Blasphemy on Campus?

Apparently someone set up a cross on a courtyard at school and replaced the letters INRI (Jesus of Nazerene, King of the Jews in Latin) with ROFL.  I don’t have many details; all the reporting is happening on the op-ed page, and there are no pictures or other context.  I’m going to run down the op-eds that have been written before I give my thoughts.

An insulting prank and hypocritical response” — Jordon Walker
Walker broke the story and rebuked the campus for not treating anti-Christian displays with the same gravity and anger that previous anti-semitic and racist graffiti had provoked.

Good Friday and the ROFL cross” — Garrett Fiddler
Fiddler reminded readers that the original inscription of INRI nasty and mocking. Whether the display was intended to give offence or update the Passion story, Fiddler focuses on Jesus’s defeat of death on Easter and his victory over mocking in all ages.

Censoring Speech at Yale” — Nate Zelinsky
Zelinsky argues that Yale should not clamp down on offensive speech of any kind. Currently, he argues, the administration only polices speech that is targeted at minority groups.

As you may recall from my series of posts on P.Z. Myers’s desecration stunt, I don’t approve of blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy.  I think it’s unproductive and unkind to boot.  But immoral isn’t the same thing as illegal, even on a college campus.

I doubt Yale will be able to find the kid who put up the ROFL cross or the student who burned a pro-LGBT poster recently.  If they were identified, I don’t see a reason the school administration should do more that tell the culprits that their actions were unworthy of them and explain how the administrators and other students have been hurt.

There’s a big difference between offensive speech and threatening speech.  Zelinsky analogizes the ROFL cross to the chants of DKE pledges outside the Women’s Center (“No means Yes!  Yes means Anal!), but this is a false equivalence.  The DKE pledges were condoning or threatening rape en masse just a pane of glass away from the ostensibly safe space for women on campus.  Christians might be offended or saddened by the recent display, but they would have little reason to be afraid.

Some of the commenters on the surprisingly nasty thread following Walker’s piece argued that no speech was truly threatening or intimidating if it was directed at Christians in the United States or at any other powerful, majority group.  I disagree.  There is probably a higher bar for intimidation, when a group is generally secure, but insisting the group cannot be hurt or that individual members can’t be intimidated.

I’m sorry that someone was being unproductively offensive, but I’m more upset by the tenor of the discussion that followed

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04644525459910973391 Kevin

    Today we who claim (and how unworthily!) the name of "Christian" remember how our Lord was abandoned by his friends, dragged before a show trial, tortured, spat upon, mocked, stripped naked, and left publicly to die. And people are worrying about a stupid sign!Christ suffered for my sins, and the petty degradations his name undergoes today are also on account of my sins. Let them mock the crucifix who will; my own life is a greater mockery of the Passion than these blasphemers could ever manage to pull off; my own sinfulness and the perversity that led them to offend Christians at a holy time are two manifestations of the same problem.For which may God have mercy on us all.

  • Andy

    The ROFL cross actually does a good job of displaying how I feel about the idea of the resurrection and its implications. So why am I to condemn the person who did it?This is my main beef with religion, when you believe you have this divinely inspired knowledge, it not only demands respect, it demands that you agree with it too. I've been reading a lot on Catholicisms views on sex recently, and I've heard all the arguments about how waiting for marriage, and only having sex for children, or maybe doing NFP is somehow super empowering. Maybe that is empowering for others, but it is not for me. I would never seek to dictate to someone else what their sexuality should or should not be, that's simply ludicrous. However, when a Christian believes that his/her sexuality is dictated to them by God himself, it is natural that they believe it should be the standard for everyone else.The existence of man-gods is laughable, the idea that men rise from the grave is laughable, the idea that the torture and killing of a human being somehow absolves me of my responsibilities is laughable, immoral, and entirely dehumanizing. Deal with it.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    While you didn't have to say that the ROFL cross was insulting and offensive, I am thankful that you did.I find it "interesting" that those who claim to be persecuted by Christians would find completely acceptable to mock us on one of the holiest days of the year.Andy, I respect that you think that what I believe is ludicrous and stupid. Now do me the same favor and respect that I am entitled to my beliefs.

