In many debates between Theists and Atheists, a common strategy is employed by Atheists to silence their opponents. Commonly, they like to argue that in history and currently, no Atheists have ever killed people in the ‘name of Atheism’, yet it is claimed that many people who follow a religion, have killed in its name. Therefore, they conclude, that Atheists are somehow more prone to peace, or have less reasons to kill than Theists, and ‘therefore’ religion is more dangerous than Atheism. This is the ‘no one kills in the name of atheism’ argument.
This argument is based upon a subtle but false comparison. The opposite of Atheism, is not Religion, but Theism. Atheism is the denial of belief in a God, while Theism is the belief in a God. To believe in a God, or not believe in a God, does not by itself predispose a person to violence or to peace. Belief or disbelief in a God, is a neutral idea, devoid of any practical significance without any further thought. Hence Atheism and Theism are comparable, but not Atheism to Religion. It literally is absurd to compare Atheism and Religion, any more than it is to compare Theism with with say Communism!
The issue is not Atheism or Theism, but rather what people ‘add on’ to these ideas, that affects their behaviour.
Religion is a system of beliefs, or a set or collection of linked beliefs, about the world in most cases based around a central concept of Theism. The beliefs of each religion forms the worldview of the Theist holding them. It is these worldviews that shape how the Theist treats other humans, whether helping others, or killing them. No Theist has ever ‘killed in the name of Theism’, but some may kill in the name of their religion, or (more likely) they may twist the text of a prominent religion in their society to achieve kind of social justification amongst their Religious peers.
Likewise, Atheists may also believe in a set of beliefs that form their worldview. Usually these worldviews hold beliefs that deny, ignore or render irrelevant the need for God. It is these worldviews that shape how the Atheist treats other humans, whether helping others, or killing them. Worldviews based upon an assumed concept of Atheism, sometimes called ‘materialistic worldviews’, like Communism, Social Darwinism, or those based upon a worldview that renders God irrelevant, and is compatible with Atheism, like Nationalism, Fascism, Secular Liberalism/Humanism, have had adherents kill, massacre, torture and force convert others in their names (e.g. Communism killed and suppressed millions in the name of eradicating religion because ‘it is poison’ or ‘false consciousness’).
The difference between Religious worldviews and Materialistic worldviews is that Religious worldviews tend to be based around a fixed tradition, book or set of books. These traditions or books usually are believed to be from a divine or spiritual source, and constitute an obstacle for humans trying to justify their own vanities or desires in conducting immorals actions. These obstacles may only be bypassed by unscrupulous individuals resorting to ‘twisting’ the texts to permit their actions, but these ‘twists’ are not easy or believable by the wider community. However, Materialistic worldviews are not based upon any fixed traditions or book or books, and only possess authority of the humans that created them. Consequently, if an adherent to a materialistic worldview becomes convinced that their worldview is no longer convenient for their desires, or decides to invent an exception, there is no fixed tradition or book that must be surmounted or twisted to achieve their objectives. This means that while religion does not prevent all injustices or wrongful killings, its absolute rules and laws would certainly provides more of a safeguard then a worldview based originally on human whims and desires, perpetuated by whims and desires and completely changeable at any moment according to whims and desires.
There are further problems with materialistic worldviews. While Religion tends to supplement the imperfections of the world with divine justice distributed via an omniscient and just God, Materialistic worldviews are prone to attempt to deal with the imperfections of the world directly. While this may seem innocuous and innocent, it leads to very terrible consequences.
Humans are not perfect, and all are liable to commit minor injustices. While Religion generally papers over the imperfections with promises of final justice against all wrongs (both open and secret), Materialistic worldviews are unable to provide this satisfaction to aggrevied people. This leads to people necessarily taking ‘revenge’ upon others, or stealing to address wealth inequalities, or undermining their competitors through illegal means, or ‘doing what is necessary’ to attain whatever they view as their happiness, as their grievances and expected rewards will never be addressed in any other life. This leads to governments and states who follow Materialistic worldviews to increase their surveillance and monitoring of the people, and then increase their control measures, in order to establish order – leading to totalitarian governments and police states.
Secondly, since humans are more complex than any principle, materialistic worldviews will enforce a perfection of their ideas to such an extent, it produces oppression and absurdities. For example, Secular Liberalism enforced a concept of Equality of men and women that demanded gender quotas, even if candidates of any particular gender were of sub-standard merit. It’s laws against discrimination were taken to such an extent, that Religious individuals could be discriminated against merely for expressing their religious opinions. Likewise, Communism expected humans to work ‘for justice’ and improve their work despite low wages and no increasing benefits for doing so. Capitalism expected that increasing production would naturally lead to all members of a society receiving resources – yet the opposite happened. The list goes on. Of course the biggest danger from materialistic worldviews is their reaction to perceived ‘threats’. Whereas Religions generally assure their followers of their perseverance, survival and in some cases, ultimate victory – materialist worldviews have no such guarantee. In the absence of such guarantees, materialist worldviews have ‘over-reacted’ to opposing ways of life, and political dissent, leading to executions, mass imprisonments, or in ‘softer’ cases, permitting free reign for their majorities to discriminate against ‘dangerous minorities’ who are ‘not following the same values’.
