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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Atheist Atrocities? (Part 3 of 3)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Atheist Atrocities? (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from Part 2

As I watched the video, two individuals who are about as far from Communism as one could get came to the front of my mind: Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Both valued Capitalism and the sovereignty of the individual. Both found the idea of sacrifice for the benefit others not as a moral good but as a moral wrong. Both believed that the only purpose of the state was to aid in helping the individual preserve his rights of life, liberty, and property. A state which violates these rights has no right or reason to exist at all.

Ayn Rand escaped the tyranny of Soviet Russia when she was young. From a very young age she understood the immorality of collectivism. She was an atheist who went on to develop a philosophy known as Objectivism. Objectivism is based on four core principles: objective reality (“facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears”), Reason (“the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses”), Selfishness (or rational self-interest; man exists for his own sake rather than the sake of others), and capitalism (the economic system she believed to be the most moral of all economic systems). Here are a few of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes which embody her philosophy of Objectivism:

“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
“It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”
“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

Milton Friedman was also an unapologetic defender of liberty and Capitalism. In 1976, Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Perhaps Friedman’s most famous works are his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom and his 1982 book and PBS television series Free to Choose (I cannot recommend the Free to Choose television series highly enough. Watch the entire series here). Friedman also influenced Barry Goldwater (served as the economic advisor to Goldwater’s presidential campaign), was an advisor to Richard Nixon (though Friedman complained that Nixon often did not take his advice), and Ronald Reagan (a true believer in many of Friedman’s economic theories; Reagan’s “trickle down economic policy” reflected that).

Milton Friedman was almost universally praised by fiscal conservatives and libertarians of all stripes. Many supply side economists consider him to be their hero. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, even has an award called “The Milton Friedman Award for Advancing Liberty” which is awarded every other year to an individual “who has made a significant contribution to the advance of human freedom.”

Did I mention that Milton Friedman was an agnostic? Unless asked, neither did he. While Ayn Rand was very outspoken about her negative views about religion, Friedman had very little interest in the topic of religion at all. Perhaps this is why conservatives who normally wouldn’t give an agnostic/atheist the time of day made an exception for Milton Friedman.

Certainly, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman are not the only ones skeptical of religion who happened to also believe in free markets and free minds. In my own experience I have run into a number of libertarians who happened to also be atheist or agnostic. Objectivists are by their nature also atheists. I doubt seriously that even Skeptic Antidote could truly believe that had Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, or others of a similar philosophy taken over control of any government such a leader would resort to committing atrocities against humanity. After all, if the rights of the individual are respected above the rights of the group, how can such a policy lead to killing various classes of people?

When it comes to choosing our leaders, we must look beyond his or her religious beliefs or lack thereof. In order to guard against someone who would commit atrocities, we should select leaders who do not call for the sacrifice of the individual but instead recognizes the Lockean individual rights of life, liberty, and property.

If Skeptic Antidote's position is that a few bad people who happened to be atheists killed more human beings than anyone else, then fine...I can’t argue against that. If, however, he contends that these despots were despots because of their atheism and/or that the end goal was to promote atheism (rather than a means to an end), he has failed miserably to make the case.

But why not give him another chance? My challenge to Skeptic Antidote (or anyone else for that matter): find me one example of an atrocity committed by an atheist individual, group, or government in the past 100 years which had the end goal of rooting out religion in favor of atheism as an end in itself (as many religious zealots have done to kill in the name of their religion in an effort to further their religion by force). I will be waiting with pregnant anticipation.


Blogger T. F. Stern said...


You defend atheism in the same manner as zealots proclaim their faith; each position requires belief, call it faith if you happen to be a religious person.

Atheism has sects, no different than Hindus, Methodists or Mormons each believing they have the greater portion of truth; identified quite eloquently as Objectivism or Ayn Rand followers, Catoism or worshipers of Milton Friedman and Communism, a version which you covered earlier.

The individual “prayer” of the first two sects is basically the same, “Leave me alone” while the latter hasn’t got a prayer, the State having removed any hope.

I would enter your discussion further were there any opportunity to sway your direction toward my own; but that will not happen and so I leave this short comment as a means of letting you know that the information was observed.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I'm not sure why you harp on the means to an end vs. the end in itself distinction. Beliefs influence decisions. If I, as a Christian, were killing because of my faith- but not directly to spread my faith, or to route out other faiths- why would you care that it wether or not it was an end in and of itself? My beliefs effect my decisions across the board. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is not. I still think the question is one of influence- regardless of what the immediate goal of the killing was.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...

sorry about the grammar there- just take out the "that it" in the middle.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...


