Monday, April 13, 2009

Theists Committing Crimes

This morning I wrote a post about the atheist tribe. In it I discussed the fact that atheists are not immune to tribal bigotry – a disposition to filter facts to support the idea that atheists can do no wrong, and theists can do no right.

One of the most annoying and pervasive examples of atheist bigotry can be found in the fact that each time a theist commits a crime, that crime gets reported and repeated across the whole spectrum of atheist blogs.

Ultimately, these reports demonstrate the very type of hate-mongering bigotry that I have spent recent posts writing against when committed by theists. I can see only one reason why atheists drool over these types of reports. They represent an opportunity on the part of the atheist to use the fallacy of overgeneralization – to apply the crimes of one theist to all theists – in order to promote hatred and fear of all theists.

To see the error in this line of reasoning, one simply has to imagine a case in which an atheist commits some crime and having a group of theists report and repeat how this demonstrates that atheists lack morality. It would be a clear case of bigotry for theists to brand all of us with the crimes of some demented atheist.

I know that I will be displeased, and I will almost certainly write about how this represents fear-mongering and anti-atheist bigotry on the part of the theists.

Here is where tribalism takes place – the idea that atheists can do no wrong and theists can do no right. The moral crimes that one would jump on in a flash when committed by a theist are ignored when they are committed by an atheist. It is a classic double standard.

Even if the world was made up entirely of atheists, some of those atheists would have mental problems that would likely cause them to commit terrible crimes. Mental illness is not limited to the religious (and only a true bigot would think otherwise). People suffering from those illnesses are going to attempt to understand them in the concepts that pervade their community at the time. If that is a religious community they are going to understand what is happening to them in religious terms. In an atheist society, they would understand them in atheistic terms.

There is only one legitimate conclusion to be drawn from the fact that a theist somewhere has committed a crime. It demonstrates that the proposition that no theists commit crimes is false. However, since nobody has ever tried to defend the proposition that no theist commits crimes, this legitimate conclusion does not contradict anything that any person has ever tried to defend. Everybody agrees that some theists commit crimes, so evidence that a particular theist has committed a crime is not particularly enlightening.

Such news might be pleasing to somebody who likes the idea of hating theists – in the same way that an atheist committing a crime might be pleasing news to the theist who wants to hate all atheists.

Seriously, this practice should stop. The fact that a theist has committed a crime is no more relevant to the merits of atheism than the fact that an atheist commits a crime would be relevant to the merits of theism. It is demagoguery at its worse.


Anonymous said...

Most crimes are committed by theists, if only because most people are theists.

So, if atheists blogs reported every crime by a theist, they'd be nothing but crime blotters.

Atheist blogs do report crimes that were done by people acting on behalf of churches. But this seems like a fair way to criticize organizations.

They also report crimes done by theists who feel motivated by their religion. But this seems like a fair way to criticize the methodology behind making a leap of faith.

An irrational leap made because of delusion is no less logical than an irrational leap made because one finds CS Lewis convincing.

ptah said...

Straw man, Fyfe.

Luke said...

One reason atheists do this is because theists keep claiming that religion has a monopoly (or at least a superiority) on morality, and mentioning theist crimes helps to point out that this is false.

However: "The moral crimes that one would jump on in a flash when committed by a theist are ignored when they are committed by an atheist. It is a classic double standard."

I do witness that.

Martin Freedman said...

The issue is the the type of "theist crimes" are directly related to theist beliefs. Without this direct relation it is not a theistic crime, just a crime. Any of the latter being labelled as theistic crimes, by anyone, would certainly be examples of prejudice.

Well are there such things as theistic crimes? There are different types:
a) when done by the person in the name of their God

b) When a religious leader, employee - professional represenative, or supporter is found to be acting specifically against the morals they promote or endorse.

Case of (b) are more clear-cut than case of (a).

Type A: Jeffrey Dammer fits into (a) but your point that they were mentally disturbed and utilised the available beliefs to justify their actions would mean that Dammer should not be used an example of the dangers of religious belief - I have read articles written by atheists on Dammer and indeed that is how I know he used religion to justify his action. You are right that this is no excuse to condemn religion. We have no reason to suppose that in another culture Dammer might have used communism or fascism to justify his actions. It was his mental illness that the significant factor not his religious beleifs.

