Brian Edwards Media

An atheist reflects on God, religious belief and Isis [Updated]

Isis

I was 18 or 19 when I told the local Church of Ireland minister in Dunmurry, Canon Robert C Ellis, that I was an atheist and could no longer sing in the church choir or superintend the Sunday School classes on the council housing estate in nearby Seymour Hill where I lived with my aging mother. [Note the background similarity with John Key, though it stops there!)

Canon Ellis, whose initials ‘RC’ were a cross he had to bear, was  a liberal on most things, including sex, but his liberalism did not extend to the Roman Catholic faith which he could not stomach. He was a gentler man than Ian Paisley, though cut from the same cloth in matters sectarian.

My declaration that I no longer believed in God did not faze the Canon one bit. His brilliant son Stuart had, like me, found and then lost religion. The university did that to impressionable young minds.

“You can,” RC said, “continue to attend church, sing in the choir and teach Sunday School. Just don’t say The Lord’s Prayer or take communion and confine your teaching to the historical account of Jesus’ life.”

I spent a day or two considering this solution before deciding that it really wasn’t feasible for the person of conscience I considered myself to be.  

I’m 77 now and still an atheist . I don’t believe in God or an afterlife. When you’re dead you’re dead. That’s it. It’s one among many reasons why I don’t believe in capital punishment – no second chance to put things right.

I have no interest in converting other people to my way of thinking, not least because of the comfort my mother’s belief in God brought her during a lonely life and an agonising death from cancer. And I have very little time for proselytising atheists most of whom seem to spend their time railing against a creature they don’t believe exists. The stupidity of that position beggars belief.

But the harm that belief in a supernatural being has done throughout history and continues to do today cannot be ignored or set aside. The atrocities being committed by Isis today are justified as the will of Allah in precisely the same way that the atrocities of the crusades or the Reformation or the counter-reformation or recent violence against non-Christians and homosexuals in Uganda are justified as representing the will of the Christian God. Torturing people who disagree with your interpretation of the wishes of a deity, chopping off their heads or burning them alive – none of these is an invention of Isis.

And because such barbarism relies on the belief that it is the will of a higher power – ‘not what I want but what God or Allah wants’ – its practice is impervious to rational attack, as its perpetrators are impervious to rational persuasion. And therein lies the power of Isis which offers a whole new set of rules and mores, sanctioned by Allah, to legitimise the most horrendous crimes perpetrated by the disaffected and disillusioned among us.

I’m inclined on the whole to believe that religious belief has been and remains a force for ill rather than a force for good in the world. This may be because the history of religion in Northern Ireland where I was brought up is characterised by intolerance of the beliefs of others, often violently expressed.

But I think it goes beyond that. There is simply no empirical evidence for  the existence of a divine being and  therefore no rational justification for such a belief. In Christian theology God is conveniently invisible. “No man,” the Bible asserts, “has seen God”.

The harm which I see emanating from religion lies less in religious belief itself than in the scope which the abandonment of rational thought in favour of religious dogma gives for irrational,  potentially anti-social and, at the outer margins, murderous or genocidal behaviour.

I’m something of a fan of the current Pope, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the role of Catholic dogma on birth control and abortion in condemning entire populations to generational poverty. It may be consoling to think that your reward will be in Heaven, but what if Heaven is a myth? And what if there is no God, no Allah, no rewarding virgins at the gates of paradise, no paradise? What if death is final?

Well, there’s comfort, I suppose in never discovering that inconvenient truth, but it does reduce the slaughter of the innocent in the name of God or Allah to what it really is – a horrendous crime against humanity in the name of religion.

And worse, it may be dangerous now even to express such an opinion. The ditch is narrow between us and our Aussie neighbours.

Immediately after the Christchurch earthquake, Peter Beck, the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, and a man I greatly admire, was asked by by a parishioner, “Where is God?” His reply included this phrase:

“God is weeping with those who weep.”

He was then asked: “Yes, but where was God when offices pancaked and burned and hundreds died?

He replied: “Well, we live in a dynamic, creating planet that’s doing its thing. For whatever reason, our forbears chose to build this city on this place. They didn’t know we were on the fault line. God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. We make our own choices about what we do.”

This exchange angered me greatly and I wrote an intemperate post in reply. It included this:

“Every year millions of people die in natural disasters. Every year bad things happen to good people… Peter tells us it’s not God’s doing. ‘God’, he tells us, ‘is weeping with those who weep.’ That’s nice. A sympathetic, do-nothing God. A sympathetic did nothing God.”

Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t just angry with Peter, I was angry with God. As I suggested earlier, it’s a trap we atheists all too easily fall into – blaming a god we don’t believe in and whose existence we deny.

I fall into that trap pretty regularly myself.  Must try harder!

, ,

79 Comments:

  1. Hmm.

    I am a Protestant by conversion – if you didn’t already know :) – but I have to say that while I found some of Christopher Hitchen’s “god is not great” disappointing (very poor on New Testament textual criticism), nonetheless he made a point that sticks with me.

    Religion, including Christianity can and does cause some people to commit acts of tremendous evil that they would otherwise not contemplate.

    Doesn’t make it the only source of evil in the world. Doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes used as an excuse to justify existing evil. Doesn’t mean if you got rid of religion and its atheistic sibling ideology that you still wouldn’t have evil.

    But as much as I wanted to dissemble and argue all the good things religion does, or that real followers of my religion would never do such things (the “no true Scotsman” fallacy)…I had to face the fact that he was right.

  2. As a third-former I enjoyed the quiet irony that the runner up (me) and winner of the scripture prize were both atheists. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Brian’s opinions except that it does seem as though the only successful, functioning and ethical democracies have evolved from a Christian tradition and history.

  3. “I observe a tendency for people to get on their knees after rather than before disasters, suggesting perhaps a regrettable indifference on the part of the Almighty to human tragedy.”

    Well, no. Rather it suggests that when people pray beforehand there is no disaster doesn’t it?

    So, yes, debating something you don’t believe in is at least rather fraught with logical risk.

    • Correct. This was badly expressed. I’m going to rewrite the end of the post. I’m busy so it may take a little time. Watch this space.

  4. Hi Brian,

    Being a student of St. Peter’s in the 1960s meant that we were encouraged to give up the 5% of marks on Darwin and evolution for Jesus.
    As an atheist I was not prepared to do this which hastened my exit (and Sam Hunt’s coincidently) from the top streamed class at that school.

    The damage carried out in the name of a better life in the hereafter is the really destructive aspect to the theistic view. Blow the crap out of the planet, pollute the hell out of it because as long as we say our Hail Marys we are destined for heaven, paradise…

    Prof Loyd Geiring is very eloquent on the subject

    Enjoy your stuff immensely

    Cheers

    Kim

  5. Hi Brian,

    Being a student of St. Peter’s in the 1960s meant that we were encouraged to give up the 5% of marks on Darwin and evolution for Jesus.
    As an atheist I was not prepared to do this which hastened my exit (and Sam Hunt’s coincidently) from the top streamed class at that school.

    The damage carried out in the name of a better life in the hereafter is the really destructive aspect to the theistic view. Blow the crap out of the planet, pollute the hell out of it because as long as we say our Hail Marys we are destined for heaven, paradise…

    Prof Loyd Geiring is very eloquent on the subject

    Enjoy your stuff immensely

    Cheers

    Kim

    • Agree with all of that. Where we have to be careful is not to judge either atheism or religions by the views, character or actions of some of their adherents. When I was a kid, my mother and I boarded with a couple of elderly spinster sisters who were devout Plymouth Brethern. They were the nastiest and least Christian people I’ve ever met. It would be entirely wrong to judge Christianity by the behaviour of these whited sepulchres.

      • Little wonder you are an atheist Brian.

        My old man’s view of Ireland on a return visit to my mother’s home town Cavan in 2000.

        “Cavan has changed since we were going thee over 40 years ago and thereabouts. There is even a posh restaurant in the main street there, called The Cloisters. In fact, Ireland has changed considerably in recent years. Divorce is now legal, condom machines are to be found in public toilets, and the church has lost much of its influence, which at one time was so overwhelming as to be sinister”.

  6. I’ve always believed that everyone has an inherent right to believe whatever they wish … and of course, they do. The problems arise when people discover others who share those personal beliefs, more or less … because then you get religion, with all its tenets commandments rules and regulations. And as soon as rules are made, some break or reject them, and these sectarian schisms birth new religions. And so on.

    But since the search for community is a fundamental of the human condition, how do you prevent people sharing a community of belief? You can’t.

    In short, there are no rights or wrongs in belief. Saying there are is equivalent to pissing into a strong wind; you only douse yourself.

