Saturday, September 01, 2007

War & Religion & The New Atheism & Three Solutions

On the one hand you have the Dawkins', the Harris', and the Hitchens' all claiming that "religion is the main cause of wars." And that, "If religion would end, so would wars." Now, one will notice, if one has bothered to read these books, that these claims are hardly, if ever, backed up by serious scientific research and investigation. This is interesting in and of itself since they purport to chastise believers for not believing their dogmas on "scientific grounds." Sure, these champions for "free thought" will list dozens of wars where religion can be seen to be involved, or the leaders perhaps religious zealots, but there is no analysis of the situation. Thus, they leave the reader with the idea that it is religion that is to blame for all these horrors. This disrespects the reader. And, indeed, since most Christians don't even bother to read their insulting diatribes (except those weird souls called "Christian apologists") where they and their beliefs are mocked from the first page all the way to the last, these books are mostly for the choir. Perhaps Hitchens claims that his "intended audience" is religious believers, but when he insults and ridicules them on the very first page, I highly doubt he's serious in his claim. He's like the husband who says he got the 50 inch plasma T.V. for his wife, when in reality he got it for the NFL Network (every single football game) he ordered, and for TUF on Spike. The wife hardly feels flattered, needless to say.

Well, is "religion" the cause of our problems? If "religion" (notice these terms are never defined) was gone, would wars follow them? David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of New England, and an atheist, has written a book called "The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War." In it he claims to analyze war as a philosopher and a researcher. He puts in some serious time looking at "war." As an atheist, and an ardent evolutionist (co-founder of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology), what has his hard thinking and long hours of research led him to find?

"War can be approached from many angles. We can consider it from the standpoint of economics, politics, history, ideology, ethics, and various other disciplines. All of these are important, but there is one dimension that underpins them all: the bedrock of human nature." (p. xiii)

"Historically, there have been two broad, sharply polarized views of the relationship between war and human nature. One is that war is human nature in the raw, stripped of the facade of contrived civility behind which we normally hide. In most recent incarnations of this ancient theory, the taste for killing is said to be written in our genes. The other is that war is nothing but a perversion of an essentially kind, compassionate, and sociable human nature and that it is culture, not biology, which make us so dangerous to one another. In fact, both of these images are gross oversimplifications: both are true, and both are false. Human beings are capable of almost unimaginable violence and cruelty toward one another, and there is reason to believe that this dogged aggressiveness is grounded in our genes. But we are also enormously sociable, cooperative creatures with an elemental horror of shedding human blood, and this, too, seems to be embedded in the core of human nature. Strange as it may sound, I believe that war is caused by both of these forces working in tandem; it is a child of ambivalence, a compromise between two opposing sides of human nature." (p. xiv, emphasis original)

"What evidence was that these people [who cased wars or acts of terror or brutal slayings] were insane? There is usually none. The psychologists who painstakingly sifted through the data on the senior Nazi officer brought to justice in the Nuremberg trials found that ‘high-ranking Nazi war criminals … participated in atrocities without having diagnosable impairments that would account for their actions.’ They were ‘ as diverse a group as one might find in our government today, or in the leadership of the PTA.’ If the Nazi leaders were not deranged, what about the rank and file who did Hitler’s dirty work? What about the members of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units that committed atrocities like the mass killing at Babi Yar, where 33,000 Jews, as well as many gypsies and mental patients, were machine-gunned to death during two crisp autumn days in 1941? Do you think these men must have been psychopaths or Nazi Zealots? If so, you are wrong. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that they were anything other than ordinary German citizens. ‘The system and rhythm of mass extermination,” observes journalist Heinz Hohne, “were directed by … worthy family men.” The men of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101, a killing squad in Poland who were involved in the shooting of at least 38,000 Jews and the deportation of a further 83,000 to the Treblinka death camp, were ordinary middle-aged family men without either military training or ideological indoctrination. ‘The truth seems to be,’ writes psychologist James Waller, ‘that the most outstanding characteristic of perpetrators of extraordinary evil lies in their normality, not their abnormality.’ Purveyors of violence, terrorists, and merchants of genocidal destruction are, more often than not, people who fit the profile that Primo Levi panted of his Nazi jailers at Auschwitz: ‘average human beings, averagely intelligent, averagely wicked … they had our faces.’ To Hannah Arendt they were ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal.’ They could be your neighbors, parents, or children. They could be you.” (p. 4)

“Wars are purposeful. They are fought for resources, lebensraum, oil, gold, food, and water or peculiarly abstract or imaginary goods like God, honor, race, democracy, and destiny” (p. 7)

“Hobbes thought that antagonism simmers beneath the surface of all human interactions, constantly threatening to erupt into lethal violence, and the problem lay in human equality.” (p.9, ).

