I might as well post this here too.

Cymro

Religious Fanatic
Nov 30, 1999
5,028
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Shitsville, CF63
#1
I spent a fair bit of time typing it, so it would be nice if someone reads it.

A friend of mine wrote a long post on his blog yesterday about the citing of Stalin and other oppressive communist regimes as examples in critiques of Atheism. The blog post was in Welsh, so I doubt a link to the post would be of any use to anyone here. Anyway, this is my reply:

While you make a fine argument, and I agree with you, I think rather than discussing Stalin and his peers, you should look at the motivation for bringing up Stalin in the first place. That is, the implication that Atheism makes bad people.

The usual reasoning behind this fallacy is is that religion gives it's followers a "moral centre", which we're told Atheists lack because they don't have a 2000 year-old book and the threat of eternal damnation to guide them. Examples of bad religious people, and the atrocities done in religion's name are then brushed off as being "a few bad apples" (which makes you wonder why Stalin and his peers can't just be bad apples too), or cited as "Not in keeping with the teachings of their faith", despite the majority of religious people being guilty of the same thing.

The fact is that for most of the last 2000 years we've had mass religion, but no mass literacy, meaning that most religious people's beliefs were shaped by what others told them, rather than their own study of religious texts. Even now, most people who identify with a religion have never actually studied their respective religious texts themselves (at least not in depth), and even those who have often depend on centuries worth of "interpretations" to be able to make any sense of it.

And then you have the situation in many western countries including France, Britain and Germany where polls and census data show that Atheists and Agnostics compose nearly half the population. I'd argue that this number is actually much higher based on the fact that statistics show most people who identify themselves as "Christian" in the west do not regularly attend religious services, and on the amount of people I've met who profess to be Christians despite not even believing in God (which I admit is anecdotal evidence).

So how is it that we can have so many people in the west who lack "Moral Centres", yet not have a correspondingly high percentage of violent criminals? You'd be tempted to say it's because the fear of being punished (under Christian-derived laws) keeps us in line. But we could eliminate those punishments if we wanted to: We live in a democracy. More specifically, one where in practice a party can govern with as little as 30% of the popular vote. If all the atheists in Britain voted for the "Atheists for Legalizing Murder and Rape Party" could easily beat 30%, especially if we succumbed to our godlessness and murdered the opposition first. We wouldn't even need a Coalition with the Lib-Dems.

The reason we don't of course, is culture. The theist would argue that even for those of us who do not believe in god, our moral values and behaviour are still on some level derived from cultural norms created by religion. While I'd agree that religion has been a fairly successful way of reinforcing and even spreading certain beliefs and customs, one only has to look at the way religions have been reinterpreted and reinvented over the centuries to see that the reverse is actually true.

We behave more or less the same way everyone around us does, because if we don't we're going to get a hard time for it. There are cultural taboos everywhere that we don't break not because the law will punish us, or because we'll be sent to hell, but because we don't want to be excluded - and possibly become the target of an angry mob. People are generally distrustful of outsiders and people who are different to them, so it's in our best interest to conform and co-operate with the people in our community. A downside of this is that people are likely to hate, and act on that hate, because the people around them do the same, which is what happened in Nazi Germany and still goes on today.

That said, trying to win someone over with a logical argument when they accept the existence of a deity without any evidence is sort of futile, really.