Like many people, I have a fascination with the grotesque. Every few weeks, I find myself returning to the subreddit r/atheism.
Today I’ll be responding to a few of the (non-profane) images that I encountered on my latest reddit safari.
When I saw this quote, I thought it seemed a little over the top (even for Hume). I did some double-checking, and it turns out that this is taken from Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature“. The sentence originally included a qualifier: “Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.”
It’s still a pretty bold claim. I give a few counterexamples.
I’ll tackle this one point-by-point.
“…every single bit of progress in human feeling…[has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches of the world].”
“…every improvement in the criminal law…[has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches of the world].”
What about the post-Constantine Christian leaders, who reformed Roman law to prevent abuses against women and children? What about the role of the Justinian Corpus Juris Civilis in establishing an early basis for western civil law - including procedural justice and legal equality for women? What about the Judeo-Christian understanding of natural law, and the idea that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”? What about the Catholic Church’s stance against torture, suicide, and euthanasia?
“…every step towards the diminution of war…[has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches of the world].”
“…every step towards better treatment of the coloured races, or every mitigation of slavery…[has been consistently opposed by the organized Churches of the world].”
Why, then, was the American abolitionist movement spearheaded largely by clergymen? What about William Wilberforce and the Second Great Awakening? What about the many thousands of church-supported Christian missionaries who have left their homes and families to bring spiritual, material, and medical support to the most impoverished corners of the world?
This Hitchens quote is a complete non sequitur. Let’s apply the reasoning to something besides religion.
“Since it is obviously inconceivable that all [economic theories] can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”
Or imagine that I ask 100 people for directions to the nearest post office, and I receive a hodgepodge of different, often conflicting answers. It’s possible that all the directions are wrong…but it’s also possible that one or more of them are right. Dismissing all of the competing claims outright isn’t “the most reasonable conclusion”; it’s just the most intellectually lazy.
(In a previous post, I tackled this issue from the perspective of a Christian who de-converts, in part, because of the competing claims of the numerous world religions.)