CAMWatch: Why atheism is irrelevant

I just posted a reply to Anthony Horvath’s latest post, but there is one sentence in there, on a slightly different topic, that I think deserves a closer look and a post of its own.

[T]hough I don’t for a minute believe that atheism was irrelevant to Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and Pol Pot’s atrocities, the really critical ingredient is that it was forgotten or denied that people will tend to do bad things and so no checks and balances were erected that could have countered some of the abuses that followed.

Mr. Horvath can believe as he chooses, but the fact of the matter is that atheism is irrelevant to the atrocities for the simple reason that theism is irrelevant to atrocities, as can be documented by observing three simple facts. And since theism has no influence on whether or not a person will commit atrocities, the lack of theism (atheism) has nothing to do with it either.

Let’s start with Fact Number One: God does not show up in real life. Anyone can easily verify this by any number of means, starting with simple observation. Atheists aren’t ignoring God. The reason they’re not seeing Him or hearing Him is because He universally and consistently fails to show up in the real world. Indeed, if He ever did show up in real life, then apologists like Mr. Horvath would be out of a job. There would be no need for lame arguments like trying to link atheism with atrocities, because he could just point and say, “Look, there He is, see?” Or simply play back the videos of God appearing and speaking in public. But there aren’t any videos, and Mr. Horvath does have to resort to lame and fallacious arguments, because God does not show up in real life.

And because God does not show up to impose any kind of restraint on people committing atrocities,  Fact Number One means that the question we must address is this: What difference do theism and atheism make in regards to atrocities, in God’s absence. Take genocide, for instance. We’re not talking about whether an all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful deity could restrain genocide, because we’re not dealing with a God who shows up in real life to prevent, or at least resist, the atrocity. We are dealing instead with men who do commit genocide in God’s absence, and we’re considering whether or not theistic beliefs make a difference under those circumstances.

Fact Number Two: Theism is simply the belief that one or more gods exist, and this belief has no bearing on whether or not the odd despot will launch a genocidal attack against some ethnic group. Some gods, in fact, would be rather pleased by the mayhem and suffering–after all, not all gods are kindly and merciful. But even if you believe in the existence of a kinder god, this fact alone will not prevent a true despot from committing atrocities like genocide. Theism does not automatically guarantee that the god you believe in has a moral agenda and the promise of punishment for wrongdoing. Theism just means you think at least one god exists somewhere. Since God consistently does not show up in the real world, that’s a belief with very little in the way of practical consequences.

Fact Number Three:  Even when the God in question is supposed to be a moral and just God who judges and punishes sin, this belief does not prevent people from committing acts of genocide. The atheistic despot will justify genocide on the grounds that “they deserve it,” and the theistic despot will justify genocide on the grounds that “God says they deserve it.” And since God does not show up to express a contrary opinion, the victor gets to decide whether or not the despot was right about what God wanted.

George W. Bush is supposedly a conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian. Does his theism exert any influence on him to, say, direct his administration to oppose practices like kidnapping and torture? Not at all; in fact, his administration is loathe to admit that practices like waterboarding (slowly drowning someone and then reviving them just before they die) even are torture. And God does not show up in real life to express any kind of clear and definitive opposition to the Bush administration’s policies, so President Bush is free to convince himself that he’s only obeying the will of a just God who wants him to smite the infidel and defend Christians.

Belief in God, or the lack of it, contributes only one factor to the question of atrocities, and that is whether or not the despot will invoke “God’s will” as part of his rationalization for committing the crimes. The reasons why the despot wants to do such terrible things, and why the people are willing to go along with him, have nothing to do with his belief, or lack of belief, in God.

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