However this begs the question as to the mental status of anyone in this category. Can anyone how acts this way (not just serial killers) be sane?

How about the woman who let her son die because he did not say Amen? Likely she too is mentally ill.

Now what about the father who raped is 9(?) year old daughter and made her pregnant and she had an abortion. Here the issue is not the crime but the response of the RCC. And it is the RCC's response that is "criminal" or certainly should be condemned?

Is the problem in type A cases as to how the responsible religious group resonds to the crime, do they condemn, support it, make it worse or ignore it? "Atheists" can certainly look and examine those issues.

Then again the problem of "No True Scotsman" argument can be made by the relevant religious groups, "this is not what we endorse" but is this true or just a PR exercise?

Case A situations are not clear-cut and certainly an atheist blogger needs to treat this situations carefully rather than jump to unfounded conclusions and fuel the flames of bigoty and prejudice.

Type B: There are two subtypes: (1) There are numerous examples of religious leaders - new age,old age, TV age, going against their proclaimed morals. They are hoisted on their own petard. In such cases it is legitimate to point out that using methods of uncritical acceptance such as faith can lead to the faithful being led astray or giving money to a scoundrel.

Again a hasty generalisation such that all religious leaders are dishonest is an invalid inference but showing the dangers of encouraging gullibility and preventing scrutiny of leaders and their beleifs is not, they are examples of what can happen if standards are dropped.

(2) This is the sub-type of when they violate our moral standards. For example the RCC adoption agencies in the UK refusing to follow UK law and threatening political action ovet this to support their bigotry.

Possibly you were not addressing B2 cases with your point here.

To sum up:

Type A cases need to be dealt with on a case by case basis, acknowledging the proximate causes involved and the responses of the associated relgious institutions is what should be under scrutiny.

Type B1 cases are self-defining but it is not legitimate to tar all leaders with the same brush but it is legitimate to examine the proximate factors - such as perpetuating the myth that faith is a virtue - that could have led to thier success that enabled them to abuse their position.

Type B2 cases are maybe outside the scope of your criticism?

Baconsbud said...

I believe that if the crime was one of a serious nature and committed by an atheist, some of the atheist bloggers would talk about it. The problem here is most people caught committing a crime don't give their religion. How many atheist in prison pretend to be christian because it makes things easier for them?
I have to agree with Luke that some of the bloggers post about crimes committed by theist because of their superior claims of morality. Yes some atheist bloggers do it out of hatefulness and it should be pointed out when it happens. One of the blogs I read regularly will post stories about sexual crimes committed by theist. I have no problems with this and don't see it as a form of bigotry. Most of these crimes aren't reported nationally even though you are always hearing about people who have committed crimes of this nature. I think it is important that people know some of the most dangerous criminals can hide within religion. Of course criminals can hide just about anywhere within society if they are smart enough.

Martin Freedman said...

Another point is what would qualify as an "atheistic crime" rather than just a crime.

I recall one and only one story that obviously fits this category where an atheist killed a theist after a religious argument (about a year ago if I recall). That clearly was an example of a crime committed in the name of atheism.

However whilst atheists can and do commit crimes as do theists, it is incedibly difficult to find one that fits into any of the types I noted in my previous comment.

We all know the Hitler canard where the fact the evidence is overwhelming in favour of Nazism being a religiously inspired political movement, more than just using similar types of protection and persuasion practices as utilised by theocracies and wannabe theocrats.

However the same also applies to Soviet Communism, no serious academic scholar of communism, pro or anti, uses atheism as a significant factor in what occurred. Is this too a myth perpetuated by...certain theists?

So what would count as specifically atheist crime compared to my three types - or have I missed something out?

Emu Sam said...

I know that when you say that "*they* are the ones calling us immoral monsters", you do not mean to say that all theists believe or say atheists are immoral. However, in the spirit of the post, I think it might be a good idea to make this very clear.

Perhaps a better phrasing would be:

"The reason atheists point out specifically theist crimes, whether the crime is immorality promoted by the religion or hypocrisy hidden/enabled by it, is that there are a subset of theists who are very vocal in calling all atheists immoral. We speak up to counteract this lie and show those whose minds are not closed (mostly including theists) otherwise."

Alonzo Fyfe said...

anonymousAtheist blogs do report crimes that were done by people acting on behalf of churches. But this seems like a fair way to criticize organizations.It is a fair criticism of an organization when that organization takes a particularl stand with respect to a series of crimes. However, it is not a fair criticism of an organization that a member committed a crime.

