I recently got into a discussion with an individual who claimed that atheist governments were as bad as religious ones, so my insistence that we needed to get rid of religious influence in government was unfounded. He offered no evidence for his assertion, but the usual culprits are Hitler, Stalin and Mao, all communist or fascist dictators who were alleged to be atheists. Were they?
In Hitler’s case, he was raised in a Catholic household, and made many statements about his belief in God. There is no evidence that he became an atheist later in life. He appealed to Christian bigotry to justify his attacks on Jews. Stalin was probably an atheist, although he too was raised as a Christian, attended a seminary and studied for the priesthood. But it would be hard to show that his atheism was the cause of his repressive dictatorship. He used the tyrannical structure of the Russian Orthodox Church to assimilate his power. Mao was probably an atheist, but the Chinese practice many different religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Once again, there is no evidence that Mao’s atheism had anything to do with his repressive regime.
There has never been a purely religious society in the world, although some Islamic countries probably come close. I certainly would not want to live in Saudi Arabia or many other countries in the Middle East that are Islamic theocracies…especially if I were female!
Likewise, there are no purely secular governments, but many nations have largely secular governments, and they are safe, relatively corruption-free, with low crime rates compared to the US. Examples: Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. These are countries with a secular, educated society and their government reflects that.
If you look at women’s rights, the most religious countries are by far the most oppressive. Countries with high religiosity also have the highest levels of human rights violations. The most peaceful countries are also the most secular.
How about wealth and standard of living? The same secular group I listed above come out on top. And the most religious/superstitious are at the bottom. At first glance, the US seems to be an anomaly, but when you look closer, poverty levels in this country are far higher than in the secular nations of Europe. In fact, we are on our way to Third World status, with an obscenely rich elite, while most of the rest are struggling to survive. Roosevelt’s New Deal was an attempt to reverse this, and overturn the Robber Barons’ stranglehold on our government, and it worked for a while. But now the Robber Barons are back, and their ringleader is our President. It is instructive to notice that he regularly panders to the Religious Right.
A common element of Abrahamic religions is their emphasis on a powerful (male, of course) dictator: God (or Allah). Religious folks are accustomed to taking orders from a religious dictator, even if he is imaginary. It follows that they are comfortable with an authoritarian government. Secular societies, with their highly educated citizens, demand a say in how their government is run.
In the US, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that younger people are abandoning religion. The “nones” are the fastest growing cohort of religious belief (or in this case, nonbelief). That bodes well for the future. But those “nones” are coming mostly from the moderate Protestant faiths and Catholics. A quarter of US citizens identify themselves as Evangelicals, and that cohort is growing…and growing more politically active. They are responsible for the election of our current President. Their influence on our government is pervasive, not only with regard to women’s rights and gay rights, but also their insistence on “religious freedom.” To them, this means the right to discriminate against people they disapprove of…gays, contraceptive users, etc.
There is a small fundamentalist sect of Christianity known as “dominionists.” They believe that our government should undergo revolutionary change, and that the Constitution should be revised or replaced by a document that is based on the Old Testament of the Bible. They seek to change our secular government into a theocracy. I shudder to think what would happen if such people ever attained political power.
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