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Are Religious Beliefs Dangerous?

 

Email Question: Why have religious people killed more people than any other reason?

Back in 1996 I was sitting at an awards banquet receiving, as a representative for the physical education department at Grant Middle School, The California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports award for excellence.  At my table was my principal Julie Rich, Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner, gymnastics gold medalist Peter Vidmar, creator of Jazzercise Judi Missett, and television exercise guru Jack Lalanne.  It was a star studded table as we shared lunch together.

During our meal, the conversation was dominated by the opinionated Jack Lalanne.  He seemed to be a self proclaimed expert in multiple areas, including who is responsible for violence in this world.  Jack very dogmatically proclaimed to the entire table, that religious belief was the greatest killer of human lives throughout history.

As I heard this proclamation, I knew in my heart I couldn’t let this go unchallenged.  I looked at Jack and said I believe you have your facts wrong about religious beliefs and violence.  I told him the greatest mass murders of all time were atheistic.  According to the 1995 Guinness book of World Records, under mass killings, the worst killers of all time were Stalin, Lenin, Khrushchev, and Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung), all atheists, who had over 100 million people murdered.  I said religions have caused harm but they are not close to millions murdered by atheistic regimes.

The table went silent.  This was incredible, especially since Jack had not been quiet the entire lunch.  My principal looked at me as if I was from Mars.  You see I had no star power and I just challenged one the most famous television personalities of all time.  As I looked to my left, towards Vidmar and Missett, I could see both of them smiling.  I had not only quieted Jack Lalanne for the first time during lunch but I had made a compelling factual counterclaim to his ramblings.  After 5 seconds of silence, Lalanne quickly changed the subject and began spinning another tale, with himself as the focus.

What can a Christian learn from this incident?  We need to be equipped to answer challenges to our beliefs.  Through study I was prepared to give the facts; yes I had to show courage to speak up at the right moment, but knowing the facts gave me that courage.  We all need to study and be prepared to share the truth with anyone and in all situations.  I didn’t share in a nasty or inappropriate way; I simply quoted the facts from a book I had researched.  At home I have a photo copy of the page from the Guinness book just in case I get my source challenged.

Are religious beliefs dangerous?  They can be if the written beliefs support violence and the leaders promote it.  The Bible records violence but doesn’t support it.  Nowhere in the New Testament do you see verses that promote any sort of violence.  And the main leader of Christianity, Jesus Christ, told us to love our enemies.

Atheism on the other hand doesn’t directly promote violence but doesn’t have any objective reasons to prevent it.  If atheism is right and God doesn’t exist, then objective morals don’t exist and atheistic governments are free to do what they want.  Hence, you open the door for communist regimes to murder millions.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • M. Davis December 19, 2009, 2:02 pm

    I followed your argument with interest down to “If atheism is right and God doesn’t exist, then objective morals don’t exist and atheistic governments are free to do what they want.”

    Your statement above is an “either” “or” scenario. Why does one necessarily follow the other. Very inflexible reasoning with no reason one way or another as I see it.

    I am an atheist, but have deep moral convictions, so I don’t understand your reasoning, except as a way to shut people up. I certainly don’t condone mass murder, nor rape of the environment, nor human injustice, and whether that is “objective” or not…you decide. I already have.

  • admin December 23, 2009, 6:25 pm

    Dear M. Davis,
    Thanks for your reply to my blog. I would like to start by defining objective morality. Basically, when I say objective morality I am describing two characteristics; 1) Objective morals are universal. This means they apply equally to all people in relevant similar situations. If a specific act is wrong for one person, then it is equally wrong for another. It is a standard that has authority above the human race and is the rule for everyone, everywhere, and for all time. It never changes. 2) Objective morals are prescriptive; they don’t merely describe a state of affairs. They carry with them a sense of obligation, defining how people ought to conduct themselves.

    My point in my blog was that in an atheistic universe there are no objective morals; no basis for establishing universal laws with any sense of obligation. We are all just bags of chemicals running around this earth trying to survive. You cannot say a lion killing and eating a deer did anything wrong. By the same token you cannot say what Hitler did gassing millions of Jews was wrong in a universal sense. I have no doubt you disagreed with the atrocities of the Nazis but you need a universal moral law to say what they did was wrong. All you can say is I don’t like it. In your reply you said you don’t condone mass murder, rape of environment, human injustice, etc. but now you have to come up with a basis for those moral rules. What is the foundation or basis for saying those behaviors are wrong?

    Steve

  • M. Davis December 31, 2009, 2:11 pm

    I really do not make the kind of distinction you make between different kinds of morality. We live in a world with other people and should all strive to get along with them and nature. So simple, and I’m sure you agree. But it is all the defining and pitting one against the other in “either” “or” scenarios that makes all the trouble and the confusion. Yes, we learn from our parents and society, all we know of life, but I feel that if “God” never existed, we would have evolved into a more friendly society by now. Of course, I can’t prove it, but neither can anyone else disprove it. And it doesn’t matter one whit! We are here, we are now. We are what we are – we understand what we are – and most of us try to improve ourselves and our world.

