Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Killing is a human constant.

I’ve been reading off and on a book by David Bentley Hart entitled Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. In this book, Hart takes to task the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the further so-called “New Atheist” Movement: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Hart’s is the first Christian response that I’ve seen whose arguments are not just as ignorant and foolish as those he is responding too. On the contrary, Hart has a great command of history, sociology, and philosophy, particularly logic, and mastrerfully exposes the false presumptions, premises, reasoning, etc. of his opponents. Hart’s book, for me, is not a quick read. It’s one of those books that is simply chock full of rich tidbits that I find my mind wandering off on inspired tangents so that a page, or a paragraph, a day is about all I can process. I make no promises, but I hope to share a few gleanings from this thoughtful book.

Today, I share with you Hart’s reflections on why men kill. Proponents of the New Atheist movement like to claim that religion is inherently violent and has been responsible for the world’s greatest number of deaths by persecution, war, etc. Hart demonstrates, from common sense and a simple historical awareness, that killing is a human constant wholly apart from religious belief or unbelief:

… the broader, even more general, and yet more pertinent truth is that men kill (women kill too, but historically have had fewer opportunities to do so). Some kill because their faiths explicitly command them to do so, some kill though their faiths explicitly forbid them to do so, and some kill because they have no faith and hence believe all things are permitted to them. Polytheists, monotheists, and atheists kill – indeed, this last class is especially prolifically homicidal, if the evidence of the twentieth century is to be consulted. Men kill for their gods, or for their God, or because there is no God and the destiny of humanity must be shaped by gigantic exertions of human will . They kill in pursuit of universal truths and out of fidelity to tribal allegiances; for faith, blood and soil, empire, national greatness, the “socialist utopia,” capitalism, and “democratization.” Men will always seek gods in whose name they may perform great deeds or commit unspeakable atrocities, even when those gods are not gods but “tribal honor” or “genetic imperatives” or “social ideals” or “human destiny” or “liberal democracy.” Then again, men also kill on account of money, land, love, pride, hatred, envy, or ambition. They kill out of conviction or out of lack of conviction. […] Does religious conviction provide a powerful reason for killing? Undeniably it often does. It also often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill, or for being merciful, or for seeking peace; only the profoundest ignorance of history could prevent one from recognizing this. For the truth is that religion and irreligion are cultural variables, but killing is a human constant.

From Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart, pp12-13

No comments: