A quick perusal of the Amazon page for Sam's book will reveal that the number one attack is The Atheist Critique. Here it is copied and pasted from a review titled "Laughable":
What religion caused the most deaths in the last 100 years ? Atheism.
The writer is referring to the millions of people killed by the Nazis and the Soviets and the Khmer Rouge and other atheist regimes. This critique comes up again and again at Amazon. And we've seen a review by Reason attacking the book by way of atheism.
Now, anyone who reads the book carefully will find some discussion of these atheist regimes and how they were built on irrational beliefs and thus aren't really any different than religious organizations. But I think Sam made a mistake by not focusing a chapter on this.
This critique is going to come up. What are some good illustrations of the irrationality of the various genocidal atheist regimes? Beyond the obvious madness of the killing of course…thekeez
That line of response will only get us into a who killed the most people type of debate. I’m looking for articulation - real practical examples of the irrational belief systems of Nazism and Stalinist Communism…thekeez
[quote author=“thekeez”]This critique is going to come up. What are some good illustrations of the irrationality of the various genocidal atheist regimes? Beyond the obvious madness of the killing of course…thekeez
Well, many of the Nazi leaders were steeped in occult beliefs, including astrology, Atlantis, the hollow earth, Vril energies, and of course, the Aryan race, which was supposedly locked in suspended animation in the polar ice caps. Himmler required newly-married SS officers to consummate their marriages on the graves of Aryan warriors, so that the spirit would enter the fetus conceived thereon. It is fairly well-established—and not just from Indiana Jones movies—that the Nazis were fascinated with trying to find lost mystical relics, especially ones of Christian origin; and several occult organizations like the Thule Gelleschaft and the Germanenorden held demonstrable influence over the development of early Nazi ideas. Nazism in Germany arose as a reaction against the rationalist traditions of the Enlightenment, about which many people had become deeply cynical after the First World War. The intellectual climate in which Nazism was nurtured was deeply irrational, and it’s not technically accurate to describe Nazism as an “atheist” ideology. It wasn’t. Many Nazi thinkers were violently hostile to Christianity, but that doesn’t make them atheists. Many of the highest-ranked leaders of the regime—Hess, Himmler, Goebbels and at times even Hitler himself—subscribed to mystical beliefs rooted in Teutonic paganism and conspiracy theories (though Hitler’s “belief” in such things appears to have been merely opportunistic; he also claimed to be a Christian at many points).
It would be a mistake to read too much into all of that; Nazism was a far more complicated phenomenon than mere superstition elevated to politics, but anyone who really understands the movement knows that it was neither rationalist nor materialist.
Stalinism is a harder case; like many forms of Marxism, it treats Marx’s ideas as a political programme and an ideology, rather than simply a theory of history. Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism in particular all treat Marx as something of a secular prophet, and tried to force science into tight ideological straight-jackets like Lysenkoist biology. Functionally, they are religions—in terms of how believers relate to the core ideas and treat the foundational texts—but unlike Nazism, they are forthrightly atheist. The caveat here is that being atheist doesn’t make them rationalist.
I think Sam’s argument is against irrationalism and faith of any variety—secular or religious. The danger is that millions of people—including subscribers to many atheist belief systems—are motivated by faith in ideas for which there is no evidence. Nazism and communism both apply.
Oh, also, look up some of the histories of the SS, which was explicitly modeled on the Rosicrucians, Knights Templar and other pseudo-mystical secret societies. Himmler’s black-magic set-up at Wewelsburg castle, where he practiced mystical rites with several of his officers, is also pretty bizarre.
The History Channel has a pretty good, 2-hour documentary on the influence of the occult in Nazi ideas, which details not just the things they actually believed, but also the way in which they consciously manipulated beliefs they didn’t hold for propaganda purposes. The Nazis were big on public rituals, the bigger the better, and understood the uses of mass psychology—of which religion is a part—better than almost anyone else before them.
Years ago, I read a wonderful book by Eric Hoffer, “The True Believer.” His main argument was that all fanatic believers in anything, whether it be religion, political indoctrination, or whatever, are the same ilk.
