It takes more than atheism

Karl Marx

Atheism, some believers say, is responsible for the atrocities committed by communist regimes like those of Stalin and Mao.

But the wording in this claim gives the game away: communism is not atheism.

Before I discuss this any further, let me define atheism, since many theists see it as far more than it really is.

Atheism is the belief that no gods exist.

That is all it is.

To get from this belief to anything else, you need to bring additional beliefs to the table. For instance, to believe that religion should be eradicated, you must first harbor the belief that religion is harmful, either to its participants or to yourself (and your ambitions). You must also harbor the belief that you have a say in what other people choose to believe.

Neither of these two latter beliefs follows inexorably from the belief that no gods exist.

In fact, it’s perfectly logical to believe that no gods exist, but that religion is a positive cultural phenomenon that benefits its practitioners (a position that I personally hold to be at least partially true). It is also logical to believe that no gods exist but that every person has a right to choose her own beliefs (a position I wholeheartedly endorse).

Conversely, it is perfectly logical to believe in gods, yet to regard much of traditional religious practice as irrelevant or even harmful. Some Christians I’ve spoken to believe this very thing.

Sadly, Karl Marx, one of the founding fathers of communism, took the negative stance. He believed that all religion was a detriment to society because it blinded people to reality and prevented them from fulfilling their true potential. Both Marx and his ideological successor, Vladimir Lenin, therefore believed that the eradication of religion would be in the best interests of the people. It is sad indeed that this concern for the well-being of the people was trampled on so violently by later communist leaders.

There are, however, a large number of well known atheists who have not taken the route of Marx and Lenin.

Indeed, many (most) communists haven’t taken the route of Marx and Lenin. One of the most famous in my world is Joe Slovo, who was a member of the South African Communist Party during the last years of apartheid. Slovo had no desire to go on a rampage against religion. His aim was to bring an end to his country’s oppressive, racist regime, and he is a hero among South Africans today because of his efforts.

Atheist leaders also include those of several European countries, all of which respect religious freedom, and many of which are among the happiest nations in the world. (Unsurprisingly, those Christians who bring up the communist examples of atheism always fail to mention the successes of modern Europe.)

Is it fair, then, to put blame on atheism for the actions of tyrants like Stalin and Mao?

To answer this final question, I’ll ask if it’s fair to blame the polar opposite of atheism, namely the belief in gods, for religious wars like the Crusades.

My answer would be absolutely not.

There is nothing inherent in the belief in gods that leads directly to violence. Instead, religious violence arises due to combative ideas that are added to the basic belief.

In the same way, then, there is nothing inherent in atheism – in the belief that no gods exist – that leads directly to violence. For violence to arise, violent ideas need to be added to atheism, ideas like those of Marx and certain of his communist successors.

So, let’s be fair and blame the proper ideology, namely Marxism-Leninism, for the atrocities of communism. Indeed, to get to Stalin’s gulags, you need even more beliefs added to communism, for instance the belief that it’s OK to work prisoners to death.

None of this can be reached from the simple premise of atheism alone.

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6 Responses to It takes more than atheism

  1. […] Read Full Article- Click Here Christian Spirituality Headlines Excerpts from Churchoutreachministry.net This entry was posted […]

  2. You said:

    To answer this final question, I’ll ask if it’s fair to blame the polar opposite of atheism, namely the belief in gods, for religious wars like the Crusades.

    My answer would be absolutely not.

    There is nothing inherent in the belief in gods that leads directly to violence. Instead, religious violence arises due to combative ideas that are added to the basic belief.

    In the same way, then, there is nothing inherent in atheism – in the belief that no gods exist – that leads directly to violence. For violence to arise, violent ideas need to be added to atheism, ideas like those of Marx and certain of his communist successors.

    I say:

    You’re different than most of the other atheists, especially Dawkins & Harris atheists of the “new atheist” breed.

    I’m so bloody tired of hearing about religion’s bloody history and the mass murders that religion is responsible for, but atheism never takes responsible for its own history of atrocity and strife. Very few atheists will ever admit that Christianity and religion can no more be judged on what a few nutcases did than can atheism. These atheists like the blurb-aspect, or the sound bite in order to make religion look bad, at all costs. I get pretty aggravated and fed up with these kinds of atheists fast.

    While I love them as fellow human beings, I’m well aware that there is warfare going on with them.. evangelical warfare in order to spread the message, theirs and ours. They take it as seriously as we do.

    You’re different though because you’re honest and don’t often resort to these petty lies and sound bites in order to make progress for your side of the aisle. I respect that.

  3. *takes responsibility for

    I hate that we can’t edit these comments! 😉

  4. Sabio Lantz says:

    Is it fair, then, to put blame on atheism for the actions of tyrants like Stalin and Mao?

    No. As you point out, atheism is a simple proposition.
    But, as atheism is often linked with naturalism and certain ethical positions. Isolated atheism does not exist. Does what-inspires-atheism inspire other things — this may be the question they are asking.

    • But by that logic you can say that as religion is so linked with its history you cannot isolate it from its past…

      So everytime we mention atheism, it must be with the side thought of forced labour camps and the suppression of freedom.

      And everytime we mention religion, it must be with the side thought of fanatical wars that caused the deaths of thousands.

      Isolated atheism exists, because there are people who hold an isolated atheistic viewpoint.

      If people connect it with other factors, that is through their own fault and does not deny its existence.

      • Keith says:

        ScienceDefined (and Sabio)

        I think it’s true that atheism is never isolated, but it’s also not consistently attached to just one other worldview. If atheism were found exclusively in the realm of, say, communism, then you could fairly blame atheism as being a communist ideology. However, atheism is also strongly associated with other worldviews like humanism, which conflict in certain ways with communism. This conflict demonstrates that atheism is a broad enough idea that it cannot carry responsibility for all the details of any specific ideology that uses it.

        The same goes for the belief in the existence of god(s): this belief is required for both pacifist and violent religious ideologies, so it cannot carry responsibility for either pacifism or violence.

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