More Richard Dawkins – Hitler and Stalin – Weren’t They Atheists? By Mike J King

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115. Filosofia: Richard Dawkins Vs Alister McGrath

Published on Dec 21, 2012

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More Richard Dawkins – Hitler and Stalin – Weren’t They Atheists?

By 

Expert Author Mike J King

Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion tells us that he is often asked about Hitler and Stalin. Weren’t they atheists? This is a difficult question for him and, as he often does with difficult questions, he tackles it by going on the offensive. The question, he tells us, is put in

“a truculent way, indignantly freighted with two assumptions: not only (1) were Hitler and Stalin atheist, but (2) they did their terrible deeds because they were atheists.”

In fact, the question is a perfectly legitimate one and deserves to be taken seriously. Before we consider it, however, let us briefly see how Dawkins deals with it.

His strategy is to question the two assumptions themselves. He tells us that assumption (1) is irrelevant because assumption (2) is false. In respect of assumption (2) the question that should be asked is:

“whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest amount of evidence that it does.”

Having laid his argument out in this way, Dawkins then proceeds to spend the vast majority of this section on irrelevant assumption (1), with particular emphasis on Hitler’s views on religion. We are treated to a long treatise on Hitler’s religiosity or feigned religiosity – Dawkins vacillates, not sure if he wants to blame the religion of Hitler or that of the German people for the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime. Having spent five pages on Hitler, Dawkins draws an inconclusive conclusion. However, even he cannot find anything remotely religious to say about Stalin. He simply says:

“Stalin was an atheist and Hitler probably wasn’t; but even if he was, the bottom line of the Stalin/Hitler debating point is very simple. Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism. Stalin and Hitler did extremely evil things, in the name of, respectively, dogmatic and doctrinaire Marxism, and an insane and unscientific eugenics theory tinged with sub-Wagnerian ravings. Religious wars really are fought in the name of religion, and they have been horribly frequent in history. I cannot think of any war that has been fought in the name of atheism.”

There are a number of points that arise from Dawkins’ argument. Let us deal with them in turn:

Firstly, despite Dawkins’ obvious desire for it be otherwise, Hitler was not a Christian, and neither were his policies religiously based. The planned extermination of the Jews was a political act of genocide carried out against a nation, not against a religion. Hitler instigated similar persecutions against the Slavs of Eastern Europe. He was undoubtedly an evil racist but he was clearly not religiously motivated. This is supported by the lack of religious input into the rest of Nazi policy. Furthermore, the attitudes of racial inequality assumed by the Nazis were born out of the nineteenth century abandonment of God that followed the publication of The Origin of Species, and the increasing adoption of the principles of scientific racism. Kenan Malik in Man, Beast and Zombie tells us:

“When the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, they proceeded to execute in practice many of the theories of scientific racism. They enacted eugenics legislation based on American eugenicist Harry Laughlin’s ‘Model Eugenical Sterilisation Law’. This model law called for the sterilisation of the ‘socially inadequate classes’ including the ‘feeble-minded’, the ‘insane’, the ‘criminalistic’, the ‘epileptic’, the ‘inebriate’, the ‘diseased’, the ‘blind’, the ‘deaf’, and the ‘dependent’, a category which included ‘orphans, ne’er-do-wells, the homeless, tramps and paupers’. The Nazis set up special eugenics courts to rule on every case; it is estimated that between 1933 and 1945 some two million people were ruled to be dysgenic and were sterilised.”

It is self-evident that Hitler was not a Christian. Neither did he wage war on behalf of the Christian or any other God. He was undoubtedly an evil racist (viz his attitude towards Jews and Slavs), which is a philosophy far removed from Christianity. It is strange but Dawkins is not the only anti-religious writer determined to depict Hitler as a Christian. Sam Harris does the same in End of Faith.

To spend so much of his argument on this feeble and ill-conceived point merely demonstrates the shallowness of Dawkins’ main argument.

Secondly, it is disingenuous of Dawkins to claim that he cannot think of a war fought in the name of atheism. And let us be clear what we mean by atheism. We do not mean agnosticism, the state of not knowing. We mean a positive belief in the non-existence of God. And when we frame it in such terms we can see that atheism is indeed another form of belief and is thus as much a ‘religion’ as any theistic religion.