    So the key to “solving the problem of religion” is not to debate another’s practice, but to accept and respect it … recognising that just as you are not them, neither is their belief any more nor less valid than your own.

    Once you accept that, you cannot seek to indoctrinate cajole corrupt or otherwise force another person to believe as you do. You can only simply state your belief, and leave them to decide for themselves whether to incorporate that into their own belief system. And if they choose not to, that is an end to it – without any ill-will, by either party, attaching to that choice.

    For, after all, you still have your own personal beliefs … and surely that is all you need.

    • Sounds good. But should we “respect and accept” the beliefs and practices of Isis or the Nazis for example. I think not. There are many beliefs and practices around that civilised people have a duty to confront and challenge.

    • I’ve always believed that everyone has an inherent right to believe whatever they wish.

      It’s not clear how such a statement can be reconciled with the almost universal view that beliefs are causal agents. After all, our standard mode of explaining why people do things appeals to their beliefs, especially their beliefs about what it is permissible to do. There is a complicated story here about the relationship between clusters of beliefs and resulting actions, but it does seem to follow that you can’t really allow people to believe whatever they want without it resulting in some pretty nasty things happening.

      • Excuse my ignorance, Lee. I don’t claim to have your formal knowledge of philosophy and logic, but isn’t

        “…it does seem to follow that you can’t really allow people to believe whatever they want without it resulting in some pretty nasty things happening”

        …prcisely the rationale that intolerant ideologues and religious zealots do the things they do?

        • 6.2.1.1

          I’m pointing out that if beliefs are central to our concept of agency, you can’t really say that people can believe whatever they like without it implying that they can do whatever they like. It’s like freedom of speech in that nobody really means it.

  7. “The harm which I see emanating from religion lies less in religious belief itself than in the scope which the abandonment of rational thought in favour of religious dogma gives for irrational, potentially anti-social and, at the outer margins, murderous or genocidal behaviour.”

    While I agree with this statement in principle, in practice when societies abandon religion the results are usually the reverse – much greater examples of genocide and mass murder have been committed by atheists.

    A religious person might say that if you abandon the moral guidelines laid down by God then ultimately nothing is right or wrong, and anything is permissible.

    I’m not sure about that but I do think that its false to equate ISIS with modern Christianity, unless you also equate atheism with it’s worst practitioners.

    • Where we part company is your evident belief that moral principles come exclusively from God or religion. The rationalist sees the need for moral principles as arising from the need for rules to foster and sustain harmony and justice in society. You might say it’s a matter of doing unto others as you would hope they would “do unto you”. I see this as a social contract not an edict from above.

      • Actually I’m not religious at all, and I mostly agree with you. The only problem I see is that there’s a lot of our fellow atheists who have quite a different view on what constitutes morality – consequently I don’t share your view that overall religion is a “force for ill.”

        Mostly it seems a force for good, despite the occasional excesses of the fundamentalist lunatics like ISIS and the mercifully less frequent and less violent Christian fundamentalists.

  8. “much greater examples of genocide and mass murder have been committed by atheists.”

    That rather depends on whether you consider socialism is a religion.

    • I was about to say the same Alan except I would have used the term “Marxism-Leninism” rather than socialism (to which it bears little relationship) to take account of the works of that avuncular old darling Joseph Stalin. Many Nazis too, of course, were devout “Christians” along with their fellow travellers such as Pope Pius XII who knew all about the Catholic Croatian Ustache burning thousands of Orthodox Serbians to death in their own churches and worse but turned a blind eye. Thank God I’m an atheist like Brian

      • 8.1.1

        I was actually scooping the National Socialists into the same bag. The general concept is that they know what is best for everyone else including those they want to get rid of.

    • Is there any rationale behind your last sentence or is it just an example of your religion of hating socialists?

      • 8.2.1

        7.1.1 already explains the rationale for you, John. The outcome is well detaileded on this website: http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

        II 128,168,000 VICTIMS: THE DEKA-MEGAMURDERERS

        4. 61,911,000 Murdered: The Soviet Gulag State
        5. 35,236,000 Murdered: The Communist Chinese Ant Hill
        6. 20,946,000 Murdered: The Nazi Genocide State
        7. 10,214,000 Murdered: The Depraved Nationalist Regime

        • 8.2.1.1

          None of those you mention are true socialists, Alan, they are dictatorships. But then, a religious fanatic will always pick and choose to suit his prejudices.
          Oh and look up the differences between socialist, national socialist and communist. You obviously don’t know what they are.

