Conversations: Genocide and Dogma

Consider the Holocaust: centuries before the mid 20th century, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, while the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, its roots were religious, and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued. The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.

Examples aplenty, the Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914. And both Catholic and Protestant churches have a shameful record of complicity with the Nazi genocide.

Hang on, what is this so-called blood libel?

The blood libel (with respect to the Jews) consists of the ridiculous claim that Jews murder non-Jews in order to obtain their blood for use in religious rituals. At present, this allegation is still widely believed throughout the Muslim world.

Interesting, but we were talking about the atrocities of 20th century totalitarian regimes.

We were. Let’s put it this way, Auschwitz, the Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia are not examples of what happens to people when they become too reasonable. To the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of political and racial dogmatism.

Do you mean to say that people need to stop pretending that a rational rejection of faith entails the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma?

Yes! One need not accept anything on insufficient evidence to find the virgin birth of Jesus to be a preposterous idea. The problem with religion—as with Nazism, Stalinism, or any other totalitarian mythology—is the problem of dogma itself.

Do you know of one society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs?

That’s all very well and good, but is it not reasonable to say that religion as a phenomenon will disappear at any time in the near future. Not as long as people are desperate to find some meaning in life, believe in the historicity of mythology, experience traumas, or remain afraid of death.

Perhaps surprisingly, no. And it is important to realize that much of the developed world has nearly accomplished it. Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth.

Interestingly, according to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nations’ human development index are unwaveringly religious.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 15)

See other: Philosophical Conversations

1 thought on “Conversations: Genocide and Dogma

  1. Shakespeare’s 1596 play, “The Merchant of Venice,” exemplifies the disdain and contempt in which Jews were held in medieval Europe, personified by Shylock, the money-lender’s plaintive cry:’

    I am a Jew. Hath
    not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
    dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
    the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
    to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
    warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
    a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
    if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
    us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
    revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
    resemble you in that.

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