Now that I got your attention. 😉
No doubt this tragedy is going to be hashed out along ideological grounds for some time to come. For my part, I’m not very interested in those kinds of conversations, though I do note again how for the atheist, any transgression by an individual seems to be grounds for snide arguments against religion as a whole and Christianity in particular. One of the commenters on my forum thinks that such approaches only occur among the ‘simple-minded’ atheists (his characterization) but as the thread I just linked to well illustrates, there is actually a large segment of the atheistic community that doesn’t expend much effort to make distinctions once they get rolling.
No, what I’m interested in is two-fold. In the first place, the Christian religion says that people are by nature sinful and fallen. So it isn’t any surprise to Christians- or it shouldn’t be- when humans do bad things to other humans. We shouldn’t even be surprised when Christians are mean to other Christians. For this reason, though I don’t for a minute believe that atheism was irrelevant to Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and Pol Pot’s atrocities, the really critical ingredient is that it was forgotten or denied that people will tend to do bad things and so no checks and balances were erected that could have countered some of the abuses that followed. Similarly, though there was certainly religious fervor behind events like the Crusades and the Inquisition, the core factor was not ‘religion’ but rather a dangerous centralization of unchecked power.
Now, I have found atheists that will generally agree with this position, though it is usually quickly forgotten when a catalog for true abuses in the name of religion is demanded (and quickly remembered when disavowing the atheistic views of the aforementioned tyrants). However, this isn’t really far enough. Yes, we agree that unchecked power is a recipe for disaster, but why should it be? Isn’t it possible that any sufficiently enlightened group of humans would exert their power in humane and benevolent ways?
The answer to that has got to be a resounding ‘no.’ There is nothing in human history to suggest otherwise and to hope for it is only to invite future destruction.
But what explains that fact? I have never heard of a genocide by the gorillas. Have we found concentration camps erected by dogs? Do the birds establish kingdoms? Where is the Maginot Line erected by honey bees and the equivalent to the great wall of China to keep out the lemur hordes? No, raw brutality towards one’s own entire species seems to be a problem unique to the human race, with or without religion.
But can we generate an explanation for that fact without religion?
When liberal pacifist Reinhold Neibuhr was confronted with the realities that emerged after WW2, he had a change of heart and mind and realized that Original Sin was real. GK Chesterton wrote that Original Sin was the only Christian doctrine that can actually be empirically demonstrated. He said that before the calamities of the 20th century occurred. So sad that the Bolsheviks and Nazis didn’t read their Chesterton! (If they had, and listened, I suppose Neibuhr would have remained liberal.)
The response of these two Christians in the face of human nature’s apparent depravity was to identify it with a doctrine that was already known to them within the Christian community. What is the atheist going to turn to?