has to be committed in the "name of atheism" in order to attribute cause to atheism is dishonesty. If nothing bad can be attributed to dis-belief, then logically, nothing good can be attributed to it either. Jeffery Dahmer has stated clearly that he could kill because he believed there was no God to stop him. Stalin killed indiscriminately because he too thought that he wouldn't be accountable. Their dis-belief heavily influenced their actions, yet they didn't kill for the sake of it, that does not absolve the dis-belief. The same is true for all the atheist mass-murderers and the thousands of atheists that carried out the killings and tortures and ran the gulags and re-education camps. Why wasn't there more dissent amongst these hundreds of thousands of atheists?

    Suspecting atheism as a strong influencing factor is perfectly reasonable, denying based on the same facts is delusional or dishonest.

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  23. ags:

    Your grip on history is impressive, although there there seems to a distinct lack of something in your account of "atheist regimes." Perhaps Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, Lysenko-Michurinism and cult of personality might deserve some mention in this totalitarian pantheon, lest you want to chalk it all up to atheism.

    Here are some illuminating quotes from an essay by R. J. Rummel:

    "How can we understand all this killing by communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology with the absolute power. Communists believed that they knew the truth, absolutely. They believed that they knew through Marxism what would bring about the greatest human welfare and happiness. And they believed that power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, must be used to tear down the old feudal or capitalist order and rebuild society and culture to realize this utopia. Nothing must stand in the way of its achievement. Government--the Communist Party--was thus above any law. All institutions, cultural norms, traditions, and sentiments were expendable. And the people were as though lumber and bricks, to be used in building the new world."

    Communism was a social engineering experiment, born from economic and political ideologies. Atheism was not a requirement, but religion potentially a political hindrance. A new society would be built, and a new man to populate it. And so it went.

    "Constructing this utopia was seen as though a war on poverty, exploitation, imperialism, and inequality. And for the greater good, as in a real war, people are killed. And thus this war for the communist utopia had its necessary enemy casualties, the clergy, bourgeoisie, capitalists, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, tyrants, rich, landlords, and noncombatants that unfortunately got caught in the battle. In a war millions may die, but the cause may be well justified, as in the defeat of Hitler and an utterly racist Nazism. And to many communists, the cause of a communist utopia was such as to justify all the deaths."

    I boldfaced a couple of bits there. Communist utopia might be a clue as to what the ultimate cause of Stalinist politics might have been, via the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. And the clergy is seen to be in good company; if atheism had been the driving force behind these economic, political, scientific and demographic reformations, there would have been no reason to go after all the rest, would there?

    Of course, the communist utopia failed spectacularly:

    "The irony of this is that communism in practice, even after decades of total control, did not improve the lot of the average person, but usually made their living conditions worse than before the revolution. It is not by chance that the greatest famines have occurred within the Soviet Union (about 5,000,000 dead during 1921-23 and 7,000,000 from 1932-3) and communist China (about 27,000,000 dead from 1959-61). In total almost 55,000,000 people died in various communist famines and associated diseases, a little over 10,000,000 of them from democidal famine."

    "But communists could not be wrong. After all, their knowledge was scientific, based on historical materialism, an understanding of the dialectical process in nature and human society, and a materialist (and thus realistic) view of nature. Marx has shown empirically where society has been and why, and he and his interpreters proved that it was destined for a communist end. No one could prevent this, but only stand in the way and delay it at the cost of more human misery. Those who disagreed with this world view and even with some of the proper interpretations of Marx and Lenin were, without a scintilla of doubt, wrong. After all, did not Marx or Lenin or Stalin or Mao say that. . . . In other words, communism was like a fanatical religion. It had its revealed text and chief interpreters. It had its priests and their ritualistic prose with all the answers. It had a heaven, and the proper behavior to reach it. It had its appeal to faith. And it had its crusade against nonbelievers."

    Interesting bit, the last. Their religion was communism, not atheism. Writes Rummel: "But communism does not stand alone in such mass murder. ... one could go on and on to detail various kinds of noncommunist democide." Which leads us to the punch line:

    "But what connects them all is this. As a government's power is more unrestrained, as its power reaches into all the corners of culture and society, and as it is less democratic, then the more likely it is to kill its own citizens. There is more than a correlation here. As totalitarian power increases, democide multiplies until it curves sharply upward when totalitarianism is near absolute. As a governing elite has the power to do whatever it wants, whether to satisfy its most personal desires, to pursue what it believes is right and true, it may do so whatever the cost in lives. In this case power is the necessary condition for mass murder. Once an elite have it, other causes and conditions can operated to bring about the immediate genocide, terrorism, massacres, or whatever killing an elite feels is warranted. "

    And so also the church abused its power to justify waging war on saracens and the mass murder of heretics with holy zest, while this power was within its domain. Lucky are we that it is not longer, and such is the atheist's concern today to make sure that it never will be again.

