No one kills in the name of atheism. I recently read a blog post by Abdullah al Andalusi (2014), in which he argued against the logic of this argument. Here, I'd like to analyze and argue against what he wrote, which mostly consisted of arbitrary semantics and a wall of ignorant propaganda.
First, Andalusi insisted on writing atheism, theism, the word god, and similar terms with a capital letter, which bugs the crap out of me. It’s no big deal, but I wanted to mention it here, shortly. Let’s move on. I've structured this blog post, which is longer than my average posts, with subtitles to make it an easier read.
Atheism, theism, and religion
Andalusi writes that the argument that no one kills in the name of atheism is “based upon a subtle but false comparison.” This comparison is atheism and religion, but he states theism is the opposite of atheism, not religion. Here, I partly agree and partly disagree. Theism is the belief in a god, while atheism is the disbelief in a god, so they are clearly opposites. Religion is not the strict opposite of atheism; that much is true. However, religion and theism are often one and the same, as many religions have gods, Christianity and Islam relevant in this case, so most theists have a religion.
Andalusi writes that to believe in a god or not does not by itself predispose a person to violence or peace. I agree. Of course that is true! Of course belief or lack thereof doesn’t by itself make a person better or worse, even though Andalusi later in his blog post glorifies the rigidity of religion, while criticizing worldviews based on atheism by saying they basically lead to immorality. Anyway, back in the beginning of his blog post, he goes on to say atheism and theism are comparable, but atheism and religion are not; he even goes as far as to say it is absurd to compare atheism and religion. Technically, an atheist can be part of a religion without a god, but that is in theory, not practice—at least not commonly. Would a Buddhist call themselves an atheist? Probably not.
The more direct issue, though, is that Andalusi completely misses the point of the argument and instead tries to refute it largely based on semantics and also a big chunk of ignorant propaganda. The argument is not about atheists versus theists, and he neglects to consider the fact that theists often are part of a religion. Saying no one kills in the name of atheism is, to put it brief, about how atheism has no doctrine, but religion, of which many theists are part, does have a doctrine that is forced into the skulls of children before they are capable of analyzing it properly, and that is not to mention they have a glorified leader and get upset, to say the least, if someone should criticize said leader.
Some atheists may hate minorities or religious people based on preconceptions. Atheists can be bigots and may even kill the people they wrongly hate. Atheists can also kill in their own self-interest. But atheism has no doctrine that commands the killing of those who are different. Atheism has no dogmatic rules that condemn homosexuals, for example. Atheists can be bigots, but for reasons different than religion. The same can be said for theists. Religion is not the sole factor to take into account; theists can be bigots for different reasons and they can kill for different reasons than their religion.
However, we do observe a lot of hatred, injustice, and murder that is associated directly to religion. Atheists are discriminated against and demonized, for one. LGBT people are in civilized nations like the United States discriminated against and not given the same freedoms as "normal" people, but in worse countries, they may even be put in prison or murdered. There have been holy wars over who has the right god, or even the correct version of the same god. These wars may not be the result of solely religion, but when millions upon millions of people get upset over criticism of a book and even riot in the streets and threaten to murder just because someone drew their prophet, it is hard to imagine it is for a reason other than religion.
When someone murders abortion doctors and doesn’t allow LGBT people to have the same rights as them, it is hard to imagine it is for a reason other than religion. When the most common objection to gay marriage is that God made marriage between one man and one woman, it is hard to imagine it is for a reason other than religion. When theists clearly state that the Bible says the husband is in charge of his wife and that is the reason why they live as such, it is, indeed, hard to imagine it is for a reason other than religion.
Theism and religion don’t automatically lead to bigotry and murder, of course. For every bad theist, I’d like to believe there are at least two good ones. But nonetheless, religion inspires, or at least justifies, plenty of horrors and injustices in this world, all in the names of different gods that contradict each other's existence. Both atheists and theists may commit horrors for their own self-interests, but atheists will never do so in the name of a religion or deity; they will never do so in the name of atheism. Andalusi states that no theist has ever killed in the name of theism. This may technically be true, except plenty of theists have killed in the name of their religion or god.
In his blog post, Andalusi goes to great lengths of detailing how worldviews “based upon an assumed concept of Atheism”—or materialistic worldviews, as he calls them—don’t have a fixed tradition and atheists will therefore change their worldview if their old one doesn’t suit them anymore. He also lists communism, social Darwinism, nationalism, fascism, and secular liberalism/humanism as atheistic worldviews. This, in and of itself, is flawed.
