"People have often been willing to give up personal identity and join into a collective. Historically, that propensity has usually been very bad news. Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal 'families' — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob." ~ Jaron Lanier
Brights Are Keeping Us in the Dark Ages
While reading an article about Brights (the new, more marketable term for atheists) last week, I came across this website for The Brights' Network. I was excited to find it until I read 'The Reason' for the group: 'Currently the naturalistic worldview is insufficiently expressed within most cultures. The purpose of this movement is to form an umbrella Internet constituency of Brights having social and political recognition and power. The simple noun Bright gathers under the same umbrella a great diversity of persons who have a naturalistic worldview. Under this broad umbrella these people, as Brights, can gain social and political power in a society infused with supernaturalism.'
I sent them an e-mail that read in part, 'You're no different from Pat Robertson and other religious fascists who seek political power. Don't you get it?' I also included a link to STR's non-voting archive. A few days later, I received a message from someone affiliated with that site: 'Not everyone who seeks political power is a fascist. Of course, political power does not mean 'taking over the government.' It means have a voice in the social and political agenda. Which we don't at the moment.'
Of course it's true that not everyone who seeks political power is a fascist. I didn't say they were. Some are socialists, conservatives, etc. And you don't have to take over the government to wield political power. One could wield political power by simply voting. So the issue here is 'having a voice in the social and political agenda.'
Having a voice. That sounds nice, doesn't it? It makes it sound like we're all sitting around a table discussing the issues of the day, and everyone who has something to say can say it while everyone else listens respectfully, and their input will be used to help shape 'the agenda.' But in practice, what does it really mean? It means having some control or influence over the men with the guns (government police). It means being able to use the government's goons to get people to behave the way you want them to. It means using force (or the threat of force) against peaceful people. This approach is totally inconsistent with secular humanism and an enlightened worldview. In fact, this lust for power in order to get your way with others, instead of trying to persuade them with reason, is the same attitude that prevailed during the Dark Ages.
I often publish columns by Christian writers that mention or even advocate Christianity even though, like Jefferson , I do not believe in the divinity of Christ. Why do I do this? Well, besides being good writers and making good points, these people are not a threat to me. Because they are libertarians (or anarchists), they do not seek to use force against me. If they fail to persuade me, there are no negative consequences for me. I can go on about my business and continue to live my life as before. I don't have to worry about them getting the government to confiscate my money and give it to the state of Israel or to their own churches through federally funded 'faith-based' programs. I'm not afraid of what they'll get the government to do to me if I buy alcohol on Sunday, gamble privately, hire a prostitute, or ingest various substances into my body. I know that they are not going to get the government to put their slogans (e.g., 'In God We Trust') on the State's props (such as money, flags and seals), or put their own items (e.g., the Ten Commandments) on government property, or force my children to pledge allegiance to one nation 'under God.' Since neither of us seeks to use force against the other, there is a feeling of respect and trust between us that allows friendships to develop, even though we have radically different religious beliefs. Some of my best friends are libertarian Christians. Not only can we live in harmony, we are more receptive to each other's beliefs.
I have drawn on Christianity quite a bit for my worldview, and I'm sure there are aspects of it that I'm not familiar with that I might want to incorporate in my life. I'd be happy to learn more about Christianity, but not from some true believer who is going to get the government to stick a gun in my face if I don't come around to his way of thinking. Likewise, I'm sure many Christians would benefit from learning more about secular humanism or atheism, but they are not going to listen and will in fact resent it if it's imposed on them by politicians because some statist atheists wanted to 'have a voice' to affect 'the agenda.'
An atheist with power is just as bad (if not more so) than a religious zealot with power. History is full of atheists such as Josef Stalin and Fidel Castro who killed tens of millions of people and caused human suffering on an unimaginable scale, because they had a 'voice' that affected 'the agenda''they had power.
Being an atheist does not mean that you are ethical. You cannot be ethical if you use (or threaten to use) force against peaceful people, or get someone else (such as the government) to do it for you. It's as simple as that.
Who should atheists and secular humanists turn to as a role model for how to lead an ethical life? How about Christ? As far as I know, he never used force (except to drive the money changers from the temple) or advocated the use of force against peaceful people. He never forced his views on anyone. He led by example. He persuaded. And the social power of his non-violent message was so strong that it is still one of the dominant forces on the earth 2,000 years later, long after the political power of his day'the mighty Roman empire 'crumbled into oblivion. All of history's truly great leaders'Christ, Thoreau and Gandhi'men who were able to transcend their times with a message that would uplift and inspire people decades or centuries later'advocated nonviolence and civil disobedience. All of the leaders who advocated violence and coercion'Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc.'have been consigned to the dustbin of history, their ideologies discredited and defunct.
If the Brights want to help bring about a new Enlightenment that will lead us out of the Dark Ages of violence and coercion, they should reject the religion of statism and embrace non-violence.