Thursday, June 4, 2015

Crowded Omnibus Post

I have a very busy schedule the next two days, I hope to post some videos or podcasts which are hopefully of interest and a column from Fr. Richard McBrien's archive.

In lieu of anything which requires research I don't have time to do this week, here's an unedited excerpt from the brawl I got into with several atheists at Religion Dispatch which, I must say, seems to have about as many atheist trolls as Media Matters gets Republican trolls.  It is long but that's in the nature of blog brawls.  I don't want to be accused of "cherry picking" and "quote mining". "Camera Obscura" is me.

Why is it so difficult for you to understand that atheism is not a belief system? It has no creeds, no dogma, no liturgy. It is simply the rejection of your dogma as irrational and indefensible; a dogma that I am very well acquainted with. It is printed in black and white in the books you hold dear; books that I also have on my selves and have read front to back. It is your dogma that justifies genocide, oppression and slavery, not mine. I'm not sure what your fixation with Nazis and eugenics is, but I hope you do realize that most of it's proponents were Christians.
Since you clearly have not read what I wrote, I will repeat it again. The neither the "laws of god" nor "laws of nature" determine human actions. What prevents man from committing atrocities is human decency not god. What allows man to rise above nature is a scientific understanding of nature.
Science is without a doubt a creation of man and that is to the great credit of humanity. Science long ago superseded mythology and superstition as description of the universe. That battle is over and done, regardless of whether you accept it or not. It is also high time man replace his other creation as the basis for moral action. Gods may have once served a purpose but that time is no more.

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      For people who claim not to have a belief system, your beliefs seem to just somehow always assume a very uniform form. If you really didn't believe anything then you have no grounds to base a moral criticism of religion, its history, the conduct of its members, As it is, atheism is a belief system, typically scientistic materialism is the ideological belief of atheists but mostly they believe deeply and fully in their superiority to the large majority of humanity.
      I've read what you you've written for decades, it is exactly the same thing that atheists have been saying since at least the middle of the 19th century.
      You, as almost all atheists I've had discussions with, are totally ignorant of the literary history of atheism and the history of the uniformly violent, murderous, oppressive atheist regimes of the last century and of such in the past as the Reign of Terror in France. Since atheism contains no belief that it is a mortal sin to commit murder, as almost all religions do, that's not any surprise that atheists would gain and hold power by doing that. As I said, anyone who claimed to be a Christian would have to be violating the teachings of the central moral authority of Christianity, Jesus and those who knew him.
      Really, atheists are always trying to have it both ways, either atheism is amoral and atheists have no basis for making moral criticisms of other people or atheists have moral beliefs which are not based in atheism while pretending they have no moral beliefs. Lying about the defining moral teachings of Christianity, which are there no matter how hard it is for those who profess Christianity to follow them. Those are the defining moral character of Christianity done with integrity and an attempt to follow the professed beliefs of Christians. To claim that the failure of everyone who professes Christianity to follow those teachings debunks Christianity is about as sensible as claiming that the frequent mistakes in multiplication falsify arithmetic.
      I never used to think of atheists the way I have come to in the past dozen years of reading their unedited thoughts in these comment threads. While I know atheists who aren't dishonest bigots, I have to conclude that an unusual number of them are.
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      "atheism is a belief system, typically scientistic materialism is the ideological belief of atheists "
      No, you are wrong.
      Atheism is the absence of belief in a god(s). That's it. No extras, no side orders, no creed and no manifesto.
      Some (probably all?) atheists have beliefs. Those beliefs are likely to be consistent with their lack of belief in god(s). Any such beliefs are not part of atheism; they are additional to, maybe consequential upon, their atheism, but they are not intrinsically atheism.
      As has been said before "I can explain it to you but I can't comprehend it for you".

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      Since you're taking the "atheims is the absence of beliefs, with no creed" you certainly can't make any kind of moral criticism of anyone else within atheism. You have to swipe moral positions from outside of atheism to do that, in my experience with atheists, moral positions they don't hold their side up against, only their opponents.
      Neo atheism is based on trying to impose a double standard in favor of atheism at the expense of the vast majority of people. And such atheists become enraged like Jerry Coyne when the vast majority of people refuse to tolerate that double standard.

