We atheists are a small and misunderstood minority. Only 3 percent to 9 percent of Americans report that they do not believe in God. Professor Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's review of psychological studies reveals that atheists are less authoritarian and suggestible than religious believers, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, highly intelligent and well educated.
This is nice.
A disadvantage, however, is that journalists and voters would have to focus on substantive policy positions held by candidates rather than their professed beliefs. No longer could a voter hold up a Christian Bible, as one questioner did at a recent Republican debate, and ask if candidates believed every word in the book. Perhaps candidates would have to pledge, instead, that they have read and believe every word in the Constitution.
Another benefit of having an atheist president is that bloodshed could be less likely. Some of the most brutal episodes in world history, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch burnings, genocides and bombings by Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, have been conducted in the name of God. Other countries might well be more trusting of our motives if religious subtexts were absent.
This reminds me of a debate I saw between Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens. Dinesh was trying to claim that only 2000 people were killed during the Spanish Inquisition. And so, of course, the evil atheists like Stalin and what not, where FAR, FAR worse because they killed so many more people.
I have no idea if Dinesh’s number about the Spanish Inquisition is true or not. But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that it is. I still have two main objections to saying that the Inquisition wasn’t as bad as atheistic communism.
1) The Spanish Inquisition was not everything there was to the Inquisition. The Inquisition ranged all over Europe, and even after the Reformation, Protestants—though they complained bitterly about the Catholics doing it—essentially adopted their practices to root out both Catholics and “witches”. So even if only 2000 died in Spain (and as I recall they were late on the bandwagon) that number does not account for everyone that died in the Inquisition generally. Nor, since the Church only had jurisdiction over baptized members of the Church, does it account for all the people put to death by secular courts in the name of religion. Most witches were tried by secular courts (but of course, secular in those days just meant ‘not run by priests’ since the head of the ‘secular’ government was anointed by god). For instance, more than 150,000 witches were put to death during that time period. Compare that to the population of Europe at the time. Of course, Dinesh’s number doesn’t take into account the Crusades or anything else.
2) The other issue, of course, is that the main purpose of the Inquisition was NOT to kill people. The main purpose was to “save” people. So people who came under the sway of the Inquisitors were normally tortured until they “repented”. There was a lovely book the Catholic church passed around with all manner of approved tortures, and I really wish I could remember the name right now. For someone that fell into the Inquisition’s hands, dying was the least of your worries, and death represented a failure… either of the person’s physical stamina to withstand the torture, or simply a failure to save the soul of the person by getting them to confess under duress. The Church did not get their hands dirty with executions. It was not uncommon for those who failed to confess even then were charged with witchcraft and turned over to civil authorities to execution. And usually this was not mere beheading. No, remember, witches were burned at the stake. I’ve heard people try to argue that it wasn’t really as bad as all that, because people suffocated before they burned alive. But I doubt this highly. Medieval people may have been largely uneducated, but enough of them were to be clever when they wished, and if the point of burning them at the stake was to purge the evil from them with fire… I seriously doubt they would have let the person suffocate if there was a way of making sure they felt the flames first. Suffocating would defeat the purpose of forcing the sinner to repent at the last moment and accept god or Jesus or whatever.
But then, this puts Bush's approval of waterboarding into a whole new context, doesn't it? You know who invented the technique, don't you?
This actually reminds me... anyone reading this an editor at Wikipedia? Their article on the Inquisition really needs to have 'secular' changed to 'civil' since there was no such thing as a 'secular' government in those days. It may seem a small point, but it's an important one.