Ambassador of atheism?

I’ve been paying a little bit of attention to the media hullabaloo over the Alabama Governor’s altar call and it got me thinking of how I wish another high profile figure’s comments on religion had gotten a bit more mainstream media treatment. I speak, of course, about the powerful Ricky Gervais. My husband and I are fans of Gervais, who’s probably best known as the creator of The Office. The British version of the show is brilliant. Now, little of his work since then has been worth any of your time, but that’s another story.

On Sunday night, Gervais hosted the 68th annual Golden Globes. He was shocking and funny. He was also horribly rude. He mocked Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp’s recent film performances, mocked the sad sex life of Hugh Hefner, reminded everyone of their past drug use, sexual peccadilloes, and embarrassing box office receipts. But it was a sight to see this man brutally busting everyone’s chops while they had cameras on them. Lots of clenched teeth and half grins in that crowd. Some began taking potshots back at him. Much more entertaining than the typical awards show.

There were at least a couple bits related to religion. From his opening monologue:

Also not nominated ‘I Love You Phillip Morris.’ Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. So the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists then.”

The audience gasps in horror. In fact, his hosting went over so poorly with the crowd that at some point we wondered if he’d been fired mid-show. We couldn’t remember the last time we’d seen him on stage. But he came back on stage at the end and sent everyone off with final words. Here’s how the Boston Herald put it:

Closing the show, Gervais said, “Thank you to God for making me an atheist.”

Robert Downey Jr. summed up the night best: “Aside from the fact that it’s been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?”

The next day, all the TV critics in TV critic land opined on the hosting. Most of the American ones wrote pieces disparaging his rudeness. I waited a few days to see if any got into the content, discussed the religious aspects, or used the whole episode as a hook to discuss ethics. For the most part, they did not — even though there were tons of coverage of the hosting. Why not? I have no idea. Is it fear of covering Scientology? Is it the Hollywood journalist version of the somewhat typical tone deafness we see on religion? It’s certainly not restraint, is it?

What I was really hoping for was a quick look at how atheists view Gervais. I was thinking, as I finished watching him, about what a “hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones” ambassador for atheism he is. It’s probably wrong that I find his humor so funny, but there’s no escaping the hatred and negativity there. How comfortable are various atheists with this high-profile atheist being such a hater? What do the “Why Believe in a God? Just Be Good for Goodness’ Sake” campaigners think about this fellow nonbeliever? I have no idea and I think it would make for an interesting piece. And it could be tied into Gervais’ film, a less-than-subtle argument for atheism that didn’t go over well with viewers.

Instead we got approaches such as this one taken by CNN’s Larry King replacement Piers Morgan: “Ricky Gervais says atheism shouldn’t offend.” Morgan seems to think the big takeaway is that Gervais offended Christians — something that indicates a lack of creative questioning and Christianity. When Gervais says you don’t need to be Christian to be moral and that he himself is a good person who treats people well, I was expecting the host to ask whether good people who treat others well should remind others of their worst sins, mock their abilities or judge their motivations. Instead he just moves on to another question.

Here’s the thing. It’s not hard to understand why Gov. Bentley’s altar call raised eyebrows among journalists. It most definitely should be covered (even if it would be nice if such coverage reflected more familiarity with Baptist theology and practice), but how many people in this country were watching Bentley’s address? Probably not that many. Many more, surely, became familiar with it after all that coverage. Even so, I bet more people were familiar with Ricky Gervais’ remarks than the remarks of the Alabama governor. Alabama has a population of 4.7 million. The Golden Globes had an average viewership of 17 million, making it the number one show of the week.

I’m terribly interested in what the governor said, but people can say interesting things about religion outside the political realm, too. Gervais’ suggestion about Scientology and its role in Hollywood is fascinating. His atheist shout-out as well. And these celebrity statements on religion influence the culture just as much — in some cases more — than politicians’ discussion of religion. Media coverage should reflect that reality.

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  • SWEJ

    I think he did a fine job – it’s a comedian’s job to walk the line and sometimes making people uncomfortable is funny. I don’t think it was mean-spirited, simply a good old-fashioned ribbing. The best comedians reveal uncomfortable truths – and he did just that.

