Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Article of Faith: Atheists Are Good; Believers Evil

"I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame, the Shwe Dagon, the temples of Kyoto or, of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan."
--Richard Dawkins

For a guy who makes a big deal about having no beliefs, Dawkins takes a lot on faith. In this case, he confesses his belief that only religious people would do such dastardly things as destroy religious monuments or works of art, and he would like you to join him in this astonishingly blind faith.

That probably explains why, in his list of religious shrines and architecture, he failed to include the other Notre Dame, the massive, magnificent medieval church at the Abbey of Jumieges, its monks run off by ideological cleansing, its library burned and its walls turned into a stone quarry in the atheist spasm of the French Revolution. I don’t suppose Dawkins’s faith will restore the burnt manuscripts or erect those walls again, any more than it will restore the desecrated tombs of St. Denis, its defaced memorials and melted metal sarcophagi. But it is a faith, nonetheless.

Similarly, Dawkins’s faith blinds him to the atheist demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (photo above), the largest church in Russia, and one of the most magnificent Orthodox churches in the world. On December 5, 1931, the atheist Soviet regime began setting off dynamite at its footers. Like Bamiyan Buddhas, the Cathedral was denigrated as a sacrilege, a reminder that the people who once lived in that place held views the ruling regime considered heretical; like the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Cathedral withstood the first explosive assaults; and like the Bamiyan Buddhas, after repeated detonations it finally fell; unlike those statues, however, it fell in the middle of a city and its rubble had to be cleared away--a process which took over a year.

We have only skimmed the cream here. Thousands of churches and monasteries were expropriated in Russia and a huge number of them destroyed. In stark encyclopedic terms it looked like this:

“In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500. Between 1917 and 1935, 130,000 Orthodox priests were arrested. Of these, 95,000 were put to death.”

The historical record for atheist regimes is pretty clear, even if it is largely absent from these new atheist texts, these exhaustive catalogs of moral turpitude. The fact remains: This is what people with views like Dawkins’s have done when they have gotten political power.

“Admittedly,” Dawkins writes, “People of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true.” Of course, he is talking about other people here, but the choice of “admittedly” is an interesting slip.

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