Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Atheism and Communism

This is the best attempt I have seen to argue for a disconnection between these, while using the history of religious violence against religion.

Without a doubt, the crimes of professed communist regimes were terrible. But it is important not to lose sight of what caused them. This is the first major misconception: that the communists attempted to understand the world through reason and science rather than faith, and that this was the error that caused the crimes they committed. Communism was categorically not a reason- or evidence-based view of the world. Quite the contrary, it was a dogmatic, anti-rational ideology every bit the equal of fundamentalist religion, where certain propositions were taken on faith and were not allowed to be debated or questioned. Although the communists congratulated themselves for their liberation from superstitious thinking, in reality they had not escaped dogma; they had merely transferred their dogmatic beliefs from the tenets of religion to an equally rigid and inflexible set of political beliefs.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/red-crimes/#ixzz3YkceohnH


But doesn't this presuppose that if you remain evidence-based, you will always be able to persuade others. But what if you can't, and you think it's really important that people accept the results of you reasoning if they don't reason their way into it themselves. And you have the power of the sword in your hands.

22 comments:

Crude said...

Communism was categorically not a reason- or evidence-based view of the world. Quite the contrary, it was a dogmatic, anti-rational ideology every bit the equal of fundamentalist religion, where certain propositions were taken on faith and were not allowed to be debated or questioned. Although the communists congratulated themselves for their liberation from superstitious thinking, in reality they had not escaped dogma; they had merely transferred their dogmatic beliefs from the tenets of religion to an equally rigid and inflexible set of political beliefs.

Here's the upshot of this that never gets suitably appreciated: the Communists would have denied that they were at all 'religious', that they were dogmatic, that their ideology was anti-rational. They would have presented themselves just as the New Atheists present themselves: as the skeptical, thoroughly evidence-based heralds of reason, who have investigated the issues and come to quite rational conclusions. Conclusions which, it turns out, are important for everyone else in the world to accept, because it's inevitable that they do, and the world suffers for doing otherwise.

Go ahead, say the Communists were religious. But that doesn't just heap more criticism on religion: it heaps it on atheism and materialism too. It turns out that being an atheist and a materialist is no shield against being dogmatic, or even 'religious'. And that at the least makes it an open question whether the Cult of Gnu, Atheism+, American Atheists and the rest aren't every bit as dogmatic and religious as their forebears.

B. Prokop said...

The fundamental problem with (upper case, capital letter) Communism is that its adherents deny the fall of man and existence of sin. They believe that Mankind is perfectible (or at least improvable) under its own power - that Man is ultimately responsible for his own destiny, and that there are no objective constraints on doing whatever it takes to bring about Paradise on Earth (i.e., the ends justify the means). That's what it comes down to. And you can't believe all of that without first being an atheist.

So no, no, and again no. Not all atheists are Communists. Atheism doesn't even inevitably lead to Communism (witness Ayn Rand). But all Communists are atheists (again, note the capital "C").

But even that little caveat is not much consolation, because the alternative atheist ideologies are scarcely less palatable. Ayn Rand's Objectivism calls for a world of selfish self-proclaimed supermen, and the masses be damned! Meanwhile, Dawkins would reduce the human being to an object (or more accurately, a pattern) with no more significance than a thunderstorm or an eddy - just a temporary alignment of purely physical matter and energy that will dissipate at our deaths, so who cares?

Servant of God Dorothy Day, Pray for us!

Mark Frank said...

Crude

Most theists I know present themselves as

the skeptical, thoroughly evidence-based heralds of reason, who have investigated the issues and come to quite rational conclusions. Conclusions which, it turns out, are important for everyone else in the world to accept, because it's inevitable that they do, and the world suffers for doing otherwise.

I guess it is true of most ideologies.

Mark Frank said...

Prokop

No one denies that communism entails atheism (although surely some religions allow the perfectability of man?). The question is did their atheism cause or enable their atrocoties? The article makes a very strong case against this assertion.

You seem to have a very limited list of alternative atheist ideologies. Indeed most atheists have moral codes that are not related to their atheism which is simply a lack of belief. The author of the article described his humanism which is pervasive amongst atheists in the West and seems very palatable.

Crude said...

Most theists I know present themselves as

I wouldn't deny it. That just bolsters my point.