    Nothing he did was worse that what you experience on any night’s CSI show…

    And I don’t see how this was targeted at Christians at all. Is it offensive to call oneself an atheist? Rubbish.

  • Deb

    Interesting points. Just a few quick comments:

    Labeling Gervais as an “ambassador for atheism” is a bit dramatic and ignores the lack of diversity within this ideology. A good reading for anyone interested is “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality”. Reporting should probably start by defining his views of atheism before assuming he is the voice of all atheists.

    I also find it interesting you wanted him to further justify his moral character in the CNN interview. Why don’t you believe him? I mean, he wasn’t mean in the interview and his personal life doesn’t include much to suggest he doesn’t treat others well. And we all know that his performance is an example of a genre of comedy that is commonly used in the industry. It’s not like the media asks all boxers who thank god at the end of a fight to justify their moral values because their actions in the ring weren’t what “good people do”. Don’t we expect these types of behaviors from comedians and boxers when they are performing? Clearly, your rationale for a follow up question doesn’t make much sense given the nature of his work and I am not really sure what story you were looking for here. Maybe you are looking for a little revenge?

  • Ryan

    What is it with Brits being rude/insulting nowadays? Have they become French?

  • Mike Hickerson

    Deb,
    I’ve read plenty of sportswriters question the sincerity of athletes who thank Jesus at the end of a game. Maybe Gervais would have answered that question in the same way you did, but a good interviewer should at least ask him the question.

    BTW, in every interview I’ve heard with Gervais over the last 6 months, he brings up his atheism. Yes, atheism is diverse – but Gervais has made it clear that he wants to be known as a spokesman for his belief system. That isn’t Mollie “labelling” him – it’s Gervais’ own self-branding.

  • http://sunsentinel.com/faith Jim Davis

    I think anyone who saw the movie “The Invention of Lying” — for which Gervais was the writer, director and the star — would agree that he’s an ambassador for atheism.

    As for why response to his remarks was muted . . . well, after Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins, I don’t think atheist rudeness surprises anyone.

  • Kell Brigan

    Yet again, I am grateful for my innate tendency to ignore celebrities.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    I find it interesting how this article opens by calling Gervais an ambassador of atheism and questions why his comments on religion didn’t appear to receive enough high profile attention, but then primarily focuses on his alleged “hatred and negativity”. It always comes down to that when the religious speak of atheists, doesn’t it? The atheist’s character always comes into question. I believe it serves two purposes, the first being an ad hominem to undermine the atheist position. The second purpose is, of course, to bolster the religious notion that one simply can’t be good without religion.

    Was Gervais rude at the Golden Globes? No, he merely said what everyone has thought at one time or another. Cruise’s sexuality has been questioned before, Robert Downey Jr.’s escapades are legendary and who doesn’t find the Kutcher-Demi relationship weird? Not shying away from saying what people think, from acknowledging the elephant in the room is brave, not rude. Those who find such comments rude are those who think the subjects are sacred. This is where atheists often get the label of being rude, because we address the elephant of religion and rightfully question its presuppositions and assertions. In that respect, Gervais certainly would make a good representative for atheists.

    Lastly, here are two reasons why Gervais didn’t get the religious scrutiny you wanted in the media, his comments about celebrities vastly overshadowed any religious comments, and the Governor’s comments got attention because he’s a governor!

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Jim Davis –

    I think anyone who saw the movie “The Invention of Lying” — for which Gervais was the writer, director and the star — would agree that he’s an ambassador for atheism.

    Hmmm. One thing I’ve not seen covered in the controversy over that film was the inverse issue. Many people said that movie should have had some indication in the advertising that it was an ‘atheist’ film.

    But, say, “Signs” with Mel Gibson or “I Am Legend” with Will Smith included central religious themes that were not hinted at in the advertising (and in “I Am Legend”‘s case were not present in the original source material). Are M. Night Shyamalan or Francis Lawrence “ambassadors for theism” because of those films?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mike Hickerson says:

    …in every interview I’ve heard with Gervais over the last 6 months, he brings up his atheism.

    After the controversy over “The Invention of Lying”, it’s a topic he gets asked about at least as often as he brings it up.

