The following was a reply which I made to a comment thread discussing whether atheism or religion is more “evil” in the number of deaths it has caused. I decided to expand it into a note. After the theists has established that atheistic regimes in a single century has caused more deaths than the entire twenty centuries under Christendom, the secularist made the following reply:
I think that it’s a mistake to attribute to atheism an atrocity that was done by an atheist or secular state.
I think this dodge pretty much sums up most atheist-theist debates. With sufficient gerrymandering of the terms of the debate, anything can be pretty much justified.
Observe for example the common atheist argument that no one needs a positive proof of atheism in order to be an atheist. Atheism, they say, is simply the absence of belief, not the positive belief in God’s non-existence. Yet when it comes to attributing this “absence of belief” to the atrocities of atheistic and secular governments, suddenly the nature of atheism shifts, it is not merely the absence of belief of God which constitutes atheism, which naturally secular and atheistic governments qualify, now in order to indict atheism of its crimes requires a positive and explicit belief in God’s non-existence.
The debate will not end simply because the goal post is constantly being shifted. Of course we can also adopt such a dodge, such as, the faith of the London Baptist Confession of faith is the true religion and every other so-called “religion” are merely fake man-made fantasies or whatnot. However, we are willing to simply accept the facts and accept Roman crusades are a ‘religion’ as we are not ideologically invested in our past performance as a source of our religion’s validity. Christianity in particular accepts frankly that its believers are quite screwed up and often gets many things wrong but our God can handle that. Whereas atheism, especially the atheism of today, suffers from what Nietzsche calls that “English consistency”, that after one gets rid of God, one must justify one’s atheism on moral terms instead of just accepting the brute fact of God’s absence come what may. They are not sufficiently secure in the fact of God’s non-existence, to commend it for belief, it must be a wonderful thing also which is good for everybody, heck, it must promote peace, compassion and lurve. How very American! Or how very English! as the Nietzsche might say. To quote him at length:
They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. That is an English consistency; we do not wish to hold it against little moralistic females à la Eliot. In England one must rehabilitate oneself after every little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritably awe-inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there.
We others hold otherwise. When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God is the truth–it stands and falls with faith in God.”
When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.
This is a particular malaise which infects not only the English but the Anglophone world in general. Despite their protestation for the truth, their atheism isn’t concerned with the truth of atheism at all. They’re guided by a deep Anglophone moralism, especially of the puritannical sort, that feels that they must justify the worth as well as the truth of their atheism. That atheism is true, come what may, is too bleak, too horrible, and too unbearable for them, it must also be good for you and lead to progress and world peace and all that. After rejecting a divine mind which bridges the gap between empirical factuality with hopes of humanity, still the atheist cling romantically to Plato’s triad of the True, the Good and the Beautiful, and still they hope that somehow miraculously there exists a convergence in the universe between the truth and what humanity desires or dream the world should be like, and that reality and the knowledge of the truth necessarily leads to a better world, to the fulfillment of our dreams. Why of course should a blind random universe so oblige us is something which is best not asked. What they are concerned with is not so much the fact of atheism but with its imagined benefits for mankind. They cannot be rid of their puritannical impulse that all things must have a use, even atheism.
From myths about how Christianity brought about a Dark Ages which supposedly suppressed science until the secularists came along, to how all the world’s horrors and evils are due to religion, what we have here is not the atheist advancing a true proposition, but instead an atheist advancing a sale pitch. They are not so much demonstrating something to be true but trying to sell it to you by claiming that it is good for you. What we have here is the dominion not so much of the Christian value judgement but the American mode of communication, the sales talk. It is not by accident that the “Four Atheist Horseman” are all from the Anglophone world.
Thus, the question of God himself or the truth of God’s being is completely evaded, it has become entangled by vested interests and an ideology. This malaise is incidentally not restricted to atheism. I was reading about some comments among Americans concerning Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the Roman Catholic idealisation of Roman Catholic sex as wonderful and great and all that. It is not enough that Roman Catholic teachings on sex morality be a Magisterial Instruction and a divine command. It must also be great and wonderful, it must lead to better sex. As someone remarked, Americans are so romantic! Generally, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy suffer from the same malaise in their approach to history. It is not enough for Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy to be true, it must also be beneficial and good for humanity, have contributed to civilisation, or how they are always the good guys as opposed to some other bad guys out there (whether Protestants, Latin Christians or evil secularists.)
Of course religious believers, who take belief in God seriously have often been troubled by the sheer factuality of divinity. They wondered Abraham’s infanticide and willingness to sacrifice Isaac to God, they wondered about the Canaanite genocides, they have wondered and even despaired of God’s goodness from time to time. Believers are also all too well aware that they are not exempt from the general falleness of the world and that both believers and non-believers are capable of incredibly stupid and even wicked things. However if these trouble us, it does not deter us from our faith, because we know that God’s truth is not dependent or contingent upon our performance. And if we take the absolute nature of divinity seriously, then it would surely it’s truth should take precedent even over our subjectivity itself, no matter how intensely believed or experienced. The truth of God is not a subjective projection or wish-fulfillment of ours, what we want or desire doesn’t change the facts. Furthermore we have the hope of redemption and the forgiveness of sins, and the sins of believers do not invalidate the faith nor pose a barrier but is overcome by divine forgiveness, and that our present evils and our frustrated desires shall be redeemed in the end, whether in this life or the next.
There are of course many atheist who take the question of God with such intense seriousness. Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard in their darker and more blasphemous moments at least, Albert Camus, Nietzsche, etc. They accept the fact of non-existence of God and follows it wherever it may lead without evasion or romantic smokescreens. The modern atheist is not so much an atheist, concerned with the primacy of God’s non-existence whatever its implications, but a moral crusader and an evangelist. He does not so much as believe that God does not exist but is rather simply morally outraged at him for permitting such evils in the world. But of course as the good Pelagian, before he can judge God’s morality, he must be perfect first. And thus, his ideological investment in defending the morality of atheism and its alleged benefits, superior to that of God’s own disciples. After if one is not perfect, what right hath he to judge God?
In short, the modern atheist has all the severity of a Pelagian judge and righteous fury of a puritan, but none of the forgiveness or hope of repentance of the Christian faith, not even the decadence or self-indulgence of the hedonist are permitted to him. What we have here is a pharisee without a religion.