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

    Respecting a person and respecting their beliefs are two entirely different matters. I think the idea of a man-god (wholly man and wholly god… because that makes sense!) being resurrected from the dead 3 days after being crucified is absolutely ridiculous. It is "ROFL" worthy, because it's such a ludicrous claim. Just because a large population believes in nonsense does not mean we should refrain from calling it nonsense. In the same vein, while you might "respect" a Ku Klux Klan member as a person, it would be silly to suggest that we ought to respect their beliefs. In fact, it would be morally reproachable and intellectually dishonest to do so.

  • taosquirrel

    Kevin already said everything I would have.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Jen is falling into the Fox News trap of claiming days/seasons for special protection.Her claim of I find it "interesting" that those who claim to be persecuted by Christians would find completely acceptable to mock us on one of the holiest days of the year. assumes that there are such things as Holy days, that this one is special and that only Christian days can be Holy or are more Holy that other religions' ones.Which is exactly the same tactic used by Fox News when complaining about atheist posters in December – this is a Holy month, you have 11 other months why choose this one (except, according to Jen, there aren't 11 other months because Easter is special too) etc.Have all your beliefs, rituals and such like, but don't claim special importance of days or symbols. If the crucifix belonged to someone else then it was vandalism, no more, no less, it wasn't intimidating or threatening to any group or individual so let it go.

  • Kogo

    *I find it "interesting" that those who claim to be persecuted by Christians would find completely acceptable to mock us on one of the holiest days of the year.*I find it interesting that low-intelligence religious people are unable to use punctuation correctly. It's like a 'tell': If I needed a clue you were a superstitious moron, I'd just need to wait until you typed enough to want to use 'its' or 'it's' and then see that you would, without fail, choose the wrong one.Now, on to the thrust: Christians don't get to complain about repression. Ever. Not since 400-some A.D. when the murderous warlord Constantine (who later murdered his own son and thousands of other people) proclaimed it the imperial religion. Since then there has not been a SINGLE situation in history in which Christians did not torture, kill, imprison and restrict non-Christians. So fuck your indignation. Fuck your religion. Fuck your stupid savior. Fuck you. Go fuck yourselves. Die.

  • Kogo

    Oh and just to establish my fairness-of-hatred bona fides, here:0-I<There's a drawing of Mohammed for you. Fuck Islam.

  • KL

    I agree that the ROFL cross, while in poor taste, should not be censored on an administrative level. No one has a right not to be offended, but they are perfectly free to criticize the offensive speech or actions. On a dispassionate level, I see the ROFL cross as crass and not particularly productive in terms of dialogue, but hardly threatening to anyone. Like you, I don't think that a majority group cannot be threatened, but it seems to me that in the context of the Yale campus, Christians would not feel unsafe simply by virtue of being Christian as a result of this isolated action.I do like Fiddler's meditation on the cross as a symbol of mockery, though, and he makes a good point that Christians often forget that the symbol of their faith is a reminder of humiliation and public degradation. It's a point that many Christians would do well to take to heart.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Kogo: unless I'm mistaken, Jen was using proper grammar and syntax. Please clarify her error. As for your bigger point, grammar Nazis are a pretty small segment of the population. I've found that punctuation illiteracy and other ills are common among both atheists and religious people.Now to the thrust. Ordinarily I'd let the cheap insults pass (cf. I didn't respond to Matt or Andy). But in this case you're not just insulting my faith; you're insulting my field, the entire subject of history. It's not just that you're wrong; it's that I know exactly how you came to be wrong. I know the books you read to make such claims; I know the books they cite to support their claims in the first place. I know where the claims originated, and I know how they were popularized. I'm not in the mood to write a dissertation of links. I'd just recommend you pick up a history book without a visceral anti-religious agenda and get some perspective.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    A modest proposal: in light of the staggering historical illiteracy that is demonstrated whenever religious topics seem to come up, can we call a truce on sweeping claims of historical evils committed by one side or the other? Plenty of blood was spilled by Christians and Jews and Muslims and atheists. Why can't we just say plenty of blood was spilled by *humans* and be done with it?