    BTW, does an athlete or pageant winner who makes a reference to their religion in an interview intend to be a ‘spokesman‘ for their religion?

  • Gumbo Limbo

    Gervais was not calling out Scientology. He was referring to Tom Cruise without mentioning him by name. (Some also think Travolta fits the premise.)

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Ray Ingles wrote:

    BTW, does an athlete or pageant winner who makes a reference to their religion in an interview intend to be a ‘spokesman’ for their religion?

    Among evangelical Christians (of which I am one), I would say, “Yes.” There’s a strong emphasis within many strands of evangelicalism on using public appearances or highly visible positions as opportunities to “witness.”

    What’s the problem with asking someone how they connect their religious (or areligious) beliefs to their public persona or professional work? Personally, I would be very interested in hearing more about how Christian politicians understand their use of negative campaigning, how pacifist athletes understand the violence of their sport, or other situations where a person’s professional work seems to contradict their personal beliefs. “Seems” is the operative word here, because I bet many of these individuals (Gervais included) have reflected on this question at length and have some insightful answers to the question. Unfortunately, if journalists never even ask the question – because it’s somehow “beyond the pale” to talk about religion for more than 15 seconds or to ask a follow-up question to a cookie-cutter answer – we lose the opportunity to gain deeper insight into both the person’s profession and their beliefs.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    I would liked to have seen some coverage linking Gervais with all this precious bad rhetoric we hear about since Tuscon. I don’t see why in the world an atheist would even care. Atheists, from what I’ve seen over the years, feel no connection to what other atheists do. Hence, you can’t say, “Oh yeah! Well how about what [_________] did!” Almost every time I’ve ever seen, those from the atheist crowd say it’s irrelevant to what atheism is all about.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    BTW:

    The best comedians reveal uncomfortable truths – and he did just that.

    No, the best commedians, of which there are few left in the world, know how to reveal uncomfortable truths. There’s a difference.

  • Bram

    PhillyChief writes:

    “I find it interesting how this article opens by calling Gervais an ambassador of atheism and questions why his comments on religion didn’t appear to receive enough high profile attention, but then primarily focuses on his alleged “hatred and negativity”. It always comes down to that when the religious speak of atheists, doesn’t it? The atheist’s character always comes into question. I believe it serves two purposes, the first being an ad hominem to undermine the atheist position. The second purpose is, of course, to bolster the religious notion that one simply can’t be good without religion.”

    Could it simply be, however, that people aren’t being “rude” in raising objections like these to the atheist position, but merely pointing out — as atheists themselves are wont to do — some “elephants in the room” about which some, in this case atheists, would rather not speak.

    The elephants here, which atheists would rather we ignore, are (1) that, no, in fact, you can’t really be good without God, and (2) that, therefore, atheists tend not to be all that good, but rather pretty “negative” and “hateful” — as was Ricky Gervais, however easy and tempting his targets at the Golden Globes may be.

  • Dave

    As an earlier commenter said, the Governor gets more attention than an awards MC because it’s a more important position even if the MC gets more eyes on the tube.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    Bram,

    To be clear, “elephants in the room” refers to things a person or group doesn’t want to face, therefore your hypothesis is flawed since atheists are generally eager to discuss morality. There was, after all, an ad campaign by some atheist groups which said (paraphrased) “you can be good without a god”.

    Furthermore, Gervais’ jokes, whether you consider them funny or mean, has no bearing on the position of atheism, reflects nothing of the behavior, temperament nor opinions of atheists, nor much of anything else. As my friend’s mom often said, “you’re comparing apples and oranges and that’s got nothing to do with the price of bread.” :)

  • Julia

    who doesn’t find the Kutcher-Demi relationship weird?

    Me.

    Lots of men marry younger women; why can’t a woman marry a younger man?

  • Bram

    PhillyChief, let me rephrase: The elephant in the room about which atheists would rather not speak is the strong correlation between atheism and some of the most “negative,” “hateful,” and indeed murderous people of the previous century, from Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot on down to Charles Manson, Jim Jones, the Columbine shooters, and Jared Loughner just a month ago. Even atheism’s popular-cultural evangelists like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens tend to be a very nasty, “negative,” and “hateful” crew. So, the question of whether Gervais’s atheism — especially when pointedly testified to in the midst of his performance at the Golden Globes — might just have something to do with his sometime negativity and hatefulness seems fair — at least in the sense that it’s a question on many people’s minds that therefore deserves to be asked, an elephant in the room that we ought not ignore.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Ambassador of atheism?

