Monday, January 12, 2015

Since Dawkins, Harris, and Their Fan-Boys Force The Issue

The challenge made to me last week, to name AMERICAN mass murders committed by atheists was one I was reluctant to answer.  Not because I couldn't but because I am loath to practice the same kind of group guilt that is the first resort of online atheists whenever some killing which has, or can be made to appear to have a religious association is in the news.  Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and other soft-handed, scientifically vetted bigots have revived the respectability of that kind of bigotry and the online intellectual world has taken it up in a way that a lot of us, fifty years ago, would never have believed we would see again in the post-Holocaust period.

Well, I did take up the challenge to some extent, noting an atheist hate-talker, serial murderer, one whose declarations, by their description,  would probably fit in easily at many if not most online atheist hate-talk venues, both blog and webloid.   I also mentioned the little known fact that Jim Jones, the pseudo-Pentecostalist and self-declared atheist was, by his own words, an atheist.   He explicitly said that he used the trappings of religion to gull people into his cult, of which, of course, he was the substitute for a god. Even as he led them to murder-suicide.  There's nothing in atheism that would keep an atheist who thought he could get away with it from pretending to be a Christian of some kind and doing what Jim Jones did.  And nothing in The Bible that would support it.

To those I could have added Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and the man who inspired them, William Pierce, infamous as the neo-Nazi advocate of violence of the kind McVeigh and Nichols committed against the people in The Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, what was previously considered the biggest mass murder in American history prior to 9-11, the incident that Dawkins and Harris used to whip up hatred against religion and, especially, the 1.6 billion Muslims across the world.  I could have mentioned it but I don't own a copy of the book I read that in and had to borrow it over the weekend.

McVeigh read and recommended the white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries, which dramatizes attacks on Jews and racial minorities in order to establish "Aryan nations" and has scenes both of the bombing of the federal building and of an airplane being flown into a building in Washington, D.C.  The authore of Diaries, William Pierce, talked of being an atheist, as McVeigh and Nichols did occasionally, but they apparently only meant that they rejected a personal God.  Pierce held that the life force is evolutionary, with the white race at the pinnacle.

Juan Cole:  Engaging The Muslim World.

Now, I don't really get what Cole means by his assumption that they "only meant that they rejected a personal God" not having found any evidence that McVeigh or Nichols expressed themselves on that.   His attribution of replacing that with an evolutionary life force to William Pierce would fit right into some of the weirder aspects of German and, then, Nazi beliefs flowing from their interpretation of natural selection.  I don't think Ernst Haeckel or, in fact, Alfred Rosenberg would be far from it.  The belief that "the white race" would be at the pinnacle, could be directly derived from Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, both of whom were led to their belief in racial supremacist theories from their natural selection, a scientific racism they share with a line of the most orthodox scientific figures up to and including Watson and Crick, into the present generation.   None of which, I am sure, the people making that challenge to me or their inspirations, Dawkins and Harris would be happy to have forced me to point out.

Don't bother to challenge me to document that, I have, massively, in their own words, look at my archive.   Clearly, William Pierce was no orthodox believer in the God of Abraham, if he believed in the god substitute of Dawkins and Harris might make an interesting study, if I could stomach reading more of his hate talk.

I have read that Terry Nichols has had some remorse for what he did in prison and, though I haven't researched it, he has been accused of having a religious conversion.  McVeigh, though, didn't change his mind on that point.

In a letter to the Buffalo News daily in New York state yesterday, McVeigh used the word "sorry" for the first time, but instantly rendered it meaningless. "I am sorry these people had to lose their lives," he wrote. "But that's the nature of the beast. It's understood going in what the human toll will be."

There was anger in Oklahoma City yesterday after his claim that the bombing of a federal government building was a "legit tactic" in his war against the excesses of central government. Yesterday, his lawyer compared his role to that of a pilot who drops a bomb on a foreign country killing women and children. "He does feel for people but he doesn't feel like he did anything wrong," Mr Nigh said.

In his letter, McVeigh said he was an agnostic but that he would "improvise, adapt and overcome", if it turned out there was an afterlife. "If I'm going to hell," he wrote, "I'm gonna have a lot of company." His body is to be cremated and his ashes scattered in a secret location.

Since I doubt the guys who have been hectoring me on that point will check my references, I'll point out that it is from The Guardian, not some politically unacceptable venue.

While he was glorying in his macho declaration, his personal and seedy apotheosis, quoting that dreadful poem Invictus*, outside of the prison, Christians,  "faith heads" were protesting his execution and against capital punishment, in general.  McVeigh, of course, was not opposed to capital punishment and clearly relished his going out in that kind of glory.  He was, also, not, apparently, concerned with the other people who had been held on death row with him, also from The Guardian Article,

Before today, the federal government had not executed anyone since 1963. Most executions are carried out by the state authorities. Now death row opponents fear the floodgates may have opened. Another convict, Juan Raul Garza, is to be executed next week.

Sister Rita Gerardot, a Catholic nun who visits Terre Haute's death row, told the Guardian: "It's a very sombre mood. There's a lot of tension among the men, because they know that's their fate. They're like sitting ducks now."

Protesters from each side of the death penalty debate will be allowed to gather in separate locations. Yesterday, however, the only sign of protest outside the prison was a middle-aged man in a white T-shirt and baseball cap worn backwards holding a sign saying: "Pray for Tim's dad on Father's Day. God forgive all of us."

* I have not, nor do I especially wish to do enough research to discern if  the claim made by some atheists to William Ernest Henley (also an accusation of atheism by others) online, is accurate.  I can say that I think he's a pretty awful poet and that that poem is rather stupid.  Its use by those ranging from the great and good, Nelson Mandela, to the terrorist and supporter of apartheid, Ronald Reagan might indicate that it an empty vessel into which anyone can pour anything.  If it made McVeigh able to pretend that he was the master of his fate even as he was about to be proven rather definitively not to be might be worth considering.   Its agnostic declaration of thanks to"whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul" certainly did nothing to stop McVeigh from killing many hundreds of people or to express any real remorse for having done it.

Update:  Hate against hate only doubles the amount of hate and reinforces the hate the haters are hating on.

Update 2:  Well, Mr. Atheist, you made me go back, again, and I realized that I left out that, when he was murdering at least 16 people, Jeffrey Dahmer was also a convinced atheist.  And that satisfied YOUR condition that it happen in the United States, as well.   Now, doesn't that make you happy?

Update 3:  If I'm mistaken about Darwin's relationship with Haeckel, and by the evidence of Darwin's own, published declarations, I'm not, and Haeckel's relationship with German scientific racism, and I'm not, then I shared that second misunderstanding with the atheist and eminent Darwinist, Stephen Jay Gould.

1 comment:

  1. Discussion of the "life force" is probably connected to a late 19th century British/European idea of the "élan vital." It was prominent in intellectual circles that fancied themselves atheist, but needed some explanation for how inanimate matter could be animate (and why, for example, only living beings can reproduce living beings. Why, in other words, is the Frankenstein story impossible? Or, to put it as I sometimes put it to my students, what is the scientific explanation of life? Why is matter animated, and then inanimate again? Where does the energy for animation come from, and where does it go?)

    The most obscure but simplest example of this idea I can give is Virginia Woolf's essay "The Death of a Moth." Her entire discussion of the moth's last hours presume the validity of the theory of the élan vital.

    Anybody championing the "life force," to put this back in the context of your post, is advocating an alternative to a religious belief in a spirit or a soul.