What is wrong with electing an atheist to be President?

Richard Dawkins says faith is hard to eradicate, but some atheists have tried
Richard Dawkins says faith is evil and hard to eradicate, but some atheists have tried

One way to decide whether to be concerned or not, is to look at famous atheist leaders of the past, and to see whether they did a good job of protecting basic human rights.

One of the most famous atheists who ran a country was Mao Zedong, who ran China from 1958 to 1962. His reign was called
“The Great Leap Forward”.

The far-left Washington Post recently had a news article about Mao:

Who was the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world? Most people probably assume that the answer is Adolf Hitler, architect of the Holocaust. Others might guess Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who may indeed have managed to kill even more innocent people than Hitler did, many of them as part of a terror famine that likely took more lives than the Holocaust. But both Hitler and Stalin were outdone by Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1962, his Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people – easily making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.

Historian Frank Dikötter, author of the important book Mao’s Great Famine recently published an article in History Today, summarizing what happened:

[…]It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates, but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction. When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later. The case of Wang Ziyou was reported to the central leadership: one of his ears was chopped off, his legs were tied with iron wire, a ten kilogram stone was dropped on his back and then he was branded with a sizzling tool – punishment for digging up a potato.

The basic facts of the Great Leap Forward have long been known to scholars. Dikötter’s work is noteworthy for demonstrating that the number of victims may have been even greater than previously thought, and that the mass murder was more clearly intentional on Mao’s part, and included large numbers of victims who were executed or tortured, as opposed to “merely” starved to death. Even the previously standard estimates of 30 million or more, would still make this the greatest mass murder in history.

Some may say that the root of this mass murder is communism, but you can’t do these mass murders if you expect to encounter a God on the other side of death whose design for each of his human creatures was for them to love God, and love their neighbor as themselves.

In any case, opposition to religion is a cornerstone of communism, as this article by professor of political science Paul Kengor explains:

As Mikhail Gorbachev aptly stated, the Soviet communist state carried out a comprehensive “war on religion.” 1 He lamented that the Bolsheviks, his predecessors, even after the civil war ended in the early 1920s, during a time of “peace,” had “continued to tear down churches, arrest clergymen, and destroy them. This was no longer understandable or justifiable. Atheism took rather savage forms in our country at that time.” 2

The Soviet Union, reflective of the communist world as a whole, was openly hostile to religion and officially atheist; it was not irreligious or unreligious, with no stance on religion, but took the position that there was no God. Moreover, that atheism translated into a form of vicious anti-religion that included a systematic, often brutal campaign to eliminate belief. This began from the outset of the Soviet communist state and still continues in various forms in communist countries to this day, from China to North Korea to Cuba.

The roots of this hatred and intolerance of religion lie in the essence of communist ideology. Marx dubbed religion the “opiate of the masses,” and opined that, “Communism begins where atheism begins.” 3Speaking on behalf of the Bolsheviks in his famous October 2, 1920 speech, Lenin stated matter-of-factly: “We do not believe in God.” Lenin insisted that “all worship of a divinity is a necrophilia.” 4 He wrote in a November 1913 letter that “any religious idea, any idea of any God at all, any flirtation even with a God is the most inexpressible foulness … the most dangerous foulness, the most shameful ‘infection.’” James Thrower of the University of Virginia (a Russia scholar and also a translator) says that in this letter the type of “infection” Lenin was referring to was venereal disease. 5

“There can be nothing more abominable than religion,” wrote Lenin in a letter to Maxim Gorky in January 1913. 6 On December 25, 1919, Christmas Day, Comrade Lenin issued the following order, in his own writing: “To put up with ‘Nikola’ [the religious holiday] would be stupid—the entire Cheka must be on the alert to see to it that those who do not show up for work because of ‘Nikola’ are shot.” 7 Under Lenin, this was not an isolated occurrence.

Along with Trotsky, Lenin became involved in the creation of groups with names like the Society of the Godless, also known as the League of the Militant Godless, which was responsible for the dissemination of anti-religious propaganda in the USSR. 8 This institutionalized bigotry continued to thrive under Lenin’s disciples, most notably Stalin, and even under more benign leaders like Nikita Khrushchev.