The reason I “harped” on the means to an end was in direct response to Skeptic Antidote’s notion that atheists have killed more people than any religion. The point he was trying to make was that these people killed because they were atheists; I was responding with my own counterpoint (they did not kill because they were atheists, they killed because they had other goals in mind such as political power). If we are to take him seriously then we would have to conclude that Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand would have done the same if they had controlled the levers of power (which is completely absurd).

I suppose many Christians would argue that an individual who has a lack of a belief in god equals an immoral individual. I find such an argument insulting.

I give to charity. I give blood. I don’t wish to impose my personal beliefs on others through force with the help of the government.

I don’t need a sky daddy telling me the basic difference between right and wrong. I don’t do these things out of fear of eternal damnation. I do these things because I perceive these things to be right. To put it in the simplest terms, I respect the rights of individuals’ life, liberty, and property. All I require is that others have the same respect for my life, liberty, and property (leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone).

Christians and Muslims on the other hand, have killed because they believed their holy books (or voices in their heads) told them to. There are a number of atrocities in the Bible itself followed by how “sinners” should be punished (witches, homosexuals, and disobedient children should be stoned to death). Atheists have no such book of moral instructions; we are expected to figure these things out ourselves.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I understood that was what you were doing. I was trying to politely tell you that you did not succeed. People do things because of their beliefs that are not direct goals- things they would not do with other beliefs.

The video is not very good- and he may be a complete idiot. Do not join him. A Christian could kill because of his Christianity even though the killing was not to promote Christianity. Indirect connections are not severed connections. You have indirectly answered the very first question I asked (from a few posts ago)- that does not mean that you did not answer my question (even though you did not set out to explicitly). I can see that you do think that Christians (and Muslims, and maybe some others as well I take it) have killed because of their religion (and now i am not speaking of the truth of the matter- but rather just your own personal conclusions on it). You also seem to think that Atheists have not done so (or at least, not often enough to be worth mentioning).

Stop for a moment and put that stupid video out of your mind. When you are looking for causal links between behavior and actions, you often have to dig pretty deep. People do bad things for reasons to be sure- but people do not always do them for the same reasons.

I do not believe that Atheist dictators who are so often decried (by Christians and Atheists alike) for their violence kill people directly because of their atheism (and I could be wrong about that- but at the moment I do not think so). The bible itself does not really make that argument either (and of course Christian doctrine is SUPPOSED to be based on the bible). I (along with most Christians) believe that people are born with a corrupt nature. It does not mean that people are as bad as they could be- but it does mean that they are not naturally good. I believe that it is out of this nature that these heinous crimes are committed.

Now I am glad that you are giving blood and such. I would be insulted too, if I was you (by being lumped together with a horrendous list of miscreants). I do think that you should consider how it is that the faith of the Christian, Muslim, ect. influences their decisions to kill others (and sometimes publicly claim it was because of their faith). Let me know if you have any specific questions- and please forgive my occasional sarcasm. Let me know (if at all) where you disagree with me.


6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the vidoe is factually incorrect. It is not a fact that no one has killed more human beings than atheists, if the remark is viewed in context.

Suppose an FTL civilization were to come across two civilizations they wished to subjugate, humanity, and a tiny agrarian civilization on Zygimorph Beta with a population of 50,000. In the war with humanity, 1 billion humans are killed, but humanity. 49,000 Zygimorph Betan's are killed in their war. Which alien general has committed the greater crime, the one who killed 49,000, or the one who killed 1 billion? That is, given a choice between seeing 1 in 6 of your loved ones murdered, or 49 of 50, which would you choose?

Viewed in that context, no one that we know of has committed a greater genocide that Francisco Pizzarro, who died drawing a cross in his own blood, and calling out for his lord jesus.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous csy said...

If we are to take him seriously then we would have to conclude that Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand would have done the same if they had controlled the levers of power (which is completely absurd).

Absolutely! And Christians see this same absurdity when atheists think potential mass killers lurk behind every church in their community. This video may simply be a reaction to those atheists who think EVERY Christian "would have done the same if they had controlled the levers of power".

But it's curious that many atheists out there don't grant that same reasoning to religious people. Many atheists caution people against tarring ALL atheists with broad brushes (which is right), yet those atheists allow that brush to freely tar ALL religious people, just because they think their "holy books" tell them to. That's hypocritical, isn't it? (oops....or is only religious people that can be hypocritical?) Even if you find their "holy books" abhorrent, the fact that you DON'T see the Christians in your community's churches acting upon the "killing verses" in the Bible (all while focusing only on the good verses, like helping the poor, loving others, etc.) should say something about the amazing restraint of those Christians not to obey those "killing verses"....yes? Or is that a perfectly rational observation that atheists simply choose not to acknowledge, as it messes with their fixations on centuries-old religious atrocities to prove their "reasonings"?

10:56 AM  
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8:45 PM  

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