Thursday, October 15, 2009

Atheism, Utopianism, and Totalitarianism

[Attention: This posts is not about all atheists, or what all atheists believe, or even (necessarily) all utopianism - please read carefully]

I will begin with a comment I made in a discussion of Bill Maher's "enabling" of the "Religious Right" (all the scare quotes there are because I do not think any of that terminology is very good).

Suffice it to say, that the view of Marx on the philosophical side was the same as Dawkins: progress will only occur in solving the world's problems if the metaphysical, non-naturalist ideologies and theologies standing in the way of that progress (and they always stand in the way of that progress) are isolated from the culture so they can no longer stand in the way of that progress.

In either case, both Marxism and Dawkins stated, or seriously implied, that religion must be removed as an influence in society in order for humanity to solve its real problems and evolve to a higher order of human social relationship. In the case of Marxism in power, that led in every case to atrocities against the religious and holders of other "bourgeois philosophies" in order to move that evolution on.

There is no doubt that the modern history of totalitarianism is primarily anchored with expressly atheist ideology (Communism) or non-Christian ideology (Hitler). The slaughter has been enormous - far, far outweighing the closest of Christian kings or rulers since the beginning of Christendom around 400 AD. Religious, but non-Christian, kings have not been as bloodthirsty either by several orders of magnitude. Why is this?

Richard Dawkins provides "the question" for this post:
"What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does" -- The God Delusion
Vox Day (all quotes from him from here out unless otherwise noted):
No one really cares why atheists kill innocent people en masse. People are primarily concerned with the undeniable fact that atheists do it with such an astonishing degree of regularity on the rare occasions that they find themselves in a position to do so.
* * * * *
. . . there have been twenty-eight countries in world history that can be confirmed to have been ruled by regimes with avowed atheists at the helm, beginning with the First French Republic and ending with the four atheist regimes currently extant: the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. These twenty-eight historical regimes have been ruled by eighty-nine atheists, of whom more than half have engaged in democidal acts of the sort committed by Stalin and Mao and are known to have murdered at least 20,000 of their own citizens.

The total body count for the ninety years between 1917 and 2007 is approximately 148 million dead at the bloody hands of fifty-two atheists, three times more than all the human beings killed by war, civil war, and individual crime in the entire twentieth century combined [Day does not include Hitler in the list of atheists - this death toll does not include German citizens killed by the Third Reich]

In trying to get a grip on a logical reason for the bloodthirstiness of rulers in the 20th century towards their populations, I read the explanation given by Vox Day in The Irrational Atheist in chapter XII - "The Red Hand of Atheism". He presents some points in the chapter to perhaps explain why atheist regimes have gotten so out of control compared to Christian, and even generally religious, countries.
  1. Belief in creation of a "new man":
    The answer is that without a belief in that which transcends the natural, Man’s ambition is limited to the material. These ambitions take many different forms, but intellectuals seem particularly drawn toward the idea of modifying human society according to their personal preferences . . . the one constant theme revealed in these various thought processes is the idea that Man can somehow be improved. Lenin wished to create a New Soviet Man. Hitler declared that as Germany was built anew, the greatest task of the Volk was to raise a New Man. Mao’s ambition was to build a new society and a new nation from the ancient Chinese people. Bertrand Russell wrote that man’s salvation could only be built upon the firm foundation of “unyielding despair.” Sam Harris informs us that there is no alternative to dictatorship—imposed, but benign—to bridge the gap from today’s religious societies to tomorrow’s secular utopia.
    Why do religious rulers not suffer from this desire to "fix Man":
    Christianity teaches that this is because man is hopelessly prone to evil, and that war and poverty will always be his curse due to his fallen nature. The Christian cannot hope to end these things, so he is content to work to ameliorate them where and when he can, according to the biblical commands. Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are even more fatalistic, teaching that worldly evils are respectively inevitable, merited, or illusion. In any case, none of the major religions offer any justification for attempting to fix Man’s nature, since any effort to do so is doomed to futility for a variety of reasons.
  2. Isolation of that utopian vision of the "new Man" from real human nature:
    The atheist knows no such limits. Where the theist sees the inherent restrictions of human nature as created by God, the atheist sees nothing but the potential for human progress . . .

    . . . Due to their ability to think in the abstract, their rejection of religious and societal traditions and their total focus on the material, atheists are uniquely susceptible to embracing utopian visions that conflict with these historical patterns.

Vox Day lists 6 recognizable steps in the history of the process of imposing these utopian visions on real people:
  1. Persuasion:
    never very successful except in drawing a small band of true believers to share the dream. This is a peaceful attempt to convince others to see the vision and voluntarily join the cause.
  2. Deception:
    involves presenting targeted and misleading appeals to larger groups capable of being deceived into allying with or otherwise supporting the cause.
  3. Ascention:
    in which the visionary makes alliances with rival groups and consolidates his hold on political power.
  4. Decision:
    that is the crucial one, as it involves the hitherto successful visionary being forced to confront the reality that his abstract model simply does not function in the real world, either due to the idiosyncrasies of human behavior or fundamental flaws in his design. The visionary is thus presented with a choice to either abandon the model, adjust it to fit humanity, or attempt to force humanity to fit the model . . .

