Is Stalin Really the Best Example?

Ok, now for the other side of the argument. Why do Christians pull out Stalin as a prima facie example of atheism and all atheist beliefs? Like the Hitler example, Christians assume that if you are not Christian (i.e. atheist) you must automatically be a violent, unethical tyrant. Read this article from Books and Culture in which the author asks the question,

if all religions are fundamentally mistaken about the thing that most concerns them, then why are human beings everywhere and in every time so overwhelmingly religious? Why is this mistake—which many, perhaps most, atheists think catastrophic—so nearly universal?

It’s a good question, however, one that’s easily answered. Humans universally turn to religion because humans are communal animals. They fear being alone. So when humans are truly alone, without a community, they turn to a Being that will never leave them. It’s the perfect imaginary playmate. (Read Feuerbach please). This Being fills our needs and does whatever we want or perceive. Our minds provide the parameters. But that’s not the point I want to make. I want to take issue with something Alan Jacobs says later in the article:

So here’s where I’m headed with this thought experiment: if the evolutionary account of religious belief that many atheists are now promoting is correct, then atheists don’t have much of a future. Their own arguments, plus some elementary demographic data, show that their position cannot become dominant. The only real chance that atheism has to flourish is if it’s wrong. If the Christian anthropology, for instance, happens to be true, then we will expect people to rebel against God, to act in violation of his will. But we will also expect them not to want to admit that that’s what they’re doing. So they will try to argue that their actions, however sinful, however violent, intolerant, and cruel, are somehow in keeping with God’s will. But eventually the cognitive dissonance of that position is likely to become too much for them, at which point they might find—like that one-time Russian Orthodox seminarian Josef Stalin—that the easier path is simply to deny the existence of the God who otherwise would be their Judge.

Did you catch that? Atheists are automatically geared toward violence, intolerance, and cruelty according to Jacobs. Say what???? Notice he doesn’t say if some atheists act like this, because frankly I know of many Christians, Muslims, and Jews who act violent, intolerant, and cruel, no he ASSUMES atheists will act like this.  It’s this automatic assumption on both sides of the argument about how the other will act that really convinces me that this type of straw man attempt has to stop.  Jacobs thinks he’s got atheism by the short hairs by asking, “What’s the evolutionary reason for atheism?” (paraphrase mine) But that’s the absurd position always taken by believers in a deity. It’s not up to people who don’t believe in the supernatural to prove that there is nothing there. We are all born WITHOUT beliefs in the supernatural. Religion’s dogmas and doctrines have to be taught. It’s not automatic. So, it’s basically up to those who see such phenomena to prove that there is something there, specifically gods or “God.” Just like UFOs, Bigfoot, and other things that people claim to see but can’t back up with tangible evidence, the religious are not exempt from proving that the gods exist no matter how hard they scream to the contrary.

I contend that the supernatural cannot, nor will it ever, be proven. I disagree with atheists who claim religion is evolutionary. I believe faith is evolutionary, as all emotions are. Faith is an emotion we all need (like hope and love) to cope with circumstances beyond our control in the environment. It’s a defense mechanism against the accumulated cruelties of disasters, murders, and other life events. On the other hand, religions are merely social institutions created by people who are basically social creatures and want to congregate together for safety. Religions are no more necessary to our survival than grocery stores are.  But I digress. Using single incidents of aberrant nature (i.e. Stalin, Hitler) to extrapolate outward and prove a point about social groups is absurd.  (For example, using a heterosexual marriage as THE only model for society, etc.) Single instances of persons gone wrong is much more complicated than such band-aid theories provide as explanation and involves genetics, socialization, psychology, and brain chemistry.  A sociopath does not make the entire family crazy or murderous. A Hitler who claims to be Christian doesn’t negate Christianity, an Osama bin Laden doesn’t negate Islam, and Stalin certainly doesn’t negate atheism. Let’s get off it already!!!


3 thoughts on “Is Stalin Really the Best Example?

  1. I’ve taken your question one step further in my blogging. What if God is just an imaginary playmate for us? (Probably not the kind of thing to say when Rosh Hashanah is starting in a few hours, but oh well, I posted it months ago now.)

    I guess I’d have to question the being born blank slates though. Some of us seemed destined to be religious, some not. In my family we were all raised fundie Christian. One is an atheist, one was a missionary, one is a fundie deacon in his church, two go/went to church now and again, and I converted to Judaism. I hated Christianity for as far back as I can remember. For a few years I tried to fit in as an adult, but it was like poison to me even as I always felt a pull to God. That’s not rational at all. I hated God, yet I yearned to connect to God. When I converted to Judaism it all made sense. A Jewish soul would find Christianity revolting while still longing for God. Where did I get that soul? I had to be born with it. I was never exposed to Judaism until I sought it out on my own. It was only after I began exploring Judaism that I found out about my mother’s mother.

