Playing tit for tat with the Inquisition

Writing for the Hartford Courant, an Episcopal priest named Borden Painter accuses Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris of Ignoring Centurys [sic] Godless Atrocities.

Dawkins offers an answer to the query “What about Hitler and Stalin? Werent they atheists?” He dodges the issue by maintaining that Hitler was in some sense religious and that Stalins atheism never motivated his brutality or the policies of his regime.

That assertion ignores the historical record. Stalin conducted savage persecutions of believers in the name of scientific atheism, frequently setting up museums of atheism in churches.

This is a typical Christian response to the problem of Christianity’s bloody history. “Oh yeah? Well so-and-so was just as bad, and he was an atheist, so there!” The only trouble is, atheism isn’t a something, it’s a lack of something, namely a lack of belief in God. Pointing out that Stalin did not believe in God is like pointing out that he didn’t eat Jello. Stalin did what he did because he was Stalin, not because he was an atheist. He was a political power, trying to rule over a land that had a long history of church-sponsored political intrigues, and he treated the church the same way he treated any other political threat.

Not to say that Stalin was theologically neutral towards the church, of course. Naturally, as an atheistic despot, he probably enjoyed wreaking havoc in the sanctuary. But here’s the difference between Stalin’s reign of terror, and the Inquisition’s reign of terror: Atheism isn’t supposed to fill you with an almighty, supernatural Holy Spirit that guides you in the ways of truth and righteousness. Christianity is.

Comparing state-sponsored persecution under atheists like Stalin and similar persecutions under the church, we see two things really. One, people are people, and some people are going to abuse power when they get it. But the second and more important point is that such abuses are going to happen whether the person is religious or not. Religion makes no difference whatsoever. It’s not that atheists are necessarily better than Christians, but that Christians, who allegedly have the uplifting influence of God, are no better than atheists.

Just one more way in which reality documents the absence of God from the real world.

 
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The double standard of Christian supremacists

From the NYC-area Post Chronicle, we have a longish protest against Hindu prayer in the Senate that does a good job of exposing they double standard used by Christian supremacists:

It shows complete disrespect when a prayer is recited in the halls of our government that is not of the Christian faith. Granted, this hasn’t been the first time that a non-Christian prayer has been recited in the Senate (a Muslim prayer was offered in 1992), but nevertheless, respect should be given to the majority Christians who live in our country.

Did you catch that? Christian supremacists demand “respect” for their beliefs, and the only way we can show them that respect is to refuse to allow other religions to have the same access to the Senate podium that Christianity has. They don’t want equal respect or equal time or equal access. They want nothing less than a full and unquestioned monopoly on the public expression of religion–their religion.

Interestingly, this long screed was published, not in the Editorial/Opinion section of the Post Chronicle, but in the Religion section. What does that tell you about the PC?

 
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Measuring success

A writer for IndyStar.com suggests an interesting way to measure the success of Bush’s “faith-based” initiatives:

Perhaps the success of Bush’s idea is revealed in some statistics that Hein offered his audience last week. Of the 50 states, 33 governors have established some kind of office to enlist faith-based groups in a war on crime or poverty or drugs. Another 100 mayors have set up similar offices.

Isn’t that interesting? The article highlights programs designed to keep prison inmates from becoming repeat offenders after they get out of jail. So what standard do we use to measure the effectiveness of “faith-based” initiatives in reducing crime by ex-cons? Do we measure a reduction in arrests? Court cases? Convictions? Reported crimes? No, we count how many other political opportunists join the president in violating the part of the Constitution that mentions not passing laws “respecting the establishment of religion.”

It isn’t about producing practical results. It’s about pumping up the numbers for political purposes. And of course funneling tax dollars into church coffers.

 
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Faith and superstition in times of crisis

Yahoo! News has a story about the church’s reaction to the Minnesota bridge collapse. As usual, the Christian response to sudden disaster is a mixture of superstition and pragmatic compassion.

At Holy Rosary Church in Minneapolis, the faithful thanked God for the “angels” who rescued 50 terrified children from a school bus when the span collapsed Wednesday…

“The thing I always think about is if we were seconds ahead or seconds behind, we could’ve been under the bridge or in the water. It makes me feel lucky I’m still alive,” said Elfego Vences Jr., 16, who was on the bus with his 13-year-old brother and 12-year-old sister…

The Rev. Jim Barnett said that the church considers the survival of its children a miracle, and that the service was designed in part to help them heal.

The superstitious part is obvious: a bridge collapses, and some people die, but others survive. Once it’s over, believers retroactively give God credit for deciding to save the children on the school bus that fell (and thus implying that He also decided not to have the same kind of mercy on those who died). Notice there was no miraculous intervention here. The bus was caught in traffic, and stayed where it was. It didn’t magically poof a few feet ahead just before the bridge fell, nor did it magically zap back far enough to be out of harm’s way. It happened to be where it was, and it stayed there. The circumstances allowed its passengers to survive, and the Christians retroactively gave God credit for their survival, and arbitrarily decided not to blame Him for the deaths of those that did not survive.

I think the more important story here, however, is that Christians also decided to use this church service “in part to help [the children] heal” from the trauma of their experiences. That’s a good thing and it’s also a very human thing. There’s nothing in the Bible about “here’s a service you can hold that will help young victims recover from emotional trauma.” People have made this sort of thing up, based on their experiences. They framed it in the context of a superstitious ritual, true, but their goal is certainly respectable. I hope those kids do recover quickly from the shock and distress they’ve experienced.

 
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Not seeing the forest OR the trees

In an interview on Pat Robertson’s CBN network, Chuck Colson presents an interesting perspective on why America became disenchanted enough with Republicans to put Democrats in power: it’s because the Republicans failed to make deep enough cuts in the government:

“There’s so much to government today. It’s so incredibly complex.

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Faith-based initiative backfires | csmonitor.com

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” seem to have backfired.

Bush predicted that his faith-based initiative would be his great legacy. And it does send an estimated $2 billion to religious charities…The initiative did leave another legacy: It gave spirituality a bad name in social-service circles.

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