You must’ve heard the popular Christian argument that the atrocities committed by atheists like Stalin during the twentieth century eclipse Christian overexuberance throughout history. That includes the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch burning, and pogroms. A recent blog post takes this idea and projects it forward: “Hoping Atheists (Or at Least Anti-Theists) Do Not Kill Us This Time” by fellow Patheos blogger John Mark Reynolds.
But Dr. Reynolds isn’t tiptoeing to avoid triggering the atheist avalanche. No, he’s publicly calling atheists to account.
In part 1, we saw that the problem is apparently only with “anti-theist” atheists, those who “actively dislike and work against religion.” That includes me, so I’m apparently part of the problem. We also explored his argument connecting genocide with these atheists. (Spoiler: I wasn’t convinced.) Let’s continue.
Case study: today’s not-so-Christian Western Europe
Reynolds acknowledges that Western Europe is socially healthy despite being more atheistic than America, but he handwaves that that’s just because it still benefits from the imprint of Christianity.
I’ve got news for you: Christianity already had the chance to rule Europe, and we call that period the Dark Ages. (I’m imagining a filthy, emaciated peasant in France around 1200 wearing a ragged t-shirt. On the front it says, “When Christianity was in charge, all I got was this lousy t-shirt” and on the back, “. . . and the plague, smallpox, famine, Pardoners, and a life of indentured servitude as a serf.”)
Western Europe is largely atheistic, but it wasn’t always that way. The hold of Christianity was much higher a century ago. As social conditions improved over the decades, secularism increased. Some scholars have suggested the causal relationship as poor social conditions as the incubator for more religion, with Christianity the symptom of a sick society.
Social metrics like homicide, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and so on can be used to compare countries. Atheistic and gay-friendly Western Europe does well in this comparison, and the good old U. S. of A. looks embarrassingly bad.
Yeah, but look at all Christianity gave you!
Reynolds is pretty happy with Western society, but he’s deluded about Christianity’s contribution. He imagines that Western society has as its foundation “a borrowed Christian culture.”
Atheists have such a poor track record in his mind that he suggests that, to polish their image, “Western atheists of the anti-theist sort [should] take over a nation or an area and run it for a decade or two. They should create new social norms, new art, and new constitutions.” As if these all came from Christianity!?
Consider just our legal rights, the America’s fundamental principles that did not come from the Bible: democracy, secular government, separation of powers, and a limited executive; freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly; protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy; speedy and public trial, trial by jury, and the right to confront witnesses; no cruel and unusual punishment; and no slavery (more here and here).
A Christian dictatorship that followed biblical principles is easy to imagine. It would look similar to today’s Muslim theocracies where atheism and apostasy are punished by death.For creating a livable society, I’ll take the U.S. Constitution over the Ten Commandments, thank you. And I think that in a thoughtful moment, you would, too. Note also that the one hundred percent secular U.S. Constitution protects you against religious excesses just like it does me.
And now let’s poison the well
Reynolds is judge, jury, and all but executioner.
Until anti-theism shows it can stop killing people, Christians are right to worry about “anti-theist” atheists dominating the levers of power.
None of this proves that if your local Internet atheist troll took over, people would lose civil rights, freedom of religion, their children, their right to religious education, and eventually their lives in “re-education camps”, but the track record is very bad and their present tone not promising.
Christians are not paranoid to worry and would be foolish not to do so. A rising tide of anti-theism (or even anti-clericalism) has oft been a prelude to death.
When this Chicken Little attitude gets an enthusiastic hearing in some quarters, who can wonder why atheists are (depending on the poll) often the least electable? Americans are more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who has never held public office than one who is an atheist. Reynolds is doing a fine job strengthening this prejudice.
But let’s review the holes that sink his argument. Dictatorships are the problem, and there is no call within the Western atheist community for an anti-theistic dictatorship. Indeed, there have been zero people killed in the name of atheism because atheism takes no stand on issues like morality.
The U. S. has had a secular government since the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. Preserving this is the goal of every atheist I know, and this is quite different from a Stalinist dictatorship. It’s the Christians who rock the boat, not atheists eager for a dictatorship.
Western Europe is substantially less Christian and more healthy than the United States. Atheism or secularism haven’t led to bad conditions there, let alone genocide. In fact, the present religious friction in the United States is Christians asking for special privileges (such as the right to discriminate as they please) and demanding to impose their beliefs on the rest of the country by law (same-sex marriage and abortion, for example). Christian excesses are the driving force behind the anti-theism.
The twentieth and twenty-first century victims of state atheism cannot read “angry atheism” without a shudder and this is reasonable. Let’s start any dialog with this in mind.
So you expect me to come to the discussion with head hung in appropriate humility, burdened down with Stalin’s sins? Forget it—they’re not my sins. And if dialogue is your goal—it certainly is mine—poisoning the well like this isn’t helpful.
Dr. Reynolds replied to these posts. I’ll respond next time.
then mega-churches would look more like charities
and less like million-dollar businesses.
— seen on a t-shirt
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/28/15.)
Image from Wikimedia, CC license