  • KL

    @Publius,Kogo has made a point of making inflammatory statements simply for the sake of being inflammatory in most of the recent comment threads. I wouldn't recommend trying to engage him/her if you're interested in a discussion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17247158157116661448 Sarah

    Once again, Leah, I appreciate your kindness and the confident-but-humble way in which you write about matters like this. In case you wanted a (new) Catholic's two-cents, I agree with your assessment. Mockery of religious figures is deeply rude, but even rude people deserve their voices. "Some people juggle geese", I guess.Kevin, your humility and insight have humbled me; thank you. I feel you have provided precisely the appropriate Christian response.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    KL: thank you for the pointer. I've had some encounters with trolls in the past, but I still sometimes miss the signs. I'd agree that Kevin probably expressed the most Christian response. God bless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    @PubliusIf you are going to posit yourself as some sort of historical expert, then you should understand that theist regimes often slaughtered on behalf of their religious beliefs, while the "atheists" that slaughtered millions were not doing so under the grips of an atheist ideology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Matt, sweeping categorical assertions on ALL theist regimes or ALL "atheistic" regimes are fairly self-refuting. The reason I shy away from writing out the refutations themselves are because they can be rather exhausting.A lot of people "know" historical "facts" that just aren't so. Asserting such errors requires no evidence because people already believe them. Refuting such errors takes considerable time and effort, which people often aren't willing to give.Let's assume this is a good-faith conversation, and you're willing to invest the time to consider this carefully.Two counterpoints:1) Most religiously inspired slaughter can be just as easily explained by other causes, from politics to economics to culture.Example: the trial of Joan d'Arc (ostensibly about Catholic dogma) was in reality the product of nationalistic competition between France and England.2) Most non-religiously inspired slaughter can be just as easily explained by religious motives.Example: Marxism treats religion as a symptom of economic evil. The Soviet persecution of the Eastern Orthodox was justified as part of the broader pogrom against the Ukrainian kulaks.Neither case is as clear as you make them out to be. Wars may be fought for one reason and justified for another. These justifications have more to do with what is considered an appropriate vocabulary for war, as they do with the actual (proximate or ultimate) causes.Example: World War 1 was "caused" by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. In reality, it was caused and escalated by the rise of Serbian nationalism (tied to the unification movements in Germany and Italy), the rise of the alliance system (tied to the post-Napoleonic balance of power established by Metternich in the Congress of Vienna), the development of advanced military technology and tactics, and the rise of American expansionism that can be traced back to the Barbary Wars and the Monroe Doctrine (though the Spanish-American War was the more immediate cause).Proximate causes (assassination attempts, religious causes) are comparable to sparks. Such considerations are interesting. But most historians are far more interested in the fuel.I don't know of any conflict that was fueled by exclusively theological or religious concerns. Faith often shapes cultural, political, and economic factors that are at the root of such conflicts. But in such cases, religions operates along the same lines as ideology and philosophy, which can just as easily be materialistic or atheistic in nature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    TL;DR summary of the above:History is complicated. Making simplistic assertions of a universal nature aren't credible. There is a difference between the ultimate and proximate causes, and a difference between either and the causes cited as justification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    Again, atheism has not been the cause of a single war. No matter how badly Christian apologists want to re-write history and act as if Marxism were acting on the tenets of atheism, it isn't so. Atheism is a non-belief in God, it does not have extraneous philosophical principles by which war can be justified. Religion, on the other hand, has been one of the primary causes of various wars through out history. The Crusades, the Muslim Conquests, the Thirty Years War, just to name a few. You can sing all day long that there were auxiliary causes, but it still doesn't hide the fact that religion was at the heart of numerous military conflicts through out human history. It's one thing to argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it's another matter entirely to slaughter your neighbor because he believes differently then you.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    @March Hare: Apparently, you don't know me very well. I abhor Fox News, I don't believe in a "War on Christmas" (though I am a huge scrooge because I hate the materialistic aspect of the holiday), and I don't believe that certain months are holier than others. Good Friday is a holy day to me so the act was rude; but I'd object just as strongly if something nasty happened to a Jewish community during their High Holy Days or if Terry Jones had burned the Qur'an on one of the Eids.