Thursday, January 20, 2011

Totalitarianism and godlessness

There's been a debate going on over at unfiltered perception for the past few days ... if you can call it a debate. If you read Norwegian you can check it out here. It's kind of entertaining. It's just also really annoying, because in order for a discussion to be in any way meaningful, all the participants have to agree on some fundamental issues. You know, like what words mean. That's going spectacularly wrong over on that post. There are a couple of old clichés being trotted out there which I could clear up, but I won't, because it's 100% a waste of my time & energy to participate in that discussion. Which is sad, but there you go. One thing though I do want to write a little about, and that's what I'm going to do here.

I'm talking about the old saw that atheism kills, because all the worst regimes in the world have been atheistic, and millions of people have been killed by Stalin and other evil dictators, and it's all the fault of ATHEISM. Boo! This is incorrect. You hear it repeated by theists all the time. They think it's one of their real trump cards. After all, how can atheism be anything but bad when it leads to oppression and mass murder?

Most theists who use this argument fail to appreciate its most obvious flaw - that even if this were true, that still would not constitute evidence for the existence of any god. But it's not true. Here's why.

No, actually, here's a quote posted by one of the so-called debaters over at Gunnar's ... it's Alexander Solzhenitsyn talking about atheism, he says. That may be disputable. But here's what he said.

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened." Since then I have spend well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened."

This is rather interesting, actually. Quite a few theists - not necessarily the one who posted this quote, I'm speaking generally - tend to slam atheists for, what should I call it ... bending to human authority. Eg, they say that we 'believe' in Darwin, or that whatever Richard Dawkins says we all swoon over it. This is what is called an argument from authority. It is an inductive fallacy. A statement is not true because Charles Darwin said it - it is true because it is true. If it even is true. You have to check that out for yourself. The quote above is simply Solzhenitsyn's opinion. The fact that he said it isn't in itself an argument for its veracity. We have to look beyond that. Which is rather beside the point here, but I always find it amusing when theists make arguments from authority, because that is too often what they chastise us for supposedly doing. :-)

Anyway. Men have forgotten God, and that's why it all went haywire. This is the claim. It is incorrect. The supposed situation where an atheist regime brutally oppresses and murders its own people - after, of course, outlawing religion - is a misinterpretation of reality, an oversimplification. First of all, there is no such thing as an atheist regime. That's not possible. Atheism is nothing - atheism isn't anything in itself, it's just an absence of something. An atheist is simply a person who lacks the god-shaped gap. :-) The fact that I am an atheist says nothing about me other than that I lack a faith in the divine. For more information than that, you need to look at other categories I fit into - that I am a skeptic and a secularist, for instance. And it's the same with the so-called atheist regime. If you look at all these evil states, you will see that they have something in common besides their divine forgetfulness. They are totalitarian. Most typically they are also Communist ... an ideology that looks fantastic on paper, but sadly does not take human nature into account, and therefore lends itself easily to totalitarianism. The USSR and China under Mao are the two regimes that are most often mentioned in this context - first and foremost, of course, the former. What with Stalin being the worst mass murderer in history and so on.

But the reason that his regime was so brutal and oppressive was not that it was atheistic - which it couldn't really have been, as I explained above - it was that it was totalitarian. This form of government tends to lead to oppression, because it can't tolerate dissent, but rather must suppress it. And in any human society, there will always be some dissent. So totalitarianism is generally a bad idea. Bad stuff happens. But it is totalitarianism that creates the bad stuff, not atheism. You can tell this because it is also totalitarianism that creates the 'atheism' - what Solzhenitsyn called 'forgetting God'.

Yes, totalitarian regimes are usually the same regimes that make organized religion illegal, ie, they 'ban God'. And this supposedly leads to all the bad stuff. But this is turning the situation completely on its head, and whenever you hear this argument being used, you can be certain that you're listening to a person who hasn't really looked into this issue properly. Totalitarian regimes create oppression and other bad stuff by their very nature. They also, and again by their nature, force out religion. It is especially Christianity that has suffered - if that's the word I want - from this fact of political reality. A totalitarian regime must outlaw Christianity, not because they want to be free from divine punishment, or because they are godless and immoral, or any such reason, but simply because Christianity is a competing totalitarian regime. This is true of a number of other religions as well - not all, Islam for instance is itself a fascist ideology and tends to become a totalitarian regime, rather than be suppressed by one. But a number of religions must be classed with Christianity in this respect. To a totalitarian regime, the message of these ideologies is irrelevant, and their moral value is irrelevant. They are simply competition, and that is why they must be got rid of. The whole point of totalitarianism is that the ideology - usually Communism - wants to dominate the entirety of society. This cannot be achieved with Christianity as an active factor ... especially not Catholic Christianity, which is the most dangerous in this respect, representing as it does an international and supranational organization. Therefore, Christianity, or whatever other religion can be expected to constitute a similar separate and independent entity within the state, cannot be permitted to continue its existence.

It's really very simple. Totalitarianism creates oppression. It does not do this because it is 'atheist'. Rather, it becomes 'atheist' - it forgets God, to keep with that metaphor - for the exact same reason that it creates oppression. The one is not the cause of the other; they are, rather, the unavoidable effects of the same cause. This is really very obvious once you think the matter through. In other words, when you hear this argument, it is usually not really an argument as such, but more of a ... regurgitation. Please bear that in mind. :-)

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