So rather than arguing over whether more deaths have been caused by religionists, political nutcases, or atheists, and over how many hundreds of years, we can probably all agree that most violent deaths on this planet have been caused directly or indirectly by true believers.
In addition to causing death, “true belief” can also be the cause of much human misery and suffering.
For example, the Catholic Church’s teachings (even today) regarding birth control to impoverished parishoners thoughout the world has exacerbated their poverty, perpetuated their entrapment in miserable living conditions and certainly contributed to high rates of childhood malnutrition and death.
[quote author=“Iisbliss”]not to mention keeping women down !!
Ditto. Among many of its atrocious rulings against women, the Roman Catholic Church forbade Bosnian nuns raped by Serbian troops from getting abortions, requiring them to carry the babies to term, on pain of excommunication, which equals damnation to their minds. Thankfully, the Church lacks the enforcement power of the state that it once held, but still, the attitude on display is disgusting, and the hold of Church doctrine on many of the women’s minds played a similar role anyway.
Good replies. I’d like to boil it down. I understand that the book ultimately indicts all “true believers” - religious and secular. But missing a chapter devoted to Nazism and Communism, the atheist/humanist critique will always come up. It’s called “The End of Faith” not “The End of Irrationalism.”
It’s true that Nazis dabbled in all sorts of bizarre mystical beliefs and traditions. What are some bullet things that can be said about Nazism as it relates to Sam’s critique of religion? Was the Fuhrer considered infallible? Was there a holy text? Was “Mein Kampf” considered inerrant?
In my opinion, a woman even wanting to join a ‘club’ that has historically treated her like dirt and continues so in a lesser degree today is about as obnoxious as blacks wanting to join the KKK. And homosexuals belonging to a church is even more unfathomable - it just goes to show you the powerful effect of those theologies - that even the hated and the despised are breaking down the doors to get in. Talk about irrationality!
It is obvious that believing things is the problem. I think that a look at the totality of what Sam said in the book will reveal this. Religion is just one of the many things that humans can and will believe without evidence. It is also true that the beliefs of the powerful have caused and will continue to cause human suffering. What is needed in public discourse is the defense of ideas with evidence from the natural world. I suggest the scientific method be used for answering questions and solving problems in all areas of human endeavor. The scientific method has been shown to be a very successful way of finding out what is really true about the universe, and even though scientists often confuse the public by saying they believe something when reporting their conclusions they are really drawing their conclusion from the evidence. Conclusions based solely or largely or even partly on a belief would not stand up to peer review. What is needed in public discourse today is peer review. Finally Atheists aren’t believers they are disbelievers. It is only the twisted logic of believers that can turn a disbelief into a belief.
[quote author=“thekeez”]It’s true that Nazis dabbled in all sorts of bizarre mystical beliefs and traditions. What are some bullet things that can be said about Nazism as it relates to Sam’s critique of religion? Was the Fuhrer considered infallible? Was there a holy text? Was “Mein Kampf” considered inerrant?
The Fuhrer was indeed considered a German messiah; Himmler even composed prayers to Hitler, and required orphans and other children to recite them. There were differences of doctrine over whether Hitler himself or some future Fuhrer was the messiah, though. Mein Kampf may not have been considered “inerrant” in the same sense as the Bible is by Christian fundamentalists, but it was considered a source of revealed truth; that is, Hitler as an author was seen as emanating metaphysical wisdom, rather than making up nonsense.
And then, what about Communism?...thekeez
Communism has both faith doctrines and holy texts.
The holy texts would be Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital (Capital). The central faith doctrines—found in both books—would be economic determinism and dialectical materialism (though the former doctrine is largely unspoken in the texts, and instead is simply assumed).
Economic determinism is the idea that all human activity is driven solely by economic imperatives and desires. Everything else put forward as a justification or explanation for human behavior is thus a deception or delusion—or, as they like to say, “false consciousness” (i.e., the terrorists may say they’re acting on their belief in Allah, and may even believe what they’re saying, but what they really want—even if they don’t know it—is redistribution of global wealth). The doctrine is reductionist and simplistic, and almost always unexamined. It is so pervasive—especially on the reactionary Left—that most of its believers don’t even see it as a mere belief. To them, it is self-evident, and they don’t understand why the rest of us have trouble “getting” it. Many ideological capitalists—whom some have pejoratively called “market fundamentalists”—also adhere to economic determinism, but I suspect that it is more widely held among Left ideologues than Right, especially communists and anarchists.