@Kogo: I'm aware of the difference between its and it's. I also know the differences between there, their, and they're. I put "interesting" in quotes for a specific purpose, not because I am ignorant of the rules of grammar.@Publius: Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Matt, I'd repeat the tl;dr summary, but I fear you'd just ignore it again.You point out, justly, that atheism has not been the cause of a single war. Fair enough. The denial of the existence of God, in and of itself, is not enough to drive someone to murder nor justify such an action after the fact. But this can equally be said of theism simpliciter.The only way your argument works is by contrasting atheism simpliciter with every religious belief ever held. But this is comparing apples and oranges, or perhaps apples and atomic bombs. Of course there's no contest. You defined the sides to make comparison impossible.Murderous zeal does not arise out of either theism or atheism. It arises out of the ideological superstructure built on top of such simple premises.Thus, the appropriate comparison isn't between Catholics and atheists; it should be between Catholics and communists.Before you object, let me point out that Christian apologists don't need to rewrite history to prove that Marxism is atheistic in nature. Marx did a pretty good job of it the first time around. The same applies to the Chinese and Soviet communist experiments. These ideologies were predicated on the belief that God did not exist and that a utopian society could be constructed by human ingenuity. Their ideology can be traced directly back to certain German continental philosophers and French communist revolutionaries, among others.I've studied and presented research on this topic to professional economic conferences, so I have a bit of credibility here. If you want to argue the point, read some of the primary materials (Hegel, Engels, Marx, Lenin, Mao) and get back to us.One final point before I retire. My primary assertion is simply that people are complicated and societies are even more so. You're the one reducing social movements to the head of a pin, as it were.I guess I find it a bit ironic that you're the one making sweeping claims from limited evidence, while the Christians are defending empirical skepticism and epistemic caution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Publius: Thus, the appropriate comparison isn't between Catholics and atheists; it should be between Catholics and communists.then…Marxism is atheistic in nature.Communism is not (necessarily) Marxism. You fall into exactly the same generalisation that you claim Matt did when going for Catholicism rather than theism. Communism did not start with Marx, Plato's The Republic described something similar. Also, Communism is not the only political structure compatible with atheism, to suggest or imply otherwise is criminal. You might defend this by saying that it is the only one that has been tried but I'd argue that the US system is as compatible with atheism as Communism is.Also, Communism need not be atheistic, secular probably but not atheistic. It is a sociopolitical movement mainly based on the means of production and need not have ANY involvement with the private associations and beliefs of people.Jen, I wasn't implying that you liked Fox News (your comments are too intelligent for that) simply that your wish to be free from abuse/free speech on certain days is very Fox News-ian. Would altering the cross on the 4th July be okay? How about December 25th? You are trying to use your beliefs to limit the free speech (societally, not legally) of those who don't share those beliefs which is not really what one ought to do in a free society.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    @March Hare: Sorry for the confusion. A good deal of my research was focused on pre-Marxian communism, particularly within heretical millennialist sects in the Middle Ages. I'm quite familiar with all of your points. Communism existed before Marx, and in its simple form does not entail atheism.But I was not trying to point to a simple form or minimal definition. I was pointing to an iteration of an ideological superstructure, or a series of iterations. The fact is, after the French Revolution communism became an almost exclusively atheistic affair. Marx inspired the 'economic theory' that bore his name, which was later adopted and adapted by other communists (notably in Leninism and Maoism). All of these have similar lineage and all of these are similarly rooted in atheistic premises.Hopefully that clarifies things. Thanks for your post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Thanks Publius, I just couldn't leave your statement out there hanging given that most people would have assumed that it was all Marx onwards.However, I do think that one has to be aware why these later philosophies were not just atheistic but positively anti-theistic – it was because of the perceived (and actual) power of the churches that had caused so many ills in society that they thought, perhaps wrongly, that the best way forward was a clean break from them. Which is not in any way meant to defend Marxism against the evils it ultimately did to religious people but it will hopefully give it a little context. And, ideally, separate communism from Marxism and its legacy. But you'd be infinitely better placed to comment on that type of