This atheism was endemic to the communist experiment. Even those communists unable to secure political power—and thus lacking the ability to persecute believers—still did their best to persecute the teachings of organized religion and ridicule the idea of the existence of God. Even in America, it was no surprise to stroll by a city newsstand and catch bold front-page headlines like this in the Daily Worker, the communist organ published by CPUSA: “THERE IS NO GOD.” 9 Communists were proud of their atheism, and militant about it.

[…]“Religion is poison,” as Mao Tse-Tung was said to have stated.

The ideas expressed in these quotations of atheist leaders are pretty much every atheist will sign off on, as long as you don’t tell them who said it. These are normal atheist views of religion, and the hatred is especially strong against Christianity.

Richard Dawkins on atheism, morality, free will and human rights
Richard Dawkins on atheism, morality, free will and human rights

Let’s take a look at what atheist leader Josef Stalin did during his rule of Russia in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Library of Congress offers this in their “Soviet Archives exhibit”:

The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.

The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. By 1939 only about 500 of over 50,000 churches remained open.

Let’s see more from a peer-reviewed journal article authored by Crispin Paine of the University College, London:

Atheist propaganda and the struggle against religion began immediately after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. While social change would, under Marxist theory, bring religion to disappear, Leninists argued that the Party should actively help to eradicate religion as a vital step in creating ‘New Soviet Man’. The energy with which the Party struggled against religion, though, varied considerably from time to time and from place to place, as did its hostility to particular faith groups. The 1920s saw the closure of innumerable churches and synagogues (and to a lesser extent mosques) and the active persecution of clergy and harassment of believers.

An article from the pro-communism Marxist.com web site says this about Stalin:

During the ultra-left period of forcible collectivisation and the Five Year Plan in Four an attempt was made to liquidate the Church and its influence by government decree. Starting in 1929 churches were forcibly closed and priests arrested and exiled all over the Soviet Union. The celebrated Shrine of the Iberian Virgin in Moscow – esteemed by believers to be the “holiest” in all Russia was demolished – Stalin and his Government were not afraid of strengthening religious fanaticism by wounding the feelings of believers as Lenin and Trotsky had been! Religion, they believed, could be liquidated, like the kulak, by a stroke of the pen. The Society of Militant Atheists, under Stalin’s orders, issued on May 15th 1932, the “Five Year Plan of Atheism” – by May 1st 1937, such as the “Plan”, “not a single house of prayer shall remain in the territory of the USSR, and the very concept of God must be banished from the Soviet Union as a survival of the Middle Ages and an instrument for the oppression of the working masses.”!

If atheism is true, there is no objective morality out there to make anything you do objectively wrong, and no one to judge you when you die. Humans are just accidental machines produced by random, undirected evolution in a random, undesigned universe. You won’t be able to ground human rights and objective moral obligations in a universe like that.

7 thoughts on “What is wrong with electing an atheist to be President?”

  1. “Some may say that the root of this mass murder is communism, but you can’t do these mass murders if you expect to encounter a God on the other side of death whose design for each of his human creatures was for them to love God, and love their neighbor as themselves.”

    Just Not True! It has happened in the past, it is happening right now and it will happen again. Believing in an encounter with God does not stop people from murdering others. In fact sometimes it is given as the reason to do so. The Christian crusades, the Catholic inquisition, Protestant killings of abortion doctors, Muslim suicide bombings, Buddhist anti-Muslim killings in Myanmar, Islamic state atrocities…. An overly strong belief in your ideas can include religious beliefs, just as it includes the communists and fascists you mentioned.

  2. This whole article is just false equivalencies. I could cite a bunch of Christian terrorists and say that Christianity is inherently evil and terroristic, but I know how to construct an argument, so I don’t do that. I think we should examine issues with Communism and totalitarian regimes. Nobody commits violence in the name of atheism, which can’t be said about religion.

    Also, do you really need God for your morals? If there were suddenly no God, would you murder and steal because there’s no old man in the sky to kiss up to anymore? If so, you’re probably not a good person. Religion makes good people do bad things. The same can’t be said about atheism.

    1. “Also, do you really need God for your morals? If there were suddenly no God, would you murder and steal because there’s no old man in the sky to kiss up to anymore? If so, you’re probably not a good person. Religion makes good people do bad things. The same can’t be said about atheism.”

      The moral argument doesn’t claim that only theists are moral. The argument is that if God doesn’t exist, everyone is amoral. Morality means nothing. Everything is permitted. There is no objective law that denounces because there is no example to announce.