(It should be noted that the doctrine of “false consciousness” comes not from Marx directly, but from Lenin, who deduced it after it became clear that Marx’s predictions weren’t coming true any time soon; according to Lenin and his cohorts, the general contentment of the working class in liberal capitalist states was the result of this “false consciousness,” essentially a form of self-delusion born of subtle capitalist brainwashing. Anyone who’s been reading the responses to my posts on the Chomsky thread can see this idea at work in spades. The logical consequence of this notion is that the deluded working class will have to be dragged into “natural” communism by an enlightened vanguard, for their own good.)
Dialectical materialism is the belief that history is a pseudo-metaphysical engine, powered by the essential conflict of polar opposites who eventually synthesize into a new whole, only to spawn a new opposite, which then continues the struggle. History is seen as basically millenarian, moving inexorably towards a Rapture-like day when the dialectic will end and peaceful communism (the final synthesis) will emerge. “Dialectical” is drawn from Hegel, from whom Marx borrowed the analytical method, while “materialism” comes from Marx’s rejection of Hegel’s mysticism and belief in God; for Marx, there was no deity driving the engine of history; it’s just how history was. But despite its atheistic trappings, the notion is still fundamentally faith-based. And like economic determinism, it holds a powerful sway over many thinkers on the Left, most of whom aren’t even consciously aware of its influence on their thought.
Although Hitler certainly wasn’t a Christian, he was also not an atheist. His racially chauvinistic plans to take over the world were motivated by his intense belief that he was hastening divine intention. Here are a few of Hitler’s words—translated, of course—from Mein Kampf:
“. . . I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord.” Adolf Hitler certainly qualifies as a fundamentalist in my book.
Allow me, for the sake of argument, to play angel’s advocate: “By writing that sentence, Hitler was obviously only trying to garner support for his brutally racist views.”
I know nothing about Hitler’s innermost beliefs, nor do I care. My point is not that Hitler believed in God, but that he used God to support his obscene arguments.
Angel’s advocate: “Not very often. He carried out his operations in a severely atheistic manner.”
Hitler’s secretary, Traudl Junge, recalls in her book that “he used to say: ‘I am an instrument of fate, and must tread the path on which a higher Providence has set me.’ “
Hitler made many such comments during casual conversations with his secretaries and others in his social group. Even more frightfully, Ms. Junge remembers what Hitler had to say following the assassination attempt of July 1944:
“Hitler saw all the unfortunate coincidences that foiled the [assassination] plot as his personal success. His confidence, his certainty of victory and his sense of security, his consciousness of power and his megalomania now really passed beyond all the bounds of reason. If recent military defeats might perhaps have made him ready to compromise, if his inmost heart had sometimes wavered in its belief in victory, now he thought that Fate had confirmed his own worth, his ideals, his power and all that he did.”
Whether or not the person is authentically religious is irrelevant. Such superstitious thinking can lead to disaster.
Angel’s advocate: “You seem to be implying that Hitler was superstitious due to the superstitious ways of others.”
My argument makes sense if you consider that no one thinks about the world in truly individualistic ways. If Germany during the 1940’s had somehow been completely free from superstitious thinking, I can assure you that Hitler would not have indulged in it all by himself.
Japanese massacres during the 1930’s offer another gruesome example. Again, highly sophisticated people were brainwashed into violence against “others.”
In 1997, C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb interviewed the late author, Iris Chang. While they were discussing her book, The Rape of Nanking, he asked her, in his typical blunt style, to explain her thoughts on how the Japanese—or any group of soldiers—could possibly have carried out such a massive and gory series of killings.
(Nineteen-million Chinese had died, many of them after extremes of torture.)
Ms. Chang stared for a couple of seconds at Mr. Lamb, then slowly and quietly explained that when the enemy is seen as sub-human, that’s a first step. She also said that she felt that it would be surprisingly easy to convince others to senselessly murder if they thought their god had ordained such actions as being the only right thing to do.