    It is not atheism that corrupts, but power. And religion is demonstrably no safeguard against such corruption. Today, religious sects have by far more power than atheists, who are essentially on their own and completely unorganized. Who, do you think, has the greater cause for concern here?

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  24. “Communism was a social engineering experiment, born from economic and political ideologies. Atheism was not a requirement, but religion potentially a political hindrance

    This is simply not true. Atheism was the bedrock of the soviet outlook on life. Materialism formed the basis for the communist philosophy. Atheism was so fundamental to the ideology of Marxist-Lenninism as manifested in the USSR that it was propagated through school curriculums, atheist museums built over sites of atheist-destroyed churches (in the name of disbelief), anti-religious hate propaganda and of course through the imprisonment and murder of the faithful. Atheism permeated soviet culture at every level. Your assertion that “atheism was not a requirement (of communism)” runs contrary to what Rummel writes and what history records and is absurdly inaccurate.

    “Interesting bit, the last. Their religion was communism, not atheism.”

    Maybe you forgot to read this part of the quote that you pasted…..

    “After all, their knowledge was scientific, based on historical materialism, an understanding of the dialectical process in nature and human society, and a materialist (and thus realistic) view of nature.”

    …..in other words a disbelief in the supernatural and a belief in scientific materialism, (aka an atheist philosophy) was the basis of Marxist thought and formed one of the means by which Russia would be transformed into a utopian society. According to Rummel, those who “disagreed” with this world view (scientific materialism) were “wrong” and were killed off or imprisoned. If anything, that is a clear connection between an adherence to an atheist philosophy and the killing of those who disagree with it, or in other words killing for atheism.

    At the same time, an atrocity need not be committed in the “name of atheism” for atheism to be an influencing factor in the atrocity. According to Stalin’s own words, he could kill without guilt because he disbelieved that there was a God to answer to. Stalin’s atheism clearly enabled his ability to kill indiscriminately.


    This was also interesting…………

    “Marx has shown empirically where society has been and why, and he and his interpreters proved that it was destined for a communist end.”

    ……this suggests that it was Marx’s adherence to scientific materialism that lead to his belief in a communist utopia, and the communist system with all its horrors. That's disturbing.

    “It is not atheism that corrupts, but power.”

    Corruption doesn't necessarily lead to mass-murder.

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  25. ags:

    Looks like you completely missed the point of Rummel's article.

    "Your assertion that “atheism was not a requirement (of communism)” runs contrary to what Rummel writes and what history records and is absurdly inaccurate."

    Well that's not quite what I meant, although I admit that it came out sounding too much like a euphemism. Certainly atheism became implicit to Marxism-Leninism and a key ideology within communism. It is however inconsequential to the point that I was trying to get across, which was:

    "If anything, that is a clear connection between an adherence to an atheist philosophy and the killing of those who disagree with it, or in other words killing for atheism."

    ...that correlation is not necessarily causation, and especially not if unsupported by induction. This was the point of Rummel's article: there is a factor that correlates strongly to democide, a factor that transcends ideological and political boundaries, and that is absolute and totalitarian power. My corollary point was just the observation that this applies also to religious boundaries, making no distinction between religious or non-religious regimes.

    "At the same time, an atrocity need not be committed in the “name of atheism” for atheism to be an influencing factor in the atrocity."

    That is true; but if we now look to "influencing factors" as well we should, how come you do not acknowledge anything but atheism? In your retelling of history there apparently was only one influencing factor, and that was atheism. Likewise, an atrocity need not be committed in the "name of God" in order for religion to be an influencing factor. Tu quoque, or special pleading, have your pick.

    "According to Stalin’s own words, he could kill without guilt because he disbelieved that there was a God to answer to. Stalin’s atheism clearly enabled his ability to kill indiscriminately."

    This reminds me of that shtick in "Expelled" about necessary and sufficient conditions. You're saying that atheism was a necessary condition for Stalin to commit democide. Does that mean that without atheism he would have been unable to kill indiscriminately? We will never know, but the assumption is a non sequitur, as is the implication that atheism in itself is something that enables people in general to commit mass murder.

    If we want to speculate about conditions for mass murder, isn't it more vital to look at the sufficient conditions? Perhaps Stalin's atheism was a necessary condition, but even more so were guns and the absolute political power that he wielded. If any of these were also a sufficient condition, it was demonstrably not the atheism, or a dozen atheistic democracies ought to have gone the same way by now. The failure of induction falsifies the hypothesis that atheism alone causes democide.

    So what then might have been a necessary and sufficient condition for Stalin's democide? According to Rummel's study, a potential candidate for this is absolute and totalitarian power.

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  26. ...there is a factor that correlates strongly to democide, a factor that transcends ideological and political boundaries, and that is absolute and totalitarian power.

