Hitler bad not equals foil hats good
Your enemies should be your greatest source of information. No one can tell you more about your own vulnerabilities than the people who want to exploit them. While maintaining an appearance of invulnerability and confidence is something that is encouraged (maybe even rightly) in public spheres, in the privacy of your own mind it makes sense to consider the arguments of those who you find to be most opposed to you, most obviously wrong, those who most want to get under your skin. You should let them under, because they have something to offer you.
In the case of the atheist movement, an argument which is raised by theists in response to the litany of religiously motivated atrocities, is the litany of politically motivated atrocities. It is just as long and just as bloody — and the people perpetuating them felt just as justified. This weakness in the argument against organized religion is valid. Stalin, Hitler and Mao really did exist — they really did do the things they did, and no one is served in pretending that a world without religion would be a world without atrocity.
This does not absolve religion, and it does not even begin to take in to account the most serious argument against it — that it is factually false and that it promotes turning away from the most powerful epistemological stance the world ever discovered — that the evidence of the senses should be sharpened, trusted and generalized in manners which are transparent and not personal. That what merely one person sees is not enough for consensus reality, that cogent explanations and experiments which may be run by anyone are the only things good enough to constitute a social model of reality.
But they do show that it is not enough to attack religion – because the greatest monsters the world has ever known did that — and they were still monsters. This is not an argument for religion — and it shows how weak the ground is that religion stands on that this would ever be offered as such. Imagine a person claiming that a foil hat is really protection against satellite death rays because Stalin, Hitler and Mao didn’t wear foil hats, and they were mass murderers. That is what the argument comes down to. How backed into a corner would you have to be to use an argument like that?
But the truth is that it is more than religion that needs to be questioned — I would throw my net far wider. I would capture liberalism and conservatism — to say nothing of socialism and environmentalism. Objectiveism. Aristotelianism (that is a fair coinage).
The problem is the ability to tolerate the ambiguous. The ability to admit that you don’t have the answer when you don’t actually have it, and to move with the fragmentary understandings that you do have. And of course, what follows as a corollary from that — to recognize and accept that other people have different constructions than you, and to learn from them.
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