    Yes. Unashamed too.

    Which should be how Christians approach evangelism too.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    Bram,

    Again, atheists are more than willing to address the Stalin/Hitler/etc gambit used by the religious in discussions of morality so that’s not an “elephant in the room”. Any reluctance to do so that you’ve experienced is likely due to the frustration and exhaustion from having to address it yet again to yet another theist since that old and tired canard has been addressed ad nauseum. As such, I’ll just hit the major notes. Any questions you have I’ll field or point you to where you can read more.

    • Atheism is not a philosophy, but rather a position on one and only one issue, so the argument that atheism dictates any action is flawed from the start; therefore, claiming atheism prompted Stalin and Hitler is as sensible as claiming silly mustaches prompted them. In other words, you need to connect the dots, but there’s nothing to connect to. (Btw, Hitler wasn’t an atheist)

    • If you allege that Christian morality is the only good morality, therefore atheists can’t be good (and cite bad behavior by atheists as evidence), then you’re stuck having to explain both bad behavior by Christians and good behavior by non-Christians (including atheists).

    As far as your allegations that people like Gervais, Dennet or Dawkins are “negative” or “hateful”, that’s a subjective opinion, not an absolute, and not one shared universally.

    Personally, I find the need to have to continually argue that atheists are negative and hateful, and that atheism magically turns people into monsters indicative of a negativity and hatred which exceeds what you’re alleging, especially when evidence doesn’t support your claims. Perhaps that’s something for you to personally reflect upon, and the REAL elephant in the room here.

    Have a nice day. :)

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    PhillyChief,

    I kept waiting for the media angle in that post. If that’s not important, please understand that many ‘religious’ actually approach those questions differently than you portrayed. But again, as I’ve been told, this is a media blog.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Yes, friends. Please keep comments focused on journalism.

  • Bram

    Sorry, Mollie. I should have stipulated that “the elephant in the room” — the apparent correlation between atheism and anger, including murderous and even genocidal rage — is one that *journalists* ought not to ignore, since that correlation, rightly or wrongly, is one of the first things that likely leap to many readers’ minds when atheism comes up. Google “atheism” and “anger” and one will see that not only is the correlation one that researchers are studying now, with really interesting findings, but also one about which atheists themselves are concerned and discuss quite a bit. Thanks for your patience. That is all.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    Bram: Please provide links, if you can, to this alleged research. What Google provides is merely others like yourself making naked assertions.

    Dave and/or Mollie: I was responding to a comment directed to me, which was a continuation of a discussion concerning the original article, specifically that the meat of it had very little to do with the title or the opening.

  • Bram
  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    Those links don’t support your argument, Bram. They’re about an entirely different allegation.

    The “research” cited (same study in both links, btw) has poorly worded questions. here it is (and you can see how it’s slanted towards “anger toward God”). I perused the first few and they’re loaded questions also guilty of equivocation. For instance, you’re told to define your god and/or to substitute “higher power” for “God”, so any results could reflect attitudes towards the Christian god, believers, religion, nature, the Yankees, or just about anything else.

    This “study” got some airplay, and since I was chastised about failing to directly address journalism earlier, I’ll do that now. Is it journalism to ape the results this woman claims to have gotten without actually examining the study? I’d say no. I just took 5 minutes examining it, which is apparently 5 minutes longer than Sanjay Gupta on CNN or anyone else in the media took. The premise of this site seems to be that the media doesn’t get religion. Well I’d say the media doesn’t get much of anything, and is a far cry from journalism, but it gets, or at least promotes religion more than atheists or atheism. As your first link rightly pointed out, how can you be mad at something that doesn’t exist? That’s silly.