    . . . The reason Communism has so habitually devolved into violence is because it is an impressively stupid vision that violates both basic human nature in the form of the individual’s desire for material betterment as well as the economic law of supply and demand. Its early institution was such a disaster that Lenin was quickly forced to revise some of his more dysfunctional policies, but he was the first in a long, lethal line of Communist leaders who made a practice of always attempting to force their populations to fit the Communist mold instead of adjusting the utopian vision to fit humanity.

  5. Destruction:
    Those building a new man or a new society cannot permit human liberty or even the freedom of thought, because such things will always stand in the way of the vision by offering competition with it. They especially cannot permit religion . . . once the decision has been made that the vision must take precedence over those who either threaten it or simply cannot be made to fit within it, the killing begins.
  6. Renunciation:
    But destruction never works, as the human spirit never dies. The courage of the persecuted inspires those who see them die, the resistance continues, and finally, the sixth stage, Renunciation, is reached. Sometimes a pretense is made that the vision is still in place even though no one actually believes it, occasionally a genuine transformation toward a more functional model is attempted, and sometimes the entire edifice collapses under the burden of its structural contradictions.
All of these stages would apply to anyone attempting to force humanity into a box it is just not designed to fit into - including those folks in the world who want to force humanity into a religious box: those who support Christian dominionism or an Islamic caliphate. They will all reach that stage where they must decide between their abstract ideological or theological models and the reality of messy imperfect humanity.

So, the answer to "the question" at the top:
. . . it is not atheism alone, but the lethal combination of atheism [in power] with an ambitious vision of secular progress [in opposition to natural moral law] that inevitably leads to the guillotine, the gulag, and the gas chamber.


  1. That is not altogether true. And how do you account for ALL of the wars that plagued Europe for ever and a day, before the rise of atheism.

    ALL of which were waged with "god on the side" of the various protagonists, and with the full support of the various ecclesiastical establishments of the day.

    Meanwhile I quite like the assessment of what Christianity was really all about, given at these two references.


    The horrors thus depicted were of course all done with the very best of reasons---bringing "Jesus" to the unchurched "heathens".

  2. First, what exactly is not true - any part of the post as written? I am not seeing that your comment conflicts with anything in the post.

    However, of the wars of history only 7% of the 1763 listed in the Encyclopedia of Wars had religion as a reason for the war.

    And, of course, with the exception of the various Inquistions from 300 years ago - there are no comparable examples until the French Revolution and then the 20th century of governments slaughtering their own citizens en masse. That is really unique to the very modern era. Vox Day points out the worst example of domicide in Christendom:

    By all accounts, the slaughter of the Protestant Huguenots known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was the most infamous of medieval Christendom. It was the low point of the thirty-six years of the Wars of Religion, which in addition to the religious component was a struggle between the House of Guise and the House of Bourbon for the throne of France. And while the massacre was not ordered by King Charles IX—it was at the instigation of his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, of the famously ruthless Italian family—it was blessed with his approval. The murder of an estimated 10,000 Frenchmen over the period of several months by the French crown horrified all Christendom. Even the king’s father-in-law, the Holy Roman Emperor, denounced it, and the young king went to his early grave crying out “What evil council I have followed! O my God, forgive me!”

    Even in the Spanish Inquisition that your link points out

    In light of its nightmarish reputation, it will surely surprise those who believe that millions of people died in the Spanish Inquisition to learn that throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, less than three people per year were sentenced to death by the Inquisition throughout the Spanish Empire, which ranged from Spain to Sicily and Peru. Secular historians given access to the Vatican’s
    archives in 1998 discovered that of the 44,674 individuals tried between 1540 and 1700, only 804 were recorded as being relictus culiae saeculari. The 763-page report indicates that only 1 percent of the 125,000 trials recorded over the entire inquisition ultimately resulted in execution by the secular authority, which means that throughout its infamous 345-year history, the dread Spanish Inquisition was less than one-fourteenth as deadly on an annual basis as children’s bicycles

    Vox Day has it right really:

    There is an institution that has caused great harm to humanity, which is responsible for nearly all the wars, all the mass atrocities and untold human suffering throughout history, but it is not religion. That institution is government. And regardless of whether you consider government to be a necessary evil or the source of all that is good in society, it cannot be denied that it is the institution of government that bears the direct responsibility for every tangible evil that the New Atheists have accused religion of committing.

    That explains Cortez in the mural you linked. I do not think many would argue that the primary motivation of the Conquistadors was conversion of the natives to Christianity - it was the creation of empire. It was the search for power and wealth. Once a people were conquered, then the missionaries moved in as part of imposing the culture of the conqueror on the conquered - but that is true whether we are talking about empires controlled by Christians or by any other flavor of religion - or non-religion for that matter.

  3. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn often expresses views very much like those expressed here. He says that the root cause of the evils of Soviet Russia was its denial of God's existence. Like you, he says that Marx, Lenin and the rest attempted to remake human nature but failed because it cannot be remade by man. He thinks that systematic state-sponsored violence is the inevitable result of this. In the attempt to remake human nature, enemies real or imagined will be all about; and they must be repressed.

    I agree.

  4. Don't be silly.

    Part Two.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly