Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Body Counts

The shoes of the Auschwitz dead. Harvesting confiscated property is a rational act.

PROVING THE OBVIOUS. Commenter Lake asked:

[O]ne clear truth for any student of history is, as you say, "In its whole history, religion has killed fewer people than the rationalist political philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Tell you anything?"

I have made this argument dozens of times in conversations with my bumper-sticker-philosophy wielding colleagues, and some students, all intent on destroying religion in favor of wonderfully rational Science. What I would love to hear is *you* (both or either of you) let loose on it... the facts speak for themselves, but I think the fact of how turned-around the argument has become is telling of our times and the state of the modern mind.

This, sadly, is a product of our education system, both at the university and my level. This is why this is my mission. But I digress. If you want to expand on any of these, I would love for you to start there.

This one, sorry to say at the outset, can't be proven. But it can be argued very effectively. The problem is not so much the numbers, which are numerous and highly debatable in many respects, but the layer upon layer of assumptions litigators of (so-called) fact bring to the table without ever acknowledging.

The best place to start is therefore with the kind of logic that indicts religion as a pernicious influence in human affairs. Oh. Wait. Let's look at this table, called "The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other," before we get started:

Rank Death Toll Cause Centuries
1 55 million Second World War 20C
2 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C
3 40 million Mongol Conquests 13C
4 36 million An Lushan Revolt 8C
5 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C
6 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C
7 20 million Annihilation of the American Indians 15C-19C
8 20 million Iosif Stalin 20C
9 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C
10 18 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C
11 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C
12 17 million British India (mostly famine) 19C
13 15 million First World War 20C
14 9 million Russian Civil War 20C
15 8 million Fall of Rome 3C-5C
16 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C
17 7 million Thirty Years War 17C
18 5 million Russia's Time of Troubles 16C-17C
19 4 million Napoleonic Wars 19C
20 3 million Chinese Civil War 20C
21 3 million French Wars of Religion 16C

I concede right up front that all these numbers are estimates, and disputed estimates at that, depending on how any individual scholar wants the numbers to look in service to his theory of history, whatever that is. At least two of the entries that don't seem to be religious in nature clearly are: the Mideast Slave Trade was an Islamic phenomenon; and the Thirty Years War was all about the Holy Roman Empire. The French Wars of Religion speak for themselves. Still, it doesn't take a genius to add up the numbers associated with Marxist-inspired states in the east and the 'national socialism' state model of Germany and arrive at a figure of 127 million casualties of rational utopian thinking in the twentieth century. (And that's not counting WWI's 10-65 million dead {if you count the flu too}, which more than a few people lay at Nietzsche's feet). All the other totals pale in comparison.

Against this, the rationalist argument has to be more or less this: the human race has always believed in a god or gods, at least until the 19th century arrived with its liberating skepticism, and men have always waged war against one another, usually under the banners or totems of their preferred gods. Therefore, all wars, genocides, pogroms, and other acts of incivility prior to the 20th century can be ascribed to the evils of religion, and we're better off without it.

The problem is, this is demonstrably poppycock. Only a fool would claim that the Napoleonic Wars had any religious basis. Napoleon was the proto-Hitler of Europe. Ditto the Mongols and the sackers of Christian Rome. Only a deliberate manipulator of fact would claim that the supposed "Native American Genocide" was caused by religion. The overwhelming majority of Native American deaths associated with European settlement of the New World were caused by diseases Europeans carried without knowing it. What no one ever asks: Why didn't Native American diseases kill Europeans? Answer: Civilization bestows its own kind of immunity. Was the Plague that ravaged European populations in the 14th through 16th centuries a 'genocide'? No. It was the unfortunate by-product of trade among civilized nations. Anybody want to claim that's part of the religion body count? I doubt it.