Does the fact that a fireman is an arsonist, or that a police officer is a rapist, would imply nothing against the organizations that firemen and police officers belong to.

Luke, Pedro TimoteoOne reason atheists do this is because theists keep claiming that religion has a monopoly (or at least a superiority) on morality, and mentioning theist crimes helps to point out that this is false.There is absolutely no legitimate implication from the fact that a theist is immoral to the conclusion that atheists are not immoral. As I wrote in the post, nobody who claims that religion is necessary for morality implies that it is sufficient. So no evidence that a religious person commits a crime is relevant against the claims already made.

If I were to claim that men, on average, are taller than women (comparable to the claim that theists are more moral than atheists), a parade of short men (or immoral theists) would not in any way imply that the original statement is false.

If reason is worthy of our respect, it is not to be found here.

And when people commit logical fallacies such as this (and try to defend them), we have reason to ask what is blinding them to reason in this case, where they are not blind to reason elsewhere.

faithlessgodActually, you will find that the number of people who commit crimes in the name of religion to be as few as the number of people who commit crimes in the name of atheism

It is true that some people adopt religious philosophies that promote immoral behavior. However, this is not a case of a person committing a crime in the name of religion - but it is a case of a person committing a crime in the name of a specific theistic philosophy.

However, on this level, it is also true that some people adopt atheist philosophies that promote immoral behavior. This is not a case of a person committing a crime in the name of atheism - but it is a case of a person committing a crime in the name of a specific atheistic philosophies.

Anti-atheist and anti-theist tribalists both use the technique of comparing apples to oranges in order to defend their tribe and attack the other. When we compare apples to apples (atheism vs. theism), and oranges to oranges (specific religions to specific atheist philosophies) there is not much of a difference.

What blinds atheists to these relationships?

I would argue that it is pure tribal thinking. It is the habbit - that is a part of human psychology and neither theist nor atheist - to divide people into tribes and to magnify the faults of those who belong to opposing tribes, while turning a blind eye to the equal faults of members of one's own tribe.

anton said...

Hi Gang,

Perhaps the real frustration experienced when dealing with crimes by either "group" is the automatic support often provided to the theist wrong doer. Fifty- five years ago I attempted to expose a "diddling priest". The bottom line is that the congregation, the local police and my school jumped blindly to his defense and labeled me, the atheist in the mix, as just making trouble. It wasn't until one of his "victims" got to be over 20 and came forth that the crimes were even considered. His lament was that this priest got another ten years to do his bit. My lament was that I became a social outcast within that community. My girl friend's parents were particularly angry with me. Scratch that girl friend. Scratch that town. Scratch that career as a reporter.

Joshua McGee said...

However this begs the question as to the mental status of anyone in this category.

Fingernails-on-chalkboard time. This is not what "begs the question" means, and while I might let it pass on any old blog, this is a philosophical blog, so be careful, please. :^)

Does the fact that a fireman is an arsonist, or that a police officer is a rapist, would imply nothing against the organizations that firemen and police officers belong to.

Yes, it would. It would show that an organization that is supposed to be vetting individuals as to whether they will act with our best interests at heart is flawed. If the screening processes of a fire or police department cannot weed out potential felons in the very realm in which they are supposed to be protective, the organization can justly be called into question. This is precisely one of my problems with the Roman Catholic Church: at the very least, when an organization is going to be parading an individual as infallible, requiring his chastity, and letting him spend extensive, unmonitored time with children, the organization has a lot of work to do. The fact that they fail so miserably at this, and yet have no effective real-time monitoring of their agents, and that the felonies committed are in the realm in which priests are supposed to be protecting children, the organization can justly be called into question.

Tommykey said...

I get what you are saying, Alonzo. I don't know if you read my blog on a regular basis, but I tend to shy away from the "Christian committed crime" type of posts. One, so many other atheist bloggers do it, I don't see the reason to join a crowded field, and second, I prefer to focus on the negative effects of belief systems rather than on what isolated individuals here and there do.

Pedro Timóteo said...

