By Jake Murray
“Let’s take a look at this phenomenon for a moment, shall we? Dualism. Or more specifically, Dualism Dualism Dualism.
In the debate between Believers and Dawkinsians (not all Atheists are Dawkinsians, remember!), a key element is the moral dimension of whether one believes or doesn’t believe in God. The Dawkinsian argument is belief in God necessitates belief in dubious moralities based entirely on writings the ethical basis of which is Divine Revelation. Thus, for instance, justification can be found in the Bible, or primarily the Old Testament for genocide, misogyny, racism, killing people who think differently to us etc.
The opposing view is that Atheism and non-belief leads to a morally rudderless society without any reference point. With no God, there is no ultimate sanction for any of our actions. Thus rape, murder, genocide etc become possible simply because there are no moral standards.
Dawkinsians cite as examples violent anti-Abortionists, the Crusades, Jihadis, Burkas and oppression of women in fundamentalist religious societies, homophobia to support their thesis. If only we followed tenets of Science, Reason and looked at Darwin, we would be ok.
Believers cite Stalinism, Maoism, Hitler and the moral decadence, rampant materialism and increased exploitation of the natural world and each other to support their view. If only we returned to religious values, fear of God and a moral consensus, we would be allright.
And of course, there is a little truth in both arguments. Terrible things have been done in the name of religion. Terrible things have been done in the name of non-religious feelings. At the same time there have been great things done by religious people and great things done by non-religious people.
What does this suggest? Something dual in human nature – the ability to do positive and negative things; the ability to create and destroy, to give birth and to kill.
In fact if you look at every murderous act in human history, the evidence seems to suggest that the murderous act or the desire to do the murderous act came first, while the moral justification came second.
Take the Crusades. The Crusades were actually the result of a political event: the Muslim invasion of whole chunks of the Byzantine Empire. Once the Holy Land had fallen and the Emperor of Byzantium knew he could not hold the Muslim armies off, he called upon the Pope for military help. At the time the Pope was the most powerful political force in Western Europe. A need arose for moral justification for sending an army so the Crusades were born. Spiritual superstar St Bernard of Clairvaux was called upon to preach the Christian moral imperative of the Crusades and the whole thing was launched. The evidence suggests that the bulk of the rank and file (ie the ordinary plebs who made up the army) were motivated by a genuine, if misguided belief that they were doing something spiritually good for their souls, even if the leaders did not…
But the whole event started for political reasons, as did the Muslim invasion of the area in the first place. Religion was used to sauce what was going on… To launch the Crusades, the Christian world had to essentially totally ignore the teachings of Christ which were against violence etc. But ignore them they did…
What do we conclude? Take away Religion and then there would have been no excuse? Possibly. But the desire did not begin with Religion but with a temporal ruler calling for military help.
Now let’s turn to Darwinism and its role in the rise of Nazism and racist politics. Once Darwin had established the theory of natural selection with the principles of ‘survival of the fittest’ (a much misunderstood and abused term) and the biological imperative of the genes, it was a cousin of his who developed the notion of Social Darwinism.
This transferred Darwin’s principles to society, with the idea that society could be improved and ‘perfected’ by removing those elements of it which were weak, corrupt, defective or genetically backward. This spawned ideas such as Eugenics, Sterilisation (championed by people like Shaw and Marie Stopes) and the idea of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ races. Darwins ideas were used to show how, for instance, black people were genetically and physically closer to apes and therefore less developed than white people. Similarly Jewish people were shown by their physical properties to be genetically corrupted and diseased. Thus racists in America and Germany were able to argue that unless black and Jewish people were kept apart from white people, the genes of the whites would become corrupted, degenerate and unhealthy.
Tragic to relate, Nazi Ideologues got a lot of their racist ideas from American segregationalists who were pushing a Darwinian notion of race in their country. The Nazis of course took it even further, arguing that it was right to root out the senile, the disabled and the mentally ill from their population on the grounds that if they were to be allowed to live they would pass on their defective genes to the race. And we don’t need to even begin to go into how Hitler took Darwinian ideas and used them as justification for his whole vision of Master and Slave Races, the ultimate proof of which was the ability of the Master Race to conquer and rule ‘lesser’ ones.
Ugly stuff and a perversion, no doubt, of Darwin’s ideas. But is this perversion more of a perversion than the perversion of Christ’s teachings carried out by the Crusaders? Or by their many successors, like the Boers or the settlers in America and Australia who took the story of the Israelites driving out the Canaanites as justification for what they did to the American Indians, the South Africans or the Aboriginals?
Even worse was what the Boers did, which was to unite an interpretation of Scripture with an interpretation of Darwin to justify what they did. Not only were the indigenous people of South Africa shafted by ideas borrowed by the Bible (they were heathens, New Canaanites etc while the Boers were the New Chosen People) but also by ideas lifted from the Origin of the Species (they were racially inferior intellectually and physically and so more ‘animal’ and less ‘civilised’ than the superior humans. Thus they were to be kept apart from the whites and right to be oppressed). It was a lethal combination of Religion and Science which did for the black South Africans. It took them 400 years to break free. Other peoples – like the American Indians and the Aboriginals – didn’t and probably never will…
So what do we do? Do we blame Christ for the Crusades and Darwin for the Nazis? Do we ban Religion or ban Science in order to make the world a better place? I leave it to you to decide. But I would urge you to think about all the incidents cited above and ask yourself which came first: Christianity or the Crusades (or even Christ or Christianity), Darwin and the Nazis or Darwin and the Voortrekkers? Did the desire to do the evil deed stem from the ideas involved or did the justification for the evil deed come after the idea of the evil deed?
When Rabin (a religious Jew) was shot in Israel by a right wing religious Jew, that Jew went first to his Rabbi and asked if there was any justification for what he was about to do in Jewish Law. The Rabbi, being another Right Winger, found a passage in the Persian Halacha which said that if a Jew gave away property to an enemy of the Jews, it was ok to kill them. So the gunman killed Rabin with a clean conscience. But he wanted to kill Rabin BEFORE he got the justification.
By contrast, had he lived 60 years beforehand and gone to the then first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, he would have been told that to kill anyone in cold blood (indeed probably anyone in any kind of blood) was wrong as the doctrine of the Honour of All Created Things came before any negative law. Indeed he might have just pointed out that all humanity was created in God’s image, thus to take life was wrong. Rabbi Kook was that kind of guy…
My point? That any idea, no matter how noble and beautiful can be used for evil if people want to do evil. Darwin would have been horrified by the use of his ideas, just as Christ would have been horrified by what had been done in his name.
So what do we do? End Science and Religion? Bertrand Russell said we shouldn’t stop Scientific research just because nasty things came out of it, and found himself marching in CND rallies against one of the most notorious results of Scientific exploration (the irony clearly didn’t occur to him). At the same time, should we carry on with Religion when things like Sept 11 or the Crusades happen?
Or maybe we could do something else, which is to look at ourselves, at the Duality within us, and address that?
And having got to that stage, where does this leave the ‘Moral Argument’ in this debate?”
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