And so on the one hand we have those in the New Atheist camp that wish to blame wars on religion, or religious belief, and on the other hand we have philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and myriad researches who point out that wars are fought for an abundance of reasons - belief in God being only one of the contributing factors for some wars - but the underlying cause is human nature. It is man that causes war. Man is the problem. And, these so-called butchers are just like you and me.

It seems to me that Christians have been saying this for a long time. Man’s sinful nature is a major cause of the world’s problems. Southern Presbyterian R.L. Dabney says that when we speak of man being sinful by nature we mean, “the evil quality which characterizes man's natural disposition and will. We call this sin of nature original, because each fallen man is born with it, and because it is the source or origin in each man of his actual transgressions.” What is needed, then, isn’t books by The New Atheism telling people that religion (again, a word they always fail to define) is the root of all evil. As shown above, even if religion was removed, war would still rage. And, man would still be here. There would be something else to fight over. There always is. The New Atheists have done us a disservice in their sloppy overgeneralizations. They have made those atheists (mainly the young and impressionable militant types who live in cyber-space) who have trotted out their arguments look like uneducated, sloppy thinkers. Rather than carefully think through these issues they have, as David Livingstone Smith says following Plato, failed to “carve nature at its joints,” but have opted to hack off parts “like a clumsy butcher” (p. 15). So, not only have they been sloppy in their generalizations, failing to note the abundant causes of war and violence, the more careful thinkers in the atheist community have noted that they haven’t even needled the correct problem, the underlying source of war and violence - man.

Now, Smith argues that man can get around this genetic problem by lifting himself up by his own bootstraps, so to speak (p. 27). Man is the problem, and paradoxically, man is the solution to the problem! Man is the Messiah. We will save ourselves. But we will still be man. But this Messiah is a false Messiah. Smith only has what Dawkins would call blind faith in man’s ability to save himself. Smith ends his book by saying this of war and killing: “Both are deeply rooted in human nature, and neither can be extirpated. If I am right, we will never stop men from enjoying war, and trying to do so is a fools errand. The most that we can hope for, in the end, is for men to detest it more than they enjoy it, and the only way to shift the balance is to expose the self-deception that makes killing bearable” (p. 215). And so on the one side we have anti-intellectual men who have not done their homework and thus cannot hope to provide a solution having failed to grasp the problem, on the other side some atheists have drawn close to the problem, but there is no solution other than that of faith, mere hope.

This hope seems totally blind given that normal, intelligent, seemingly emotionally stable and compassionate men like, say, Winston Churchill could claim “I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering thousands every moment - and yet - I enjoy every second of it.” And “philosopher-soldier” J. Glenn Grey describes man’s thoughts about killing in WWII: “Happiness is doubtless the wrong word for the satisfaction that men experience when they are possessed by the lust to destroy and kill their kind.” And, take the words of Henri de Man, a soldier in WWI who later became leader of the Belgian Socialist party. He was a cultivated and intelligent person, but he says that after he secured his first hit on an enemy position and saw pieces of men’s bodies fly up in the air, and listened to the screams of the wounded, he “experienced such extreme pleasure that he wept for joy.” And, Vietnam veteran Philip Caputo says that his experience in war was “like getting screwed for the first time,” and it was an “ache as profound as the ache of orgasm.”

Smith thinks the above is the “delusion” that we must escape. He does not tell us how except to say that we can “use nature against nature” (p. 215), like how we use our desire for a long-term companion to ward off our desire to sleep with anything that breathes. But of course if you’re smart, like most men think they are, they‘d rather become good liars and end up sleeping with everything that breathes, while also keeping their wife in the dark. Have their cake and eat it too. Maybe like the formation of the atheist universe, it will just happen. Perhaps given Smith’s worldview, the above is no delusion. Perhaps the delusion is shaking your fist at Mother Nature. At transcending your genes. This is what Bertrand Russell thought:

“Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.”

