The important part of any discussion as to whether a belief system has “caused” tragedies in the past or will do so in the future must be based on the logical connections between the tenets of the position and the resultant actions of the position’s holders. We can yell at each other all day that Hitler was a Catholic and Stalin was an atheist, but it doesn’t matter; the fallacy at hand is called “false equivalence.” It is a result of implying that because one trait is shared between two items, so must another, e.g. “Stalin brushed his teeth, and killed millions. Obama also brushes his teeth. Therefore, he is likely to kill millions.” This is obviously silly; they may share a trait, but one must make a direct connection between tooth brushing and the conclusion being drawn, killing.
Similarly, when one says, “Stalin/Pol Pot was an atheist, and so are you. Therefore you will also do immoral things,” this is just as silly as the tooth brushing argument, until you prove that atheism leads to immorality in the first place. So, the introduction of Stalin is just a pointless emotionally-charged debate tactic.
In truth, there is no connection between immorality and atheism. It is just as logical to follow “I don’t believe in God …” with either “ … therefore I will make this world as moral and happy a place to live as I can, because I know we all only get the one chance” or “ … therefore I will not be afraid of hell and likely commit murder.” The assumption that only the latter is true is enormously insulting. I would hope that the fear of punishment is not the only thing standing between you, dear reader, and a murderous rampage.
On the other hand, the connection between many religious texts and immoral action is much easier to make; most of the major, proselytizing religions have textual aspects that suggest believers are superior to non-believers, or that command believers to convert or conquer non-believers. Atheism has no such elements. So next time someone says that atheism will logically lead to violence, remind them of the importance of 1) the logical connection between ideology and action, and 2) the dangers of throwing stones while living in glass houses.
Connor Oakes is a fourth-year political science major.
Whether answered in the affirmative or not, the question bears no relevance to the wish (or prayer) that God might exist; so the fact that the inquiry is made at all is an intriguing one. Quite telling, too, is the childish combativeness with which this accusation is often dealt. I imagine that the religionist (i.e. one pleased by religion’s existence) in our modern society feels a mounting uneasiness as he increasingly finds himself backing up closer and closer into a corner, pressured by various rational forces — such as ethics, science, and history — to make sense of the myth his faith is founded upon. Once surrounded by reason (with “hands up,” so to speak) the religionist may go one of three ways: submit to one’s sensibility and quit with the faith; further entrench oneself in dogma and superstition, thereby becoming radicalized; or descend into an incoherent “relativism” characterized by fatuous proclamations to the effect that what may be “true for me” need not of necessity be “true for you.”
It is this last, disheartened lot of religionists from which the question of atheism’s tendency to motivate atrocity mostly arises. Indeed, this accusation against non-believers is quite the naturally ignorant one to put forward: After all, the religionists must somehow counter the atheistic provocation that only out of religion is violence quickly born and more swiftly justified. So they declare: “Ah, you atheist, don’t you see Hitler was the greatest atheist of all, for he saw that without God he could do anything, and so from his disbelief the Holocaust naturally followed. A true man of faith wouldn’t have done that.” Atheism, in other words, is no less corrupt and no less corruptive than any other religion.
A worthy attempt, my religious comrades, but I am afraid that is simply not true. This is because there is nothing substantive about atheism: All it is really is a lack of one belief, a belief that god(s) exist. Therefore, innumerable belief systems may be consistent with atheism. To put the point strongly, an atheist is just as likely in principle to favor communism as he is to favor democracy or aristocracy.
Let there be no doubt: It was totalitarianism and human malevolence that wreacked atrocities, not the lack of one single belief.
Brian Gallagher is a fourth-year philosophy major.