Indeed most atheists have moral codes that are not related to their atheism which is simply a lack of belief.

Western atheism is not a mere 'lack of belief', and 'humanism' is A) a vague bit of mush, and B) not exactly pervasive.

And I can support all of the above just by saying: look at the atheist organizations in the west, look at what they believe and what they advocate for, and look at how prevalent 'secular humanist' organizations are in comparison.

B. Prokop said...

"No one denies that communism entails atheism"

There have been posters to this very website who have vehemently denied it.

"You seem to have a very limited list of alternative atheist ideologies. Indeed most atheists have moral codes that are not related to their atheism which is simply a lack of belief."

Note that I was not speaking of "moral codes" but of political philosophies. There's some difference there.

Upper case Communism entails totalitarian state control over every aspect of human existence.

Objectivism demands a free market capitalism with no regulatory structures whatsoever and no concern or sympathy for anyone thrown under the wheels of the bus.

Dawkins's ideas about Humanity would strip away the rationale for every social recognition of human dignity made since the First Century.

Recent events in the USA are beginning to demonstrate that Humanism as a political philosophy is scarcely less totalitarian than Communism. Just look at the way people who deviate a hair's breath from the currently fashionable orthodoxy are being treated. "Get in line, Comrade, and shut up! How dare you have your own thoughts?"

Jezu ufam tobie!

DJC said...

Victor,

"But doesn't this presuppose that if you remain evidence-based, you will always be able to persuade others. But what if you can't, and you think it's really important that people accept the results of you reasoning if they don't reason their way into it themselves. And you have the power of the sword in your hands."

"Atheist" politics should be guided by science. And you can't do science with a sword, it takes experimentation, peer review, publication, duplication, duplication, duplication, and finally consensus. Only then would political action be justified in my view.

Crude said...

DJC,

Did you know you share the initials and posting name of David Chalmers?

DougJC said...

Crude,

Oops. Not wanting to trade on someone else's credentials, I'll henceforth be known as DougJC.

Crude said...

Doug,

And here I almost got my hopes up. No matter.

David Brightly said...

And you have the power of the sword in your hands.

Given what we know of human nature, whether constrained or exacerbated by religious belief or not, we need to prevent the sword from falling into the hands of those who would oppress us. This may sound smug but it seems to me that the best way of achieving this is to have the kind of political constitution that has been evolved by the English-speaking democracies and in Western Europe. With some important caveats, these societies do seem, as a historical fact, relatively immune to the hegemony of any single metaphysical ideology. Wise statesmanship that can avoid civil war, revolution, and intense social stress is important too, as Northern Ireland in the 1970s/80s, 1917 Russia, and 1930s Germany show. These successful societies have also been, historically, Christian, and we shouldn't underestimate the role Christianity has played in the formation of their moral character. What I think worries many of us is the question whether this moral character, which we value hugely, can be sustained without what many now regard as an untenable metaphysical foundation.

Communism I see as a metaphysical ideology on account of its historicism, but I can't count atheism as such. It's more an empty space that might be filled by an ideology, and possibly a dangerous one at that, as someone once said, though not in as many words. Treating atheism as a religion doesn't pass muster. There may be some fanatical atheists but not all fanaticism is religious fanaticism, and what few institutions it has look quite unlike religious institutions. Likewise, to say that Humanism (whatever that is) is scarcely less totalitarian than Communism is absurd. There are no Humanistic torturers, so that 'scarcely' is pretty broad!

B. Prokop said...

David,

I love your latest comment, and not only because there is much in it that I agreed with, but also because there is much that I disagree with. That makes it good food for thought!

Let's take on your second paragraph.

"Communism I see as a metaphysical ideology on account of its historicism"

What does this mean? I've tried parsing the sentence out, but cannot make sense of it.

"[Atheism is] more an empty space that might be filled by an ideology, and possibly a dangerous one at that"

I like that wording! I don't know whether you are thinking along the same lines as me here, when I assert that atheism is a prerequisite for Communism (which drives some atheists on this site crazy, because they think that's the same thing as saying atheism equals Communism, which it is not). But I like the way you put it. In other words, "nature abhors a vacuum", and if you don't have a strong grounding in the Truth, you are a sitting duck for whatever crazy ideology that comes along. So it's no good insisting (as some atheists do) that ideology and not atheism is responsible for the mass murders in the Soviet Union, etc., because that murderous ideology would never have gotten a foothold without there first being the great big hole of atheism for it to fill.

"Treating atheism as a religion doesn't pass muster. There may be some fanatical atheists but not all fanaticism is religious fanaticism, and what few institutions it has look quite unlike religious institutions."

I suggest reading the last chapter of Stephen Prothero's excellent book God is not One, which basically says, "If it walks like a duck..."

"To say that Humanism (whatever that is) is scarcely less totalitarian than Communism is absurd."

I stand by my statement. Contemporary Humanism demands total allegiance to the Party Line, and the slightest deviation is ruthlessly punished. Look at what happened to some of or software executives who were hounded out of their jobs for being guilty of thought crime. Not discrimination, mind you, but just for having the "wrong" thoughts.

"There are no Humanistic torturers"

Not yet. Stick around for Act II.

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

Typo: That should have read, "Look at what happened to some of our software executives..." (bolded for identification purposes only)

"our" not "or"

Crude said...

What I think worries many of us is the question whether this moral character, which we value hugely, can be sustained without what many now regard as an untenable metaphysical foundation.

I question whether anyone really believes the metaphysical foundation is untenable, as opposed to simply 'what they dislike'. Show me the person who insists that Christianity's metaphysical foundation is utterly untenable and you'll also be generally showing me someone who would insist as much even if it was completely tenable.

Communism I see as a metaphysical ideology on account of its historicism, but I can't count atheism as such. It's more an empty space that might be filled by an ideology, and possibly a dangerous one at that, as someone once said, though not in as many words. Treating atheism as a religion doesn't pass muster.

Treating anti-theism as one does so easily.

That's part of the problem. Atheism defined as 'lack of belief' - aside from the sincerity issues - is also an atheism literally no one cares about. An atheist who 'lacks God belief' is an utter blank slate, and in principle it's compatible with out and out theocracy.

But anti-theism, which is what atheism was and is, until people try to play with the definitions? That's about as metaphysical as one can get, and it's an ideology. Call it a narrow one that can exist alongside all manner of other ideologies, but it's real, and its history is terrible.

Likewise, to say that Humanism (whatever that is) is scarcely less totalitarian than Communism is absurd. There are no Humanistic torturers, so that 'scarcely' is pretty broad!

It's not too hard to find atheists who both sing the praises of humanism while at the same time condoning torture and otherwise (see Sam Harris). I agree with what you imply when you say 'humanism, whatever that is', but that's the problem here - the 'scarcely' is no less broad than 'humanism' is.

Victor Reppert said...

Actually, Marxism is pretty humanistic, if you think about it.

David Brightly said...

Bob,
Historicism is the idea that there are discernible laws of historical development just as there are laws of physics. The Bolsheviks took this from Marx and tried to justify their atrocities on the ground that they were merely expediting destiny.

It doesn't make sense to say either that ideology or atheism is responsible for mass murder. People are. But we can say that there were no Christian but plenty of atheistic Communists, I think.

But it doesn't quack like a duck at all! Where is the body of worked out doctrine, the answers to ultimate questions, the rites and ceremonies, the liturgy, the supplication to a transcendent power, the elaboration of the sacred, the architecture, the art, the poetry, the music, the dietary laws for goodness sake! OK, there is a bit of enthusiasm in certain quarters (now thirds) but so there is for football teams. It does not a religion make.

Are you thinking of this story?

Reuters, Apr 3, 2014 - Mozilla Chief Executive Brendan Eich has stepped down, the company said on Thursday, after an online dating service urged a boycott of the company's web browser because of a donation Eich made to opponents of gay marriage.

I think you may be seeing more in this than there is.

Crude,
I grant there is something of a political movement we could call 'anti-theism'. It seeks to exclude any special pleading for religious groups from the public sphere, or else demands an equivalent atheistic representation. It is small-minded and mean-spirited. I don't support it.

I will look out for the 'Torturers for Humanism' banner at the next Occupy march.

B. Prokop said...

Dave,

Thank you for the explanation of "historicism" - your comment now makes sense!

"It doesn't make sense to say either that ideology or atheism is responsible for mass murder. People are."

Not sure I buy this. Sounds too much like the NRA saying "Guns don't kill people - People do!" (another weasel-wording that I do not buy)

"But we can say that there were no Christian but plenty of atheistic Communists"

Absolutely correct distinction. There have been plenty of Christian lower-case communists (my favorite example is the Doukhobors. But all uppercase Communists have been atheists.

"But it doesn't quack like a duck at all!"

Read the chapter.

"Are you thinking of this story?"

Yes. Still burns me up - and scares the daylights out of me. I wonder how many Christians have the backbone to stand up to the coming persecution?

David Brightly said...

Bob,
I'm afraid the bits of Prothero's last chapter that argue for atheism's being a religion aren't visible on Amazon's 'look inside'. Can you summarise or post a scan of the relevant passages?

Eich got fired because his action was damaging (or was thought to be damaging) to Mozilla's bottom line. Maybe the company panicked or over reacted, or maybe even used the event as a pretext to dump him. It just looks to me like low politics by the dating service people to promote their objective that Eich laid himself open to. It's hardly totalitarianism if in a democracy large numbers of people have come to think some views or actions are nasty. We should reserve the word for occasions when the apparatus of the state is used to suppress opinion, as happened in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

Crude said...

David,

I grant there is something of a political movement we could call 'anti-theism'. It seeks to exclude any special pleading for religious groups from the public sphere, or else demands an equivalent atheistic representation. It is small-minded and mean-spirited. I don't support it.

You support special protections for special pleading and oppose equal representation?

C'mon David. That's not anywhere close to a summary of it. It's a movement that regards a religious upbringing as child abuse (indeed, worse than child sexual abuse), that seeks to have 'faith' treated as a mental illness that the state should contain, control, and eradicate. It promotes hate and mockery being directed at religious people in the express hope of bullying people out of theistic belief, or public display of theistic sympathy. And, when you include the historical anti-theists, it also includes a whole lot of death, oppression and more.

I will look out for the 'Torturers for Humanism' banner at the next Occupy march.

Because you'll find 'Torturers for Communism' banners in the historical archives re: Stalin and company? And Occupy doesn't do much anymore.

Eich got fired because his action was damaging (or was thought to be damaging) to Mozilla's bottom line.

And Ray Rice's wife just walked into a door.

Eich got fired because it was discovered that he opposed same-sex marriage. If you don't find strands of totalitarianism in there, then you may as well argue that North Korea is not totalitarian, because hey, it could always be worse.

David Brightly said...

Those are all political objectives. You are making my case that what we are calling 'anti-theism' is a political movement and not a religion. How does it help your own political cause to brand your enemies as 'religious', when they quite clearly are not? Likewise OkCupid made a clever move in the promotion of their political ends, betting that the board of Mozilla would not want their company to appear 'nasty' or 'exclusive'. It's not at all the power of the state being used for oppressive ends.

Crude said...

David,

Those are all political objectives. You are making my case that what we are calling 'anti-theism' is a political movement and not a religion.

Considering I don't see a substantial difference between the two in this case - and more than a few atheists try to disown Communism (a political ideology) on the grounds that it's a religion or proto-religion - I'm unmoved.

How does it help your own political cause to brand your enemies as 'religious', when they quite clearly are not?

I dispute that they are not.

Likewise OkCupid made a clever move in the promotion of their political ends, betting that the board of Mozilla would not want their company to appear 'nasty' or 'exclusive'.

The promotion of their religious ends, nor was it limited to OkCupid. In fact, there's little evidence that 'nasty' or 'exclusive' had anything to do with it - that's the /claim/, but negative terminology always goes with pressure. Were organizations that went along with Mao doing so because of a brilliant social image coup that made them 'not want to appear as if they were nasty, anti-scientific or opposed to progress'? Or is that just a bit of turd-polishing to mask what really went on?

David Brightly said...

That some atheists (maybe a lot) seek to disown Communism by labelling it a religion is hardly an argument that it is a religion. In any case, these atheists might be mistaken in thinking so. Atheists are wrong on other stuff, after all!

Mao aided and abetted his Red Guards in their browbeating of political opponents into submission. They were in effect an arm of the state, free from prosecution under criminal law. That's the difference between then and now. And that's why Maoism was totalitarian, and OkCupidism isn't.