Communism has nothing to do with religion and atheism, even if Karl Marx and Lenin both disliked religion, to say the least. There are Christian communists, but there are no Christian atheists; that would be absurd. Communism is comparable to capitalism, socialism, and such, not atheism or theism; Andalusi makes the same mistake he says the no-one-kills-in-the-name-of-atheism argument supposedly makes. There will be theists and atheists who adhere to all manner of materialistic worldviews; it is when it comes to the metaphysical where they differ.
Social Darwinism is a term evolution-deniers like to toss around, as if the immorality of such a worldview would invalidate all the evidence pointing to evolution. But accepting evolution as the truth, based on empirical evidence, is not the same as wanting societies to be run by social Darwinist rules. Science is amoral; it has nothing to do with right or wrong, but merely facts. Morals come from humans, how we choose to lead our lives, preferably based on the objective facts science gives us. So, in short, social Darwinism has nothing to do with atheism and is little more than an immoral use of science, or perhaps merely a persistent straw man spewed by evolution-deniers. For that matter, evolution and science in general are unrelated to atheism, although it does seem like people better versed in science tend to be atheists.
Nationalism, which is basically about being patriotic, and fascism, which is radicalized nationalism, have nothing to do with atheism or a materialistic worldview either. Just look at America, an arguably Christian country; it is a highly nationalistic country, with many citizens who are blatantly chauvinistic in their belief that America is the greatest country in the world. Like many other nations, both contemporary and ancient, America believes it has God on its side. I’m not saying nationalism and fascism necessarily have anything to do with theism either; my point is that it’s separate from belief or disbelief in higher powers.
Finally, we come to secular liberalism and humanism. I don’t agree that those actually exist. Sure, one can talk about secular morals, like equality for LGBT and women, but there are plenty of theists who hold these views, as well. So liberalism and humanism have nothing to do with secularism, per se, but this actually furthers my point. Because while I say secularism is separate from liberalism and humanism, I’ve noticed that many atheists identify as liberals and humanists, while many theists still adamantly claim homosexuals are the spawn of Satan. This gives credit to the argument that no one kills in the name of atheism, or perhaps that no one discriminates minorities in the name of atheism, but there are plenty of Bible-thumpers who cite the Bible to “prove” gays are evil or sick. There may, of course, exist right-wing atheists who are homophobes, but that has nothing to do with atheism itself, as there is no doctrine from which to cite why they dislike homosexuals.
Moving on to how Andalusi claims atheists will change their worldview based on what suits them. Let’s look at the film industry. Hollywood is in large part liberal and secular; this is evident in many films and series. Left-wing politics often mean standing up for others, which doesn’t benefit oneself and can even cost in the form of higher taxes and dedication to a cause, while right-wing politics are more about oneself and family. It makes sense to be a left-winger when one is poor, to get social benefits and such, while rich people benefit more from right-wing politics, generally speaking. And yet, many writers who make it big keep on being left-wingers, even though it does not benefit them, but rather their fellow man (and woman, of course).
I don’t mean to say secular people are necessarily more generous or kind, but I just wish to refute the argument that atheists will change their worldview based on what suits them. It is simply not true, as a general statement. There may be people, both atheists and theists, who do change their worldview to suit their needs, but one cannot generalize and say atheists as a group do this—at least not without providing concrete logic, which Andalusi does not.
Andalusi said religious worldviews tend to be based around a fixed tradition or book, claiming that’s why they will not change worldview based on what suits them. But he shoots himself in the foot here, for having a fixed tradition that cannot change or a book that cannot be questioned is what leads to bigotry, such as the persecution of homosexuals, non-believers, or even believers of the wrong faith. If not for these fixed traditions, we might have swayed more people to accept equality for women and LGBT people.
There are, of course, countless theists who are for equality and in fact have “secular” morals, but there are also plenty of theists who are against it, and it would seem this is because of their religion. It may just be justified by the religion, but I believe many right-wing men love their wives just as much as left-wingers, so for such men to knowingly use their faith as a justification for subjugating their wives is something that seems unlikely. This only leaves the option that they hold this view because of their religion. It's hypocritical that the positive sides of religion are said to be from the religion, but it's said there must be a different reason for all of the bad sides. And religion is difficult to change, as it is said to be divine and children are indoctrinated, generation after generation, to believe it is the flawless word of a perfect god.
