"My suffering is much, much less since I began to seek after my dream of being free, but not only for me personally. If I thought only of myself, you know that I would have been free a long time ago, and I would have been rid of these unsettling anxieties. But I want to see my friend's son, my adversary's son, or any citizen laughing happily from the satisfaction in their lives and enjoying a wealth of freedom because it is the only way human talent reaches its maximum splendor. . . Oscar Biscet, in a letter to his wife from prison
I was very cheered to find this editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Mary O'Grady won me over a couple of years ago when she first wrote about Oscar Biscet. In one of the few cases of Quid censorship, a commenter on that post said that high abortion rates (and Cuba has the highest rate in the world) are a sign of civilizational advancement. He cited feminist "thought" for that opinion. I had to delete the entry, adding a superfluous warning to those who wish to use my blog to advance such ideas.
In short succession, I then read this piece by Dinesh D'Souza and this one by Theodore Dalrymple. There are many other articles and books now being churned out on the subject of God, or the absence of Him, as Dalrymple notes. What strikes me is the derivative and deeply hypocritical nature of the atheistic argument that a measure of a belief's good is in how few people are inspired to kill for it. We on the right are often accused of being hypocritical about our mores. If someone commits a crime or a "sin" against which he had previously railed, he is a hypocrite. If you are a pragmatist, or infinitely "tolerant" of deviant behavior, you can never be accused of being a hypocrite. The trick is to make sure that hypocrisy is seen by one and all as the worst of all evils, and, if need be, to mislabel growth, maturity, and the simple changing of one's mind as "hypocritical." In the case of mass murder, the leftist/atheist doesn't seem to have a very big problem with the numbers, or even the fact of killing. They have a problem with a belief system that empowers the individual to act for a purpose above himself, and indeed above his commanders. At times, in history, this has lead to Christian holy wars, such as the oft-cited Crusades. The Crusaders were in fact, attacking the Muslims to regain their right to travel to pilgrimage sites. Oh for the days when Christians cared that much about Bethlehem! In any event, the individual soldiers could be consoled knowing that they were defending God, even if the more jaded moderns see them as being mere pawns in the power struggles of men. But what of the atheistic atrocities that litter the 20th century with corpses? In nearly all cases, those who ordered the killings, the deportations, the internal exiles, and those who carried them out, saw a means to power, or mere survival, in this life.
When we look at the question of moral superiority in reverse, "How many lives has religion saved? How many lives has atheism saved?" we are faced with a rather stark picture of the moral and spiritual poverty of atheism. The world is filled with examples of God-inspired goodness that translates directly into lives saved. Can we imagine a world without church-founded hospitals, to take D'Souza's example?. A sociology professor at the University of Texas, Bob Woodberry, has done pioneering original research into the missionary activity of the 19th and early 20th centuries. By collecting the data kept by missionary societies, he was able to show that the Christian missions (Protestant, non-state sponsored only) in Africa and Asia have had a lasting impact on the societies in their local geographic areas [here, in part, PDF]. To this day, those areas show higher rates of literacy, higher rates of female education, higher numbers of hospital beds per capita, lower rates of infant mortality than surrounding "non-missioned" areas of the same culture. Dr. Xiao Zhao, China's top economist and a Christian convert, noticed the correlation between vibrant economic activity and Christian influence in his travels to South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. He lived in Hong Kong for six months and at first wondered why the Chinese there were so "civilized." Was it the remnant of the British bureaucracy? He concluded that it was the prevalence of Christian schools, that the Chinese were exposed to "civilizing" ideas at an early age. He has concluded that Christian ideas, including freedom of conscience, including the sanctity of life, were good for the economy [pers. comm.] and that those beneficial effects necessarily extended to non-believers in the same society.
Which brings us back to Oscar Biscet. Dr. Biscet is a devout Christian, a prisoner of conscience in atheistic Cuba. Cuba is never mentioned in the annals of mass murder, but Dr. Biscet would dissent from that convention of the popular historical view. He is an eyewitness to the brutality of that regime, first as the young girls are taken from their families in deference to the "collective," where they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, then as they are introduced to the birth control of choice, abortion. The average Cuban woman (girl!) has five abortions before her first live birth. There is only one "moral" test for the correctness of the abortion/ infanticide: that it is a "premature," incomplete pregnancy no matter how advanced and therefore needn't be recorded as live birth and therefore doesn't disturb the official statistics that show Cuba's health care system to be one of the best on earth. If there is no "birth," there is no "death;" there isn't a baby born to a young, unwed, teenaged girl. Infant mortality rates rival those of developed countries- voilá! Michael Moore, how does it feel to shill for mass murder and the torture of infants?
Dr. Biscet is rotting in appalling prison conditions to save the lives of babies. He has had his chances to be exiled to the comfort of the United States but chooses instead to remain imprisoned for the sake of his countrymen, born and unborn. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al: where are the atheists? Fine-tuning the rationales for mass murder?
Theodore Dalrymple mentions a couple of paintings in his article, though he doesn't name them, and in the case of one, doesn't even mention the artist. For your enjoyment, I did a little sleuthing and came up with the work by Sanchez Cotán and another by Van Claesz, who painted herrings on pewter plates (and broken glasses, and half-peeled lemons) and made us think of God.
For an extra treat, read Sam Harris' response to Mr. Dalrymple in "Selected Responses." It's rare that anyone can convey effete indignation with such verve in writing. You can practically hear his little feet stamping.