  • admin January 4, 2010, 10:19 pm

    Dear M. Davis,
    Let me address a few of the points you made. The distinctions I make are standard when examining issues of morality. When we look at objective morals, it is the “object” itself is either right or wrong. Rape is wrong, not because someone said it was wrong but because it is wrong in and of itself. The same goes for incest, murder, racial prejudice are all wrong period; nothing more needs to be said. They are wrong for all time, all societies, and all situations. Thus we call them objective morals. However, the only other option is morality is subjective; wrong because someone says it is wrong, whether it be the individual, society, or passed down through evolution; it is the “subject” that controls whether it is right or wrong. My distinctions are there because these are the only options when discussing morality.
    Throughout your rely you seem to be appealing to some objective standard that we agree on or that all societies agree on. You said, “We live in a world with other people and should all strive to get along with them and nature.” Where does that objective standard come from? You say this is all so simple, okay, then where do you base your standard of morality on? You end with “and most of us try to improve ourselves and our world.” To improve yourself, you still need a standard. If we went bowling, what would be our goal? We both would be shooting for a 300 game. To improve we would practice and try to get close to that standard. How can anyone morally improve without a standard? What standard of morality are you appealing to? Don’t say it is simple and we all agree because Hitler didn’t agree; Stalin didn’t agree; Lenin didn’t agree; and millions of others don’t agree with your standard of morality.
    Finally you said, “…but I feel that if “God” never existed, we would have evolved into a more friendly society by now. Of course, I can’t prove it, but neither can anyone else disprove it.” History over and over again shows atheism is by far the most dangerous belief system in the world. More people are murdered by atheistic regimes than any others. And why? It is because there are no moral limits to behavior; there is no standard; anything goes in an atheist world. Yet, if God exists and judges’ people, do you think that would make a difference in the behavior of an individual or society? Dennis Prager once asked his radio audience this question; if you are in a downtown LA neighborhood and 10 black men walk out of a house towards you, would it make any difference if they had Bibles in their hands? The answer is obviously yes.
    When Katrina hit, who were the first people to respond? When the 911 tragedy occurred who was there to help the hurting? In each case it was Christians. The same goes for all natural disasters; Christians and other religious people pour out to the scene by the thousands. How many atheistic organizations came to rescue hurting people? Individual atheists, yes but they were greatly outnumbered by the Christians who came to do great good. With atheism you not only have a problem with establishing a standard to judge evil, you also have a problem establishing a standard to judge good. Both good and evil are illusions in an atheist world because there is no objective standard and anything goes; might makes right.
    I’ll end by quoting atheist scholar Michael Ruse, who truly understands your problem:
    “Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. . . . Never the less . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.”

    Steve

  • M. Davis January 8, 2010, 1:27 pm

    We atheists seem to understand something you christians will not admit. This is what I believe – about 75% of christians are actually non-christians. They do not believe. They are hypocrites who pay lip service to a religion. All who kill and condone killing, and other evil like war, are NOT christians in my opinion. So please….while you are adding up individuals who make up organizations, please add the murdering christians in with the atheists, as they are, in fact, atheists under the leadership of organized religion, and so called christian governments. And…you mention atheist organizations – are there any? I’d like to join.

    You say: “Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.”
    I agree with you on that, but probably not for reasons you would find acceptable.

  • Steve January 16, 2010, 7:57 pm

    Dear M. Davis,
    As usual you avoided my appeal to some type of standard. You use moral language but alas, you just pluck morals out of thin air. You talk about killing, evil war, etc. and yet, these words are meaningless in an atheist universe. Since your atheistic belief system is without an objective moral standard, why complain? If someone wants to rape, pillage, murder, and commit all sorts of evil you cannot say universally they are wrong. All you can say is I don’t like it. So please don’t rail against others when they are doing nothing wrong according to your worldview. Unless you have a universal standard, an objective morality, people are free to do anything they want. If raping young women is their thing, so be it. As I said before, in the animal kingdom we don’t tell a lion, you shouldn’t have killed that deer; because they are doing what comes naturally; there are no moral standards in the animal kingdom. If there is no God, then a person raping and killing others is under the same rules as the lion; it is morally neutral.

    What would an atheist say to Hitler? I didn’t like how you murdered all those Jews. Could you say it is wrong? Absolutely not! Wrong is a universal, objective word and you do not have a standard to support it. In fact at the Nazi war trials this was their defense; who are you to judge our morality? Fortunately, the courts appealed to a morality above mankind, even though they didn’t define it or justify it. The criminals were tried and convicted. A higher morality only exists in the nature of a God.

    I also believe as you do 75% of professing Christians aren’t regenerated followers of Christ; they just call themselves Christians. I too believe they are hypocrites that pay lip service to Christianity and in the past of done some great harm. However, I can speak out against what they’ve done because I have a standard by which to judge them. As an atheist you can only say you don’t like what they did. Without an objective standard you are left with only a personal opinion and have to avoid calling their actions wrong. This is one of the reasons I could no longer be an atheist. In an atheistic universe we are left without morality; a scary place to live.

    Steve

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