Apr 7, 2016

Militant Reason

via Radish

Men are moved most by their religion; especially when it is irreligion. --G. K. Chesterton
The need for religion appears to be hard-wired in the human animal. Certainly the behaviour of secular humanists supports this hypothesis. --John Gray
Our Irreligious friend, the great Humanist philosopher A. C. Grayling, takes primatologist Frans de Waal to task for being “too tolerant of religion” in de Waal’s new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates (2013). Doesn’t he realize these people are the enemy? For God’s sake, isn’t he a Humanist?
He [de Waal] is himself an atheist, he tells us; as an educated scientific Dutchman from secular Europe where religion is a minority if sometimes noisy sport, what else could he be? But he does not like the “new atheists,” and takes the view that religion, though false, has a role, and should be left alone.
Why, he asks, are the “new atheists” evangelical about their cause? “Why would atheists turn messianic?” He cannot see why Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and others attack religion and believers, and why they robustly and even aggressively argue the case for atheism. […]
Well: here is the answer to de Waal’s question. Some atheists are evangelical because religious claims about the universe are false, because children are brainwashed into the ancient superstitions of their parents and communities, because many religious organisations and movements have been and continue to be anti-science, anti-gays and anti-women, because even if people are no longer burned at the stake they are still stoned to death for adultery, murdered for being “witches” or abortion doctors, blown up in large numbers for being Shias instead of Sunnis [my emphasis]… One could go on at considerable length about the divisions, conflicts, falsehoods, coercions, disruptions, miseries and harm done by religion, though the list should be familiar; except, evidently, to de Waal.
(Muslims, Muslims, Muslims, primitive tribes, and a total of four dead abortionists.)
Their militancy — for such indeed it sometimes is, for the good reasons sketched above — is about secularism, not metaphysics; it is about the place of the religious voice in education and the public square where it is at best an irrelevance and at worst a cancer.
Only think: the dates of English school and university spring terms are set according to when Easter falls, and the date of Easter is set by the phases of the moon — this in the 21st century! This seemingly trivial point is the tip of an iceberg of the way that the superstitions of our prehistoric ancestors still distort lives today.
Well, at least he isn’t melting any church bells. By the way, according to Mr. Grayling, until very recently it was impossible for an Atheist to be “militant” (2011):
“And besides, really,” he [Grayling] adds with a withering little laugh, “how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don’t collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It’s like sleeping furiously. It’s just wrong.”
Grayling, by the way, non-stamp collector that he is, identifies religious instruction as “a serious form of child abuse,” which “sows the seeds of apartheids” whose “logical conclusion” is “murder and war” (2003). “There is no greater social evil than religion. It is the cancer in the body of humanity.” Organized religion “is the most Satanic of all things.” Grayling considers religion “worse than an irrelevance as regards the inculcation of morality” — “not just irrelevant but dangerous,” with “less than nothing to offer proper moral debate” (2003). And he’s considered moderate (2007):
For some years, AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins have been the good cop/bad cop of anti-religious thought. Dawkins publicly fights fire with fire, while Grayling has opted for a gentler advocacy of humanist values. But now, in Against All Odds, a little collection of his reworked newspaper essays, a distinct note of exasperation has crept in. “If the tone of the polemics here seems combative,” Grayling writes, “it is because the contest between religious and non-religious outlooks is such an important one, a matter literally of life and death, and there can be no temporising.”
Not to be confused with militance (G. Wolf, 2006):
The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.
When atheists finally begin to gain some power, what then? […] The atheist movement, by his lights, has no choice but to aggressively spread the good news. Evangelism is a moral imperative. Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.
“How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”
Ah, yes, Dawkins: a self-proclaimed “fairly militant atheist” (1994).

At a “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C., Dawkins urges the crowd to “ridicule and show contempt” for religion (2012). “I despise what they stand for.”

Religion is a “virus of the mind” — “a powerful infection” (1991). “Am I unduly alarmist to fear for the soul of my six-year-old innocent?”

