Monday, March 19, 2007

Atheist Ethicist on "The Hitler and Stalin Cliche"

Blogger Alonzo Fyfe argues that atheists are making a couple of strategic errors when they attempt to counter the "Hitler and Stalin Cliche"--"the argument that there is something fundamentally and foundationally wrong with atheism because Hitler and Stalin were atheists – and look what they did"--with a history lecture (namely by countering that Hitler was not an atheist). First, Fyfe contends, those who wield the Hitler and Stalin Cliche are not likely to persuaded by historical arguments to the contrary, and are unlikely to accept the word of someone who is, as an atheist, a priori untrustworthy anyway. Second, if you are attempting to prove false the premise that, say, Hitler was an atheist, you are accepting as valid an argument that should never have been taken as valid in the first place.

Fyfe continues:

I have seen atheists scramble for evidence that Hitler was not an atheist. Perhaps it is true. It does not matter to the moral argument. Assume that somebody were to assert that Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy were white males, and as such all white males are to be regarded with contempt. One possible answer would be to try to prove that Dahmer and Gacy were not white males. However, this would be fruitless. A better response would be to say that justice demands that each person be judged by his own actions, and that no person shall be judged guilty of the crimes of Dahmer and Gacy but Dahmer and Gacy themselves.

By the way, Hitler and Stalin were also both white males. I sense a pattern.

It is also the case that both Hitler and Stalin wore a mustache. Maybe it is the wearing of a mustache that disposes one to tyranny, and the wearing of mustaches should be prohibited.

They both (almost certainly) believed that the Sun was at the center of the solar system. In fact, if you take a look at history, you will discover that heliocentrists (those who assert that the sun is at the center of the solar system) have killed and maimed far more people than geocentrists (those who believe that the earth is at the center of the solar system). Obviously, heliocentrists are evil and despicable creatures! We must immediately take action to remove the doctrine of heliocentrism from our schools before this view that the Earth is not the center of the solar system . . . that humans live on just another planet orbiting just another star . . . destroys the very moral fiber of our civilization!

Hitler and Stalin were both born in Europe. They both had six letters in their first and last names.

Of all of the traits that define Hitler and Stalin, why attribute their evil deeds to atheism? Why not the mustache, or their European birth, or their heliocentrism, or the number of letters in their name, or their gender, or their race?

The answer, at least for a great many people, is that they are looking for reasons to market in hatred and bigotry of atheists, and references to Hitler and Stalin are very popular among those who sell hate for a living. If not for the love of hate, or the business of selling hate, atheism would be seen just as irrelevant as these other traits. This is because it is just as irrelevant as those other traits.

It's a great post, in which Fyfe goes on to take issue with the "Crusades and Inquisitions Cliche" often deployed against theists, but also specifies the conditions under which it might be valid to use it.