thing than me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    @March Hare, I definitely appreciate the correction and clarification.Also, as you say, the context is important, and much of the pent-up resentment was valid. The deeds committed by the anti-theists were wrong, but Christians had committed many sins on their own. It's rather pointless to compute the moral algebra in such a case — plenty of blame to go around!I agree that Marxism should be separated as far as possible from communism. Marx and his followers were simplistic fools with a good deal of methodological narcissism and chronological snobbery.Communism simpliciter is far more interesting. While its economic performance is still lackadaisical, we can at the very least absolve it from responsibility for quite possibly the worst tyrannies and genocides this side of recorded history. Very few empires come close to the moral abhorrence of the USSR and PRC, and those that might are widely contested.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    Publius,You said: "Thus, the appropriate comparison isn't between Catholics and atheists; it should be between Catholics and communists."This is certainly not an appropriate comparison. Catholicism is a logical derivation of theism, and even further is actually a breed of theism. Once we posit a supernatural being, it makes sense to make up a story pertaining to the God's character. On the other hand, even though you claimed Communism is "rooted in atheistic premises", it seems this is blatantly false. From what premises of atheism can we derive Communism? Atheism is merely the rejection of a belief in god(s), and positing an entire social and economic structure from this premise seems quite a stretch, although I'm assuming you must have someway of tying this together if that is what you are arguing. You can leave the comments like "read some primary sources" and "I've presented to professional conferences" out of your reply. I'm not terribly interested in listening to arrogant claims of expertise over the internet.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Matt, let me try again.Theism = belief in GodAtheism = disbelief in God Therefore, theism || atheismCatholicism = set of philosophical (and, to a lesser extent, political) doctrines grounded in a belief in God.Marxian communism = set of philosophical (and, to a lesser extent, political) doctrines grounded in a disbelief in God.Therefore, Catholicism || MarxismIt seems your entire argument against this devolves to "it seems this is blatantly false." Again: you really ought to read Marx.Marxism is an ideology rooted in a purely materialistic understanding of society, history, and the human person. The peculiarly Marxian approach to communism requires atheism.Other forms of communism have existed with theism, but I'm only trying to draw a comparison between one theistic system and one atheistic system. Marxian communism does the trick.Did I err? I'll correct myself if I did. Just prove it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Theism = belief in GodAtheism = Not belief in God (NB. Not a belief in the non-existence of God)Catholicism is a form of theismAnarcho capitalism, libertarianism, communism, fascism, stamp collecting, extreme ironing, computer programming, gambling et al. are all forms of Not belief in God.The other thing is Catholicism can exist within sociopolitical structures whereas communism cannot. You are the one comparing apples to oranges. The appropriate comparison would be communism to a Catholic theocracy.To find an appropriate comparison you would have to find something appropriate to Catholicism that eschews the need for a god – secular humanism for example, possibly nihilism. Just as Catholicism is not necessitated by theism but is a form of it, nihilism is not necessitated by atheism but is a form of it.So I guess you're both right, atheism hasn't been the cause of any wars and neither has theism. Their various branches have though. I would content that Marxism is much less closely tied in with atheism than Catholicism is with theism though. Also, more branches of theism lead directly to violence (mainly between different theistic views) than those of atheism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    "Marxian communism = set of philosophical (and, to a lesser extent, political) doctrines grounded in a disbelief in God."This is where your error is coming from. You keep repeating this, as if this will somehow make it true. Marxism is not "GROUNDED" in a disbelief in god(s). Atheism might be a peripheral belief that Marx advocated, but it is hardly a central tenet of Marxist thought. Catholicism, on the other hand, is a theological position necessarily derived from theism. Since there is a God, and we think this Jesus dude was his son (or is he God too? How many ghosts fit in a Ghostbusters' vacuum? Who knows?) sent to deliver a divine message of salvation and repentance. If theism goes into the dustbin, so does Catholicism. Marxism does not have to follow suit if we discover atheism to be wrong. Materialist interpretations of history, and indeed social change through the dissipation of social classes are still valid principles even if god(s) exist(s). "Again, you really ought to read Marx."You just couldn't help yourself. I actually have read Marx, and since I also learned German in high school, I can do you one better: I've read the original text. Have you?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14408364244593519914 Matt DeStefano

