Sunday, March 23, 2014

Peter Hitchens: Atheism the basis for murder and persecution.

Peter Hitchens performs interesting contortions in his tabloid article 'Atheism Kills, Persecutes and Destroys. Wicked Things are Done in its Name.'  In a subsequent exchange with Jerry Coyne, Hitchens summaries his article:
My point is narrow. It is that the Bolsheviks pursued a specifically atheist policy, because of the atheism which was a central part of their belief system. They issued and enforced decrees against religion, of mounting severity and extent. They sponsored a specifically atheist movement which destroyed churches, persecuted priests and mocked the Christian religion in public places. They destroyed, plundered and demolished churches as acts of deliberate and open state policy.  
I think it undeniable that these policies and actions are evidence of two things. One, that atheism has in human history been an active belief , held by powerful people; and two, that it has been the theoretical basis for measurable actions of violence, murder, destruction, censorship, persecution and theft.
Historically Christians eradicated heresies and rival sects with fire and steel, colonized continents and maintained their control through persecution and censorship. Peter of course appreciates the complexity of these issues. Writing in 'Rage Against God' he claims the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Israeli are motivated by land and tribalism, not religion. But here complexity is abandoned in his strange quest to attribute an 'active positive history' to atheism.

The Bolshevik unforgiving attitude towards religion was conditioned by the  Orthodox Church's support of Tsarism and the oppression of the masses for the benefit of a privileged few. With an annual income of 150,000,000 rubles from 7.5 million acres of land, the Church was one of the largest and wealthiest organizations in Russia with a vested interest in maintaining in the status quo. Their clergy directly aided the Tasarist Secret Service in identifying and capturing members of the revolution, a betrayal the Roman Catholic church would mimic in Franco's Spain.

After the massacre of the St. Petersburg workers by the Tsar’s troops in 1905 the Holy Synod (the governing body of the Church) issued a proclamation denouncing certain “evil-minded persons” who “lead others into useless death without repentance, with bitterness in their hearts and curses on their lips”. “Our enemies,” stated the Synod, “wish to shake the foundations of our orthodox faith and the autocratic power of the Tsars… Fear God, honour the Tsar…submit to every power ordained of God… Toil according to God’s ordinance in the sweat of the brow.” [link]

It's difficult to see what, if anything, this has to do with atheism. Bolsheviks followed a strange blend of scientific Marxist materialism which concluded religion was the tool of the ruling class and an enemy of the people. Scientific atheism become the tool the Bolsheviks deployed to engineer a cultural transformation from a Christian to a Marxist worldview. Atheism was not the "theoretical basis" for their actions; it was the means to destroy an ideological and political enemy.

If atheism possessed a positive element then we should expect all self-identified atheists to hold this positive element. We should expect the representative Western atheist to support "violence, murder, destruction, censorship, persecution and theft." But they do not. Rather they support 'bourgeois liberalism' - political freedom, social contracts, human rights, freedom of religion and constitutional democracy.

Peters Hitchens own explanations are unconvincing. It's impossible to take seriously claims of Bolshevik atheism as "a denial of God" which "viewed God as a rival" and who "set themselves up as their own source of good, and cannot tolerate any rival to their own beliefs." In the polarized imagination of Hitchens, atheism is anthropomorphized into an aggressive monster driven by prideful, disillusional fury to destroy civilized restrains imposed by God:
The  exasperating and yet comically unshakeable conviction (held by Mr ‘Bunker’)  that the assertion of atheism is not a positive statement, that it is a mere passive absence, is directly contradicted by the death-dealing, violently destructive, larcenous and aggressively propagandist application of their own passionate and positive atheism by the Soviet authorities, as soon as they had the power to put their beliefs into action.  If atheism is merely an absence, why on earth should it need to do these things to those who did not share its allegedly passive, non-invasive beliefs? (emphasis mine)
The monster has a name; it is known as Bolshevism. Appending these ideological convictions onto atheism merges the essences of both and shatters the law of identity.

-> Original Article
-> Jerry Coyne's responce
-> Law of Identity
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