April 6, 2007

Keeping My Religion

Today is Good Friday, the remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth which Christians believe redeemed all of us from sin. On Sunday, we will celebrate His resurrection, which promises new life and victory over death for those who believe. Two billion people will join in this millenia-old celebration of faith -- but some will see this as a continuing decline towards an abyss of intolerance and genocide.

One of my favorite center-left columnists, E.J. Dionne, tackles the neo-atheists in an excellent Washington Post piece by pointing out that these aggressive anti-religionists seem as attached to dogma as those they criticize:

The new atheists -- the best known are writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins -- insist, as Harris puts it, that "certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." That's why they think a belief in salvation through faith in God, no matter the religious tradition, is dangerous to an open society.

The neo-atheists, like their predecessors from a century ago, are given to a sometimes-charming ferociousness in their polemics against those they see as too weak-minded to give up faith in God. ...

Argument about faith should not hang on whether religion is socially "useful" or instead promotes "inhumanity." But since the idea that religion is primarily destructive lies at the heart of the neo-atheist argument, its critics have rightly insisted on detailing the sublime acts of humanity and generosity that religion has promoted through the centuries.

It's true that religious Christians were among those who persecuted Jews. It is also true that religious Christians were among those who rescued Jews from these most un-Christian acts. And it is a sad fact that secular forms of dogmatism have been at least as murderous as the religious kind.

Let's not kid ourselves here. The 20th Century demonstrated that atheistic systems could be every bit as deadly as theocratic systems, and far more efficient at it. Communism resulted in tens of millions of deaths in its decades of bloody reign across Asia. Stalin himself has the responsibility of massive deaths through deliberate and neglectful starvation, and thousands more murders from his whims. Mao and the Chinese governments that followed from him force women to abort babies and have also starved millions through mismanagement and malice. On smaller scales, the Communist governments in Cambodia and Vietnam conducted massive genocides on their own people.

In the short period of time of human history when atheistic systems that force an end to religious activity have been allowed to rule, the results have been horrific and immensely bloody. And yet the neo-atheists insist that religion is the primary cause of human suffering. Hmmm.

This doesn't mean that atheists are genocidists, any more than ugly examples like the Spanish Inquisition mean that Catholics are torturers. The fundamental flaw of the neo-atheist argument is that faith inherently creates Inquisitions, which is ridiculous. It is the accumulation of unrestrained power -- and the fear of its loss --- that creates both the Inquisition and the Cambodian killing fields. Power corrupts, and it corrupts the secular and the religious alike.

That is why the best forms of government keep power in the hands of the governed and set checks and balances against the abuse of power. They also allow for the free expression of religion for two reasons. First, faith is a personal choice, and any government that forbids or significantly restricts that choice will not stop its thought police at just religious choices for long. Second, societies with free access to religious faith do not create the impulse for religious totalitarianism.

The plan that neo-atheists want would impose a new belief system on people in an oppressive way that rivals any that they claim religions cause. Dionne chooses in his column to struggle through his own questions and doubts to continue to believe in God and retain his faith. As I would keep my freedom, so do I.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Keeping My Religion:

» Heroes & Villains; a God Help Us Good Friday Linkfest from The Anchoress
Just throwing out these links (lots of good ones here) before signing off for the day - the heroes and villains are for you to determine on your own. From the We’re Tolerant, But Not Toward Filthy Non-Secularist Jews Dept: Gateway Pundit links to... [Read More]

» Good Friday from Randy Thomas
Love's as hard as nails, Love is nails: Blunt, thick, hammered through The medial nerves of One Who, having made us, knew The thing He had done, Seeing (with all that is) Our cross, and his. C. S. Lewis [Read More]

» Have a Good Friday from The Crossed Pond
Well, we have two Catholics who post here; close enough to a trinity. If you want a really interesting history of Good Friday, check it out. It’s funny. I’ve never been an atheist per se, but would still probably have to call myself an... [Read More]

» Keeping his Religion from A Second Hand Conjecture
Captain Ed and EJ Dionne on anti-religious Dogma. Share This ... [Read More]

Comments (14)

Posted by Cybrludite [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 6:34 AM

Here's hoping the holiday is good for you and yours, Cap'n. I plan on keeping more to the old Anglo-Saxon version of the holiday (from whence we get the eggs & rabbits), but that's just me. Best wishes for the First Mate's continuing recovery!

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 7:01 AM

Excellent post.

Happy Easter.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Posted by NoDonkey [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 7:18 AM

The Black Book of Communism copiously documents the 100 million people murdered by communists, during the 20th century.

The wrongs of religion pale in comparison to the carnage committed by leftists.

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 7:59 AM

No, NoDonkey, the wrongs of intolerance are the same whether practiced by religious fanatics or the religiously fanatical atheist. Either way, a cult worship exists, either personally, in the forms of Christ or Hitler/Stalin/etc., or for the system/party/state. At some point, you are right, everyone else is wrong, intolerance sets in, and repression of anything that doesn't agree with whoever/whatever is in charge is the norm. This is the inevitable path of the intolerant society, no matter the basis for the intolerance.

Posted by jpe [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 8:28 AM

Argument about faith should not hang on whether religion is socially "useful" or instead promotes "inhumanity."

*yawn* What a banal point. And, it's likely wrong; in the absence of winning philosophical arguments (general consensus being that Kant demolished them once and for all) and agreed-upon empirical evidence, it's inevitable that much discourse on religion will turn on its effects, both social and individual.

Posted by richard mcenroe [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 9:39 AM

Aside from the implication that communism isn't a religion, spot on, cap'n...

Posted by Del Dolemonte [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 9:59 AM

Aye, caramba, Captain! I wouldn't describe E.J. Dionne as "center-left". After all, he was whelped at the New York Times...

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 11:10 AM

By the way, Captain, if you look at the roots of the Spanish Inquisition, the premise isn't bad. Spain was only a couple of years out from having finally repelled the Muslims. Look what we did to flush out and neutralize the Communists buried in our own midst.

That there were excesses is clear; that the act was needed was certainly clear as well.

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 11:16 AM

Great post Capt, Thanks. Happy Easter.

Posted by Fred [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 12:10 PM

Communism isn't atheism; Communism is communism.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 3:36 PM

Fred, atheism is central to communism.
"Religion is the opiate of the masses."

Posted by Count to 10 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 6, 2007 4:24 PM

By this deffinition, I was a "neo-atheist" from birth until I went to collage, where I met other atheists for the first time. That was scary enough that I'm usually more comfertable around religious people. Not that I am any less atheist now, I've just been disillusioned of the idea that only atheists are moral.

But, reguardless, happy Easter to all.

Posted by Darryl Harb [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 8:50 AM

I must disagree strongly. E.J. Dionne, like most liberal Christians, tries to have one foot in and one foot out of the recognizable Christian tradition. Their strongest motive seems to be their need for validation by the secular left. What theology they have is basically the platform of the Democrat party sprinkled with a little holy water. Hence Dionne's(and Crossan & Borg's) is an insipid Christ whose only purpose --whose salvific achievement-- seems to have been that he provides a divinely-sanctioned archetype for social activists. It would be merely pathetic if it weren't so pathological.


Posted by The Poet Omar [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 9:52 PM

Great post, Cap! I am much more concerned with the activities of those out to destroy religion (anti-religionists such as Professor Dawkins) than I am with atheists or agnostics. If a person simply doesn't wish to belive/have a relationship with God, then so be it. No skin off my soul, so to speak. If a person is actively working to subvert or destroy religion, however, then I have a problem. Happy Easter to you!