Andalusi blatantly states that theists are moral because of their religion, as religion constitutes “an obstacle for humans trying to justify their own vanities and desires in conducting immorals(sic) actions.” He claims the obstacles are only bypassed by those who twist the religion and its holy texts. But it’s the people who take the holy texts literally who hold extremist views about LGBT and women’s rights; there seems to be a correlation between a country’s religiosity and the equality and human rights they have, if any. The problem may not be religion in and of itself, but rather ancient religions being taken too literally. One must twist these religions’ holy texts to make them moral, not the other way around. There are plenty of good moral lessons to be found in them, sure, but there's also much bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia.
Andalusi portrays humans to be entirely self-serving and prone to act on our “whims” if we don’t have something to prevent this, that something being religion. But shall we take a look at my country, Sweden? It is one of the most secular nations in the world. Even most Christians here have “secular” morals, hence why I use the word secular hesitantly. Solidarity is important for Swedes; we care about the collective, not just ourselves and our own interests. We aren’t a very religious people, so it seems strange for religion to be necessary to prevent humans from being selfish. Furthermore, we have very few theists who take their religious texts literally; this basically means they do twist the texts, but while Andalusi says one twists the texts for selfish reasons, it’s rather the opposite: one must twist religious texts to make them fit a tolerant lifestyle, not to make them fit an intolerant one. Also, the secular liberalism Andalusi disdains so is the ideology that embraces equality and wants to help the collective, while right-wing ideologies tend to be more selfish.
Thereafter, Andalusi continued by arguing that materialistic worldviews don’t offer the satisfaction of final justice and that people with materialistic worldviews therefore wrongly try to “deal with imperfections of the world directly.” He says, “While this may seem innocuous and innocent, it leads to very terrible consequences.” I can’t imagine what the terrible consequences of dealing with problems in the world could be; he doesn’t elaborate. The standard course of action for many theists; do nothing and pray one's imaginary friend helps.
What he refers to is irrelevant, anyway. What I absolutely abhor is the “argument” that belief is better than non-belief just because belief offers “satisfaction”. This is wishful thinking, not a serious argument. Furthermore, as it would seem from the lack of evidence and logic, there isn’t a religion that actually correlates with reality, which means it is false hope, not to mention it spreads misinformation and holds humankind back, both by suppressing science and by causing conflicts over what should be nonissues.
Andalusi writes that lack of “promises of final justice against all wrongs (both open and secret)” will lead to “people necessarily taking ‘revenge’ upon others, or stealing to address wealth inequalities, or undermining their competitors through illegal means, or ‘doing what is necessary’ to attain whatever they view as their happiness, as their grievances and expected rewards will never be addressed in any other life.” He also writes governments who follow materialistic worldviews will increase surveillance and monitoring of their people and will eventually become totalitarian police states.
Last I checked, atheists didn’t commit crimes at a higher rate than theists. Atheists may even be more law-abiding, according to some memes circling the Internet. But I will concede the basis for that conclusion is shaky. So for the sake of argument, we’ll say atheists and theists commit crimes at an equal rate. This means the discomfort of no final judgment and the comfort of a final judgment does not sway people either way. Even so, it seems to me, if we look at America, that it is the Christian right that loves greedy capitalism and exploitation, while the secular left wants welfare, equality, and to preserve nature, amongst other things.
America is also a nation with much surveillance, illegal I might add, and it is a Christian country. Although, I should note that America shouldn’t really be considered a Christian nation, as it has religious freedom and many people practice everything from Christianity to Islam to nothing. Of course, Christianity is by far the biggest shareholder, while Islam and atheism (which isn’t a religion, by the way) are treated as terrorist organizations. My point is that a religious or materialistic worldview will not affect whether or not a government employs espionage on their own people. And with the brutality of the American police force, it seems to become more and more of a police state every day, while secular Sweden is quite the opposite.
Finally, Andalusi descends into total madness. He writes that materialistic worldviews, like “secular” liberalism, “will enforce a perfection of their ideas to such an extent, it produces oppression and absurdities.” He complains about how religious individuals can be discriminated against merely for expressing their religious opinions. I’m not sure what he refers to here exactly. If he means acting on said religious opinions and excluding homosexuals for their sexual preferences and practices, then that is oppression in and of itself; it is bigotry, and bigotry should be oppressed. If he means merely expressing oneself, then it ought to be noted that nations with church-and-state separation tend to take freedom of speech more seriously. This means that, in most civilized nations, one can speak one's mind without being executed for heresy; however, one cannot expect people who have a different opinion to just sit quietly. Freedom of speech is for everyone, and arguing against someone’s beliefs, especially if they are bigoted, is NOT the same as oppression.