    Just wanted to add: I mean valid in the sense that they are not found wrong in discovering god(s) to exist. I'd argue that Marx was still mostly full of shit, especially his dialectical materialism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    All right! Now we're getting somewhere.@March Hare: "Atheism… NB. Not a belief in the non-existence of God."I'm not sure I'd concede this. Most people would characterize such open-ended suspension of belief/disbelief as agnosticism. At any rate, I am only using atheism in the sense of a positive denial of the existence of God. If we want to debate whether that's the only or the best definition, I'd ask that we hold off on that discussion for another time. For now, the merits.@March Hare: "The other thing is Catholicism can exist within sociopolitical structures whereas communism cannot."Minor quibble: you've fallen into the same trap I fell into earlier, of equating communism with Marxism. Mere communism can and has coexisted within society (cf. Robert Fulton).Major contention: you raise an interesting distinction, but at the same time I'm not so sure it makes a difference. I don't mean that Catholics advocate theocracy. But I would say that Catholics believe that the state and society ought to be governed according to certain religious (moral) principles, just as Marxists would govern according to certain economic principles. I'd say we can focus on an ideological and institutional level, rather than the level of entire societies or cultures.@March Hare: "Also, more branches of theism lead directly to violence (mainly between different theistic views) than those of atheism."I take issue with this because it is an unquantified claim about comparative quantities. I'd also refer back to my earlier point, which is that it is exceptionally hard to demarcate what violence was 'caused' by religion v. 'inspired' by religion v. 'justified' by religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    @Matt: "Atheism might be a peripheral belief that Marx advocated, but it is hardly a central tenet of Marxist thought."ALWP (actual laughter was produced). Indeed, a "peripheral belief" that has been consistently held by every orthodox Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist as essential to their philosophy.Hegel developed the 'dialectic' as part of a broader semi-pantheistic philosophy, grounded in a fuzzy mystical idea of 'History.' This is fairly typical in continental philosophy. Heidigger had 'Being,' Schopenhauer had 'Will,' Hegel had 'History.'Marx applied this in his brutally pragmatic way to 'dialectical materialism,' reducing mystical 'History' to the raw forces of economic considerations. There is no room for any of Hegel's mysticism in Marx, for his system forbids him from accepting anything above economic forces. His thesis that religion arose as a means of economic control is a necessary consequence of his broader thesis.If you think this is tangential, you've missed Marx's argument entirely. He argues from a universal premise ("All") which excludes a particular conclusion ("some not"). Thus Marxism necessarily results in the denial of theism.@Matt: "Catholicism, on the other hand, is a theological position necessarily derived from theism."This implies a "Theism -> Catholicism" model, which reverses the true logical connection. You got it right in your next paragraph, but you use fuzzy language here.@Matt: "Materialist interpretations of history, and indeed social change through the dissipation of social classes are still valid principles even if god(s) exist(s)."Methodological naturalism remains a valid option, and indeed, many professing Christians abide by this principle. But Marxism entails philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, which would be refuted by the existence of God.This sentence and the one preceding it make me suspect you don't have a concrete definition of Marxism itself. It is not merely an economic lens to view history, or an advocacy of 'social dissipation.' It is a philosophical argument with very specific premises and conclusions, that was at the heart of political movements in Europe, Russia and China. The innovations of Lenin (accelerating the dialectic by exercising state power) and Mao (positing a non-Western utopian future) are minor relative to the philosophical presuppositions they imbibed wholesale.@Matt: "I actually have read Marx."I suspect you mean the Communist Manifesto. That's basically the Cliff Notes for Marxism. Also, it was a propaganda piece, so he emphasized the elements that were most digestible. If you're up for a challenge, try reading 'Das Kapital' for the economics, and an anthology of smaller writings for the philosophy. You might be better served by a historical or philosophical review to get the big picture.I remain eager to be corrected if I am wrong. Thanks for the constructive responses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Publius: "Marxism entails philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, which would be refuted by the existence of God."Your God, not necessarily ALL gods. Minor quibble."I don't mean that Catholics advocate theocracy."Indeed, but without the whole society set up for it (as was the case for The Crusades and all the other atrocities that are being laid at the door of Christianity) the comparison is meaningless, hence the apples and oranges comment. And why I went on to try to find a more appropriate comparison."I take issue with this because it is an unquantified claim about comparative quantities. I'd also refer back to my earlier point, which is that it is exceptionally hard to demarcate what violence was 'caused' by religion v. 'inspired' by religion v. 'justified' by religion."But my point was actually: "more branches of theism lead directly to violence (mainly between different theistic views) than those of atheism."There is no doubt that atheism is a part of Marxism and there is no doubt that Marxism and its later versions led to the deaths of millions, but none of these deaths were related directly to atheism. The wiping out of religious groups was not down to atheism but down to a political ideology that thought religion would poison the sociopolitical well. The mass (non-religious) deaths were down to the belief that there was a greater good at stake rather than because of some tenet of atheism, because atheism doesn't have tenets.So, unless you can point to a single instance where atheism directly leads to a killing then all I have to do is point to Shahbaz Bhatti and George Tiller to make my point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17359788578212299468 Dylan