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      "Within atheism" is a contradiction of the fact that atheism is an absence of beliefs, with no creed. Atheism is a statement of negation, nothing more.
      What you are criticizing is the personal systems of belief built by individuals to justify their actions, not atheism, which is just a statement of negation.
      It is extraordinarily naive to argue that Abrahamic injunctions against murder have led to the avoidance of atheist-caused atrocities, given the rich history of atrocity in the Christian era and the obfuscation of the issue in Abrahamic religions by creation of a distinction between morally evil murder and morally acceptable or even good killing. This Biblical ambivalence extends to moral codes you present as firmly decided, such as the command by Jesus to forgive transgressors whose context is the preaching of apocalyptic first century Judaism, which promised the imminent and violent destruction of the enemies of Israel.
      There is a reason it took subsequent arguments and many mutual excommunications to arrive at orthodox views on many subjects in the New Testament.
      It is extraordinarily ironic to complain that many opponents of Christianity simply respond to caricatures of one's chosen religion by the most grotesque firebrands, while responding to atheism by reference to Stalin. Stalin, by the way, was considered to be to at least some degree psychopathic by at least one of his respected biographers, Alan Bullock. Far from weakening his grasp on power, his psychopathic symptoms probably strengthened it.

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          You really don't get my argument. Atheists here were condemning religious people who acted immorally, killing people, oppressing people, etc. I pointed out two things about that, first your objection, I was pointing out that atheists had to come up with the idea that what those people were doing was wrong from somewhere other than atheism as atheism doesn't provide moral standards, atheists can't find them in their own ideology which is deficient in that regard, as in some others.
          They, ironically, were expropriating moral standards, moral obligations, that are contained in the religious they criticize for lapses of morality that their own ideology, atheism, doesn't even hold are real. If atheists didn't have external sources which find or generate morals they'd never know the first thing about them as atheism has no morality. Neither does science, as atheists are always telling me, only to instantly forget that in claiming superior moral status for atheism and science.
          Stalin certainly works as a good example of what atheism with total political power leads to. He was certainly sane enough to win in a power struggle with some extremely intelligent people such as Trotsky. He won over all of his rivals, playing a game more intricate than any series of chess matches to avoid being killed by rivals, to consolidate his power, to survive the massive blunders he committed, the revelations of his massive campaigns of genocide and murder. He died of natural causes, surrounded by a hoard of some of the more immoral and power hungry men who would have thought nothing of killing him if they thought they could come out on top. Read the accounts of his death when as vicious a person as Lavrentiy Beria, an accomplished mass murderer in his own right, alternately mocked and, when he thought Stalin might revive, cower, only, after he died, to claim he'd killed him. Only to die in the power struggle that led to Kruschiev winning. Kruschiev, by the way, lead a resurgence of the war on religion begun by Lenin, intensified enormously under Stalin but which Stalin let up on a bit as he realized he needed the Russian Orthodox Church to win WWII.
          To dismiss Stalin as a psychopath is too easy, a mere psychopath wouldn't have been able to do what he did, he was entirely aware of what was going on around him with an accuracy that allowed him to play events like a virtuoso. What he was was amoral and so, as it served his purposes, massively immoral. He was able to be that because he was an atheist whose ideology contained no moral commandments.

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            The point is that atheism, as a statement of negation, is no source for generalizing a group's beliefs. Moving on from the statement of negation to a system of morality is what everyone except an utter nihilist would do, and it is that system you should critique. Atheism, as said before, is not an ideology.
            It is true that atheism itself has no morality, and that systems to fill the void need to be developed. I've always found it odd to abrogate this challenge by handing it to a celestial judge, which is in practice simply the projection of whatever a particular group believes at a particular time.
            That atheists develop morality externally is not equivalent to atheists expropriating them from theists. Theists, deists and atheists have all contributed compelling arguments to moral thought at any given time. Theists are prone to imagine their contributions as eternal truths without qualification, which others steal, without acknowledging their own changing stances or debts to other systems.
            Stalin did not base his morality on atheism. Doing so is impossible, since it's a statement of negation. Stalin based his morality on his particular interpretation of Maxism and Leninism, and rampant megalomania. Marxists will argue Stalin perverted their opinions, as Christians will argue the Crusader kings perverted Christianity. Where Christianity struggles more than Marxism on this issue that Marxism is more coherent, inevitably.
            The relationship between the Orthodox Church and Stalin/Khrushchev was the contemporary chapter of a very convoluted power struggle between the two institutions, hardly unique to Russia. The latest chapter in the story is the co-opting of the Church by Putin to support his narrative of chauvinistic nationalism.
            You don't seem to understand what psychopathy is. It is not, in many cases, a debilitating condition. Many Fortune 500 companies have psychopaths in their higher reaches, for example. Psychopathy does not entail an abrogation of responsibility, it provides a context for understanding motivations.
            Whatever Stalin was, in his own mind he was following a very clear morality: sacrifice everything to the state, which he associated with his own person. You might call him immoral, but I'm not personally convinced that "Because God says so" is a good justification for doing so.
            If Stalin did what he did BECAUSE he was an atheist, whose adherents have no moral commandments, whence the Christian monsters culminating in genocidal Serbs and SS officers?