Faith is a “delusion” (obviously), mass “insanity,” “anti-human,” a “vice” and “a form of mental abuse” (God Delusion), which leaves us “open to exploitation by priests, politicians and kings.” To oppose it “nearly always indicates… a healthy mind.”

Christianity is hopelessly entangled with the “American right,” whose “typical” “ambition” is to achieve “a Christian fascist state.” Beware “the menace of the Christian Taliban,” for “no observer of the American political scene… can afford to be sanguine.” This is “war,” religion is the “enemy” and a “force for evil,” which may “drive” us “to paroxysms of hatred” or even “nuclear war” — and yet a weak-willed “appeasement lobby,” or “Neville Chamberlain school,” consorts with “sympathetic Christians.”

But the so-called “right to be Christian” amounts to “the right to poke your nose into other people’s private lives,” creating “discrimination against homosexuals” and “hatred of women, modernity, … and pleasure.” Without faith, “no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades” (bit of an odd juxtaposition).

In short, there are two kinds of people in the world: “liberal, enlightened, decent people,” on the one hand; and the “bullying, narrow-minded, bossy” “extremists,” on the other, whose “absolutism” “nearly always results from strong religious faith.”

“Faith is an evil” — but don’t worry! “I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers.”

I think you get the picture.

We turn now to Russia’s Iron Age, by William Henry Chamberlin (1934):
One of the most novel and distinctive features of the Soviet régime is its determination to root out every form of religious faith in the vast territory under its sway. There have been many instances in history when one form of religion cruelly persecuted all others; but in Russia the world is witnessing the first effort to destroy completely any belief in supernatural interpretation of life. […]
During the Iron Age every militant feature of Communism became greatly intensified; and antireligious activity was no exception to this rule. Propaganda effort was redoubled. The limited liberties which were granted to religious organizations in the milder years of the New Economic Policy have been withdrawn or greatly curtailed — in fact, if not in name. It is now a real test of physical courage, of willingness to endure hardship and persecution, to be known as an active believer in any form of religion. To be a priest or a minister during the Iron Age was to be engaged in a still more dangerous profession than that of the engineer, the economist, or the agricultural expert.
All the familiar potent instruments of Communist propaganda have been brought into play for the purpose of making religious faith of any kind […] appear at once infamous and ridiculous. The basic tenets of religion, its ministers and practitioners, are ridiculed in cartoons, caricatures, posters, and moving-picture performances, denounced in books and magazines, satirized on the stage, held up to scorn and opprobrium in the antireligious museums which have now been installed in many of the most famous Russian churches and monasteries.
I was once an unnoticed witness of a characteristic episode in the unremitting drive against religion. The scene was the Moscow office of the Union of Militant Atheists. A discomfited photographer was receiving a severe reprimand from one of the officials of the organization. The photographer had been taking pictures of some sectarian artisans, and the official was quite disgusted because the photographs revealed nothing scandalous or incriminating. “You must show them exploiting hired labor or doing something that will discredit them,” he told the photographer. “But I didn’t see them doing anything of the kind,” was the plaintive reply of the taker of pictures, who had evidently been imperfectly grounded in the principles of “class photography.”
One of the most widespread and successful weapons in the campaign for universal atheism is the antireligious museum. When I entered Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in Leningrad, a solid and massive piece of architecture, with huge pillars of Olonetz granite, heavy bronze doors, gilded dome, and richly ornamented interior, I found an incongruous combination of the traditional religious background of bas-reliefs and paintings depicting sacred scenes and the numerous exhibits of antireligious propaganda which have been scattered through the edifice.