    I actually read through this entire argument (and I've read more Marx than the Communist Manifesto, thank you very much), but I find it rather boring. Is either side actually prepared to be consequentialist in choosing what beliefs to adopt and spread? That is to say, if I convince Publius atheistic societies are less violent, etc., I doubt he'll stop believing in God. Similarly, I don't think convincing Matt that theistic societies are less violent will make him start. It's the rare theist or atheist who maintains (or at least admits to maintaining) such a consequentialist epistemology (one such rare example, ironically, was the great "deontologist" Immanuel Kant).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Atheism and theism has not killed anyone in and of themselves.Communism is one form of atheistic thought, as is secular humanism and various other societal arrangements that do not incorporate a belief in God(s).Catholicism is simply one of many forms of theism along with Islam, Hinduism etc. etc.So we shouldn't compare Catholicism with atheism as they're on different levels, we should compare it to secular humanism, or Marxist communism.The problem we run into is that no-one is defending Marxism or communism. Matt and myself may defend some form of secular humanism but there have been few/no countries set up with that worldview so we cannot say what atrocities people living that way (would) have committed.So we're stuck with the religious doing strawmen arguments against Marxist communism that actually has virtually everyone onboard but they insist on laying the blame at the door of atheism rather than communism. Whereas when atheists attack what Catholicism has done (and is doing) that they think is bad they are not attacking theism per se but actual Catholic doctrine.Just as no Christian can be blamed for 9/11, the blame is placed firmly at the foot of Islam, no secular humanist can be blamed for the atrocities of Marxism. Theism does not necessitate suicide bombers or crusades and atheism does not necessitate persecution of the religious or the starvation of millions, however certain brands of each ultimately do. It is those brands that have to be compared not the generic label.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Thanks for the responses!@March Hare: "Your God, not necessarily ALL gods."This gets into the question of what constitutes a legitimate form of theism. I'm personally of the opinion that polytheism doesn't qualify. http://alex-binz.blogspot.com/2011/04/of-gods-and-greeks.html. But, as you note, this is a fairly tangential point.@March Hare: "But my point was actually: "more branches of theism lead directly to violence."Forgive me if I misunderstand you: you're arguing that there are more varieties of theism that contribute to violence in some way? That seems more defensible than a quantitative claim, though I'm still not certain.We've defined theism as an affirmative statement of a particular belief, while atheism is (at least for now) an active denial of that belief. The problem with comparing them is that people act out of a positive ideological construct: you don't burn heretics unless there is an orthodoxy to defend. Thus, by default atheism would be directly correlated to less violence.This says nothing about the relative tendencies of atheism v. theism; it's simply due to the fact that atheism simpliciter is not a positive ideology. That's why I consider the comparison between Catholicism and Marxism to be valid — because it directly compares two positive ideologies.But, as above, there are numerous caveats. For one, it is exceedingly difficult to demarcate what violence is 'religious' or 'theistic' in nature. Even directly sectarian violence can have antecedents in secular causes, while secular causes have antecedents in