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                As I said, you really don't get what I was saying, your first sentence verifies what I said. Atheism is an ideology no matter how many times atheists deny that it is. Nihilism, an even more radical program of negation, is an ideology. They are related.
                Your third paragraph verifies the deficiency of atheism.
                Stalin was amoral. I think even his own daughter more or less admitted that. He had no sense of moral obligation to anyone, not members of his own family, not his sons, not even her. I'm not sure if it was she who said that on one occasion he held a little girl in his lap as he joked about how he had had her father tortured and imprisoned, maybe killed. I don't recall in detail. His execution orders which are extant show he had absolutely no moral inhibitions at all. He was hardly the only atheist to either demonstrate amorality or to tout that atheism had liberated people from any moral obligations, it was all over the air in the writings and jabbering of atheists.
                Any Serbian Orthodox or German Lutheran or Catholic who murdered people were violating the entire gospel of a man they claim to believe spoke with divine authority, to, in fact, be God. Any who oppressed or enslaved or committed genocide or violence were completely violating their professed religious beliefs. The simplest explanation of that is that their professions of faith were a lie, which they might have been. What you can't say with any kind of integrity were that they were following the teachings of Jesus or the Prophets or the Apostles or the earliest recorded Christians who were, notably, pacifists.
                The Nazis killed enormous numbers of people for trying to follow those teachings of Jesus and the Jewish prophets, I've looked and I have not found a single case of them killing someone for trying to be good at being an atheist. It would be rather hard to make that case as Martin Bormann, Hitler's second in command was a loud-mouthed, religion hating atheist who, a very few words changed, would fit right in on many an atheist dominated comment thread today.

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                    You've just flatly contradicted the argument I offered for why atheism is not an ideology, which is inadequate. As I said before: atheism is simply a statement of negation, and it is the ideology which replaces that void which you're actually criticizing.
                    You've completely ignored the fact that to cast the exchange of normative ideas in ethics is not a one-way street from theists to atheists, or "expropriating". Atheists are as capable of producing systems of ethics as anyone else, and have done so in the past. Arguing that the only legitimate form of ethics is the one espoused by this or that particular version of divinity is ludicrous.
                    Your story is wrong. What his daughter referred to is a daughter sitting on his lap whose father had been killed during the Terror, to no discernible discomfort to Stalin. You're completely right that he was not the only atheist to behave immorally, but your argument that this was the consequence of being "liberated" from moral obligations is flawed. It is not true that the only source of morality is theism, or that atheists "liberate" themselves from morality. Stop dealing with the caricature, deal with the reality.
                    As I've pointed out, your caricature of Christian ethics is inadequate. Jesus did not have a problem with directed violence, only violence within his community. He was an apocalyptic preacher with a hatred for intellectuals and foreigners, who fervently believed those groups would be violently destroyed in an imminent apocalypse.
                    The Bible is full of divinely-mandated or directly acted genocide; slaveowners in the American South and Apartheid South Africa cited Bible verses to justify their racism; the gigantic suffering inflicted by Manifest Destiny of European societies is well-documented; as is a millennium of antisemitism and misogyny. It is simply inadequate to refuse to engage with the subject by flatly calling those people wrong, and you right. What elevates you above them, when you both claim origin for morality in the same book of the same divine power? They claimed with absolute conviction to be following the teachings of Jesus, just like you do. The earliest Christians were certainly not pacifists, some of the earliest martyrs died in violent mob attacks on "pagan" temples and cultural landmarks. The Church Fathers excommunicated one another with enthusiasm. I suggest reading MacCulloch's very good work on the early Church.
                    The Nazis explicitly referenced the atheism of Bolshevism as part of the justification for the Commissar Order; Nazi propaganda set up the Christian Aryan German against the atheist, degenerate Slav. That you're not aware of this cornerstone of the justification for the war in the East is astonishing. That you implicitly acknowledge the distinction between "murder" and "killing" is indicative of how much more complicated this moral issue is than your simplistic approach can deal with. Where, by the way, do you think the Nazis got their antisemitism? Ex nihilo?
                    Extensive studies have been conducted on the beliefs that drove members of Einzatsgruppen and other SS units to commit the incredible atrocities that they did, I suggest you read one. Comparing Bormann to an atheist on a comments board is precisely that grotesque caricature that you decry when it is employed by atheists.

