When I discuss the harm done in religion's name with my sister, who is Moslem, she inevitably brings up the harm done in atheism's name, including Stalin in the process.  I am not sufficiently well informed about history to know whether or not she is right that harm has been done in atheism's name.  (I know that Marx thought that religious belief would simply vanish once people ceased to live under oppressive economic conditions, so that he didn't see the need to actively combat religious belief, but I also know that the USSR was an officially atheist state.)  What sort of reply would you give to someone who contended that while harm has been done in the name religion, it has also been done in the name of atheism, so that the look-at-the-harm-religious-belief-does argument isn't effective?

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I think my view is changing on this. Becoming a non-theist after 46 years an evangelical, I thought that a religion's scriptures had a lot to do with it's followers being violent or not, with the Old Testament and Koran being the worst examples.


However, when a religion is young and developing, it seems much more benign, tolerant and cooperative in nature. As it gains power and influence, it seems to demonstrate an equivalent increase in the willingness to use force and violence as means to consolidate and increase that power. At this point their scriptures morph into another buttress and excuse for the use of violence.


I think the same principle is at work when looking at Stalin and Pol Pot. It seems to be that, whatever the ideology, the acquisition of controlling power and authority is what unleashes the evil and atrocity. It's a vicious method of keeping and maintaining that power.

Mormonism- even in it's infacy- never struck me as tolerant.

Hi Keith, how are thing?


I don't think religion has ever caused any harm and neither has atheism.


For me blame rest firmly at my own feet. Nobody else and nothing else is to blame, only I am to blame.


By blaming religion or atheism we are just running away from the real cause of our own troubles and that is us. We are just relieving ourselves of our own responsibilities in society by blaming religion or atheism.


I look at that question as a leading question. It is assuming blame in regards to religion and atheism, where there is no blame to be found. If you want to allot blame, blame the perpetrator of the crime.


Harm done in the name of religion or atheism or anarchy. This is a leading statement. This is relieving oneself from responsibility of ones own actions. It is forcing you to assume that harm done in the name of religion is a true statement. I don't think it is a true statement. I think it is a false statement. I think it is a leading statement. Somebody has worded it like that to stop you thinking about whether or not that statement is true. 


If you do not believe the individual is responsible for his or her own actions, then I guess you could argue religion is at fault.


So I have a question for you. Are you responsible for your own actions?




Agreed.  People don't burn people alive for translating the booble into English because they came up with that idea on their own.  Religion/superstition is a powerful tool to encourage horrible behavior.

Hi John D.

hehe, I had to laugh. Thanks for that.


I understand that the older we get the greater our ability to manipulate the young exists. Whether or not we use this ability to manipulate others is for each of us to determine for our selves.


But getting back to responsibility, are you John D 100% responsible for you own actions?



Sorry for the provocativeness of the question. And thanks for answering it.


This discussion really comes down to how the self is defined.  I use a bit of analogy to describe consciousness.  The thing I call "me" is a little storyteller that functions inside my mind.  This storyteller integrates my feelings and my memory into a potential path to follow.  This storyteller speaks in a voice that is indistinguishable from this entity which I call myself.

Fair enough. I understand.


By studying the way my mind works I can see that the directions given by my storyteller are effected by many many factors.  These factors include my physical health, my emotion state, my experienced memeories, my perceptional mental models.

Yep, I understand.


So... am I responsible?  Am I responsible for myself if my mental models are formed by abuse by others... or by love from others? My storyteller "me" is selecting an optimal path.  It always does.  It seeks to avoid social conflict, to avoid breaking social rules, because these activities cause an emotional state of distress.  My mind tries to avoid this distressed state.  These social emotions are the inherited mental groundwork created by eons of evolution.

This one is interesting in that you have only taken one view point or one side. What about the effect you have on others. If after writing this paragraph you included a paragraph about the effect you had on other people then I might be able to understand fully what you are saying. So there are now questions in my mind about whether or not you affect others. I hate to ask you more questions about such personal things, but do you affect other people?


The model of justice is very useful.  This is really a mental model that equates personal choice with free action.  Justice is a very common concept that people have used to describe social interaction for centuries.  The justice model assumes people are 100% responsible for their actions.  Of course, this is not reality.  Justice is simply a useful model.  Occasionally we recognize that the model does not apply.  Someone who is mentally ill is considered exempt from this justice model in many cases (as an example).

I agree. I am the product of eons of evolution. And my embedded sense of responsibility probably comes from this. And justice is never an exact thing. My 4 year old nephew almost drowned his 2 year old sister once. He kept pushing her under water. She was ok, I was watching and I got to them in seconds. But he was no way responsible for his actions. We can only ponder what was going on in his mind. So more questions: Will there ever be a time when you are responsible for your own actions?


