Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Charge of Hate Mongering

A member of the studio audience, Eenauk, has raised an issue about the appropriateness of the term ‘hate-mongering’ when referring to the Pope’s recent encyclical which, among other things, blames atheism for the great atrocities of the 20th century.

The Pope would be hate-mongering if he were telling us to go out and kill/lynch/spit upon atheists. Or if he were telling us they were _all_ intrinsically bad people. But he is not.

If one has a well-formed argument, then questions of the meaning of terms – which meaning to use where – are substantially irrelevant. Questions of meaning are questions of which squiggles and sounds to use when conveying a particular concept. Those assignments are always arbitrary – there is no natural law assigning necessary meanings to any word or symbol, whether written or spoken. So if somebody does not like the fact that I have decided to use a particular set of symbols or sounds to refer to a concept, they are always free to use a different term themselves, and to translate my arguments into their language.

Less well formed arguments, on the other hand, need to worry about using a common term to “smuggle into an argument” concepts that are not already there, or about a meaning shifting part way through the argument such that its meaning in one proposition is different than its meaning in another.

I have accused those atheists who claim that religion is ‘child abuse’ of the previous wrong. Child abuse involves an assumed desire to do harm or, at least, indifference to harm caused that I argue is not true of most people who teach religion to children. The term “child abuse” is still used, however, because the speaker seeks to elicit the same emotional response to those who teach religion to children that people generally have to people who beat or rape children.

This is what eenauk may well be accusing me here – using ‘hate mongering’ to import concepts that do not apply in this case. The assertion may be that hate-mongering involves preaching violence against a group of people and, since the Pope stopped short of preaching violence, he cannot be accused of ‘selling hate’.

However, if ‘hate’ – in common language – required a call to use violence, then it would seem that the term is commonly misused in public discussion. People often speak about ‘hating’ something or someone where they still feel morally constrained against using violence against them – a former spouse, a current spouse’s lover, an unfair boss, an obnoxious neighbor.

The Pope may not have been advocating physical violence against atheists, but he certainly argued in favor of looking on atheists as inferior group of people – people who are to be feared and to be looked upon with contempt for their unwillingness or inability to realize how much of a threat they and their ideas are to others.

A hate-monger does not need to preach violence. He simply needs to preach the lies and sophistry that others use as a foundation for hate, and that feeds the death threats vandalism, and intimidation that a group then must endure.

But that isn't hate, it's formulating an ethical or metaphysical disagreement with, perhaps, dubious arguments.

On this, I disagree. A person who is interested in an ‘ethical or metaphysical disagreement’ is somebody who is concerned with the quality of his arguments. He is aware of the fact that he might be wrong and, particularly when degrading and denigrating others, that his mistakes have victims. He shows his recognition of this moral responsibility through the care that he uses in structuring his arguments.

A person who shows a lack of care in structuring his argument shows a lack of concern over the potential victims of his actions – At best, he does not care that his mistake might cause unjustified harm to others (negligence). At worst, he desires to inflict harm and recognizes that he can inflict more harm on his victims (and get away with it) through demagoguery and unjust accusations than he can with a gun or knife or a truck full of explosives (malicious defamation).

In addition to the fallacious argument I mentioned in my previous post, there is the clear manipulation of data involved in claiming that these 20th century crimes are ‘worse than’ previous religion-based crimes. The people who make this argument manipulate the data by looking at raw numbers – the number of people killed or otherwise harmed. Yet, the case may be made that the only reason religious wars of the past did not kill as many. There is certainly no education that those who fought in these religious wars were not willing to kill as many people. In fact, they showed no reluctance towards killing at all. Is there any reason at all to believe that their religion would have prevented them from slaughters far worse than we saw in the 20th century, if they had the opportunity to do so?

When people overlook easily refuted claims like this, we have reason to ask, “What motivates them to make these mistakes? What type of person must this be that he is willing to make such bogus claims and not care about the harm they may be unjustly inflicting on others?”

In this case, I consider that the evidence points to hate as the motivation – not only a willingness to see atheists suffer from an injustice, but an active desire to impose these injustices upon them.

If the Pope were to have included in his encyclical the accusations of ‘blood libel’ against the Jews, then the type of accusations I made here would have been amplified by many orders of magnitude, and nobody would have thought to question them. People will argue that the very fact that the Pope has used these easily discredited claims to denigrate Jews was evidence of anti-Semitism. He would have been forced to retract those statements and issue an apology. Even if he did not actually advocate violence against Jews, the fact that he was giving weight to lies and slander against Jews would have been enough for the accusations to stick.

Such a claim would not have been considered a 'mere historic dispute about Jewish practices.' It would not be classified this way in part because the claims are so easy to refute and so poorly founded that it gives us reason to ask, "Why would he say such a thing?" And it gives us reason to come back with some very unflattering answers.

These maliciously false and accusations against atheists fall into the same moral category, and should be treated as such.

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