      Just because you choose not to murder doesn’t make you a good person, it would be your preference. There is no imperative or duty to do good, because there is no outside reference to what is good or right. It has to be outside of you, me, and the rest of the humans on this planet because it would simply come down to he said or she said, they said or we said.

      “If so, you’re probably not a good person. ”
      Says who? And who cares if I’m not a good person? Where do you get the definition of good from? What happens if my definition is different from yours?

      “Religion makes good people do bad things. The same can’t be said about atheism.”

      Religion makes people do kind and good things too. The same can’t be said about atheism…

      1. No, there is no objective moral code. It’s all relative. But hopefully we can all agree that certain things are not cool. In fact, we have, and that’s where the law comes from. Most of us don’t want to get murdered so we allow a government to protect us from murder. It goes back to Thomas Hobbes and the state of nature which leads us into natural rights, which does not need God to hold up. (Hobbes was an atheist)

        The law (in the United States) does not come from Christianity, or else it would forbid working on a Sunday and permit slavery among other strange and horrible atrocities. The law comes from the perception of these natural rights. Everything is not permitted. Humans are perfectly capable of coming to reasonable conclusions about morals without believing in a magic man in the sky. Even if someone doesn’t believe in these natural rights, it doesn’t matter. That’s the way the law is. If enough people work to change the law, it will change. It happens all the time as societies develop. This is an important part of history, the changing nature of moral consensus.

        Your argument seems to hinge on the claim that “if everything is relative, everything is permissible” when this is not the case. Morals are relative and society can still function just fine. Crime rates are lower and happiness higher in democracies which choose to reject religion.

        1. “No, there is no objective moral code. It’s all relative. But hopefully we can all agree that certain things are not cool”

          And who cares if we agree? What if we don’t agree? If it’s all relative, it’s relative to you or me, to our time or the past or the future. Yet somehow relative morality is true for everybody (objective and self-contradicting therefore unreasonable and absurd) It doesn’t matter because it’s always changing depending on who, when and where.

          “Most of us don’t want to get murdered so we allow a government to protect us from murder.”

          What’s wrong with murder? If morality is relative to the person, you can only say you don’t want to be murdered and a murderer doesn’t want to be murdered but when a murderer kills, neither one can say what they did was wrong because it’s simply pitting the victim’s preferences against the murder’s preference.

          “It goes back to Thomas Hobbes and the state of nature which leads us into natural rights, which does not need God to hold up. (Hobbes was an atheist)”

          Natural rights like an objective moral standard? You can’t ground objective moral standards in nature. Nature isn’t intelligent, and it has no intentionality. It’s main concern is survival. Nature deals with the natural material world. Morality isn’t made of anything. It is meta-physical. Therefore nature can’t alter or change it.

          You seem to try and deposit an objective moral law and have it be relative at the same time. This is absurd. I’m not using the word to insult you but you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.

          “The law (in the United States) does not come from Christianity, or else it would forbid working on a Sunday and permit slavery among other strange and horrible atrocities.”

          One. It is based on a Judeo-Chistian ethic as well as philosophies from Greece and Rome. Two. Christianity doesn’t permit the slavery that was committed against blacks.Three. ‘Among other strange and horrible atrocities’ Here you are not allowing the Christian to be relative… What moral standard outside of you and Christianity do you base this denunciation? You’re seeing the illogical nature of your argument yet? You say it’s relative but here you are slamming all of Christianity with an absolute standard that doesn’t exist in atheism. Three. You should stop reading anti-theist writers and try and understand Christianity from a Christian. These objections are very very superficial and lame. Four. ‘The law (in the United States) Who says we got it right? Why not the laws of Uganda Africa? Why not the laws of France? Why not Stalin’s USSR? Mao’s China?

          “The law comes from the perception of these natural rights. Everything is not permitted.”

          Stalin had legal grounds. Mao had legal grounds. Perceptions differ.

          “Everything is not permitted. Humans are perfectly capable of coming to reasonable conclusions about morals without believing in a magic man in the sky”

          ‘Magic man in the sky’… really? Everything IS permitted. You said so when you said morality is relative. You have no outside authority to define boundaries. Nothing gives you purpose or worth so how can somebody else violate your dignity? It’s relative to human vs. human. One cannot tell another what is wrong or right. It’s your preference vs. my preference.