The justice model works.  We need to keep it.  I think it helps humans thrive in a world occupied by lots of other humans.  The thing is... and this is important... justice is only a mental model.  It does not represent truth.  It does not help us understand our consciousness.

I never really thought about justice before. But I can only agree with you. 


But... does this mean I am responsible?  No.. not really.  It means that within the mental model we refer to as justice we claim that each of us has a thing called responsibility, but even then there are exceptions.

I don't know if there are exceptions to responsibility. For me responsibility is a stance, I am 100% responsible for everything. But even though I am responsible for everything I can't do much about a lot of things. But even though I can't fix the worlds problems single-handedly, this doesn't mean I'm not responsible for them.






Leveni - No need to apologize for your question.  I have had fun writing this.



You ask "do you affect other people?"  Yes.  We all seek to optimize our actions within our environment.  I am in your environment for example, so I affect you.  The whole landscape of possible actions is dynamic and is affected by our experiences.


Ok, so if you affect your environment, in order to optimize your actions in that particular environment, are responsible for the effect you have on that environment? 


You state "For me responsibility is a stance, I am 100% responsible for everything."


You are inconsistent here. You claim that your 4 year old nephew was not 100% responsible for his actions. 



The main reason for this inconsistency has to do with the level of development of the brain based on the NSW crimes act 1901. Here any child from the ages 0 to 12 can not be held responsible for a crime. For ages 12 to 14 the prosecution must show the court that the child has the mental capacity to think like an adult. Any body 15 and above can be tried for a crime. 


You believe this because you understand your nephew was not fully informed of how his actions affect others.  Perhaps you forgive him because you feel he is not old enough to have fully developed social emotions.  Perhaps you forgive him becasue you know the ideas of "right" and "wrong" are just mental models of how humans interact and they are not a perfect representation of human behavior.


He tried to drown his sister several times on several different occasions. I never got angry at him, I only asked him to be a little more careful with his little sister. I told him it's ok to play with her in the pool, but not to push her under the water and keep her there. And I did this is a very friendly way. 

I guess you could use the word forgive. But there was no malice on his part so there was nothing to forgive. I just tried to get him to think about his actions and the effect his actions had on his sister.

But in essence your correct.


So, why would you think that you are so special that you are 100% responsible for your behavior and your actions.  While I agree that it is helpful to act as if we are 100% responsible, it is impossible to actually believe we are 100% responsible.  There are factors that affect your behavior that are fully outside of the control of your conscious mind.  You can't be "responsible" for these.


This is always an interesting one for me. Because my thoughts are the complete opposite to yours. I think people who don't believe themselves to be responsible for everything consider themselves special. This is how I view people like, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, Mubarak, Gaddafi.


Even if the way I am is a direct result of my environment, an environment I can not escape from, I am still responsible for everything. As I said, this is a stance. It is not something based on the logic of why we are the way we are. It is based on the logic of how best to make a better environment. 


Now, I will say that it is very useful to act as if we are 100% responsible.  This is a role we play within the mental model we call justice.  This mental model is so well formed and strong that most people act as if it is real.  This is how ethics really work. 

So, if you took some action one day that was judged to be of great offense by your peers, and if you eventually recognized that they were right in judging you harshly, would you then be able to forgive yourself for your failure?  I hope so.

As with my nephew, there was no forgiveness involved. I just tried to get him to think about his actions.


I also never forgive myself, and I don't forgive others. By the same token, I don't blame others for anything they do. Eg: I've been stabbed, bashed by 40 people(taxi also destroyed), had people grab me from behind, and threaten to kill me, amongst other things. Life as a Sydney taxi driver has its ups and downs. But I honestly don't blame or have any hatred against the people who did these things. I still think all people are basically good, even the ones who attacked me. Blame and forgiveness aren't really a part of my thinking.


As for me, if I do something wrong, I try not to do it again.


I don't impose my stance onto other people. The stance is a personal stance.


So, I've asked you one question, up the top. In order to make this a universal question, does responsibility exist?

(Also, I do not think people are basically good because goodness is only valid as an idea within a social context...so... everyone within a social group will be "basically" good by definition.  The whole idea is not useful).

I did have second thoughts about writing "good", but I decided to put it in anyway.

I can't answer the question of "Does responsibiltiy exist?" without an understanding of what exist means to you.  I would say responsibility exists as a concept within the framework of the ethic we call justice.  I suspect this does not answer your question.   :^)


But... does this mean I am responsible?  No.. not really.  It means that within the mental model we refer to as justice we claim that each of us has a thing called responsibility, but even then there are exceptions.