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                        Nihilism is just a statement of negation, it is an ideology. The characterization of something isn't done on its own terms, it is done externally of the entity being characterized. I know atheists like to have everything their way but the rest of us aren't under any obligation to allow them to do that.
                        Atheism is, actually, what atheists make of it and what's on display here is a full blown ideology, including some pretty vulgar and crudely considered beliefs surrounding materialism, scientism, a host of historical myths, invective that could have come from anything from Foxe's frequently false "Book of Martyrs", Chick Publications, and other such sources of bigoted fable.
                        I have made an extensive study of the claims of atheists over the past dozen or so years and one thing I have learned is that atheists have certainly in those dozen years and, very often, well into the past, constructed double standards in their favor in which they don't ever hold it is fair or valid to be held up to the standards they use to criticize religions and religious people. They feel they have carte blanche to misrepresent what they did and said, to exaggerate, to lie about religion and religious people as so many of those commenting here have in this discussion, having learned those same distortions and misrepresentations from previous atheists who originated them. Atheists, in my long experience of arguing with them, seem to be allergic to original source materials, favoring atheist clap trap as published by Prometheus or some other such tertiary or worse junk.
                        Your characterization of Jesus clearly is of a piece with that atheist propaganda. It leads me to believe you've never read the Gospels or anything that anyone who was near in time to him said about him. The only incident in the gospels that comes anywhere near what you said is the incident of him driving the money changers out of the Temple precinct. Which was hardly anything in line with what you said. The moral commandments of Jesus, if followed, would certainly not produce killing or oppressing or slavery, do unto others as you would have them do unto you could not produce slavery. Forgive your enemies and pray for them, what you do to the least among you you do unto me, says the Lord, "Neither do I condemn you", etc. all show what an enormous lie that characterization that is.
                        I've answered you on Stalin already, I will answer you on the Nazis. As I pointed out, the Nazis murdered enormous numbers of people for trying to act according to the words of Jesus and The Law. His second in command, as I pointed out, was a loud-mouthed, bigoted anti-religious atheist who, really, when you read him sounds like nothing so much as so many blog thread atheists. While Hitler had to deal with a population which was largely Protestant and Catholic, his clear plan was to destroy Christianity, as the OSS documented from its study of the public and the internal documents of the Nazi regime. He used a pose of Christianity, just as so many of the clearly hypocritical Republican politicians do, even as they violate every single moral teaching that Jesus set out.
                        I would go look up the reference but you'd just ignore it, Hitler addressed the Christian resistance to him by telling his opponents they didn't matter because he had their children. His regime made all of the Protestant youth groups illegal and made it mandatory that all children join the Hitler Youth at age 10. He had agreed to allow the Catholic youth groups to continue but made it illegal for Hitler Youth to belong to other youth groups, effectively making membership in Catholic youth groups illegal. The leaders of the Hitler Youth were vehemently anti-Christian and made up all kinds of anti-religious chants and songs for the Hitler Youth to sing. Which is all available online, now.
                        We know where Hitler got his racial theories because we know what he was reading while he was in prison, what he called his "university education at the public expense". He read Grundriss der Menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene by Eugene Fischer, Fritz Lenz and Erwin Baur, as he was writing Mein Kampf. We also know from Martin Bormann who was there when he said it, that Hitler hated Jesus because of his moral teachings, which he would have since he and all of his apostles,. etc. were Jews. Any pose of Christianity that he made was political expediency.
                        I have also studied those accusations you make, in detail, and could go on at length, with citations. What you claim is rubbish.