    Ironically, you’ve helped to support my first comment. The religious appear compelled to assert fault in atheists. The original article used Gervais to suggest atheists are mean. That “study” tries to find fault in the logic and rationality of atheists by alleging they’re atheism is actually predicated upon anger at your god. Why? What’s the motivation? I would guess that as it’s impossible to actually give evidence for your god’s existence, then you can’t address the primary criticism of atheists, so instead the religious resort to ad hominems. In other words, if the atheists are faulty, then their criticisms must be faulty. That’s fallacious, although sadly persuasive.

    For a more friendly response to Ms. Exline, check Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist.

  • Bram

    PhillyChief writes:

    “Ironically, you’ve helped to support my first comment.”

    I reply:

    Well, no, actually, I think that this and all your other comments have only gone to show that Mollie had very good reason to raise the implicit question of whether Gervais’s atheism had anything to do with his anger at the Golden Globes. You yourself seem angry and overly-defensive, as did Gervais. You seem especially angry and defensive given that Mollie’s implicit question about Gervais and his atheist beliefs in relation to his anger was one that he invited himself by bringing up atheism in the midst of his performance at the Golden Globes. It seems journalistically sound to me to connect the dots, if only hypothetically. It also seems to me Mollie’s having done so hardly merited your angry and defensive response.

    As for The Friendly Atheist, it’s funny you should bring that blog up. I almost mentioned it myself as a demonstration of just how much atheists themselves are aware of their own problem with anger and the image their ambassadors often project on their behalf of just the sort of hatred and negativity that you deny is there in any disproportionate degree, relative to other groups, with different theological beliefs. It seems to me that an atheist blog that attempts to distinguish itself from the general run of atheist discourse with the adjective “friendly” only goes to prove my point and to disprove your own.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    As I said before, negativity is a subjective opinion. I don’t see my comments here as angry, negative, defensive, or whatever you want to allege, and the rating system here suggests I’m not alone in that assessment. :)

    The Friendly Atheist blog’s title is actually a bit of a sarcastic response to the “angry atheist” claim that many theists, like yourself, make, not a means to distinguish it from the other atheist blogs. What’s real, then, is not so much the angry atheist but the allegation that atheists are angry, although you have to admit if there were people constantly insisting that you were an angry person comparable to Stalin or Hitler it might eventually perturb you a tad, no?

  • Dave

    Bram, when an atheist is angry you say it’s their nature. When an atheist if friendly you say it’s compensation for their anger. You are building an argument to protect your atheist=angry equation from any contrary evidence.

  • Stoo
  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    The ‘anger’ of atheists is exaggerated, and I can point to journalistic proof.

    Do a Google News search on the phrases “militant Islamist” and “militant Christian”. You will have to search for quite a while to find a Muslim who just ‘really wants you to convert’, or a Christian who ‘feels passionately about Christianity’. All the stories you find will be about people advocating or carrying out violence.

    Now, do a Google News search on the phrase “militant atheist”. Suddenly the proportions are reversed. You’ll find story after story about someone who, say, wrote a book about atheism… and a bare handful about an atheist who’s actually violent.

    No, you actually have to pick up a gun and kill somebody to be considered a ‘militant’ believer. But all you have to do to be considered a ‘militant’ atheist is say you’re an atheist.

  • Bram

    Ray Ingles: I think any lower threshold of militancy that atheists may or may not be subject to is much more than compensated for by the more-or-less free pass that atheists get on the overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of violence — from murder on through to genocide — that atheists have done in the past hundred years, relative to other groups with different theological views. More people have been killed in the name of atheist ideologies in the past hundred years than were killed in the name of all other ideologies, including all the world’s religions and nationalisms, in all the rest of human history. Clearly, not all atheists are mass murderers, serial killers, or genocidal tyrants. But nearly all mass murderers, serial killers, and genocidal tyrants are atheists. Atheists’ noses aren’t really rubbed in that fact very much, whereas theists are often held accountable for crimes that were committed on atheist grounds. For example, their are still many misinformed people who will tell you that Jim Jones and Timothy McVeigh were Christians not atheists. It’s a wonder we haven’t been told that Jared Loughner was “really” a Christian — despite what all the evidence shows about his beliefs.