The truth is that religion, and specifically Christianity more than any other religion, has been a mitigating factor against death, a net positive for humankind. It was Christianity and its empowerment of individuals that produced Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, and ultimately Louis Pasteur and Watson and Crick. Science keeps acting as if it were some kind of Goddess Athena, self-born from the head of a digital Zeus. It isn't. Science was spawned, in fact, by Christianity. Yes, the Church may have suppressed Galileo and it killed as many as 3,600 (!) people in the Inquisition, but its record is far superior to that of Islam, which may, in a moment of atypical clarity, have given the world algebra but went on to ossify its peoples in a permanent state of devout semi-consciousness. It was left to Newton to give the world calculus and the Jew Einstein quantum physics and relativity theory. Who's ahead on points here?

Which raises another issue that is absolutely and completely germane to the current surge in atheist evangelism. Am I the only one who's noticed that the anti-religious rage of Richard Dawkins and even Christopher Hitchens is focused primarily on Christianity? Which is not a parochial debating point on my part but a sign of logical weakness on theirs. They inveigh fervently against religion, as if belief in a Supreme Being of any kind is ipso facto proof of mental weakness and assorted other (moral?) turpitudes. It never seems to occur to them that religion is not the monolith depicted in "2001: A Space Odyssey." There can be good religions. And there can be bad religions. How does hating the whole concept of God further the advancement of refined philosophical thought?

It doesn't. Christianity is not, and never really has been, the bad guy. It's the light that has -- very slowly to be sure -- illuminated the sacred identity of individual human beings the world over. Islam, on the other hand, is a darkness that covers vast regions of the earth like a storm cloud promising lightning, ravishing winds, and the kinds of sandstorms that strip women, children, and families to the bone. They are both religions. What if one of them is right and one of them is wrong? Has anyone ever heard Dawkins allow that possibility? No. Because he has his own religion in mind. It's called Dawkins. Which Christianity has been in the business of warning us against for its whole history. No wonder he hates it.

Back to math. This time I'll let you all do the arithmetic. I'll give you the sites and you can work your calculators and offer up 'the truth.' I'll simply frame your research with a few observations. Population figures don't start to take off until Christianity and its support for science kicks in. If you're alive and pushing social security age today, thank Christianity, not Dawkins. His evolution story begins 50,000 years ago and lasts till 8,000 BC with an infant mortality rate approaching 50 percent. What freed us from that? Civilization, Which was catalyzed and galvanized by, uh, religion.

Remember when you look at the ancient past that the religion which may have inspired human sacrifices and tribal wars was NOT a religion of ideas but of tribal identities and Gaia-esque affiliations with nature. Which bear an eerie resemblance to what the scientistic enviro-rationalists are spouting today. Wars, murder, and massacres motivated principally by religious ideas do not even begin until the late Roman era. And the totals attributable to those incidents don't even begin to approach the casualties associated with the usual human suspects: greed, territorial ambitions, monarchical ego, and barbarian cultures devoted entirely to war and conquest.

A few final notes. What libs never want to acknowledge is that there may have been some religious wars worth fighting (which the Dawkins and Hitchens of the world would never fight today, secular pragmatists that they are). The American Civil War killed 650,000 men. Would it have been better to forego the grapeshot, amputations, and burned-out cities rather than free the slaves because they were also the children of a Christian god. Or are we simply in the business of counting up numbers? Or, given that the United States carried no cross on its flag, is the American Civil War not a religious war at all but a typical human brouhaha? And if not ALL wars are religious wars, the rationalists have a lot to explain about the twentieth century: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro, and (lately) Hugo Chavez. Whom we love. Just because.


All the people who have ever lived on earth (Note the 50 percent infant mortality rate that prevailed for 50,000 years.)

War casualties throughout human history.

Primitive War. (You know. Before civilization. As high as 50 percent casualties.)

Death Tolls of Humanity. (Lots of good stuff here. Details. Categories. Insights. Numbers galore. And doubts. Dig, dig, dig...)

Gotta say. In the grand scheme of things, Christianity looks good. Huguenots and Carolingians, and even Merovingians, aside. Proof? Maybe not. But truth? Maybe so.

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