In places where religion is taken much more seriously, like the Middle East, one can be punished for expressing the wrong religious opinion, like being Christian or an atheist. This does not happen in secularized nations, so it is very hypocritical to spew out propaganda about how religious people are oppressed in secular nations, when that actually happens in the ultra-religious countries.
Andalusi then continues to write about communism and capitalism, citing how they are unfair to the people and implying that this is because they are not religious worldviews. But note that I have stated that they have nothing to do with religion or lack thereof. One can be a Christian communist and I’m fairly certain—correct me if I’m wrong—that there are at least a few Christian capitalists, as well as secular ones, of course.
Andalusi writes that “the biggest danger from materialistic worldviews is their reaction to perceived ‘threats’.” He then writes that religions assure followers of their perseverance, survival, and ultimate victory, while materialistic worldviews have no such guarantee, as if there is such a thing as ultimate victory (whatever he means by that). He says this has led to overreactions from those with materialistic worldviews when faced with opposing ways of life and political dissent, and this has led to executions, mass imprisonments, and discrimination of minorities who don’t have the same values.
Again, he fails to properly motivate his reason for stating that atheists are bigots. First of all, again, nations that have separated church and state generally seem to have more freedom, which results in fewer executions, imprisonments, and discriminations. They also tend to have superior education, which decreases crime rates and increases understanding, and thus also decreases executions and imprisonments and decreases discrimination. Equality is a big part of freedom, and it is the “secular” left that fights most for it. In fact, it’s gotten to a point where one cannot even criticize Islam according to many left-wingers—even many secular left-wingers. So it would seem materialistic worldviews can lead to too much tolerance, rather than intolerance. And yes, there is such a thing as too much tolerance, if one cannot criticize a worldview just because those who hold it are not white, while it is okay to criticize worldviews held by whites, including religions like Christianity.
Here, it is fitting to mention Mubarak Bala, who was imprisoned in a mental hospital for being an atheist. In secular countries, one does not find theists in mental institutions. That's because we don't have one totalitarian authority figure who cannot be criticized or questioned. The biggest problem with religion, which is the foundation of the argument that no one kills in the name of atheism, is the fact that theists worship a totalitarian leader with rigid, unreasonable commands.
Religiosity and freedom don't mix
Andalusi concludes by saying the real debate about who is more dangerous is not between atheism and religion, but between religion and materialistic worldviews. Again, he cites communism, social Darwinism, humanism, secular liberalism, nationalism, and fascism, and says they’ve killed millions. But the flaw in his argument is that humanism and secular liberalism stand in stark contrast to the others; they haven’t led to killings and have in fact furthered equality, tolerance, and religious freedom. And as I’ve written, none of these are strictly materialistic worldviews, as one can be both religious and a fascist, for example.
He also writes that it is in the pursuit of materialistic goals that the killings have occurred, but he seems to neglect even mentioning the millions who have been killed in the pursuit of spiritual goals and to push one's religion and its rules on others. He doesn’t seem to realize that the most totalitarian and fascist regime of all is that of a supposedly infallible god who cannot be questioned, with the punishment of death and eternal hellfire.
It would appear that Andalusi is trying to forgo the problems religion causes by pointing out other troublesome worldviews, like communism and fascism. The irony is that these worldviews actually include many attributes of religion, such as brainwashing, segregation, and an ultimate authority. The argument that no one kills in the name of atheism is not about atheism versus theism, atheism versus religion, or materialistic versus spiritual; it's about brainwashing. And nothing says brainwashing like being told from birth that there is a perfect being whose rules cannot be questioned, ever. Nothing says brainwashing like being conditioned to blindly worship a totalitarian leader, with the threat of eternal torture if one does not comply. It is this indoctrination that leads to bigotry and genocide.
I should note that the correlation between religiosity and freedom is not necessarily a definite thing. It is impossible to say if religion is the causation of the worse condition in the Middle East, as opposed to the west; there are also other factors at work. But there seems to be an eerie connection between religion and freedom, more religion meaning less freedom. Many religious people are ultra-conservative and bigoted. Far from every theist is conservative, though; I know quite a few theists I can say I respect as the good people they are. It would be unfair not to mention that these theists do NOT construe their holy texts literally.
al Andalusi, A. (2014). The ‘No one kills in the name of Atheism’ Argument. [Blog] Abdullah al Andalusi. Available at: http://abdullahalandalusi.com/2014/06/25/the-no-one-kills-in-the-name-of-atheism-argument/ [Accessed 22 Oct. 2014].
Please, read both my blog post and Andalusi's post, and then share your thoughts in the comments below. With whom do you agree? Or do you have your own take on the issue?