          • “None of those you mention are true socialists, Alan, they are dictatorships.”

            Umm. As per my post above, is this an example of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy?

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/No_True_Scotsman

            “Oh and look up the differences between socialist, national socialist and communist. You obviously don’t know what they are.”

            Hmm. Wasn’t Communist East Germany officially known as the “German Democratic Republic”. Which was fair enough from their perspective, because unless the state had absolute control over the means of production, supply and exchange on behalf of all, then “there was no true democracy”.

            • 8.2.1.1.1.1

              The “No true Scotsman fallacy” can be used to distance oneself from anything. You would use it to distance yourself from the atrocities committed by some protestants.

              Your last paragraph shows you don’t know the differences between socialist, national socialist and communist or refuse to recognise it because it conflicts with your faith. All Hail, Ayn Rand!

              • 8.2.1.1.1.1.1

                “The “No true Scotsman fallacy” can be used to distance oneself from anything. You would use it to distance yourself from the atrocities committed by some protestants.”

                Indeed, I could. But as per my post at February 18th, 2015 at 20:59, I’m not. I’ll own it, at least as part of the Protestant collective. Just as you seem to be rejecting it for socialists.

                “Your last paragraph shows you don’t know the differences between socialist, national socialist and communist or refuse to recognise it because it conflicts with your faith. All Hail, Ayn Rand!”

                Don’t know where Ayn Rand came from in this discussion, but maybe you were alluding to the fact she was a Russain-born critic of, among other things, the Union of Soviet SOCIALIST (they didn’t seem to recognise the difference either!) Republics.

                • 8.2.1.1.1.1.1.1

                  Ayn Rand came from your extreme right wing libertarian views.

                • 8.2.1.1.1.1.1.2

                  “…your extreme right wing libertarian views.”

                  John, what the f%*k are you talking about?!

                  I think Rand’s rampant individualism is obnoxious.

          • 8.2.1.1.2

            John, as I explained, they all think they know better than the individual what is good for him or her and they use collective power to enforce it.

            However, if you would like to squirm a little more, the dictionary definition is:

            so·cial·ism

            noun
            a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

            If the cap fits wear it and share it.

            • 8.2.1.1.2.1

              You just don’t “get” socialism. To your quoted definition should be added, “for the benefit of the community as a whole.” and as you say, “and they use collective power to enforce it.”
              What’s wrong with that? The good of the majority is wrong? Your ideal system is for your benefit and to Hell with the rest. That’s good? For you, perhaps. Or do you you aspire to be a benevolent dictator?
              As long as your one-eyed view is to care only for the good of yourself and the good of those who can further enrich you, it is pointless to argue.
              You won’t be squirming because, in your selfish view, you KNOW you’re right.
              So, if the cap fits, wear it.

              • 8.2.1.1.2.1.1

                Aspiration isn’t actualisation. “for the benefit of the community as a whole” is mere PR, a claim always made that can never be tested objectively because selecting which benefits to measure is hopelessly subjective.

                A majority can oppress a minority and many do.

                My ideal system is one in which all individuals are free to do what they wish so long as they do not harm others and where the law is applied to protect property rights and freely made contracts.

                “As long as your one-eyed view is to care only for the good of yourself and the good of those who can further enrich you, it is pointless to argue.”

                That makes me laugh. I am fortunate to be able to help very many people and they enrich me only in immaterial ways. How very little you know.

                • 8.2.1.1.2.1.1.1

                  “My ideal system is one in which all individuals are free to do what they wish so long as they do not harm others”
                  Doing no harm to others “can never be tested objectively”.

                • 8.2.1.1.2.1.1.2

                  Really? Our legal system does it all the time.

    • Does anybody seriously believe that communists and Nazis are religious in the sense used in the blog above?

      Seriously?

      So your argument is that no true atheist has ever been involved in genocide, even those who claim to have been atheists like Hitler/Stalin/Mao etc. It turns out they were religious after all!

      I think the “no true Scotsman” fallacy shows the illogicality of this view.

      • 8.3.1

        Good question, which goes to the heart of what is a religious belief. In a sense atheism is also a religious belief, whereas agnosticism is not – at least at another level.

