“Godless communism has done plenty of atrocities in its attempt to create Utopia (heaven on earth). But that, seemingly, is justified if you’re an atheist.”

26 11 2008

Discuss.

(My response here.)

UPDATE: I recommend this article to anyone looking for a sound and thorough elaboration of the counterargument to novparl’s assertion cited in the title of this post. (PDF version also available.)

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21 responses

26 11 2008
Jason

What’s the difference? Most religions or anti-religions have an ideal in mind of what humanity and society should be like. When people have beliefs, they kill for them. If enough people have beliefs and kill for them, it somehow becomes an atrocity.
I think the main problem is the notion that the dude had of atheism and communism being the same thing somehow. We Americans are dumb like that: we think that communism is this evil cloud (even worse than Islam) that will strangle us and morally rape our children if we don’t fight it to the death…once again, we kill over beliefs. The world will judge if we’re atrocious or not.

26 11 2008
AV

When people have beliefs, they kill for them.

We should be careful not to overgeneralise. Would people kill for pacifism and non-violence?

Arguably, “turning the other cheek” does not seem to me to be a principle that it is possible to kill for without leading oneself into contradiction. It would be interesting to see what Christianity would look like were that particular directive more frequently honoured.

27 11 2008
The Barefoot Bum

Godless communism has done plenty of atrocities…

Is this true? Godless communism is an idea. Ideas don’t kill people, people with ideas kill people. Can you establish by an appeal to historical fact that there have been plenty of atrocities commited by people because they were godless communists?

…in its attempt to create Utopia (heaven on earth).

Is this true? Have godless communists attempted to create “Utopia”? Again, can you establish this assertion by an appeal to historical fact?

27 11 2008
THR

Some communists are not actually godless. Every Latin-language speaking country has a few Catholic communists, some of the most famous being among Nicaragua’s Sandinistas.

27 11 2008
Sean the Blogonaut

Jesus Christ this whole atheism = communism shit gets tiring.

28 11 2008
The Barefoot Bum

An honest skeptic and a humanist, I will boldly assert, is led just as inevitably to communism as towards atheism.

28 11 2008
AV

Before people jump to their guns in response to BB, read his post here.

28 11 2008
The Barefoot Bum

Jump to your guns as you please 🙂 It’s a fairly complex question, and I’m not going to prove it in one comment, the situation deserves extensive discussion and sharp dialectic.

29 11 2008
Robert

I dealt extensively with this assertion and debunked it.

30 11 2008
AV

Robert, that was a marvellous piece of work! I recommend it to anyone looking for a sound and thorough elaboration of the counterargument to novparl’s assertion cited in the title of this post.

30 11 2008
SB

AV: Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god or gods.

It is a funny concept, defining people by what they don’t believe. The concept of ‘atheist community’ is stranger still. Do they sit around discussing which theistic variant they don’t believe this week? Presumably they have nothing in common other than what they are not thinking.

Or perhaps non-belief makes them more likely to have things in common. Does their stringent materialism give rise to particular prescriptions or merely define their common enemies?

Some insist that there is a material cause for everything. Others take this further and assert that all human thought is chemically determined. This may lead to a view that individuals have no free will or responsibility for their actions and a focus on changing other parameters – attacking colonialism, racism, sexism and all the other tragets of the angry studies movement.

On the other hand most of the athiests I know are not like this, and generally go about their day untroubled by any such concerns. But then they would not see themselves as part of any atheist community. Some of them even go to church occasionally.

30 11 2008
AV

It is a funny concept, defining people by what they don’t believe.

It would be a “funny” concept, if non-belief were not demonised by many believers (as the title of this post evinces), or if non-believers were not subject to discrimination, or if non-belief were not a practical barrier to political office, at least in the United States.

The concept of ‘atheist community’ is stranger still. Do they sit around discussing which theistic variant they don’t believe this week? Presumably they have nothing in common other than what they are not thinking.

There isn’t one atheist community, no. There are many atheist communities, who have found community for many different reasons. (Other than debating which wine best accompanies braised baby.) Communities can be forged around shared experiences as well as shared ideas. There are many parts of the world in which being open about one’s non-belief is not as trival a matter as being open about one’s abstinence from philately or cheese-rolling, as you seem to be implying it is.

Does their stringent materialism give rise to particular prescriptions or merely define their common enemies?

How are you defining “materialism?” If by materialism you mean the claim (as a matter of fact) that nothing exists beyond the material world, then while materialism can entail atheism, atheism does not entail materialism. One can be an atheist and remain agnostic about whether something exists outside the material universe. A refutation of materialism, it follows, is not a refutation of atheism.