Thus the desire to shake your fists at The Law of Natuture is the delusion. But some like to live in a delusion. In the Christian worldview, we teach that man needs a new nature. He is still man but his old, sinful nature, needs to die. We need new natures. This is called regeneration. B.B. Warfield expresses regeneration thusly: “Regeneration (from Lat. re-, again + generare, beget) is a theological term used to express the initial stage of the change experienced by one who enters upon the Christian life. It is derived from the New Testament, where the ‘new birth’ (1 Pet. i. 3, 23; Titus iii. 5; John iii. 3 f.) is the beginning of that ‘renewal’ which produces the ‘new creature.’” Man doesn’t contradictorily save himself, he needs a savior. This savior is Jesus Christ. This regeneration is only the start of the new life. We still have vestiges of an enemy within. So, the war to be fought is against our old self (for those hawks who love a good fight, try battling against your old self day in and day out), not necessarily against an Osama Bin Laden (there is still a place for defense, but that goes beyond the scope of this entry). Even a regenerate man will still sin. But that is looking at things in a short-sighted fashion. This is the beginning of the process. (Though the here and now would change tremendously if more people were truly regenerate and looked to the principles of peace-making to solve problems.) Eventually, we will come to the place where the Prince of Peace rules. Indeed, the new heavens and earth is described in Revelation 21:25 as a city with open gates. In it’s historical context, this means safety. Cities would protect their inhabitants against attacks by closing its gates. In Isaiah 2:4 we read, “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

On the other hand, to reject this salvation, means an eternity of war. The Nazis carried out their atrocities under the umbrella of God’s restraining grace - while he waits for all his elect to come to him. This will be removed. Some soldiers have described war as hell. This might be closer to the truth than you think. Reading the above comments about the love many men left in an un-regenerate state have for war and killing, what might a place where these men - you included - were un-restrained - you included - from committing the kind of evil they are really capable of be like? So, trusting in the likes of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and even the more level-headed Livingstone Smith, will only get you, eventually, to a more violent place, where the wars we see will seem like a day at Disneyland. As you read this, then, and you say you really do want war and violence to stop, trust in the only man who can do the job, the God-man Jesus Christ. He will change your nature, and bring you to a place where there is no more war. Out of the three solutions to ending war, one was seen to be based on bad scholarship, over-generalizations, and a failure to cite the real cause thus failing to find a real solution; the other was seen to be somewhat contradictory in saying that man is both the problem and the solution, somewhat ignorant of man's desires, and a sort of pie in the sky "just maybe" story, though it got the problem right, it's naturalism failed to find a solution; and the last, though maybe laughed at by the atheist, seemd to get the problem right, and offer a solution that could answer the problem.

Does the world ever seem like a nightmare
Some suffer but the other ones don’t care
What does it matter if its going on elsewhere
Like it doesn’t happen of it's not happening here
There’s a girl with only a mother and her dad just won't seem to bother
No love so she finds a lover
Now she has a child who doesn’t have a father

Whoa O O I hope the Prince of peace is coming soon
Whoa O O Yeah I hope the Prince of peace is coming soon
Whoa O O We'll learn to make a plowshare from a gun
Cause we won't need them when the kingdom comes

When the Communists turn into the terrorists
But the axis came before the soviets
And before that came the confederates
We’ll always have a war to fight
You can count on this

With every cure there comes another sickness
The Earth dies with every bit of progress
We've gone deaf to the cries of oppressed
What we need is Jesus to redeem us

Whoa O O I hope the Prince of peace is coming soon
Whoa O O Yeah I hope the Prince of peace is coming soon
Whoa O O We'll learn to make a plowshare from a gun
Cause we won't need them when the kingdom comes
No we won't need them when the kingdom comes

Now the world doesn’t work cause we’ve broken it
And we need dope or Prozac just to cope with it
Now the beast speaks it's peace the congress
Plans to Propagate
Proposition 666
Hitler’s still alive in the knives of abortionists
And the news twist the truth like contortionists
And they wonder what happened to humanity
You say peace but were headed for calamity

Whoa O O I hope the Prince of peace is coming soon
Whoa O O I hope the Prince of peace is coming soon
Whoa O O We'll learn to make a plowshare from a gun
Cause we won't need them when the kingdom comes
We long for the day when we will see the heavens and the earth as they should be

- The O.C. Supertones, Prince of Peace Lyrics

1 comment:

  1. Great job Paul!
    Thank you for pointing out the obvious!
    Oh, the great human strenght it takes to suppress the truth! Yet Gods weakness, is stonger then mens strenght! May God grant them repentance and lead them to the truth in Jesus Christ!