    That doesn't adequately explain the fact that the goal of absolute totalitarian power along with the notion that dissenters would be killed or imprisoned actually preceded the assumption of power. Marx wrote unashamedly of the need for violent terror tactics. Stalin, Lennin et al agreed. Totalitarianism was part of the plan all along, as was the idea that opponents must be silenced. This strongly suggests that absolute totalitarian power wasn’t the corrupting factor that you seem to believe it to have been.

    That is true; but if we now look to "influencing factors" as well we should, how come you do not acknowledge anything but atheism? In your retelling of history there apparently was only one influencing factor, and that was atheism.

    Again, absolute and totalitarian power was not the corrupting factor, because its implementation was necessitated prior to the seizing of power and both implicitly and explicitly expected. Totalitarianism and killing opponents was one of the goals, therefore the claim that it caused people to kill en masse is dubious - killing was part of the plan all along.

    Blaming religion for Stalin's atrocities is absurd. Cult of Personality? Doesn't compute, the killing of opponents and the suppression of dissent was one of the goals long before Lennin or Stalin ever gained power. Maoism, Lysenko-Michurinism? The goal of killing preceded them too.

    What's left?

    As Leon Trotsky was happy to note in his defence of Soviet terror..

    "As for us, we were never concerned with the Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle about the ‘sacredness of human life."

    Your assertion that "atheism became implicit to Marxism-Leninism and a key ideology within communism", runs contrary to evidence presented by Rummel in the very link you provided. You have failed to comprehend the point from my previous post. Marx believed that the application of scientific materialism(an atheist philosophy) lead to communism - it was explicitly fundamental, not implicit.

    The failure of induction falsifies the hypothesis that atheism alone causes democide.

    You really haven't offered any reasonable arguments to support this assertion.

    Certainly there must be several factors that contributed to the mass-killings of atheist regimes, but to assert that atheism was not one of them is extremely dishonest, especially when the evidence suggests every reason to suspect it as a major influence.

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  27. "This strongly suggests that absolute totalitarian power wasn’t the corrupting factor that you seem to believe it to have been. "

    That's not what I wrote in my latest comment, and that's not what Rummel argued in the article; he said: "How can we understand all this killing by communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology with the absolute power."

    The point that you fail to appreciate is that atheism, while being an ideology of communism, is not the ideology that in general makes democide happen, and I told you to run the induction experiment in your head to verify this for yourself.

    "Again, absolute and totalitarian power was not the corrupting factor, because its implementation was necessitated prior to the seizing of power and both implicitly and explicitly expected. Totalitarianism and killing opponents was one of the goals, therefore the claim that it caused people to kill en masse is dubious - killing was part of the plan all along."

    Think of it that way if you like—that doesn't change the fact that atheism is not a common denominator for its cause. Religion and nationalism are just as supremely implicated in this scheme of things as communism: your insistence that this process is a product of atheism is unsupported and absurd.

    "Blaming religion for Stalin's atrocities is absurd. "

    Show me where I did that.

    "Certainly there must be several factors that contributed to the mass-killings of atheist regimes, "

    Oh dear, looks like you have misunderstood something. Neither I nor Rummel are discussing "atheist regimes" per se, but regimes overall that commit democide, of which Stalin's is only one. Nowhere does the article "Murder by Communism" mention atheism or invoke it as an explanation, that is your own interpretation. Instead, Rummel supports his general conclusion by examples from noncommunist regimes, and if you look around his site you will find many more articles on the dangers of abuse of power and the restriction of freedom—that's his main theme, not atheism!

    "to assert that atheism was not one of them is extremely dishonest, especially when the evidence suggests every reason to suspect it as a major influence."

    We can argue until the cows come home over whether Stalin's atheism was necessary, sufficient or just contributory to his lethal politics. It was probably contributory, I have never denied this, but it was certainly not sufficient, and I don't think it was strictly necessary either, although that's hard to establish since the effects of various ideologies within communism might be hard to separate.

    But one thing is absolutely clear, and that is that atheism in general is neither necessary or even contributory to democide: just look to religious, nationalist and otherwise noncommunist regimes that also committed democide and the induction to implicate atheism breaks down. This is also clear from Rummel's article(s), I don't know how you could possibly read anything else into them. The one thing that these regimes do have in common is the totalitarian political power to strip its citizens of freedom (in other words the absence of democracy) and an absolutist ideology.

    So when theists (like you, I presume) look at communism and say: "Aha! See, atheism kills" you're making yourself guilty of a whole bunch of fallacies and inconsistencies: cum hoc ergo propter hoc, confirmation bias, tu quoque, special pleading...

    You have some nerve calling me dishonest.

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  28. That's not what I wrote in my latest comment, and that's not what Rummel argued in the article; he said: "How can we understand all this killing by communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology with the absolute power."