If I were to claim that men, on average, are taller than women (comparable to the claim that theists are more moral than atheists), a parade of short men (or immoral theists) would not in any way imply that the original statement is false.Sorry, but I don't think this is a good comparison. It would be, if:

1- being tall was universally seen as a virtue, with shortness being a source of shame, and entirely the fault of short people

2- men claimed, not that they were taller on average, but that they were always taller, and if someone wasn't, it meant that he wasn't a "true man" (No True Scotsman fallacy, often used by theists in these situations).

The problem is that many theists do claim that we're inherently immoral simply because of our atheism (because it's impossible to ever be moral without belief in God). We don't claim that of *them*... however, the point of these examples, at least to me, is simply "look at you first, your theism doesn't exactly make many of you moral", not "you are as bad or worse because you're a theist", which would indeed be bigotry.

RickU said...

While an atheist blog may not be the best forum to point it out, shining light on hypocrisy is always OK in my book.

Butters said...

Thank you for this post. I too have noticed such tendencies in the atheist community, which is one of the reasons I did not like organized atheism even when I was an atheist.

Sabio Lantz said...

I absolutely agree. Tribalism is understandable in that it strengthens a group, but it is very dangerous.
Today the atheist blogs screamed at the Tea Party video. Very sad cheap shots. Tribalism is disappointing if not outright dangerous.

Baconsbud said...

Sabio the only problem with trying to stay away from tribalism, is society only changes though the action of these tribes. Yes an individual might get things started but in the end it takes a group of like minded to get those changes.

Martin Freedman said...

The notion of atheist versus theist tribes is one I reject. These notions are two vague anyway, no theist is just a theists, they are a christian or islamic theists and more like endorse only one sect within that religion.

Similarly there are many types of atheist tribes but really labelling them "atheist" is far more misleading than when it comes to theist tribes.

I consider myself, if labels be needed at all, a naturalist. I do not know if there is such a thing as a naturalist tribe but borrowing from D.S. Wilson we can look at these as trait groups I suppose. There are certainly things I have in common with other naturalists and do not have in common with those who are super-naturalists. Regardless just because I share a trait with ohter naturalists does not mean I should be more sympathetic to their arguments than to those of super-natrualists. To do so would be a double standard.

This gets back to the point I was making with Tom Gilson over atheist versus theist atrocities and my argumentum ad absurdum. Such a categorisation is mistaken and it is this categorisation that should be rejected. Anyone, theist or atheist, who endorses it is promoting some form of prejudice.

I also posted on this tribal issue in Anti-Atheism and Anti-Theism

Sparrowhawk said...

Firs time posting here. I definitely agree with what you're saying in that we should avoid being needlessly confrontational with regard to things like this, but on the other I do sympathize with a lot of the other posters here and what they're saying. One has to keep in mind the context of the environment in which these posts usually appear. Usually the people who post these sorts of "theist did X" posts are people who spend a good deal of time online engaging theists in discussions and debates. And unfortunately, one of the claims leveled against atheists very frequently is indeed the old "you can't have morality without god" thing.

Confronting this silly argument enough times can anger even the best of us, and I can see how it would be hard to resist the temptation to post something about a horrific crime committed by a theist for theistic reasons, because it is seen by the blogger as a counter-example to the claim that there is no morality without God. It really isn't a very good counter example, but we have to admit that the stories we usually see posted about "theistic crime" aren't just "A guy murdered his family...oh yeah and he's a Christian".

A lot of the instances of postings about crimes committed by theists that I see pretain to news stories that have strong religious undercurrents. Things like, parents letting their kids die because they won't take them to a doctor for religious reasons, or stories about people in muslim countries stoning women, etc.

I agree with you that it isn't helpful to post these stories and write about them in a way that suggests theists are bad, or that theists aren't moral. However, to suggest that anyone posting about news stories involving religion as a motivating factor is guilty of the same thing is, while well-intentioned, I think a bit short-sighted. I think it's perfectly fine and not "tribal" at all to post a story about someone committing a crime because of their faith, and simply pointing out how faith and/or religion CAN (not always) corrupt one's reasoning abilities and at the very least contribute to a crime.

Good post and I look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

princesslindy said...

interesting comment from anonymous...of course, statistically that may be correct...but if you take statistics out, of course, crime crosses all cultural, religious, political, as far as claiming that theists or non theists are the highest performing criminals, that simply isn't relevant to the argument...if any one group or individual had the statistics to back up the "who commits the most crimes" question, the game would be over, and we would all become whatever that culture, religion, or system of belief represents...