City Journal Autumn 2014

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Stefan Kanfer
Useful Atheists « Back to Story

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Toady,

No true Scotsman? Yes and no. If my nuanced and detailed account of atheism compared with totalitarianism is an example of this fallacy, then you'll have to grant that Hitler was an example of a Catholic. So was Franco. Mussolini too. All of them "typical" Christians. No counterexamples will suffice. I'll just respond "no true Scotsman".

Atheism as a negation of religious belief is shared by history's "nasty" atheists like Stalin and today's "new atheists." But there is almost nothing else they share.

I gave concrete examples of how totalitarian ideologies resemble religious ideology and practice. There is much more common ground there than most people would care to admit.

So instead of just naming the fallacy, provide an elaboration of why and how it applies.
"I would point out that this is just a small, silly group that seems to exist mostly in the conservative media."

Hmmmm, back in 1923 a lot of Germans said the same thing about the Nazis as well.
The National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center obliterates all trace, evidence and memory of the attacks. Instead of reminding us and future generations of the attacks, and standing as warning for all time, it is designed, as per its designers and the jury that chose it, to express exclusively the "absence" in our lives caused by the "loss" of Sept.11. W/o any recognition or acknowledgement of the cause of that "loss" and "absence."

All authentic artifacts of the WTC, the steel remnants, the damaged Sphere that would remind us of the attacks has been banned from the memorial.

There is no precedent for this; no other memorial at the historic site of the event it is commemorating, worldwide, rejects all evidence of that event.

Thousands, including 9/11 family members, survivors, first responders and downtown residents have called for the return of the Sphere. Despite this, the memorial Foundation refuses to return the Sphere. It currently sits down in Battery Park in the middle of a construction site, fenced off from the public.

Please see facebook, under causes, save the sphere. savethesphere@gmail.com
Swing and a miss.
Sort of wondering why this article is here, and why we should care about a letter by some small atheist group that doesn't merit the attention.

There's lots of reasons to get stirred up without relying on clap trap - and no this doesn't quite rise to that level, but really aren't there other things to write about, or be upset about? It's not as if radical atheism is something about which we should have much concern.

Besides,anyone with a color printer can invent an organization and write a letter. I had one case where three property owners surrounding a riverfront parcel of land proposed to be developed called themselves some flowery environmentally friendly name, like "Loyal Order of Friends of the Hudson River," in opposing the development. Didn't make them the Sierra Club, but it sounded good.

Better to ignore these people, maybe then they will simply go away.

By the way under the catagory of more important things, where is City Journal's article on the Senate Immigration bill? How about the latest IRS revelations? Or,for fun, Weiner/Spitzer?

Sorry Stefan, this didn't work....
MH;

No true Scotsman ..??
I am not laying the blame for Hitler and Stalin at the feet of "religion." That would be silly. I am saying, however, that what made these regimes so horrific has next to nothing to do with atheism and some of their most dangerous aspects have to do with things that make them like religion. It would take a whole article to present the many vivid - and obvious - examples. Does forcing generations of school kids to read hagiographic accounts of Lenin's and Stalin's lives and recite "Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live!" look like religion or education in critical thinking? Do parades of people carrying "icons" of Marx, Engels and Lenin look like religious procession or skepticism? Does an ideology claiming with transcendent vision to lead people through a planned (and inevitable) history forseen by a prophetic man to a utopian, paradise-like end-state loook like religion or not? That's mainstream Marxism and Stalinism - and Christianity. The French revolutionaries openly and aggressively set up a "church of reason" to replace Catholicism including all manner of religious ceremonies. Atheists can be doing all these things, but it is obvious that their denial of God has, in these totalitarian instances, simply led them to replace one god with some other idol, and church with a state institution, and has not been based on critical thinking. That is the exact opposite of what any and all the so-called "new atheists" advocate. Atheism today is a conclusion based on a skeptical world view, not the starting point for a secular church.

Read what I wrote before simply stating without evidence that I am in denial.

Stalin and Robespierre were certainly "atheists", but nothing they did is connected to any "tenets" which are at all binding to anyone calling him or herself an atheist today. The systems they set up look a lot like religion, lacking only the supernaturalism.

The worst that can be said about today's atheism is that it is not in and of itself, without additional content, simply a negation. It is subversive to tradition without being itself a constructive force. It clears the ground, but does not provide new content. Something like humanism is what most of today's atheists would put into that space - but others might just as well put something dangerous and nasty there.
Bob;
If the US is going to build memorials to Holocaust victims, why not also to victims of genocide in Rwanda, Sudan, and the millions that died under Stalin the Killing Fields of Cambodia, in Halabja, in Mao's cultural revolution, etc etc etc ...??


Stefan Kanfer seems to be going for a C.S. Lewis type of writing. It doesn't quite hit the mark. It is strange to hear comments about the Star of David and how Ohio shouldn't care enough about the Holocaust to build a memorial. Political correctness and the dumbing down of history texts have certainly taken their toll.
socialism always was a totalitarian doctrine, national socialism of Hitler and social-democratic labour party of Lenin, wondering what kind of crap new socialists are inventing..
MH;

So religion is still to blame for the horrors of those atheist regimes? What a cop-out. If atheism wants to be seen as a mature philosophy, it needs to own up to its errors.
Another Unhappy Atheist July 27, 2013 at 12:04 PM
Religion has killed trillions and trillions of people blah blah blah blah Every war in the world has been caused by religion blah blah blah Religion is behind every terrestrial evil known to man blah blah blah
Jacqueline O'Connor July 27, 2013 at 8:51 AM
Good for FFRF - save us from religions of all stripes. You want it, do it in private. Religion, like sex, isn't a spectator sport.
Over reaction city Batman - a rant over not getting top billing so to speak with the Star of David? The discussion degrades into who were the most important victims of the Holocaust or the most victimized of the Holocaust seems unseemly.
Trying to speak like Hitler, Kafner instead sounds like Orwell.