Just above a collection of religious books in Old Slavonic which have been preserved in the Cathedral was a text from the works of the Communist prophet, Lenin, to the effect that the purpose of religion is “to justify exploitation and to give a reduced-price ticket to heaven.” Near by was the following citation from Karl Marx: “The destruction of religion, the phantom happiness of the people, is a necessary condition for their real happiness.” Another quotation from Lenin was to the effect that all oppressing classes require the executioner and the priest.
The attacks on religion in the depths and recesses of this vast cathedral were carried on with a variety of methods. The Orthodox Church was depicted as an upholder of serfdom and an oppressor of the people. Baptists and other evangelical Russian sects were displayed in photographs, with accompanying accounts endeavoring to show that such groups had always been counter-revolutionary and anti-Soviet.
In the former Strastnoy Monastery in Moscow and in other antireligious museums throughout the country the indictment of religion is hammered in, the attack proceeding along three main lines. First, there is the effort to prove that religion, in all its forms, has always been the enemy of the oppressed classes, especially of the workers. Second, there is an attack through the agency of natural science. Especially for the benefit of the peasants, who were formerly taught to regard natural phenomena as miracles, there is a systematic effort to give an antireligious turn to the most elementary facts of natural science.
Finally, there is a steady effort to represent religious belief of any sort as a kind of disloyalty on the part of the Soviet citizen. Red streamers with such slogans as, “Religion Is Incompatible with Socialism,” and “Priests and Sectarians: an Obstacle to the Fulfillment of the Five-Year Plan,” are frequently displayed on public buildings and on the streets.
It goes without saying that any representation of religion in fiction, on the stage, or in moving pictures must be derogatory; and some special atheistic plays and films have been produced. […]
Churches and religious organizations are quite unable to reply to the enormous flood of violent, defamatory antireligious propaganda which rolls over the country year after year. The year 1929, which may be regarded as the first year of the Iron Age, witnessed a significant change of the Soviet Constitution and a still more significant change of Soviet administrative practice as regards religious organizations. […]
An authoritative interpretation of the significance of this alteration of the Soviet Constitution makes the points that the law now does not permit either “the winning of new groups of toilers, especially children as adherents of religion,” or “any kind of propagandist and agitation activity on the part of church and religious people.” In other words, no church representative, no individual believer, may reply in speech or in writing to the attacks on religion in the numerous antireligious publications and in the antireligious museums. […]
Priests and ministers of all religions in the Soviet Union have always been classified with criminals and insane persons in so far as they were disfranchised and deprived of civic rights. […]
Apart from these social and economic hardships any priest is in danger of being exiled by administrative order; and this statement is also true for persons who are conspicuously active in church affairs, such as members of the council which exists in every church and must represent the church in its dealings with the authorities. Very considerable numbers of priests have been exiled during the Iron Age; and not a few have been executed. Before the peasant resistance to collectivization had been crushed, first by the wholesale “liquidation” of the kulaks, then by the great famine of 1932–1933, there were many murders of especially hated Communist rural officials and organizers; and the regular Soviet judicial practice in such cases was to execute not only the actual perpetrators of the murder, but also anyone who could plausibly be represented as a moral instigator. The local priest often fell into this last category.
This, of course, could never happen with modern-day Militant Atheism.