I posed the question, Does responsibility exist?, because of the above response you gave me previously. I saw that you didn't really want to give a definite response with the word responsibility included in that response. I just wanted to find out a little more about your view of responsibility.


Not giving an answer the way I was hoping an answer was going to be given is fine, it forces me to look at questions I pose and rephrase questions into something more definite. So I'm happy.


In regards to the paragraph you used above, may I ask what you meant by the word 'responsibility' in the sentence 'each of us has a thing called responsibility'?


For me responsibility is: I blame myself for everything and it is my duty to deal with everything and fix everything. If I don't do this before I die I am a failure. But that's just me. :)


Define exist.


The following are not questions for you but questions that went through my head.

Does responsibility exist?

Is there responsibility?

Is he responsible for their actions?

Who is responsible for ...

Are you responsible for your own actions?

Is anybody responsible for anything?



Ok, I'll rephrase my question:

Is anybody responsible for anything?


definition of responsibility:

"the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something: source Oxford dictionary.


(I also thought I had better rephrase something else I said. In regards to blame. I never blame others but I do blame myself)

Find a few numbers.  Talk about genital mutilation in Africa and other moslem countries.  How about the Japanese worshipping their Emperor to the point of comiting genocide and suicide- this includes many of the women and children.  The Crusades.  Any system that takes away a persons right to doubt or live in accordance with their considered ethical beliefs.  I don't think you will have any luck.  I suppose she converted?  I think converts have a lot of serious issues and conversion is just a symptom.  I witnessed this personally and up close.  Im sorry man, it must feel like you've lost major parts of her.  Keep up hope. She may un-convert one day.

People have said that the atheist dictators did not do what they did to prove God doesn't exist, in the name of atheism, or they treated their political beliefs like a religion/cult...I get that. Even so, it is still possible that someone could do things in the name of atheism...such as banning religion, killing religious people, discriminating against religious people. I don't know how likely it is, but my point is that it's possible. Saying "that would never happen because atheists are founded on logic and reason" is nonsense. It reminds me a little bit of "good Christians would never do that because they found Jesus". Making the assumption that atheists are by default logical is pretty illogical to me...we're human, we make mistakes, we are swayed by emotion, and some people take things to the extreme. Even scientists have had biases, for example, in the past scientists thought that women shouldn't be scientists because "men are more logical and women are more emotional"--this was very illogical in itself and reminds me a lot of "atheists are more logical so they would never commit atrocities".


Religion, being based on things that can't be proven and according to religions, don't need to be proven, still have more potential for harm and abuse--more than political beliefs, and more than atheism.

The mass murdering dictators were not all atheists.  Hitler remained a Catholic until the end of his life.  Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot all followed ideologies that overrode concern for human life.  Though they may have been atheists, they established cults of personality that marginalized everyone who didn't support their particular ideology.  Stalin was a seminary student, a poet, and a bank robber before he became an important Party official.  After Lenin died, Stalin's fervent support of the revolution became fervent support for Stalin.  Mao, I think, believed in the Revolution and would sacrifice anyone on the Party altar.  Pol Pot tried to return Cambodia to its distant past, including worship of ancient gods, and sacrificed millions of people to his reactionary vision.


Theists sometimes argue that fear of divine retribution is necessary to prevent atrocities, but it isn't.  There has been horrific slaughter in the name of religion throughout recorded history as humans tried to act out the will of whatever gods they believed in.  Considering only the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, we see that the ancient Hebrews committed mass murder on the orders of Yahweh--or at least they claim they did in the Old Testament.  We know that Islam was spread by the sword, and that Catholicism systematically suppressed all but the beliefs of the orthodox, murdering heretics, slaughtering Muslims and Jews during the Crusades, and slaughtering the Cathars in the 13th century because of their belief in the Arian heresy.  Jews were persecuted at least until the Holocaust, which could be seen as the logical result of 1945 years of European anti-Semitism.  Armies in the West almost always think that God is on their side.  In nonAbrahamic cultures, the Baghavad Gita justifies war and slaughter with its belief in reincarnation and the immortality of the soul.  Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico sacrificed as many as a thousand humans per week to their gods. 


This list could go on for a long time.  As Richard Dawkins put it, there is no logical pathway from atheism to slaughter, but there is a logical pathway from organized religion to slaughter, and that pathway is, to say the least, very well worn.

Stalin was using Communism--or at least his version of it.  Many leaders have indeed used religion to cover the real reasons for their aggression, but when you send armies out to reclaim land that you consider "holy," you are starting a war for the sake of religion.  When you kill hundreds of thousands of people for believing something slightly different from what you think they should believe, you are starting a war in the name of religion.  European warriors and kings were known for centuries as the "defenders of the faith."  Somebody thought they were fighting for religion.




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