    You miss the point. Absolute totalitarian power was not a "sufficient condition", any more than it was a corrupting factor. You again fail to comprehend that the intention to employ violent terror tactics was explicitly voiced prior to any assumption of power. Rummel's (and your) hypothesis is easily falsified by even the most superficial acquaintance with the facts of history.

    The point that you fail to appreciate is that atheism, while being an ideology of communism, is not the ideology that in general makes democide happen...

    That's an assertion without evidence. Again you seem to not comprehend the nature of Marxism.

    "Blaming religion for Stalin's atrocities is absurd. "

    Show me where I did that.


    Again you miss the point, I wasn't accusing you of saying this.

    Oh dear, looks like you have misunderstood something. Neither I nor Rummel are discussing "atheist regimes" per se, but regimes overall that commit democide, of which Stalin's is only one. Nowhere does the article "Murder by Communism" mention atheism or invoke it as an explanation

    Then your introduction of the article as a defence of atheism is spurious. On the other hand, Rummel quite clearly (and correctly) describes Marx's atheist philosophy as vitally central to his political ideas, a point you seem unable to comprehend. Your conitinued devotion to Rummel's inconclusive and easily falsified hypothesis amounts to little more than an appeal to authority and in no way supports your argument.

    This is also clear from Rummel's article(s), I don't know how you could possibly read anything else into them.

    Who's reading anything into the article? His conclusion simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

    The one thing that these regimes do have in common is the totalitarian political power to strip its citizens of freedom (in other words the absence of democracy) and an absolutist ideology.

    Again, the commitment to violent terror preceded the assumption of power. There's no support for your assertion.

    So when theists (like you, I presume) look at communism and say: "Aha! See, atheism kills" you're making yourself guilty of a whole bunch of fallacies and inconsistencies: cum hoc ergo propter hoc, confirmation bias, tu quoque, special pleading...

    This is ironic since your entire argument is an appeal to authority, and unsupported assertions. Add to this your own "strawman argument" above.

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  29. ags:

    I am very doubtful that Rummel's theories of power and democide are so easily falsified as you claim. You keep stating this, but unsupported it amounts no nothing more than assertion on your part.

    Regardless of this, it is increasingly unfunny how you keep accusing me of "missing the point" all the while consistently refusing to address the major point that I have been making all along: that democide is not exclusive to communism or atheism. You keep making the false inference from communism that atheism causes democide, but this is simply not supported. I thought we made some progress when you started talking about influencing factors, and you conceded that there had to be other factors than atheism to lead to democide—but then in your next reply you're back to equating communism with atheism, ignoring all the rest. It's almost like, in calculating the score against atheism, you're counting all the hits and ignoring all the misses. You were even counting the atheists of the French revolution to support your inference! (what would you have them do, sit and watch?)

    As for "appeal to authority" I plead guilty as charged! Rummel has spent almost three decades studying the dynamics of power, conflict and war, and has written two dozen books on the subjects: I know no better authority to cite.

    To repeat myself, since you keep ignoring the point: atheism in general is neither necessary or even contributory to democide. In communism, atheism may have played a role, but even the extent of this is subject to debate; but the material point is that there exists no generalization of your proposed rule that atheism is the cause of democide. Simply not supported by induction.

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  30. I am very doubtful that Rummel's theories of power and democide are so easily falsified as you claim. You keep stating this, but unsupported it amounts no nothing more than assertion on your part.

    Again, Marx wrote openly about the terror tactics that would be employed when communists gained power before any communists did gain power. Lennin, Stalin et al agreed with this. This means that absolute totalitarian power wasn't the agent that corrupted these people. Do your own research. Don't take my word for it.

    ...that democide is not exclusive to communism or atheism.

    Yes, but this is precisely why you are missing the point. Just because it's not exclusive doesn't provide evidence that atheism wasn't a causative factor. Your argument is tu quoque.

    You keep making the false inference from communism that atheism causes democide, but this is simply not supported.

    You keep arguing with strawmen.

    ...but then in your next reply you're back to equating communism with atheism, ignoring all the rest.

    You clearly have not understood the arguments. I will again refer you to the article that you referenced....

    “After all, their knowledge was scientific, based on historical materialism, an understanding of the dialectical process in nature and human society, and a materialist (and thus realistic) view of nature.”

    ...and...

    Marx has shown empirically where society has been and why, and he and his interpreters proved that it was destined for a communist end..

    Marx's scientific materialism (or atheist philosophy) led to communism. Materialism was central. This is supported by the writngs of Stalin, Lennin, Engels et al.

    To repeat myself, since you keep ignoring the point: atheism in general is neither necessary or even contributory to democide.

    "Atheism in general" isn't the point of the discussion and this is special pleading nonsense.

    This is my last post on this thread, I don't think that there is much to add at this point. Regards.

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