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                            Nihilism is not atheism, I'm not going to deal with it here. As pointed out elsewhere, the basis for you calling atheism an ideology is your perception of common beliefs held by atheists. You're now resorting to some imaginary "rest of us".
                            Find me some objective assessment of atheism as an ideology, and I'll respond to that. I've responded to your personal argument that it is one, and it's now reduced to going round in circles.
                            You seem determined to conflate disagreement with how you see historical events and "carte blanche to misrepresent what they did and said, to exaggerate, to lie about religion and religious people". This kind of hysterical caricature of your opponent has no place in a reasoned debate. I've no doubt that you've met some stupid atheists, who've said stupid things. Caricaturing an entire group of people based on that is as wrong as those atheists caricaturing all Christians on the basis of Christian fundamentalists.
                            You are resorting to an ad hominem argument on the subject of Jesus and the Gospels. I have actually spent my life in academia on the subject, and the subject of the Hellenistic Near East, and I can tell you that your simplification of New Testament moral teaching is utterly absurd. The moral commands of the New Testament have been interpreted, from at latest the Medieval Age, to include the most horrific violence. The most notorious example is in Matthew 27: 24-25, which has been used to justify pogroms for a millennium.
                            You have also not responded to the context in which Jesus was preaching: as an anti-intellectual apocalyptic preacher who believed that the violent death and destruction of Israel's enemies, as he perceived it, was imminent.
                            Responding to these issues by claiming superior insight into the mind of divinity simply begs the question.
                            Bormann's position as "second in command" is a ridiculous over-simplification of the system in which Hitler operated. Hitler's opinions on Christianity were at best, for you, ambivalent, and his repeated references to Providence and explicit statements of faith do not support the idea that Hitler was interested in either destroying Christianity or doing anything more than making the Churches subject to Nazi control.
                            The Einsatzgruppen were recruited from religiously conservative farmers and policemen, the traditional core of the Nazi vote. The majority of officers in the SS were confessing Catholics. Both of these groups, responsible for the most horrific crimes against the Jews and Soviets, explicitly linked their Christian faith to their actions. They saw their role as the modern Crusaders, destined to protect civilization from Jewry and atheist Bolshevism. These groups have been extensively researched, I suggest you read some of it.
                            It is true that Hitler saw the Church as a rival center of power and protest, which it was on one important occasion. His responses to this should be interpreted in this context, not in the context of Bormann's hatred of Christianity, since Bormann only had any influence in the last couple of years of the war, if no other reason.
                            We know where Hitler got his racial theories. This is half of the story, and still controversial. His application of racial theories to Jews and Slavs, in particular, is what is at issue here. It beggars belief to argue that a millennium of Christian antisemitism had no role in his development. Hitler's Table Talks on the issue are worth reading, although I don't suggest it since they're incredibly boring.
                            The problem with your arguments on Hitler, Jesus and others is that you hold positions so extreme and total that they inevitably beggar belief. You are reduced to a conspiracy theory on natural selection, you are reduced to arbitrary distinctions on questions of Christian behavior, you are reduced to caricature on the issue of Stalin and Hitler. It's true that there are natural selection extremists, the worst of whom is Dawkins, it's true that some Christians base their behavior on only the most tenuous justifications, and that Stalin and Hitler were monsters. But reality doesn't correspond to your black and white world, and you tie yourself into all kinds of knots by angrily demanding that it does. Most of all, you time and time again rely on a tiny number of sources, which you elevate to ridiculous heights in order to ignore contrary evidence. It does you no service.

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                  1. As the school of pragmatism pointed out a long time ago, the absence of something is not the same as nothing. And the affirmation of that absence is itself a presence.

                    Atheism is a belief system, even if that belief system is that religion is a false belief system. It is not the absence of belief (that would be simple "unbelief"), it is the negation of belief. As such, it's central doctrine and creed is that whatever religion believes (especially Christianity; there aren't too many atheists concerned with Buddhism or Janeism or even Judaism, oddly enough) is wrong and must be negated.

                    How much so, and on what grounds, and to what end, is a subject of endless debate between the Dawkins crowd and the de Botton crowd and even the Russell crowd (there are as many varieties of "orthodoxy" as there are among Christians).

                    I understand why these clueless atheists find this so offensive, but the fact is they can't muster an argument to defeat the truth. All they can do is keep saying "IS NOT!" Given their intellectual pretensions, that's kinda pathetic.

                  2. And the greater irony is, apropos of your argument, that both Nietzsche and Sartre understood the absence of God meant an absence of morality, which absence must be replaced with something.

                    And whatever that something was put an awful burden on non-believers. But the New Atheists think it's all tra-la-la and nothing to worry about, discard God and keep morality...somehow.

                    The limits of their thinking are really quite ridiculous.

                  3. That almost all of the famous new atheists are upper rank academics of one sort or another seems to make them think that their fellow atheist academics wallowing in tenured otiosity are typical of atheists and define its presence in the world. Which, since so many of their number in the previous two generations spent a lot of their time either being active supporters of one or another of the genocidal atheist regimes or in mythologizing and defending their supporters when they were targeted for it, doesn't give you much reason to suspect their academic work would be especially rigorous.

                    I do think that finding out that, after decades of buying the lie, Julius Rosenberg was definitely guilty of trying to give Stalin the atomic bomb and it was almost certain that Ethel Rosenberg was either active in that or complicit through covering it up, was a definitive break for me. Though I loved Bella Abzug I really have to wonder if she knew that, not to mention many other people who pushed the lie of their innocence.

                    That was after that first revelation when I realized that anyone murdered by Stalin or Mao was as murdered as anyone murdered by Hitler or Pinochet, that was the really decisive point of never turning back and the day I really stopped being a pseudo-leftist and became a real liberal.