Home > atheism, religion > Atheist Perspective: Revisiting the Stalin argument–Red Team ish

Atheist Perspective: Revisiting the Stalin argument–Red Team ish

“Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.” Lucretius–DRN 101<meta http-equiv=”X-Frame-Options” content=”DENY” />//

“So potent was superstition in persuading to evil deeds.”

I posted this on my facebook Saturday night, a line by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, a line that Voltaire–that great enemy of religion believed would last until the final breaking of the world, for two reasons. The first being that I believe it to be true, we need only pay attention to the events in the middle east and around the world to see evidence the Lucretius was correct even though the religions causing so much strife now hadn’t even been invented yet. The second being that I had identified the statement by going through the Latin and comparing it to the English. I have little to no language skills, but being an ex-Catholic there is some Latin in my brain. To some it may seem like an easy thing to do, and I commend you if you have the ability but notice that the word “religio” is translated as “superstition.”

Very quickly I earned a response. The response asked me if I would agree that atheists have killed more people than theists, to which I of course would not agree. The commenter then brought up the tired example of Stalin and his 15 million high body count. The Stalin body count which I did not argue with, although I do wonder if that number counts the deaths in wartime against Germany which is a different thing than mass extermination, is often used as an example of the tu qouque fallacy. This is an informal fallacy of argumentation which translates loosely as “you’re another.” As if to say you are just as wrong as me. In this context it meant that Lucretius, in pointing out how religion can be used to compel people to misdeeds neglects to point out that atheism can be used for the same purpose. The commentator takes this fallacy one step further, by saying that Lucretius’ side is actually worse.

The theist in question is aware of the argument and brings up religious travesties by carefully cherry picking his examples limiting them to the Salem witch trials (about 12 deaths, all hanging and not actually in the village of Salem) and the Spanish Inquisition (an unexpected 10,000). He ignores every other example in order to keep the number down, he could have easily included the Crusades. It’s impossible to really know how many people died in them due to the wanton slaughter of civilian populations by both sides–especially during the sack of Jersualem by the Christian side in the first, and only successful Crusade, and it probably still wouldn’t have approached the 15 million number. I’ve mentioned the “Stalin Rebuttal” before, a few years ago to be exact, but it bears revisiting for a couple of reasons.

The first is the obvious: Stalin may have been an atheist but that’s not why he sent so many people to their doom. He didn’t kill in the name of atheism, he killed in the name of Stalinist Russia. He executed swathes of people he viewed to be a threat to his own power, he repeatedly executed military officials when they became too popular much to the detriment of keeping his own territories safe from external threat. If he was truly killing because of his atheism, it’s unlikely that he would have allowed the Russian orthodox church to continue existing. The way the theists portray us, you would think that any organized religion would be the first thing to go, but Stalin allowed the church to go on.

Secondly, as another responder pointed out, it really doesn’t matter. It’s not as if the correct way of looking at the world is based on who has the lower body count. It would put the Raeliens up top since I can find no evidence of them having killed anyone because of their beliefs. The standard cannot be about body count. By the responders own admission he’s got a losing record. Lucretius wasn’t commenting about Christianity (the religion of the first responder), he couldn’t have it is literally impossible as he died about 55 years before Jesus was said to have been born. Lucretius was concerned with all religions, so the collective body count of all religions has to be weighed against the count of atheism. If a religion is based around peace, love, and brotherhood; it shouldn’t matter whether or not atheists have killed people in the name of atheism, what should matter is whether or not the messenger of peace if bringing down the sword. Your message is incorrect when it is self contradictory.

Thirdly, and finally is that I missed the red herring. I can’t speak of whether or not the responder did this intentionally or if it was a mere bi-product of using a cliched argument. Whenever Stalin is mentioned the argument quickly goes toward infamous examples of the deeds of madmen. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Hirohito, etc. What atheists need to remember when confronted with this argument is to first not conceded the point that those Russians died because Stalin’s atheism made him do it, that simply is a false statement; but also not to neglect contemporary and past histories. Religious theism has done its share of harm far beyond the Crusades, the Islamic conquests of Africa, the Japanese invasions of the 1930s, etc. You have to also count the convert or be enslaved mentality of European explorers of the Americas, the legitimization of slavery in the American colonies, the brutal civil wars within religions (Sunni/Shia, Protestant/Catholic, Christian/Christian violence during the later Crusades, etc.). Further Lucretius’ point is not just purposeful killing. Any child that ever died because treatment was ignored in favor of a hopeful wish that the gods would intervene and heal them, such as Christian scientists, religiously vaccine refusal (Polio in the Asian sub-continent, HPV in the American South). Any person that refuses their child treatment is going against their natural duty to their child because of religious superstition; while historically this has been stigmatization of people with diseases because they viewed them as immoral (AIDS in the 70s and 80s, and Syphilis for 5 centuries before that were both viewed as punishment for wanton sexual behavior), the labeling of entire groups of people as “unclean” so that they were below contempt and unworthy of help. These are all examples of what Lucretius was writing about. Exorcisms and force conversions to cure homosexuals were all done in the name of religious taboo. Evil deeds are not just about the bodies but about the lives.

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