Never Mind How Many Died Last Time, Try it Again

thAtheist philosopher Bertrand Russell ends his speech “Why I’m not a Christian” with some glib, and rather offensive, distortions of Christianity. But, as I think I’ve already addressed any real point being made by them in earlier posts, I’ll skip to his closing remarks about what secularism can create:

We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage … It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

This is a bold claim in the wake of the Reign of Terror and the First World War, and the best response to it, I think, is to ask how that project has gone since. Around the time of this speech, the world’s largest and greatest experiment at creating a purely secular society filled with intelligence, courage, and brotherhood was begun in earnest. That experiment was known as Communism.

And, a decade later, the advances of science were placed in the hands of a group obsessed with the highly respected theory of eugenics: the Nazis.

Now almost a century on, there is no evidence at all that a more secular world will result in any of the virtues that Russell names here. In fact, passionate anti-theists tend to be reduced to assuming, rather than showing, that secularism will help at all in fostering such virtues. Any dispassionate historian should be astonished to run across anyone insisting today that secularism is clearly what the world needs.

But still we hear exactly this kind of rhetoric. Many are trying desperately to revive the corpse of the Enlightenment without any heed given to what killed it in the first place, and without any contrition over the atrocities it aided. Indeed, the New Atheists tend to cast scorn on those who suggest that we all need to repent of something. They seem to take glibly dismissing past mistakes as a sign of strength.

For all the demands for evidence made by such a group, then, I think it is only fair that they produce some evidence that secularism is nearly so good for the world as they claim before expecting others to believe it.

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21 responses to “Never Mind How Many Died Last Time, Try it Again

  • Pastor James Miller

    They don’t like to cite it, but the fact is that secular/atheistic regimes killed over 100,000,000 people in the 20th century.

    • Alexander

      Nobody kills in the name of atheism. Those regimes killed for other specific reasons. (And I hope you didn’t include Hitler in your impressive number; if you did, please do some research before answering)

      • Mark Hamilton

        True, but he did not say that anyone did. What his did say is the Russell believed that an atheistic society would act with more “knowledge, kindliness, and courage” than a religious society. The USSR (and China, even to this day) was an atheistic society, completely secular, and I don’t think any of us will argue that it was a knowledgeable, kind, and couragous regime, especially in comparison to the more religious societies of the same time period.

        • The Great Antagonizer

          Which countries are you comparing here? If you’re comparing Communist Russia and China to, I’m assuming, liberal democracies such as America, then there is no wonder why the former two countries were more brutal: they were/are not democracies.
          What about Scandanavian democracies, which are atheistic? How often do you hear about them committing genocide or war crimes? We must compare apples and apples.

        • Debilis

          If you are interested in a true apples to apples comparison, setting culturally and racially homogenous countries against a country like America will not do.

          A better approach would be to check actual studies on the correlation between religiosity and altruism (such as this or this), or the correlation between religiosity and antisocial behavior (such as this).

          Obviously, many factors could be looked up, and there is a great deal of information to sift through. What you will not find, however, is that secularism is the great social good many have claimed it to be.

        • Anonymous

          I just took a look at the second abstract you sent me. I’m not trying to be mean when I say, this is total nonsense. Did you look at it or did you just send it because you agree with the premise? Leaving aside the SPELLING mistake in this, check out how the goodness of people:

          ” The findings indicate that the attitudes and acts of altruism are indeed linked to religiosity, yet there are also modes of altruism were [sic] no connection is detected. The phenomenological analysis yields a novel model of five components of the religiosity–altruism link from individual experience: 1) faith and values in action, 2) personal relation to God, 3) institutions, 4) communal support and networks in congregations, 5) teachings of the Bible.”
          Ya, that’s right, I’m not a good person because I don’t do things that the Bible tells me to do. How absurd! I hope you just skimmed this because this abstract is hardly professional.

        • Anonymous

          *goodness of people is determined.