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    And see, that’s why atheists get angry. It’s been explained to you how the Stalin, Hitler, et al argument doesn’t apply, yet you’ll keep asserting it. Furthermore, you add the old “no true Scotsman’ fallacy so that any self-proclaimed Christian can’t be used in the same way to claim anything about Christianity.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    …more-or-less free pass that atheists get on the overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of violence — from murder on through to genocide — that atheists have done in the past hundred years, relative to other groups with different theological views.

    “Free pass”? Right. New Google News searches: “atheist Hitler” or “atheist Stalin” or “atheist Mao”. Funny, people don’t seem to be shy about claiming what you’ve claimed.

    Of course, of the examples you’ve posted, one was flat wrong – Hitler wasn’t an atheist – and the others were all communist as well as atheist. (They rejected Darwinian evolution, BTW; did you know that? They mandated Lysenkoism and the crop failures that were the result killed millions – possibly a majority of those who died in their regimes.)

    There’s really only one example anyone can come up with of specifically-atheist violence that wasn’t also communist. But you have to go back more than a hundred years. Can you name it?

    More people have been killed in the name of atheist ideologies in the past hundred years than were killed in the name of all other ideologies, including all the world’s religions and nationalisms, in all the rest of human history.

    What population figures are you working from?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    People,

    Take it to the coffee house!

    Mollie

  • Bram

    I’m out of here, Mollie. Thanks again for your patience. All the best.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    Here’s the thing with the coverage, and let me wrap all of this up with Gervais. He was a point of controversy because he basically insulted folks who are used to being on the leeward side of the insults. Some well meaning jabs here and there at awards shows maybe. But he said some things that made me squirm when I heard them, about folks who aren’t used to being put in that spot publicly.

    Because he is an atheist, the role his atheism played was never called into question. His atheism was almost irrelevant. I’m not sure why, but it was. Atheism, in the modern media, is not really challenged apart from some stale, old cliches over which most atheists can leap and most religious have stopped saying. Hence, when an atheist spouts off the infamous ‘religion is the main cause of suffering in history’, even though a first year history student has all he or she needs to know that is bunk, it is never challenged. Not once in an interview with Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens have I seen the journalist in question throw it back at them with data and facts. Why? I can’t say.

    But the Hitler, Stalin, Mao reply is not meant to say ‘Ahtiests make mass murderers.’ It’s to say that after a century of unprecedented slaughter dominated by such people, and philosophies and movements devoid of any religious influence, some of which were openly antagonistic to religion, what sense does it make to continue with ‘religion is the mischief here!’ angle? A question too seldom asked when some atheist makes a rather banal proclamation in an interview that religion, and not greed, passion, lust for power, prejudice or a million other facts common across the human landscape, is the thing most needing a pink slip from history.

    (How was that for answering and linking it with the post and the media covereage of religion/atheism in general!)

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Dave G. –

    Not once in an interview with Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens have I seen the journalist in question throw it back at them with data and facts

    Can you link to an interview where one of them actually said ‘religion is the main cause of suffering in history’? (And not, say, ‘a main cause’?)

  • http://youmademesayit.com PhillyChief

    Atheism, in the modern media, is not really challenged…

    I’d have to say that nothing is challenged anymore. It’s all about presenting two opposite views and giving them equal time, regardless of their relative validity (ie – anti-vaccination movement), without passing any editorial judgement. So atheism might not be challenged, but neither is religion. Is religion questioned in MSM when parents kill their kids with prayer (ie – Neumanns) or the Pope says condoms cause AIDS? No.

    I think it’s a mistake to say, for instance, Stalin’s Russia was devoid of religion. First, the State becomes a religion, with leaders presented as quasi-religious icons (we all are familiar with the big images of Lenin, Stalin and Mao). Second, rather than following some “atheist agenda”, the motivation for Stalin and Mao to oppose religion was over power, more so in Russia where the church was fomenting counter revolution to reclaim the privileged place it once held under the Czars. So religion, one way or another, most certainly influenced the actions of those regimes.

    As far as the role of religion in suffering throughout history, you can’t deny it played a huge part, but I think the debate is really over actions directed by religion and actions justified by religion. Can religion be held as accountable for the latter as the former? Debatable, but one thing is clear, suffering or happiness occur whether religion is present or not.


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