        I could protest that I didn’t go so far, merely pointed out the socialist philosophy of most of the major genocidal monsters of last century and therefore the enabling factor those beliefs provide.

        It’s hard to see how anyone who believes every individual has inalienable rights to freedom from state oppression could participate in genocide. So that just leaves the two alternatives:
        a) those who believe the individual can be sacrificed for the greater good of the majority (ie socialists), and
        b) those who believe the individual can be sacrificed for the greater good of an elite minority (ie fascists).

        In many cases I suspect fascists enlist naive socialists to their cause.

      • “Does anybody seriously believe that communists and Nazis are religious in the sense used in the blog above?”

        Umm, yes. They can be very-easily conceived as heresies, with all the trappings and psychology of religions. They may not be “supernatural”, but nonetheless once you trawl through all the dogma, they exhibit a child-like faith in the efficacy of their creeds. And why they are packaged like religion: cults of personality, ceremonies, heroes/saints and enemies/heretics and the devil.

        Which is why the implication that “religion is to blame for all the evil in history” is facile. Instead, religion interacts for both good and bad with existing human nature, sometimes prompting, sometimes responding.

  9. Hi Brian,

    I was surprised to see this, coming from a master wordsmith:

    “My declaration that I no longer believed in God did not phase the Canon one bit.”

    The correct word is “faze” in this case.

  10. Can I pose some other ‘hypotheticals’ as an ‘alternative’ viewpoint.

    How would you look at Hitler(or any other mass killer), if you knew that relative dimension Earth was in fact ‘hell’, and that death was an escape from hell to the extreme bliss of an other dimensional ‘all aware’ state, that you came from before you were born (back to being a part of God, until your next autonomous experiment in becoming like God).
    Would you see Hitler as a monster in those circumstances, or as someone who set millions joyously free from a life in hell? What you describe in Ireland is hellatious to me, just as so much of this worlds present day actions are.

    What if every single thing man had every written about God was complete and total made up BS (the words of human men and not God at all). I mean, that ‘IS’ what all religious writings are after all! Maybe God simply says. Hey Brian, I have all the time in all the Universes for you to realise that you are a part of me, so I’ll just keep removing your memory, and sending you back to the absolute freedom that challenges the crap out of you. No probs, no lightning bolts, no hell, no punishment, play with yourself all you like. Heck, I made your body to enjoy, not deny. I do enjoy experiencing your huge breakthroughs.

    What if he/she/it (God) loved the fact that you are an atheist because it shows that you are learning to be autonomous and not a sleepwalking product of dogma as mankind teaches. You can’t help but agree that you are vastly more conscious than when you arrived on Earth Brian. Surely that’s huge and ‘godlike?’ progress.

    And lastly (I could go on forever with many many other possibilities).
    What would we learn, if God lived down the road at number 32 and was always on call to save our arses and solve all our problems like war, poverty, greed and natural disasters (let alone depression, guilt, divorce, grief). Would you have progressed to the highly conscious being that you now are if God solved all your challenges and gave you a completely free ride? Ah … I don’t think so.

    The thing is, living in a ‘relative’ dimension, we see death as an end. What if it isn’t in other dimensions? (black holes are an example of the massive mufti-dimensionality of our universe. Our relative dimensions simply can’t be ‘IT’?)

    So to me, there are vastly more clues to the existence of an ‘order’, than available negative answers. This means that the jury is still out in a huge way?
    You said belief in God was a trap that was easy to fall into. Is that your ‘soul’ talking? And if atheists have souls? Then …
    Now thats an interesting question?

    • My “soul”‘ Paul? What’s that?

      • Exactly the answer reguired Brian.

      • “Was ist das?”(Vasitas). It is the illuminating window above a door.

        ” “A term said to have originated in the nineteenth century, during the Franco-Prussian War, when Paris was occupied by German-speaking soldiers who had never before seen transoms, the windows over doors that afford ventilation without having to leave doors open.”

        However, the usage preceded all those wars. It showed up in French in the mid-1700s, more than a century before the Franco-Prussian War.”

        http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2013/11/vasistas.html

        • Have I missed something here?

          • 10.1.2.1.1

            “Have I missed something here?”

            Maybe, maybe not. I don’t profess to know.

            Your soul could well be all your published writing and extant film and audio/video footage of programmes you have appeared in that survives when you kick the bucket.

  11. One of the very first assignments I had as a boy reporter was to chair a debate between Lloyd Geering and the Professor of Theology from Nottingham University.

