Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Your history lesson for a Sunday

You know, if you wander around the religious end of teh Intartubes, there are a couple of arguments that it's hard to avoid. One of them is that atheists have killed more people than the religious ever could, and that true believers in Christ are much more peaceful than the immoral masses of the godless.

"Now, see, all the great mass-murdering dictators and tyrants through history were atheists! Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, all of them!" They especially love Dinesh D'Souza's idiot rant.
Whatever the motives for atheist bloodthirstiness, the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in 2,000 years not managed to kill as many people as have been killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades.

It's time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the greatest source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history.
And they love their little atheist roll-call: "All the great mass-murdering dictators and tyrants through history were atheists! Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, all of them!"

(Incidentally, next time you see somebody make that argument – and you will – you probably ought to suggest that they leave Hitler off of it. He was a good Catholic, had a special relationship with the Pope, and the SS Wehrmacht all had Gott mit uns - "God is with us" - on their belts. Suggest they look up the term "Reichconcordat.")

And there's always the obvious question: did any of these people actually commit crimes "in the name of athiesm"? Or because they were power-mad lunatics? It’s a subtle difference, after all, but it’s a fairly important one.

But D'Souza's little conceit blatantly ignores the most obvious of historical facts: he conflates the increases in weapons technology with atheism, ignoring the simple fact that the march of time bears more responsibility for the number of deaths than any decrease in spirituality.

But remember, these are people who aren't especially good at critical thinking, for the most part. So someday you, like I did, might run into someone who mangles the concept into the following artistic rendering:
"people like you (Christians) are the cause of wars over all the centuries" ?
Are you serious? Care to name a few of these wars? I think you will quickly realize that this is NOT the case. Unless you are referring to Muslims and Jihad, Catholics and crusades, or am I missing something here? As a matter of fact it is people like YOU (Atheists) that have killed far more people than any other "holy" wars have. (Stalin, etc)
China, North Korea, etc is killing Christians and locking them up.
So you couldn’t be anymore wrong.
And if you do, permit me to do some of the research for you.

Just for giggles, I’m not even going to count the Inquisition, which wasn’t a "war" so much as a church-supported terrorist organization; but really, thanks to George W. Bush, an argument can be made that the "War on Terror," as pursued since the Twin Towers fell, is equally as much like a war as the Inquisition.

But that would require more of the aforementioned "critical thinking," so let's avoid it. Instead, we'll just stick with the easy-to-identify, troops-killing-each-other type wars. Now, of course, all wars have a political aspect to them, but if the troops are strongly religious, and are killing others because of their religious beliefs, that can fairly easily be considered a "religious war," right? (This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list.)

1. The Crusades are the obvious first choice. But are you aware that there were a series of them (nine numbered ones, plus several lesser Crusades) over a 300 year period? It's not like they were a fad or something; they were a big deal for much of the 11th, 12th and 13th Centuries.

2. Henry the VIII wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but the Catholic Church wouldn’t do that for him. So in 1534, he declared himself supreme head of the church in England, eventually leading to the English Reformation, the British throne bouncing from Protestant to Catholic and back to Protestant again, and uncounted thousands of the dead.
2a. Although in Northern Ireland, "the Troubles" really date back to the Reformation (you remember, Henry VIII and like that), the Catholic nationalists and the Protestant unionists in Northern Ireland didn’t actually settle things until the "Good Friday Agreement" of 1998.
3. In 16th Century France there was a series of wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants (known as "Hugenots"). These were collectively known as the "Wars of Religion" (seems pretty straightforward to me). They are generally agreed to start with the Massacre of Vassy in 1562, and kind of ended with the The Edict of Nantes (1598), although the Hugenots and Catholics kept fighting for the next two centuries.

4. The Thirty Years War in the the Holy Roman Empire (1618-1648) decreased the population of Germany by 15 to 30 percent. This was a religious war fought between the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists, and is considered the worst civil war in European History.

5. In 1850, a rebel in Qing Dynasty China named Hong Xiuquan, a Christian convert (and you know how those born-agains are, amirite?) decided that the first three of the Ten Commandments (he used the Protestant translation) were directly in conflict with having a ruling class that claimed the "Mandate of Heaven." So Hong established the "Taiping Heavenly Kingdom" (also known as the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace") with its capital at Nanjing. The Taiping Rebellion was eventually crushed by the Qing forces, but not before an estimated 20 million people were killed. The Guinness Book of World Records rates this as the "bloodiest civil war."

6. Admittedly, the Indonesian occupation of East Timor was kind of brutal, but only 40 percent of East Timorese were Roman Catholic prior to the 1975 Indonesian invasion, with the rest belonging to one or another indigenous religion. Today the number is over 90 percent. The East Timorese separatists used their Roman Catholicism as an expression of national identity to make them distinct from Muslim Indonesia.

7. In 1987, Slobodan Milošević, backed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, committed genocide against the Catholic Croats and the Muslim Bosnians, based strictly on their religious views (and the fact that he wanted to set up his own tyrannical rule – there’s always a political component in these things).

Remember, though, that facts aren't really going to do anything to change the mind of the True Believer; it's kind of fun to throw them in the faces of the ignorant and gullible.


Anonymous said...

Great post. One minor quibble: The Wehrmacht had "Gott mit uns". The SS had "Mein Ehre heisst Treue"--my honor is loyalty.

Like I said, not a big deal, but I though I'd mention it. Otherwise, great post.

Nameless Cynic said...

Absolutely right. (And now corrected.) The sad part is, I knew that (at some point in the past, obviously), and just blew past it.

It's sad when old age takes away the few brain cells you once claimed as your own.