ideological beliefs.Likewise, here's another problem: theistic claims have had a much more extensive influence in Western society than atheistic claims, both ideologically and rhetorically. You'd need to control for duration of influence in order to make a direct comparison.I do not wish to deny that people have been killed because of religious zealots. But I do deny that there's an easy formula that demonstrates theism has been quantitatively worse than atheism in terms of its effects. All of this has less to do with a desire to whitewash history, and more to do with an aversion to sweeping claims.@Dylan: "I've read more Marx than the Communist Manifesto, thank you very much."I'm glad for it. More people should be like you and read beyond the Manifesto. It may be horrid writing and horrid philosophy, but at least they'd understand it better.@Dylan: "Is either side actually prepared to be consequentialist in choosing what beliefs to adopt and spread?"In this case, my arguments have less to do with advocating my religious beliefs and more to do with advocating epistemic caution in the historical claims that we make. Indeed, Kogo and Matt have indicated that they're less likely to believe in theism because of the perceived outsized influence theistic beliefs have had in fomenting violence. I'm not arguing for consequentialism; if anything, I'm arguing against it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    @March HareYour last post is fantastic. It's a clear and concise statement of our points of agreemtn. Thanks for summarizing it out so well.I do have one caveat, regarding this paragraph:"So we're stuck with the religious doing strawmen arguments against Marxist communism that actually has virtually everyone onboard but they insist on laying the blame at the door of atheism rather than communism. Whereas when atheists attack what Catholicism has done (and is doing) that they think is bad they are not attacking theism per se but actual Catholic doctrine."I'm arguing against Marxism precisely because I know everyone will be on board; I don't imagine anyone, let alone 'all atheists,' would defend the USSR. This is equally true of the reverse.When atheists rail against religious wars and genocides and persecutions, they should remember that everyone is already on board with them. I've seen a number of posts that blame such outbreaks of violence on modern or orthodox Catholic belief. I think this is as unfair as ascribing blame for the USSR on secular humanism.As you say, "It is those brands that have to be compared not the generic label." The problem is in identifying the right brands to be compared.

  • John

    To think violence & wars would end in an atheistic world is naive and takes no account of human nature. Mankind fights and kills for essentially basic, fundamental reasons: greed, power, anger, etc. These reasons are draped in flags or creeds and used to the ends of attaining power, wealth, etc. Theists & atheists can point fingers and argue who is right, neither will be rid of the fact that human nature has an obvious proclivity and tendency and seeming desire for violence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    John,Tribalism and ideological extremism are exacerbated significantly by a faith in authority, by loyalty, by lack of curiosity, by willingness to privilege one class over another, all of which various religions strongly encourage.Without religion and the above tendencies it sustains, it is possible that greed and anger alone would not be sufficient to stir large populations to war. Such seems to be the case in Europe compared to America already, despite a mere doubling of the nonreligious portion of the population.You call us naive, but I ask you in return to do but one thing: Imagine.

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