    Today I take out my Rosh Hashanah plates to be used in celebrating this yontif, the plates which belonged to my mother’s mother’s mother and are now back in Jewish hands after all these years. So, I can’t agree with the blank slate. Too many other Jewish converts just like me. My story isn’t unique.

    That said, I think people fall across the spectrum because all are needed. Atheists have their role in the world as do the fundies, even if the rest of us get annoyed at the extremes. If they would all just be content with their roles and stop trying to convince the rest of us…..I have taught my sons to never laugh about someone else’s passion for causes which are of no interest to them. If we all focused on the same things, who would take care of everything else? We all SHOULD have different interests, different drives. How else will ALL the world be repaired? But, sometimes it’s really hard to be accepting of the extremes.

    There are bad examples to be found in every group. I think the thing that annoys me is when groups refuse to claim their nut cases and evil doers. There are good Jews, there are bad Jews, there are wonderful examples of what it means to follow Judaism, there are horrible examples. There are good atheists and bad atheists, good Christians and bad Christians. My complaint with Christianity in this is that the bad are always brushed aside as ‘not real Christians’. To me, that’s a cop out. Instead of talking about the evil that’s been done in ‘the name of Christianity’, I’d like to see a Christian admit the evil that’s been done by Christians period I’d like to see someone say they don’t understand how someone can be a Christian and do these things, but since none of us know the heart of another, we have to accept that sometimes this does happen. The rest of us have to do that. We have to deal with the good and the bad in ourselves, and in our co-religionists.

    I suppose it’s that dualist POV which we don’t have in Judaism though. For us, God is one, rather than parts, God is not in a fight against evil. God created good, God created evil. God contains good, God contains evil. We also contain both. Christianity has a dualistic view of God fighting against evil so I suppose it makes sense to divide into two camps instead of looking for this division within individual Christians.

    But, what do I know. It’s not my religion and never was in spite of the label I once wore. I just see complaints about the church being so phony, unauthentic, a place where people have to pretend and cannot be themselves. To me, that’s a natural outcome of not being able to embrace all of Christianity, all of Christians, all of what a person is, whether someone is a good example, a piss poor example, or the very antithesis of what Christianity should be. JMO.

    Need to get busy here. Yontif quickly approaches. I hope no one takes my words as any attack, I’m just thinking as I type about things I read, things people tell me. Religions interest me, the whys of it all interest me. But, probably I shouldn’t have even commented today. If I have offended anyone, my sincere apologies.


  2. Yael,

    They are good points to make. I don’t believe in the blank slate idea either. I think I believe in half a slate. The genetics we inherit from our parents, their parents, etc. is hardwired into our families and into us, hence why there are geniuses in music and arts from the beginning. So in this sense, no one is “blank.” However, like Steven Pinker’s excellent book, The Blank Slate, I believe in no specific a priori knowledge of a spiritual nature. I believe in a GENERAL disposition towards spiritual things. But I don’t think everyone has access to some kind of spiritual database at birth.

    In other words, like you I inherited a spiritual line from my parents’ parents. All my grandfathers on my mother’s side were Baptist preachers. Is it any wonder I wander toward the Baptist faith? No, that’s the mystery. I believe some people are born sociopaths. They can’t help it, there’s a bad gene or chromosome too many somewhere.

    As for owning up to a group’s bad people, I’m all on board with that. Christians should acknowledge the harm they’ve done, as should any group or system when the harm outweighs the good. Many progressive Christians have done admitted Christianity’s culpability in past evils. No, it’s usually the hardliners, the fundamentalists of every stripe that see no possibility of their ever having been wrong. They only expect OTHERS to change to fit their vision, not the other way around. Those are the ones we have to worry about.

    Good thoughts!

  3. Half a slate is a good image. We start with something but there are many other factors which determine the outcome. I have trouble with the idea that some people are born evil since Judaism teaches that our souls are created pure. But, since everything seems to come with balance, if I hold that I was born with a Jewish soul then wouldn’t I have to allow that others could be born with other souls, perhaps even evil souls? I’ll have to think about that one some more. Perhaps it is what you mentioned, not the soul at all but some physical abnormality, some imbalance in the brain? Of course, then if we believe in an afterlife we would have to allow such people a positive outcome since they couldn’t help themselves? I don’t know. That doesn’t sound right either. Maybe that’s why I don’t hold to an afterlife. I can’t make any sense of it either! This life is complex enough for me.

    Yes, I think you’re right with the Christian fundies being the ones. Now that I think about it, they’re the ones always saying who is and isn’t, was and wasn’t, Christian.

    And now I really do need to be going. Just stopped by briefly on my way out the door.

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