Saturday, October 6, 2007

Correcting a few misconceptions

Here's Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York, on the role of religion in choosing political leaders:
Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Zedung are three of the most prominent political figures who believed in atheism. None of them even gave people a choice of voting for them, but ruled as bloody dictators. An intelligent and logical observer would have understood that atheism shaped the way these leaders dealt with dissent, mistakes and political decisions. Might an atheist someday come to power and provide a model of good government? I would want to move beyond the rhetoric and examine the practice of atheism of such a hypothetical candidate and make sure it is not like the three mentioned above before voting.
Golly, where to begin...

"Believed in atheism": Huh?

"[A]theism shaped the way these leaders dealt with dissent, mistakes and political decisions." Uh, really it was more Marxism and Leninism that shaped their political views and practices. They may very well have been atheists, but they were hardly rational people--and adherence to a rational process of thought and decision-making really ought to be the standard. If one believes that the only, or even principal, reason they did what they did was because they did not believe there was a God they would answer to, uh, to me that tells me more about the core motivations of theists than anything else. But back to my original point, tyrants can use any ideology to justify their actions--if "atheism" is to be blamed for the atrocities of communism, then perhaps Orthodox Christianity is to blame for the crimes of Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, Catholicism for the regime of Augusto Pinochet, and so forth. Don't even get me started on Hitler (yeah, I went there.)

"Might an atheist someday come to power and provide a model of good government?" Two words for you, my friend: Thomas Paine. While really more a deist than anything else, he certainly provided "a model of good government" (i.e. ours) and was more than skeptical towards the religions of his day:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
"I would want to...examine the practice of atheism..." I'm guessing this guy doesn't know very many thoughtful atheists. There is a big difference between people who are too lazy, angry, bitter, etc. to have any religious opinions, and people who came by atheism through rational analysis, and there is a very wide and diverse gulf between what could termed these two extremes. Anyway, I'm not sure what the "practice of atheism" means, but I would imagine it to be exploration of the infinity of ideas and knowledge not contained in the Bible, Q'uran, etc. Not sure how that could be a bad thing, as long, once again, as the person in question makes rational decisions.

I am often struck by how many commenters at the "On Faith" column are critical of the theistic viewpoint, particularly some writers' simplistic view of atheism. I would like to point out one comment left by "Joe" that bucks that trend:
Atheist = not theist
Theist = belief in a god.

So theist is something, in this case a belief.

Theist = something

This would make atheist not something.
And if it is not something then it is nothing.
Actually, a "theist" is a person holding a belief, not a belief. I guess this is an effort to demhumanize atheists, or something. All I can think to say is that "Joe"'s educational system failed him (or at least the part where they taught logic).