“…it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that
they are no worse than fascists or Nazis or Stalinists.”
“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me
to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized
these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them.“
~Adolf Hitler (Munich, April 12th 1922)
Getting back to the notion that there can be no morality without God, many theists like to point to dictatorial and genocidal regimes, purportedly atheist, as evidence that atheism is immoral and insufficient for creating a stable civilization.
The first problem with this argument is that it’s often used tu quoque, which is to say that when someone argues that Catholics can’t claim a direct connection to god or moral insight when they’re responsible for the crusades and the inquisition, Catholics reply “Well, look at all the crimes atheists have done”; even if it were true, atheists don’t claim divine, infallible knowledge, attacking them for failure to do the right thing would not answer nor absolve Catholics their failures. It’s the equivalent of a fifth grader’s defense that “well, everyone else was doing it,” and vulnerable to the same reply: “well, if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”
I hesitate to mention the tu quoque fallacy, for while it’s sufficient to eliminate most of these arguments, it’s not even close to the strongest one.
The fact is that those who say atheism breeds corrupt governments are at best willfully blind, at worst liars.
Never mind that there are plenty of countries where the majority of people are atheist (like France), or that these trite arguments are usually complete fabrications. It is maintained that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot prove the evils of atheism.
However, the Nazis were far from atheists, as indeed was Hitler. Nearly half of all Nazis were active, confessing Catholics. In Mein Kampf, Hitler repeatedly argued that he would wipe out the Jews “in the name of God”, and in his speeches often referenced destiny (a concept incompatible with atheism). His first Concorde was with the Vatican, indeed for much of his reign he and the Roman Catholic Church had a good relationship (only one of Hitler’s inner circle was ever excommunicated – Himmler,And that was for the sin of marrying a Protestant). Indeed, Hitler tried to make his own Germanic church with Nordic blood myths, probably ultimately to install himself as a prophet. The Nazis even outlawed atheism.
“We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement,
and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out!”
~Adolf Hitler (Berlin, Oct. 1933)
That the Nazi regime could be so easily deployed as an argument for the dangers of atheism is ludicrous, and speaks to the level of propaganda employed against atheism, and the fear people have of it. Anyone invoking Hitler as an argument against atheism has no interest in honest debate whatsoever, and reaches blindly, not for the most correct arguments, but for the closest ones. That he appears on a single meme in defence of religion is an act of cognitive dissonance breathtaking in it’s effect.
Stalin is at least closer to the mark. He was indeed an atheist (religious propaganda has become so pervasive that we’re reduced to congratulating them when they get a fact correct). But he was raised as a Christian, enrolled in seminary school, and later studied to become a priest. He was an atheist, and he attended the seminary to learn the one thing religion could teach him, how to bend science and reality to dogma (one of the few things theism excels at). He demanded obedience from the church under Romans 13:1-2, and then proceeded to mercilessly destroy the church (they were the only organization strong enough to oppose him).
Stalin was an atheist, but he did not commit his crimes because he was one, any more than because he had a mustache. He was a tyrannical, ruthless dictator first, and violated the central tenets of atheism in the accomplishing of his goals (you can find more on this later in the codex, but as a reminder, for New Atheists, atheism is not a means, it is an end. One must employ reason, logic and truth, and the employment of these leads one to the inevitable conclusion that there is no god. Stalin had no interest in reason, logic, or truth–indeed these concepts were completely meaningless to him. He was a psychopath. That a psychopath was also an atheist isn’t an argument against atheism).
Pol Pot was, again, not an atheist. He was a Theravada Buddhist (this is contested in some biographies of him, but there can be no doubt that Buddhism, while twisted and warped, informed his actions). He was convinced of divine destiny which was guiding him (a claim no atheist can make).
Buddhism is closer to a form of Deism than Atheism, and I make the argument that deists are, in some ways, a kind of “atheist light”–for they do indeed reject theistic commandments and injunctions. But they still have irrational, unsupported beliefs, founded on faith, and acting on these beliefs can be just as dangerous as any theist. His renunciation of sentiment and emotion were bhuddist ideals, his goal a social dhamma.
But I must point out, in all fairness, that this is not black and white. There are elements of true atheistic beliefs and ideals in Pol Pot’s arguing. I argue often that the christian who says ISIS is immoral can make only one argument to that effect–that ISIS is praying to the wrong god. Any evidence a theist could possibly use to discredit ISIS faith can be used against him as well. Who is he to say his is right and ISIS is wrong, other than his imaginary friend? I am trapped by a similar argument: who am I to say that true atheism is my kind, the kind that is born from, and bound by, rational thought? Can it not be said that Pol Pot just took it to it’s natural conclusion?
This is where New Atheism steps in. New Atheists would be a “sect” of atheism which opens atheists to many of the same attacks this codex levies on theists. How can we know which is right?
But this is a problem of all honest inquiry (and strikes theists only when they honestly question their faith, not when they remain dogmatic). When it comes to the unknown, there are always different sects: physicists are broken up by those who believe we live in a multiverse and those who don’t, those who see strings as the anwser to the problem of grand unification, and those that don’t.
Pol Pot was not an atheist, but perhaps he was close enough that I can take this opportunity to point out that which is often overlooked, but obvious none the less: there is no perfect moral system, and none which is immune from committing atrocities. It is the claim of the atheist that this simply becomes much, much harder to do in societies which encourage free thought, dissension, discussion, and rational discourse (none of which Pol Pot did, and all of which are prohibited in theocracies). It is a claim I’ve yet to find anyone disagree with, even theists participating in societies which discourage these things.
To show that Atheism is not up to the task of ruling justly, you must have a society built on the principals of Lucretius, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, and Einstein, on the principals of those and other great thinkers of atheism. But the closest that has ever been done to that is the United States, and theists are hard at work rolling back the protections it offers against religion, and inserting christian dogma into it.
In fact, while there are many countries where Atheists dominate (China, Japan, France, South Korea, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands… Note mostly successful countries, as opposed to the the world’s most religious countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Iraq and Kenya, places devastated by poverty and religious violence), Nobody has yet tried to make a completely secular regime.
In fact, it is quite difficult to argue for what an atheist government would look like. Indeed, if atheism is practiced as a religion, it is no better than any theistic practice. Atheism is not a means, it is an end. The means is reason – rational thought. No government should ever be founded on the principle of being “atheist” – doing so would be a violation of the principles that lead one to atheism.
Instead, governments should be secular. They should be founded on freedom (including freedom to believe – but not the freedom to impose those beliefs on others), and on rational thought. Governments should be guided by evidence, reason, and commitment to honesty – not on 2000-year-old ideologies. None of the aforementioned regimes could be considered reasonable.
That is the goal. Anything else is missing the forest for the trees.