Let us consider the historical perspective. As we would expect, the success and popularity of atheism in Europe over the past two hundred or so years has been inversely correlated with that of other religions. Indeed, its success over that time has been due less to its inherent attraction and more to its radical nature (radical at the time, that is), tapping in, as it did, to the democratisation of Europe. By the nineteenth century, traditional religion had lost its way and had become corrupted and little more than an organ of state. Resistance to the Church exploded, and with this resistance came an upsurge in atheism. Viewing atheism in this historical context allows us a different slant on its merits. And there were many, of course, who recognised the evils of established religion but made the distinction between such religion and God. In 1759, Voltaire published the satire Candide, a powerful attack on the French Catholic Church. In this work, Voltaire depicted atheism as an excessive reaction to religious corruption. Eliminate that corruption and atheism would lose its appeal. However, the speed of change in the world pummelled the established church. Change was accelerating in every aspect; social, political, economic and technological and people turned to this alternative ‘new’ religion for a worldview that explained this brave new world. (Incidentally, this contrasts with the United States where the constitution demands a separation of church and state and where atheism was significantly less successful as a result.) Alister McGrath argues in The Twilight of Atheism that a ‘golden age’ began in Europe with the French Revolution in 1789. He says:

“A brave new world lay ahead, firmly grounded in nature and reason. And equally committed to the liberation of humanity from ‘tyranny’ and ‘superstition’. The wisdom of the day was as simple as it was powerful: eliminate God, and a new future would dawn.”

So what happened to the ‘ideals’ of the Revolution? Within a couple of years, the Revolution itself had been replaced by the Terror, a term which became a byword for unspeakable cruelty and persecution. To what extent can we say that Dawkins’ claim that these atrocities were not carried out in the name of atheism is a valid one? Even a cursory examination of the record demonstrates the holes in Dawkins’ argument. Indeed, the Terror was founded in atheism, one of its main objectives being the elimination of God. At its core was the forced annihilation of theism and the implementation of atheism. Armees Revolutionaires, for example, were commissioned to forcibly dechristianise areas of France. Dawkins’ claim that there is not the “smallest amount of evidence” that atheism influences people to do bad things sounds hollow when you inspect the evidence.

Consider a further example; the Soviet state of the twentieth century. This state was built on the principles of Marxism, the roots of which were in the philosophy of materialism. This holds that the world consists only of matter and that every aspect of human life and thought is determined by social and economic factors. That is, that ideas and values are determined by the material realities of life. The idea of God is merely an attempt to cope with the harshness of this material life. In his theory of historical materialism Karl Marx described God as an opiate and argued that the origins of religion are socio-economic not intellectual and therefore need not be argued intellectually. Religion is the product of social and economic alienation. Get rid of economic alienation and you get rid of religion. Hence, atheism is the natural ideology of a communist society.

Alister McGrath, in The Twilight of Atheism, describes the Russian Revolution of 1917 as:

“one of the most important historical events in the history of the world.”

It is significant because it handed the stage to atheism. For the first time, atheism (irrespective of whether you describe it as an ideology, a worldview or a religion) had the opportunity to establish a moral superiority. Of course, we now know that it failed. Stalin, in the name of communism, (for which we have seen that only atheism will fit as a natural ideology), turned out to be, possibly, the most evil man in the history of the world.

And what about other evils committed in this most civilised of centuries. How far had the moral zeitgeist moved when we were needlessly fire-bombing Dresden and the other German cities in cold-blooded revenge? Likewise, what factors were at play when we dropped the second atomic bomb on the Japanese, mutilating and despoiling a generation? I am not saying that I cannot understand why people did these things. I can. I am merely saying that they were the product of the imperfections of man, not of any labels he might be throwing around. Religious differences are seized on by evil men just as are differences in political ideology, race, colour, tribe etc. Man will always find a label to disguise his greed and corruption.

Finally, we come to Dawkins’ concluding statement;

“Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief?”

As we have seen. a more thorough examination of the evidence has revealed this for what it is, a silly comment. It merely serves to emphasise Dawkins’ one-eyed view when it comes to his own particular religion.

Mike King – the God Delusion Revisited
Latest work – Love story of loss and abortion

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Mike_J_King

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