Anybody that has told another person they were an atheist has surely heard this crap, and today I intend to tackle this crap head on. The religious person will insist that countries that are godless end up like Communist Russia or China. Or Cambodia. Atheist governments that both make mainstream religious belief criminal, and that just kill their citizens at will.
There is so much wrong with this. This article is going to have to build up some concepts to get back around to this premise, but before I explain what is wrong, let me explain why the religious use this argument.
Basically, the thinking goes like this. “Countries that pray to and fear god are better countries, and have better governments.” They support this proposition by pointing out that a large country like the US and another large country like Russia, all things being equal except their religiosity, the Russian people are much worse off. Their government kills them for political reasons.
You might have noticed, if you’re paying attention, that “all things being equal” is part of that assumption. This is not a straw man I’m inserting to make my life easier, it MUST be true if their proposition holds any merit. It is assumed that the US and Russian conditions are basically the same, except this one variable. It is this one variable, in their thinking, that is the game changer between a good and bad government.
But are all things actually equal? Or are there other variables should we consider?
Well, it would seem pretty obvious, but having the head of the government accountable to laws and the people is a good idea if you want a good government. The leader doesn’t get to kill a lot of people if they can be arrested and made to stand trial. History is full of monarchs and dictators that became too powerful, and were able to force their will without constraint. These types of governments usually end in revolution.
Revolution inevitably also leads to lots of dead people. People die when the revolution or coup acts, and more people die as the new leadership works to prevent the next revolution or coup. If the only way to remove a leader is by revolution, then every change of power is going to be deadly. Therefore, an organized method of transferring power necessarily makes for a less violent or hard-handed government.
When it comes to organized method for changing power in a way that prevents revolution, you have to go with free and fair elections. An electorate doesn’t need to revolt if they can effect change at the ballot box. And I can’t stress this enough, the elections must be fair. If they aren’t fair, and the electorate knows it, then their only actual means of change is revolt.
So free and fair elections, organized and orderly transfer of power, and accountable leaders. I am asking us all to include these variables in analyzing good governments, along with the variable of “atheist.”
So how do our countries score on these variables? We know they enforced atheism, but how about the other three?
Russia started the 20th century with TWO revolutions, and since then at least a half dozen coups, coup attempts, and constitutional crises. Joseph Stalin ruled unabated with an iron fist, and was only replaced when he died.
China started the 20th century with a revolution, then had another revolution mid-century. The second revolution elevated Mao, a communist based on the Russian model, and similarly controlled the entire country with an iron fist and was only replaced upon his death.
Cambodia had two civil wars within 5 years, resulting in the authoritarian dictatorship of Pol Pot. Pol Pot forced urban dwellers onto farms and made everyone wear the same black clothing. It isn’t just religion that was outlawed, ANY independent thought or actions were forbidden. Doctors, instead of, you know, saving people, were forced to work the fields as well as part of “re-education”. Pol Pot killed millions of people for having the audacity of wanting to eat enough or wear jewelry. And of course, he was replaced by a coup.
These three countries all had leaders with absolute power that took over by bloody revolution, and prevented further revolution by killing dissidents. So no, “all things” are NOT equal when we compare them to the US. They absolutely meet the variables for harsh government. During the same time the US had a dozen peaceful transfers of power from one executive to the next, these countries had a constant churn of revolution and coup, both successful and harshly stopped.
But let’s be fair, does lack of religiosity also contribute to these types of governments? Does a lack of godly worship result in revolution and absolute control?
Here are 20th century facist dictatorships per wikipedia, and their religious bend:
- The National Socialist Germany of Adolf Hitler.- Catholic
- The Empire of Japan of Hideki Tojo.- Buddist
- The Fascism of Italy of Benito Mussolini.- Catholic
- The Austrofascist Austria of Kurt Schuschnigg.- Catholic
- The Portugal of António de Oliveira Salazar- Catholic
- The Spain of Francisco Franco.- Catholic
- The France of Philippe Pétain- Catholic
- The Kim Dynasty of North Korea- Juche/atheist (The official leader of the country is a dead person, which helps you get a feeling for how cult-like Juche is.)
- Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire- Christian
- Pakistan under General Muhammad Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, and General Pervez Musharraf- Islamic
- Suharto of Indonesia- Islamic
- Philippines, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos – Christian
Given this list, it’s pretty easy to see why the Christians keep mentioning the communist dictatorships. Most other dictatorships are religious, and the majority are Catholic. And yes, the above dictatorships came about by revolution or coup, ruled until they were disposed, and didn’t have free and fair elections. They have all three of my proposed variables, but on the subject of religion they are all over the map. Therefore, religion is a useless variable in determining bad governance.
A few more notes before I close this out.
- As I and others have previously noted, the countries in the world today that have high levels of atheism also score the best in freedom and human well being. If you want freedom, security, adherence to laws, freedom of expression, government recognized self-identity, private ownership of property, longer life, lower abortion rates, low poverty rates, low infant mortality, and longer life, having a whole lot of atheists in your country seems to be the way to go. FORCING people into their religious beliefs, along with everything else involved in dictatorships (killing dissenters, deciding who owns what and what their job is, etc.) , is where a government can go wrong.
- The United States is governed by a secular government. The government neither prescribes nor endorses any religion whatsoever, which by definition makes it an atheist government. But as a free democracy, the citizens are free to worship as they please. The government may not take sides in the religious debate, but it also does not force it’s citizens into any particular belief either. A country can have a state religion, state atheism, or just remain neutral. On top of that, many countries with an official state religion still allow freedom of religion for the people. You join the religion if you want to. Other countries force that religion on the people. I’ll let you guess which countries are better off.
- My use of 20th century dictatorships in my comparison above was not merely to be contemporary. You see, you don’t find atheist dictatorships before the 20th century, since religious dictatorships held an iron grip on the industry.
- Atheism only has one “tenant”, and it is a negative tenant: Disbelief in gods. Atheism doesn’t inform people how to organize a government, what human rights should be enforced, economic systems, court systems, power, what is or isn’t criminal, taxation, representation, political parties, or foreign policy. To answer these questions, we or our leaders need a positive belief statement. A positive belief statement might be “religion prevents people from seeing the class structure oppression around them”, which is exactly what Marxism is all about. Marx therefore had to (in addition to any stance he had on the “god” question) believe that there was a class structure, that this structure oppressed the lower classes, revolution was required to correct this, and religion prevented people from seeing it and revolting. Atheism does not propose any of these things. Instead, atheism was seen as a means to his end, specifically a classless and therefore completely equal society. (That didn’t work very well.)
Free and fair elections, organized and orderly transfer of power, and accountable leaders makes for a better society. Religion has nothing to do with it.
The Spartan Atheist