Elementary my dear Sherlock. A response to “The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy — Hitler, Stalin & Pol Pot”

I got somewhat excited when I came across this article. It addresses a topic that I had been thinking about recently. And I was hoping for an argument that might rip me. Unfortunately, it fell flat. Here are just a few of the reasons.

I think it’s contradictory for an atheist to blame another atheist (Stalin) on his religious background for his atrocities, when it is not acceptable for religious person to do the same. Furthermore, an implication of such an argument is that atheists can always blame their religious heritage for their mis-deeds.

We seem to forget that origins of the word religion comes from a Latin word meaning to “revere.” Its history is one where authors use it to distinguish “religion” from “true religion.” The most famous example of this is the reformation: Catholic = false religion; Protestant = true religion (see Sloterdijk’s You must Change Your Life). In this sense, yes, most atheists do indeed revere science.

(I will use the term “religious” in the current sense of the word in the rest of the post)

If Stalin’s atrocities were basically religious in nature, then does this mean that every professed atheist that commits violence is susceptible to being maligned as religious by the New Atheists? What’s the point, then, of claiming you’re an atheist if all your crimes will disqualify you as being an atheist? Here we are right back at another accusation by New Atheists: “Religious people are not honest with themselves.” The accusation goes both ways.

I agree that the numbers game (“you too”) is a bad way to argue for many reasons. And I agree that “It is at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct.” This is true: responsibility needs to present in these discussion. However. Because Sherlock seems to think that the very way religion operates is oppressive, he cannot bring himself to the say that “belief in X does not necessarily lead to atrocities.”

Many New Atheists (including Sherlock) cling to an optimism that if religions ceased to exist, the world would necessarily become a better place. Many religious people think this is the case with their religion as well. This is obviously no different from saying: “Well, I’m right. If everyone would just listen to me, things would be better.”

Again, there is a forgetting that the Secular is so thoroughly saturated by the religious (see A Secular Age by C. Taylor).

The New Atheist movement often claims to be a movement that is in a state of wonder, and in awe of the universe. A state that claims not to have all the answers, a free investigation. But again and again it shows itself to be a caricature of what Maritain called a positive atheism in the mid-20th century; Merleau-Ponty writes: “‘It is an active combat against everything that suggests God, an ‘antitheism,’ an act of inverted faith,’ a ‘refusal’ of God,’ a ‘defiance against God.’ This antitheism certainly exists, but since it is an inverted theology, it is not a philosophy, and by focusing the whole discussion on it, one shows perhaps that it holds locked up within itself the very theology it is attacking” ( In Praise of Philosophy).

About JoeL

I completed a Master of Music degree from McGill University. I am currently working towards an Artist Diploma also at McGill. I like to do philosophy as a hobby.

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