Argumentum ad Hitlerum

December 28, 2007

I must have missed this one in the pre-Christmas mayhem. The Age reporting on the Christmas address of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, our old buddy George Pell:

Religion has been unfairly blamed for conflicts around the world in recent years, but Christians should remember the benefits of their devotion, Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell says.

This is perhaps true, though difficult to determine without specific examples. It does not however, logically preclude religion from being fairly blamed for conflicts around the world as well. I looked up the full text of the Christmas mesage and to be fair, Pell also makes this point. There was however, one statement that stood out:

During the last couple of years God has been attacked angrily here and there in the English-speaking world and believers have been accused of causing most of the wars and crimes in history.

This is an exaggeration as the moral monsters of the twentieth century Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were atheists and Hitler bitterly hated Jews and Christians; but all believers have to acknowledge the down side of their long story, while asking that their positive contributions are also recorded.

This particular argument never seems to grow old – “Atheism has been the cause of more atrocities than religion – just look at Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, PZ Meyers, Voldemort, etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum…”

Well, we appear to have moved on from the days of claiming that Hitler was an Atheist, but even if he had been, the argument is still fallacious. As well as breaking Godwin’s Law, this argument fails where it implies that the evil done by nasty atheists was done because of their atheism, completely ignoring the political and social ideologies of the people involved. The Inquisition, the crusades, witch burning, sectarian violence in the middle east – it all stems directly from the tenets of religious belief. The excesses of Lenin and Stalin resulted from their political ideologies. Atheism was a result of such ideology, not the cause of it.

There are very few issues in the world that are completely black and white* and we tend to judge an issue by weighing its goods against its evils and evaluating the trade off. Pell is absolutely right in raising this point about religion, although I would probably flip it the other way – we can laud the good, but we must never forget the evils that go with it.

*Other than the guy who invented reality TV. He should just be shot.

5 Responses to “Argumentum ad Hitlerum

  1. Dom Says:

    Totally agree with you Dave, that the “evils” spoken about are indeed the result of political ideologies (ones that were held with the kind of fundamentalist dogmatism usually reserved by the religious).
    Whether or not atheism was a result of such ideologies is beside the point.

    It seems that this Stalin/Hitler/Atheist/Evil argument is the only foot the religious apologist have been standing on recently. Good new for us as its easy to tread on the toes of that foot. After all, how much can one argue that so much evil can be done based on a negative proposition?

    Its as fatuous as storming a Lord of the Rings convention and murdering the attendees because the Hobbits they’ve read about aren’t real.

  2. Kieran Says:

    “The excesses of Lenin and Stalin resulted from their political ideologies. Atheism was a result of such ideology, not the cause of it.”

    I would question that. Wouldn’t your political views grow out of your ideology – not the other way around. Your view on religion is one of the most fundamental building blocks in your whole world view; which therefore impacts/designs your political views.

    Just a note for correctness, Pell is the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.

  3. Dave Says:

    Cheers. I’ve edited the post to clarify that Pell is the Catholic Archbishop.

    You make a good point about politics growing out of ideology. I suppose that the distinction I am trying to make is that Atheism is a way of looking at the world around us (as is religion) but as it is not organised by a church, it does not have dogma or scripture that mandates particular actions or moral opinions.

    As such, while atheism may indeed inform someone like Stalin’s political ideology, it does not directly mandate the necessity or moral correctness of any atrocities committed, unlike certain literal interpretation of scripture.

    I certainly do not mean to suggest that the Inquisition, Crusades etc. had entirely religious motives either, just that scriptural dogmatism can be a dangerous thing and that I think atheism (due to it’s lack of organization or church) cannot really be considered a driving force in the same way as scriptural religion.

    To be honest, I think that the whole atheism versus religion body count is a pretty bogus argument anyway – social, cultural and political forces render any such simple conclusions about cause to be quite meaningless.

  4. Kieran Says:

    I would agree with your point about forced Dogma (which was a brilliant movie I might add). Groups that have labeled themselves as Christian have down awful things in the name of God, by trying to force Christianity on the masses; something funnily enough the bible doesn’t condone. However all because a group/individual says “it’s from the bible” doesn’t make it so. I know it’s a shocking concept :p but Christian people lie, cheat, and claim the bible for justification. Now I have nothing against a group of people having a agreed upon set of principles; it’s a necessity for groups to function. However when concerning religious groups the factor of God can be difficult for non religious people to swallow. And this is where the issue of scripture comes in.

    If the bible is the recorded revelation of God to man, then it actually makes sense to follow its teachings. But never blindly. Christianity encourages debate, and discussion. There are whole sections of the bible that grapple with “why”. The problem lies when beliefs get forced on each other; something that people do regardless of their religious affiliations. Which I am sure you would agree is a sad thing.

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