          WordPress has some error where I can see what I’ve written when writing from my phone 😦

        • Debilis

          Admittedly, it was one I grabbed fairly quickly.

          The point wasn’t that this study (or any particular study) proves any sweeping conclusion about religion by itself. Nor am I trying to prove that non-religious people are in any way unethical. My real point was that we should be comparing studies, not making generalizations based on cursory looks at Sweden and America.

          So, I agree that this study can be disputed. I would only reject the idea that there is any good reason to conclude that secularism is a clear good for society.

    • The Great Antagonizer

      Try researching the origins of Fascism. You will see that the ideology of fascism and the Catholic Church are actually the same entity. Fascism was essentially the political arm of Catholicism. This is why before, during and even AFTER WWII the Catholic church defended Nazism. So… if you want a body count, that’s a significant blow to your numbers.

      • Pastor James Miller

        You probably shouldn’t recommend research until you’ve done your own. Fascism finds its roots in the French fin-de-siècle school which draws primarily from Darwin and Nietzsche. Hitler’s private papers show a disdain for Christianity, and obviously, he wasn’t one. So don’t be delusional – humanity without God has never done well for itself.

        • The Great Antagonizer

          Hitler was a Catholic and referenced God many times in Mein Kampf and in his speeches.

          Also, so are you saying there is no connection between the Catholic Church and Fascism?

        • Debilis

          Hitler indeed paid lip-service to Catholicism, but I think it is clear that he was neither Catholic nor atheist. He seems to have been more interested in occultism than either of these.

          As to the Catholic church, yes, its no secret that religious institutions often get tangled up in politics and compromise their beliefs.
          But, unless you are claiming that these same people would have been more ethical had they been atheists, I don’t see the relevance of this point.

        • The Great Antagonizer

          Your points are all correct. I can’t say for certain I know what was going on in Hitler’s mind. But, ironically, this is my point: nobody can claim with certainty that Hitler was an atheist considering the amount of evidence that runs counter to that opinion. So, you said you fail to see the relevance of this point. Check out the pastor’s original claim: 100,000,000 people were killed by secularism. Considering the amount of deaths at the hands of the nazis, showing that, at the least, we are unsure of what the regime’s religious stance was. The pastor’s death count is therefore questional at best.

        • Debilis

          I still don’t see the point. Quite a few people were killed at the hands of officially atheist governments (100 million is a common estimate for the number of deaths due to communist regimes). So, I don’t think Hitler’s personal beliefs impact this greatly.

          So long as we are clear that this is not to say that all secular people are evil, but simply that secularism cannot be said to automatically be good, this seems a very reasonable point to make.

        • The Great Antagonizer

          I agree. When I find out someone is religious, although I know all the terribly evil things that religious people have done, I don’t think that all religious people are evil. Some may even be nice!

        • The Great Antagonizer

          Also, I never talked about the roots of fascism. I said that the Catholic Church and Fascism functioned as the same entity. They had the same goals, so they acted jointly.

    • Debilis

      Yes, I’d be perfectly happy to leave that fact lie, if only the atheists I encounter would stop insisting that atheism is inherently more peaceful than belief in God.

  • indytony

    It is very true that false optimism of secularism is dangerous.

    I just heard of a play showing locally – a “dark comedy” about a husband and wife who, rather than work on their relationship, produce clones in an effort to achieve the “perfect marriage”.

  • Arkenaten

    People have committed atrocities since time immemorial, but only the religious kill in the name of their god.
    Moses acted on explicit instructions from your god, as did Joshua and he committed genocide.
    God himself enacted the most heinous genocidal act when he unleashed the flood.
    Not even Stalin or Pol Pot could have done a ‘better’ job than your god.
    Truly, Christians ought to seriously think twice before they post such diatribe.
    Yahweh/Yashua and his cohorts beat any regular sociopathic megalomaniac
    hands down.
    When it comes to murder, you are right, Christ/God is king – no argument there, my friend.

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