It’s Critical Thinking, Stupid
Reading Secular Right lately, I find quite a few people who persist in arguing whether various atrocities should be laid at the foot of atheism or religion.
Both sides miss the points completely.
First, the debate relies on false conceptions of what religion is. The ideology of the Soviet Union explicitly rejected ‘the supernatural’, or at least the things that have traditionally been called supernatural, so it was not religious in a traditional sense. But that definition is grossly lacking to a rational thinker, who recognizes that the category of ‘supernatural’ is incoherent.
What the Soviet Union had was a dogmatic ideological system that tried to appear as reasoned positions but in actuality assumed its ‘conclusions’ as well as ‘premises’. Acceptance not only of the conclusions, but the arguments that ostensibly supported them, was demanded. Questioning, challenging, and especially rejecting was forbidden. The emphasis was on belief for belief’s sake; although it claimed to be scientific, the system utterly rejected all of the principles of the scientific method and critical thinking. It was a religion, plain and simple, created by a man who was trained in leadership of a religious organization and recognized the utility of belief. It had Historical Materialism instead of God, Stalin and Marx instead of prophets, and claimed it would create a Workers’ Paradise on Earth instead of merely Paradise, but this is a difference in labels only.
Similar arguments can be made for Pol Pot, Nazi Germany, etc. Hitler is a perfect example of a Cult of Personality.
The second point is that religious systems provide a way to channel and direct people’s actions, which is needed because most people are grossly irrational and require established norms in order to function effectively. Religious societies aren’t inherently better, they’re simply more vulnerable to direction. It’s the nature of the direction that makes them atrocious or not.
When the controlling groups demand atrocities, though, religious societies have no defense against the control. The properties that make religion an effective means of getting people to do stuff work generally, regardless of any external moral system or means of evaluation.
The issue isn’t whether the social systems responsible for atrocities were traditionally religious or not, but that they’re all based on faith, the importance of accepting even ridiculous dogmas without questioning, and submission of the individual to group conformity.
The techniques of critical thinking that individuals must practice in order to question absurd atrocities are incompatible with religion, whether in the traditional or realistic senses. Once you accept absurdity, atrocity follows after. Rejecting the absurdity is against the short-term interests of many people who perceive themselves as benefiting from getting people to swallow their particular absurdities. Some of them even want to cripple people’s intellectual development because they believe it’s essential to producing even a rudimentally stable society.
But ultimately the reins of control fall into the hands of some maniac, and society goes straight to Hell.