Would You Die For Atheism?

My answer.


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Even with a gun at my head, I couldn’t possible start to believe something that I don’t believe – so I would tell the gunman whatever I thought he wanted to hear (and live to fight another day).

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Like grumpyoldfart, I’d lie like a rug if someone were holding a gun to my head. A promise or statement made under duress is both legally and morally worthless.

  • Sheesh

    Yeah, no shit. Since I only have one life you better know I’ll say whatever pointless, meaningless shit will save my skin.

    There’s stuff worth dying for, you know, like to directly prevent harm coming to others. Isn’t this all straight forward?

  • michaeld

    Possibly? Depends on the situation….

    I started writing this before I started reading your answer and I think I’d just link to it as it more or less sums up my position well :P.

  • laurentweppe

    Even with a gun at my head, I couldn’t possible start to believe something that I don’t believe – so I would tell the gunman whatever I thought he wanted to hear (and live to fight another day)

    Wait: this means you’re a secret Muslim practicing the devious perfidy of taqiyya and are treacherously trying to turn the USA into a secularist-muslim-ruled-by-socalist-creeping-sharia-dictatorial-democracy or something: Pamela Geller said so, so it must be true!

  • Sheesh

    Dan does have a great answer though. I mean there are surely principles worth dying for if your death can meaningfully protect those principles. I just can’t see any defense of pointless martyrdom.

  • Sheesh

    Hey laurentweppe,

    If Geller was torturing me (I mean more than forced reading her writings), I’d probably admit to all of that crap ;)

  • Tom Robbins

    Can’t force me to love the jeezus… so i’d say yes, embrace my attacker, then TEAR OUT HIS CAROTID WITH MY TEETH… i think PZ would approve.

    • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

      Actually, PZ’s always said he’s against violence wherever possible. So maybe not so much :)

  • http://thorgolucky.com/ ThorGoLucky

    I would lie so that I could survive to infiltrate and undermine the spread of such an unethical mindset.

  • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

    I would lie my ass off. My life is more important than proving a point for no good reason.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    Jesus… I saw over 500 hits and I was worried something I said had gone viral. I’m glad it was just this.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke


  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    There are a lot of things I’d die for. Not being an atheist, I can’t say that’s one of them, but yes, I would sooner die than abandon my principles.

  • http://thepartsthatpeopleskip.blogspot.com Zebralily

    Not that this is original by now, but I’d say anything to get out alive. I still have way too much on my to-do lists to go all martyr-y.

  • http://www.anonopotamus.com a3kr0n

    Lie lie and run away.
    Live to fight another day.
    Or something like that…

  • http://fengardice.wordpress.com Fabio García

    Wow, that was a wonderful interview. I’ll try finding the Nietzsche quote.

  • http://qpr.ca/blogs Alan Cooper

    Many early Christians did die for their “atheism” but I would rather not – though I might end up being killed anyway for failure to be sufficiently convincing in my acquiescence with the required theology.

    I wouldn’t want to die for gravity either but the threat of death is a serious matter and forced humour often doesn’t work.

    Normally one talks of dying for a cause or principle, and for me atheism is not a principle at all. But the right to express it may be one that *is* worth defending at some cost.

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    I don’t think you can give an honest answer to life-and-death situations without having been there.
    I don’t like armchair-heroicism.
    The actual thing that makes heroicism heroic is that in that very situation, 99% of those who before were absolutely sure they’d do the right and the brave thing chickened out (and I don’t blame them) and only 1% actually pulls through and is remembered afterwards.

  • jamessweet

    You got it right with the Nietzsche paraprhase: “Die for our opinions? No. For our right to them? Perhaps.”

    Having two young sons changes the equation some for me, i.e. I might be inclined to be a little more careful even under an oppressive regime. One problem for me, though, is that in that sort of situation I’d be prone to losing my temper and saying something really stupid. I’d end up dying not so much for principle, as for just being a smart-ass.

    Some perhaps relevant data… if faced with some very stupid rule that we resent having to follow, my wife is more likely to nod politely and then ignore the rule; while I am more likely to mouth off to the enforcers, challenge them to justify the rule — and then obey it anyway. Which puts me in a very safe place in an open democracy like ours (well, democratic plutocracy really, but that’s another discussion), but would make me a good fit for an authoritarian/totalitarian society. While others might secretly fight for an underground resistance, I’d shy away from such an overt act, but wind up getting shot anyway for saying the Dear Leader is a buttface.

  • mikelaing

    What Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg, said.
    I could see myself seeing red and going postal against morons that are killing atheists, and risking my life to do so – if the odds were still greatly in my favor. But, die for a principle? My number one principle is to be alive.

    That said, I wouldn’t bite anyone in the carotid artery, nor the jugular vein, as I am an vegetarian and it’s against my dietetic sensibilities.