Others take this further and assert that all human thought is chemically determined. This may lead to a view that individuals have no free will or responsibility for their actions

It may lead to another view, which we’ve covered before. Daniel Dennett, for instance, contends that freedom and determinism are entirely compatible. We as human beings have complex brains and the ability to model reality and to choose the most appropriate behavioural responses to the reality we encounter. In a deterministic universe, we have the ability to judge reliably what will happen next, and to act accordingly. Randomness does not afford us this freedom.

On determinism and responsibility, see the “Free Will” entry in The Skeptic’s Dictionary. I might add that to assert that determinism diminishes our moral responsibility, including the responsibilities we may have to address social injustices, is to commit the is-ought fallacy.

The theistic explanation for free will doesn’t make much sense to me. It suffers from the same problem that besets the divine command theory of morality, i.e. it attempts to explain a mystery with a mystery, and results in special pleading about the nature of God. If God is the source of our free will, then what is the source of God’s free will. And God must have free will in the same sense that theists argue we have free will, otherwise it would not make sense to claim that he was able to grant us our free will.

On the other hand most of the athiests I know are not like this, and generally go about their day untroubled by any such concerns.

That’s nice, though it is not clear precisely what moral object-lesson the atheists you don’t know are supposed to draw from this anecdote.

30 11 2008
AV

(Topic-nazi alert: SB, can you try to tie your response more closely to the topic of the thread?)

1 12 2008
SB

AV: SB, can you try to tie your response more closely to the topic of the thread?

The topic of this thread appears to be the connection between athiesm and godless communism. Part of your refutation of this (which you linked to and which I quoted) was that atheists could be described by what they don’t believe. This squarely raises the issue of what atheists have in common. I speculated on this and made an observation that most atheists I know aren’t really caught up in any movement or group that could be remotely attributed to their atheism. How is this not on topic?

1 12 2008
AV

Your clarification is precisely what I was seeking, SB. Thankyou.

2 12 2008
Jason

AV, I definitely think people do kill, or at least think about killing in the name of peace all the time. How many plots were there to assassinate Hitler? Enough that even Tom Cruise has a movie about it. This is an extreme case an you can argue that Hitler was evil, etc.
But people do kill in order to stop violence every day. “Peace” officers must use deadly force in order to maintain peace and prevent more violence by any particular perpetrator.
While many Christians would love to have the strength to turn the other cheek much more so than we do, some justify violence in order to purge the world of evil that goes against our God’s supposed wishes, which I think is dumb. It would be nice to see a world where Christians actually followed Christ’s teachings more…

2 12 2008
AV

AV, I definitely think people do kill, or at least think about killing in the name of peace all the time.

I agree, and though I don’t want to sound pedantic, I was talking specifically about pacifism—the belief that violence should not be used to solve disputes—rather than peace. Peace might sometimes have to be secured by means of conflict, as in the case of the plot against Hitler, or indeed the war against Nazi Germany. But the use of violence in the advocacy of the principle that violence is never a solution (i.e. pacifism) makes no sense. It is a contradiction in terms, as is the idea that one can use violence and still be in keeping with the injunction to turn the other cheek.

3 12 2008
Robert

Thanks AV! The article is meant as crushing refutation of that theistic canard, something atheists can simply link to whenever they encounter it.

3 12 2008
Bruce

But the use of violence in the advocacy of the principle that violence is never a solution (i.e. pacifism) makes no sense.

I’ve got a bit of a pet peeve with the common use of the word “violent”; it presupposes the violation of another’s rights / violation of a moral code, then when one simply states that violence is immoral per se with reference to all acts of force, they are engaging in circular logic. I think one needs to make the distinction between violence and physical force – using force to liberate France in WWII, arguably (and I believe) in and of itself was not an act of violence (although war always bring atrocities, and some individual acts of force may have been acts of violence). The use of physical force to annex arguably Poland was.

Whenever someone vilifies you as an f**king evil, baby-killing Satan loving piece of s**t, who should lose their job because you don’t take Jesus as your personal saviour, they are being violent. But they aren’t using physical force (and if it’s in the private sector of a liberal democracy, there isn’t an implied threat of force as would be the case with a state employer.)

I think this conflation needs to be addressed and rebutted with extreme prejudice. 😉

3 12 2008
AV

Whenever someone vilifies you as an f**king evil, baby-killing Satan loving piece of s**t,

That should read “f**king evil, baby-killing, Satan-loving Communist piece of s**t. 😉

3 12 2008
Bruce

Or to borrow from the Simpsons, Commie-ZAZI. Because Hitler was a leftist, you know. 😉

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