    I was totally unequipped to deal with these two exceptionally intelligent people as they discussed the issues and beliefs that ultimately led to Lloyd Geering being tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church.

    The experience however was transformational as far as my own world view was concerned. Possibly the least consequential outcome of the discussion.

    I have formed the view that thoughtful humanitarianism (and I won’t elaborate on that) is by far the best way to guide your life, and in a remote possibility, the world, and exclusionist philosophies that deny belonging or goodness to anyone else are a blight on the planet.

  12. Good on you Brian. The importance to think your own thoughts without pressure from others who have gone before, and even to imagine and invent your own Gods (or lack thereof), ha ha( -How do you imagine a god that does’t exist??!!), -( “Oh- You just look around” he answers” ) is vitally important to the freedom and clear thinking of humanity. Religion has conjured too much inhumanity and stupidity.

  13. Brian there are secular variations of the theme:

    Invoking a divine right by suggesting that ‘most New Zealanders agree with me’ and the unseen had of ‘the market’ that will make everything ok in the end for those who will labour now and shoulder the burdens and sacrifices asked of them by their ‘betters’.

  14. The figures Alan cites are the body counts of avowedly atheistic movements, and they are only the twentieth century’s roll call. Given that we can, on the balance of probabilities, tote them up as acts carried out on the most part in the name of movements fundamentally opposed to religion, never mind its flavour, I submit that his figures represent a greater evil than religion can demonstrably be said to have perpetrated.

    Having said that, few people argue a position with any pretence to giving the opposition a fair suck of the sav. I know I will not persuade anyone that the manifestation of the phenomenal universe springs from thought, and that all sentient beings (at the least) play a part in that. By the same token though, my convictions are not likely to be shaken by woeful drivel like “more harm has been done in the name of religion than good”. That position is founded on prejudice, which means you need admit nothing that doesn’t suit your line of reasoning. Not even Richard Dawkins has the courage of his lack of convictions. He is sold on the outset and his singular rebuttal to spiritual life consists of variations on a theme of “I am amused”, implying I suppose that he views the opposition so lightly and so self-evidently flawed that it needs nothing more to be said against it. Sun Tzu warns against taking enemies lightly.

    Atheism has become the stand-up routine of the teens, just like swearing was in the nineties. It’s good for a laugh and it upsets people, and that is probably the most that can be said in praise of it. The mechanistic rational world view that emerged from the Age of Reason and plunged headlong into its successor, Historical Inevitability has found that, quite unreasonably, history is not on its side. What may have seemed self-evident then has been torn from the sky by the likes of Heisenberg, Schroedinger and Higgs, just as surely as the seven celestial spheres were trounced by Leibnitz, Newton and Herschel. Rationality rather depends on your point of view. Mine is that humanity hardly needs recourse to God to find the means to commit the unspeakable against itself.

    • 14.1

      Quite right, Nic. As I demonstrated, socialism takes religious mass murder to new heights.

      • Nonsense – those who excelled at mass murder and genocide were all known to be atheists, not religious believers.

        Whether they were “true” socialists or not is irrelevant.

        • 14.1.1.1

          You don’t get to define irrelevance. Brian attributed genocidal consequences to religion. I pointed out that socialism has done worse. Both are founded on beliefs albeit of different kinds that can be used to denigrate individuals.

          • Whether communists or Nazis were “true” socialists is irrelevant to a discussion about whether religion motivates people to commit crime.

            On one hand you seem to agree that socialists have committed worse acts than any religion, but then turn it on its head by saying that socialism is actually a religion, albeit different to other religions. Atheism is about dis-belief in a God, not having no beliefs at all.

            The point is that the communist and nazi leaders were very well known and self declared atheists, and if this doesn’t convince a rational person that atheism also has its violent psychopathic adherents then nothing will.

            • 14.1.1.1.1.1

              Logical fallacy. Religion and socialism can motivate people to hatred and killings. Atheism doesn’t have any causal factor to generate such hatreds. That some atheists kill people for other reasons (eg socialism and fascism as I explained) doesn’t indicate causation.

              Certainly psychopaths and their followers have a range of justifications for their crimes.

              • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1

                You are confusing religious views with political ones. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and atheists may each be communists, socialists, fascists or capitalists.

                The issue isn’t “causal factors” it is moral restraints – religions provide a moral compass, even if improbably laid down via myths about stone tablets personally delivered by God on a mountain top.

                Atheism however has no specific code, no trained ministry to assist the flock on how their philosophy should guide their actions in the real world. It is up to each individual to develop their own.

                If an atheist communist murders a political opponent is it because he is an atheist, or because he is a communist? I would say because he is an atheist – one assumes that a christian communist (there have been many) would be much less likely to kill due to the moral restraints imposed by his belief in the commandments, as well as the fear of punishment in hell.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.1

                  Your case would be sustainable if there hadn’t been so many religious purges through the centuries including Christian ones. Remember Lebanon and Bosnia for just the latest?

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.2

                  Missing the point as usual Alan, everyone knows about the horrors committed by Christianity – the issue is that atheists are no better, and by the history of the 20th century, much worse.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.3

                  The issue is whether it is atheism or socialism that facilitated the atrocities. There is a clear mechanism whereby socialism empowers the masses to brutalise individuals and minorities. What you forget is that genocides require armies of murderers, not single individuals who might wrestle with a religious conscience.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.4

                  Nonsense again Alan – an army is just a large number of individuals, each with a conscience. My point is that atheism is no better, and frequently worse, than religion at restraining an individual from committing murder.

                  You seem obsessed by socialism, and include both communism and fascism as different forms of it, and see it as the common thread of genocide – was socialism responsible for the deaths of American Indians? Armenians? Congolese? Tutsi? The Irish famine?

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.5

                  I see socialism as a common thread of some genocides – all of them is your straw man. You think an atheist communist murders a political opponent because he is an atheist but clearly his motive is to pursue communism, not atheism.

                  Then you claim he would be less likely to do it if he were religious, particularly Christian, but even many Christians have committed atrocities – relatively recently, and on the basis of religious divides and beliefs.

                  So my position is that atheism is irrelevant. The atrocities are driven by warped belief systems of which religion and socialism are examples.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.6

                  Your views make no sense Alan – how can atheism be irrelevant when all of the worst criminals in human history have been atheists? Its no coincidence.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.7

                  You are simplistic, Steve.

                  http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler_religion

                  From Gengis Kahn to the conquistadors and Bosnia religion has plenty of blood on its hands.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.8

                  You are simply wrong, Alan.

                  I agree religion has blood on its hands, but you deny the greater amount on the hands of atheists. You split hairs about motivation and causal factors and in desperation now claim Hitler was religious – Stalin would have been better as he went to a seminary. Mao studied Confucianism and Buddhism, Pol Pot and Robespierre went to Catholic schools. But they were all atheists. Who really knows what Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun believed!

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.9

                  You confuse correlation with causation and motivation. All of your examples were male. But most males are not murderers just as most atheists are not, nor are most religious.

                  No atheist went to war to spread atheism. Plenty of religious and socialists waged war to spread or empower their beliefs.

                  You can deny that forever but it is you who is simply wrong.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.10

                  Actually Alan you seem very confused to me – previously you claimed that socialism was a type of religion, but now you state they are separate. You think a religious believer kills because of his beliefs, but an atheist doesn’t, it’s due to some other “causal factor”. You are blind to the evidence that atheists figure prominently in history as the greatest practitioners of genocide, and dismiss it as a false correlation.

                  You also seem to have forgotten that the most deadly war in history was the Eastern Front in WW2, a battle for territory between two alternate atheist philosophies. Clearly nothing will convince you, but I’ll let you have the last word.

                • 14.1.1.1.1.1.1.11

                  The war between the National Socialists and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?

  15. I don’t think it is possible to prove to the world at large that religion is a force for good in the face of obvious abuses and vile behaviour on the part of proponents of all religions. All one can do is demonstrate through one’s own life that whatever generalisations others make about the religious are in your case invalid.

  16. In reply to 7.2.1.1.1.1.1.2

    Language!

    “I think Rand’s rampant individualism is obnoxious.”
    Then you must be a socialist.

    • There’s no middle ground?!

      Then again, I’m engaging with someone who invoked Godwin’s Law in the last thread…so stupid me!

      • 16.1.1

        Indeed there is middle ground. Perhaps you and Alan should look for it in your hatred of socialism.

        No. I didn’t “invoke” Godwin’s Law, you did. I only mentioned the dreaded “H” word. Perhaps I should have used Mussolino or Napoleon.
        I could have invoked Godwin’s Law in reply to Alan’s 7.2.1 but I always think that’s an act of desperation. Just because it’s called a “LAW” doesn’t mean it’s engraved on tablets of stone. It began life as an observation.
        Perhaps the last three words of your comment are correct.