While Religions may be used in similar ways by their adherents (in certain social, political and intellectual conditions), due to the inescapable characteristics of Materialist world views, and Religious worldviews, it is far more likely that Religion restrains these tendencies, and materialistic worldviews falls into their tendencies.
The real debate about who is more dangerous, is not between Atheism and Religion, but between Religion and materialist worldviews like Communism / Social Darwinism / ‘Humanism’ / Secular Liberalism / Nationalism and Fascism, that have killed millions, and been merciless upon the weak, in the pursuit of their materialistic goals.
P.S. Not all Theists have a religion; some may believe in God, but nothing else, or they may even believe in a materialistic worldview that ignores or separates God from having any political or social importance or concern in the material world, like Deists and Secularists (despite their belief in God). The possibility of a Theist to believe in a materialistic worldview doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in God, it just means that they demonstrate the ability to compartmentalise one belief, and ignore its significances, and live by a completely different belief. This would probably cause Cognitive dissonance.
Very well put. The tendency by many, both religious and atheist, to think these two are opposites is problematic, and a potential justification for introducing a nonsectarian religion course into the schools. That people could reach adulthood without realizing these things fall into very different classes is disturbing.
I suspect one or two disturbed individuals have killed in the name of “theism” or “atheism” but this would be a subject for a dissertation by someone with time to comb through thousands of psychiatric records.
Hitler was a Christian, and Stalin never said he was an atheist. Joseph may have been anti religion, but examination of his personal library indicated that he did believe that some kind of God existed, but was unsure if he ever knew one existed.
And all those others, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il ran their regimes like theocracies. Unable to question the leader who was the “moral authority” without the fear of some kind of punishment, torture or death. Desecrate a Qur’an in Saudi Arabia and see what happens?
No freedom, just bondage to the leader. Real or imaginary. Just look at the fantasy portrayed in Kim Jong Il’s bio. Almost as if he stole plot lines from the Qur’an and the Bible, AND THE PEOPLE BELIEVED IT. They thought of him as divine. Actually North Korea is a perfect example that demonstrates how simple the psychology can be when inventing a deity in this modern age. Scientology is another perfect example.
……and you expect to believe the nonsense written in primitive holy books over 15 centuries ago is even remote true.
Nice attempt at philisophical sophistry, but atheism can and will argue against religion. It has every single right. It is astounding that you even tried to embarrass yourself with such an argument. Religion is a subset of theism. You can not argue against theism without including religion. The argument stops at Agnosticism, and the personal belief that a God may exist, but everything else is still fair game.
“Stalin never said he was an atheist”. Why would he have to if atheism isn’t a belief system, according to atheists?
More people have died under atheists regimes than any other political system. “…atheism can and will argue against religion. It has every single right.” Uh, no it doesn’t. Belief systems don’t have rights.
Brush up on your comments next time, Mark.
Your second paragraph has some false logic.
If one believes in God, they carry a lifelong “weight”, a commitment to their God which can be accompanied by guilt, judgement, and intolerance.
An Atheist has none of this weight.
There are no writings that we follow, writings that can have many interpretations from “do unto others…”, to killing those others.
There is one Atheist interpretation: there is no God.
I don’t believe in any god of any type. I am materialistic in the sense that I like nice things around me and I make do with what I can afford to have but I wouldn’t mug, steal and definitely would not kill someone to get them. I know religious people who also like nice things around them and the 2 ideas don’t clash. Materialism is more of a human condition in my view not a belief system. I don’t believe I am a better person for having or not having something materialistic.
The majority of people want things that make their life better or easier for themselves or their families, there is nothing wrong with that, the majority of people also would not kill to get them and then say they did it in the name of materialism/Atheism or any other ism. As someone who does not believe in god, I find it hard to understand for example nuns who devote their lives to serving god, is it just helping those in need that makes them what they are (i know they also like to spread the word), because that feeling that you want to help people is a human condition too, my son has no religious beliefs whatsoever, not my doing by the way. He is young but has devoted a large amount of time to helping those in need and it looks like that is his chosen path, he has also volunteered in Africa to work with children, but he has not needed religion to do it or any other belief system to tell him it is a right or wrong thing to do. Religion was never thrust upon either my son or daughter and they were never led toward any particular religion but my son doesn’t believe and my daughter does, which is how it should be.
My non-belief does not want to make me do or not do anything. I simply don’t believe in a god and I can’t have blind faith in something so intangible as “there might be a god”.
Can’t stand facts, do you?
Atheists never killed in the name of atheism. Get your facts straight.