          ‘Humans are perfectly capable of coming to reasonable conclusions about morals’

          Let’s look at some reasonable conclusions from honest atheists:

          “​For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was …liberation from … a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom” – Huxley

          “​Without religion the coherence of an ethic of compassion cannot be established. The principle of respect for persons and the principle of the survival of the fittest are mutually exclusive.” – R.Z. Friedman

          ​”We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons should not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here” – Nielsen

          “Equality is a lie concocted by inferior people who arrange themselves in herds to overpower those who are naturally superior to them. The morality of ‘equal rights’ is a herd morality, and because it opposes the cultivation of superior individuals, it leads to the corruption of the human species” – Nietzsche

          Look at Darwin, his friend Ernst Haeckel. Look at Dawkins. Look at Marquis De Sade.

          “Even if someone doesn’t believe in these natural rights, it doesn’t matter. That’s the way the law is.”

          Here you are saying morality isn’t relative. Here you are saying it is grounded in whichever law you currently live under. Here you are saying to violate that law is objectively wrong. Says who?

          “If enough people work to change the law, it will change. It happens all the time as societies develop. This is an important part of history, the changing nature of moral consensus.”

          Then you say laws change… So it isn’t really wrong to violate the law. If murderers wait long enough, murder might be legal. If Slave owners change the laws, they will be able to own slaves again. (Which part of the reasoning behind slavery in early America was de-humanizing the slave) ‘This is an important part of history, the changing nature of moral consensus.’ I agree. There are bad conclusions people have come to about morality, but morality doesn’t change based up the law. The law changes to reflect the objective moral standards. Violating the worth of another human being by de-humanizing them is, was, and always will be wrong. Not because we humans say it, but because it’s wrong outside of human’s decision.

          1. The Natural Laws/Rights have nothing to do with state laws. They are a set of rights that people observed thousands of years ago; a natural state that people prefer, all other things being equal.

            But it doesn’t actually matter if there’s no God given morality. Ignoring the fact that the OP is a criticism of the terrors of a totalitarian and authoritative regime and now you’re arguing that having exactly that from a God would be good, God given morality is still arbitrary.

            God may say that one should not wear clothing from mixed materials, but that doesn’t mean such a command is moral; it simply means that’s a behaviour God will punish us for not following. Those are not identical claims.

            The discussion about what morality and ethics are, and how we can come to know them, is a long and arduous conversation that we won’t settle in a comments thread. It’s especially difficult to have such a conversation if one person is going to hold to a sort of ‘religious nihilism’, simply denying that anything can have meaning, except with God; that’s a basal assumption that one simply can’t unpick and isn’t open to error correction. (That is not a strength in a sincerely open conversation.)

            For what it’s worth, my model of morality is this:
            (1) It is worth recognising that morality is only ‘parochially true’. That is to say that, no, the universe doesn’t care. Morality is only true from within constructs of conscious creatures with the thinking ability to evaluate moral claims and take on moral responsibility.
            (2) Morality relates to the wellbeing of conscious creatures. That which safeguards or improves wellbeing is ‘morally good’. That which diminishes wellbeing, when it need not be that way, is ‘morally bad’.
            (3) There is a certain level of woolliness in this, as ones well-informed intentions matter.

            As a point on this religious nihilism, the initial comment does include a good question: is one trying to say that if a religious person were convinced of the falsehood of their religious claim — or of the indefensibility of their religious claim — that they would suddenly start murdering and theft? I doubt many people believe that. It follows, then, that religious belief doesn’t really modulate people’s behaviour for the better. There are numerous examples of this claim — religious belief does not modulate people’s behaviour for the better — being true.

            Independent of any attempts to describe or explain objective morality from within a secular framework, this post is actually about politics. So, even if no cannot explain why some atheists behave honourably, the fact is that some do.

            In the same way that religion is no guarantee of good behaviour, atheism is not a guarantee of nefarious behaviour. In fact, on the societal level the reverse argument is true: secular countries have much better records of social freedoms and societal health.

            Noting that any given population will value its own freedoms (an aspect of the Natural Law), the thing we should all be wary of is not secular or atheist leaders, but authoritarian ones. It is totalitarianism that is a threat. That is evidence under Mao, but also under Sharia Law and the Inquisitions.

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