Faith is a “virus,” reports our jovial, bearded “Bright,” Daniel Dennett (2005); like “the common cold” (2013). He stands “appalled” by a “retrograde gang” of wayward philosophers who, in spite of all our “progress,” “stubbornly” continue “to play around with outmoded ideas like morality and sometimes even the soul” (2013).
It’s sickening. And they lure in other people. And their work isn’t worth anything — it’s cute and it’s clever and it’s not worth a damn.
Not only worthless, but downright dangerous: “If religion isn’t the greatest threat to rationality and scientific progress, what is?” Emphasis mine (2008):
It used to be the case that we tended to excuse drunk drivers when they crashed because they weren’t entirely in control of their faculties at the time, but now we have wisely inverted that judgment, holding drunk drivers doubly culpable for putting themselves in that irresponsible position in the first place. It is high time we inverted the public attitude about religion as well, finding all socially destructive acts of religious passion shameful, not honourable, and holding those who abet them — the preachers and other apologists for religious zeal — as culpable as the bartenders and negligent hosts who usher dangerous drivers on to the highways. […]
Not just rationality and scientific progress, but just about everything else we hold dear could be laid waste by a single massively deluded “sacramental” act. True, you don’t have to be religious to be crazy, but it helps. Indeed, if you are religious, you don’t have to be crazy in the medically certifiable sense in order to do massively crazy things. And — this is the worst of it — religious faith can give people a sort of hyperbolic confidence, an utter unconcern about whether they might be making a mistake, that enables acts of inhumanity that would otherwise be unthinkable.
If you have a taste for kick boxing or heavy metal bands, that’s your business. Knock yourself out, as we say, it’s only a game. Not so with religion. Its arena includes not just the participants but all of life on the planet. […]
The better is enemy of the best: religion may make many people better, but it is preventing them from being as good as they could be.
Faith “enables acts of inhumanity” — as opposed to, um, let’s say Rationality, which never enabled any such thing — right? So tear down the churches; lock up the “preachers and other apologists” — the moral instigators, one might say; ban all public displays of religion, which are “preventing” The People “from being as good as they could be”; and Scientific Progress will rule the day at last! Look, I don’t mean to misrepresent the man — I mean, I am reading that correctly, aren’t I (2010)?
I also look forward to the day when pastors who abuse the authority of their pulpits by misinforming their congregations about science, about public health, about global warming [my emphasis], about evolution must answer to the charge of dishonesty. Telling pious lies to trusting children is a form of abuse, plain and simple. If quacks and bunko artists can be convicted of fraud for selling worthless cures, why not clergy for making their living off unsupported claims of miracle cures and the efficacy of prayer?
(Leading Ophelia Benson, Positive Atheist, to conclude that the “free exercise” of religion “is a very problematic little item” (2010). Could I make this stuff up?)
The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all. I don’t see bankers or stockbrokers wringing their hands because the media is biased against them; they know that their recent activities have earned them an unwanted place in the spotlight of public attention and criticism, and they get no free pass, especially given their power.
Bankers! Speculators! Priests! The power of the counter-revolutionaries.
Once more from Russia’s Iron Age:
There is an especially vigorous atheistic propaganda among school children; and any teacher who, because of indifference or secret sympathy with religious faith, is lax in this field is liable to be dismissed. Important religious holidays, especially Christmas, are regular occasions for outbursts of antireligious agitation.
The effort to make Russian school children imbibe hatred and contempt with their A B C’s, or rather with their A B V’s, to use the Russian order of the letters, takes the form of an antireligious alphabet, in which every letter is illustrated with an atheistic slogan, accompanied by vivid pictorial representations. The letter B, for instance, is printed on a sheet showing a red broom sweeping out the Bible and the ikons, accompanied by the appeal: “Bros’tye, bratsi, boyatsya bogov” (“Give up, brothers, fearing gods”).
The powerful combination of propaganda and terrorism has wrought considerable changes in religious faith, as in other fields of Soviet life. Under such strong pressure only persons with deep-rooted religious conviction tend to hold out, along with some of the older people who cannot give up the habit of going to church or of crossing themselves before the ikon. But the neutral, the passive, the indifferent, tend to drift away from religion under the Soviet state creed of atheism, just as they would profess religious faith under a strongly clerical régime. Very typical of this tendency was the simple remark of the wife of a Kolomna worker with whom I talked:
“Before the Revolution everyone told me that I ought to go to church, so I went. Now everyone tells me that I shouldn’t go, so I don’t.”
(And yet “there is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.” I mean, duh.)
The youth has been brought up in an atmosphere of contempt and abhorrence for religion; and when one makes every allowance for the occasional counteracting influence of a religious family there seems little doubt that the majority of the Soviet younger generation, even those who do not belong to the Union of Communist Youth, are indifferent, if not actively hostile, to every form of religion.
Russia seems committed to the experiment of discovering whether a purely materialistic conception of life can permanently satisfy a large and varied population. If the experiment does not succeed, if the traditional craving of the individual for some extra-worldly interpretation of existence proves too strong to be permanently repressed, a revival of religion, perhaps in some form which cannot be foreseen at the present time, may occur. If, on the other hand, Communism proves able to function as a substitute for older creeds, it may well be that during the coming decades belief in religion will become uncommon, as much a sign of an independent and unconventional mind as skepticism or atheism would have been in the Middle Ages, when the whole weight of the existing political and social order was thrown in favor of religion, as it is now, in the Soviet Union, thrown against it.
What a wonderful symmetry.

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