Sunday, January 4, 2009

No Society Has Ever Suffered Because Its Population Became Too Reasonable

Sam Harris - Misconceptions About Atheism:

…there's this notion that atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in the 20th century. Now this is actually, it is quite amazing to me, this is the most frequent objection I come across, so I think I should deal with it briefly. It is amazing how many people think that the crimes of Hitler and Pol Pot and Mao were the result of atheism. The truth is that this is a total misconstrual of what went on in those societies, and of the psychological and social forces that allow people to follow their dear leader over the brink.

The problem with Fascism and communism was not that they were too critical of religion. The problem is they're too much like religions; these are utterly dogmatic systems of thought. I recently had a debate with Rick Warren in the pages of Newsweek, and he suggested that North Korea was a model atheist society and that any atheist with the courage of his convictions should want to move there.

The truth is North Korea is organized exactly like a faith based cult, centered on the worship of Kim Jong-il. The North Koreans apparently believe that the shipments of food aid that they receive from us, to keep them from starving to death, are actually devotional offerings to Kim Jong-il. Is too little faith really the problem with North Korea? Is too much skeptical inquiry, what is wrong here? Auschwitz, the gulag, and the killing fields are not the product of atheism; they are the product of other dogmas run amok; nationalism, political dogma.

Hitler did not engineer a genocide in Europe because of atheism; in fact Hitler doesn’t even appear to have been an atheist, he regularly invoked Jesus in his speeches. But that’s beside the point, he did it on the basis of other beliefs, dogmas about Jews and the purity of German blood. The history of Muslim jihad however does have something to do with Islam. The atrocities of September 11th did have something to do with what 19 men believed about martyrdom and paradise.

The fact that we’re not funding stem cell research at the federal level does have something to do with what Christians believe about conception and the human soul. It is important to focus on the specific consequences of specific ideas. So I want to make it very clear that I am not holding religion responsible for every bad thing that a religious person has done in human history. To be balanced against all the bad things that atheists have done, I am only holding religion responsible for what people do, and will continue to do, explicitly for religious reasons. So I submit to you there really is no society in human history that has ever suffered because its population became too reasonable.
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