Doublethink: "To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it. . . . The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies. . . " -- 1984

Kafner says that "the Jews of Ohio cannot recognize the primary victims of genocide, many of whom were their own relatives." Per http://daniel-libeskind.com/projects/ohio-statehouse-holocaust-memorial, the memorial would be at the Ohio Statehouse "in honor of the Ohio survivors and liberators; in remembrance of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust." A state monument to exclusivist sectarianism.

To Kafner and to the defenders of the monument, the monument's primary symbol, the star of David, is both religious and nonreligious; and the monument's self-evident mission, commemorating six million Jews yet ignoring the five million non-Jews who also were victims of German genocide -- LGBTs, gypsies, and the disabled only begin that list of around five million dead -- is both inclusive and exclusive, tolerant and intolerant.

I respect Libeskind and even admire his memorial's design. Yet his sectarian monument does not belong on state property. Any nonprofit group, Jewish or not, could host it. Let a Christian or German group do so, in atonement. Not the state of Ohio.
Objection to government adoption of religious symbols generally is hardly an endorsement of Hitler or Heydrich or a recommendation to read TPOTEOZ.

The emotional argument of this piece is sharp and interesting in its use of Heydrich as the focus. But the logic within that argument is a step too simple. Separation of church and state would also prevent the state from siding against one or another religion, which can only help in the long run.
I'm glad to see some comments here, otherwise I'd have thought that the CJ readership is as silly as this article makes them seem. CJ seems to alternate in regular waves between common sense or keen insight on the one hand and sophmoric rhetoric on the other.

As for jgury: I don't know any atheists who deny that Stalin and the communists were atheists. Certainly none of the so-called "four horsemen" do/did. Communist "atheism" is not the point, however. What made communism so deadly was the positive aspect of their ideology - the class hatred, the teleological worldview with its utopian eschatology, the subordination of the individual to that utopian vision ("positive freedom" run amok), and the uncritical, arguably pseudo-religious nature of the system (uncritical acceptance of a single, unchallengable ideology, a holy canon, saint-like figures and martyrs, mass ceremony, etc. - things Naziism shared, by the way). A similar case can be made for the French Revolution. Just like a simple affirmation of the existance of God will not make somebody cruel and nasty - rather the theology, for example the belief that one's deeds are divinely sanctioned - the denial of God as such forces no particular moral conclusion.

The suggestion to create "gauntlet" cases to gradually impose religion on the American public sphere speaks volumes, a call to manipulate the legal system to undermine the separation of church and state. Fantastic. Atheists groups should let the long-standing memorials with religious content stand - but fight new ones, even when it seems petty, to thwart just this kind of gaming the system.

As for the issue of why Ohio needs a Holocaust memorial - the same reasons that Montana has a Confederate memorial: (1) The descendents of those involved move to new places. More importantly, however ... (2) Memorials can be politically useful in the present. They occupy public space. They pour particular interpretations of history into bronze or concrete, seizing the interpretive high ground. They mobilize and arm the past for current political purposes. How about an article explaining in greater depth who is behind the Ohio memorial and why?
Good example of preemptive case 0 for Godwin's law where you start immediately with Nazis rather than let the discussion evolve naturally to them.
Putting a Holocaust memorial in a statehouse is a bit too easy a case for atheists. You need to do something more difficult for a challenge such as construction of more MLK memorials in the Georgia capitol focusing on his religious leadership - with all the many objects related to that on display. That makes a nice gauntlet case if atheists really want to challenge religious imagery in the US. Certainly a very tough fight which can lead them to denial of history - which they will do. I have had multiple atheists deny Stalinist Russia as an atheist state along with communist genocides against religions in their talking points against history. They have a harder time with the French Revolution since that generally exceeds their sophomoric level of historical dialectic with religion of course poisoning everything as the greatest source of violence in the history of humanity.
I'm pro-Israel...but your article didn't provide the backstory and reason for building yet ANOTHER Holocaust memorial in the Ohio Statehouse. Just what is Ohio or its statehouse's connection to the Holocaust?

What does the article mean to say? That Atheists are natural facilitators of antisemitism and Nazism?

What would that make Ayn Rand, who was Jewish, a staunch supporter of Israel, proponent of individual liberty, and an atheist?
"Sightless, insensitive, self-absorbed..." what a neat description of the FFRF.
ANOTHER Holocaust memorial in the US?? Why so many? Did it happen here?

Atheists aside, maybe it's time to move on ...
What a ludicrous article, Godwin's Law applies in spades...The obvious question hasn't been asked, why is a Holocaust Memorial being built in Ohio?
I would point out that this is just a small, silly group that seems to exist mostly in the conservative media. For a better example of contemporary atheism, you could always talk to Heather Mac Donald.