        • 16.1.1.1

          John, I merely hate bad ideas. Socialists hate people who don’t share those ideas.

          • 16.1.1.1.1

            As I said in my 7.2.1.1.2.1 you just don’t “get” socialism.
            I’m sure the socialists hatred of your views is by far outstripped by your hatred of socialist views but that’s OK because you KNOW you’re right.

            • 16.1.1.1.1.1

              Take a look at any Herald political opinion piece and wallow in the socialists’ comments hating the PM.

              i hate the beliefs that warp their minds so badly they do not understand the economic system that underpins their entire lifestyle and elevated them from the Stone Age – and leads them to hate and fear freedom and those who advocate for it.

              • 16.1.1.1.1.1.1

                Ugh put down his club and said, “Sell all my shares in Consolidated Flint Mines, lay off all the knappers, no redundancy payments mind and take on all the bronze founders you can find; zero hour contracts, of course.”
                Thus we emerged from the Stone Age.
                I don’t think so. Our current economic system is relatively modern and man made. It is also completely out of control: we can forecast the weather with much greater accuracy.
                Far from elevating us from the Stone Age, it will probably cause us to descend into a new one.

                As far as hatred of the PM is concerned, socialists despise him. Some of the many reasons are to be found in the comments to Brian’s latest piece on NuZuld English. I cringe when I hear him making a speech overseas.

                • 16.1.1.1.1.1.1.1

                  You are the perfect case study for my thesis, John. You hate Key for not being a socialist and his manner of speaking is a trigger for a personal attack.

                  And you have not the faintest clue how uncoerced transactions and sanctity of private property have secured the privileged lifestyle and opportunities we are so fortunate to enjoy.

  17. Some of my best friends are devout religious hypocrites.

  18. Religion creates an interface with a world greater than our understanding ,or capability of understanding.God as portrayed by many religions is only a human facade to allow us to conceptulise something that is beyond our knowledge.
    As for your lack of existance beyond death ,your existance continues as a part of the neverending energy transformation we call life.No energy can be gained or lost .Einsteins unified field theory is closer to what religions purports to represent.

    Socialism etc has never existed in our world much to my dismay.

  19. I cannot normally be bothered entering into God/no God debates but I happened to see this quote from someone called Heywood Broun. “Nobody talks so constantly about God as those who insist that there is no God.” Sums it up perfectly.

  20. Three talkative men walked into the bar.
    One was a vegetarian.
    One was an atheist.
    One was a born again Christian.
    End of joke.

    • I find
      Born again Vegetarians,
      Born again Atheists
      Born again Christians
      all equally annoying as they all believe they are ‘right’ and I am ‘wrong’.
      Of course its the other way around! LOL

  21. I was under the impression that blokes love nothing better than a solid hierarchy with a ‘suitable’:
    club; gang; association; lodge; federation; brotherhood; political party; returned servicemen; free masonry; religious orders and sects; sports clubs; fraternities; specialist squads; service org’s (police/army/fire brigade etc); government departments; paedophiles; right-wing bigots; left-wing bigots; associated bigots; righteous bastards; and curmudgeonly old pricks.
    Ponder all those rites of passage, special signs, initiations, secret societies, acts of mindless cruelty and slaughter, bullying, domination, greed and the baubles of status … just to belong …

    Then there are the loners “… I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”.
    (Groucho and Me 1959)

    The misfits, the angry frustrated men circling in the shadows of the camp fires.

    Fighting against indoctrination by the church, state and mother sounds like a common battle for many. When did this god of yours/theirs become male? How much harder is it for a male raised by women to define his identity as male? Does he seek successful women to elevate his status, or can he find acceptance in the macho world and find a rank? A club?

    We are the most parasitic and destructive killing machines on the planet. Our males are destroying the planet and are no happier than when armed to the teeth and full of adrenaline and testosterone in the company of other apes, blowing up buildings and killing the everything. No? It would only take a land invasion by another country, imagine for example Indonesia, to turn us back into what we really are. No ‘god’ will help, no mature philosophical discourse at the Gates of the City while the women cart water; no favourable fluctuation of the share market will save us.

    Perhaps there are just too many roosters in the hen-house?