Sep 172010

So the Pope on his visit to the UK is warning us of the dangers of “atheist extremism” and is comparing atheists to the Nazis.

I’m not sure what kind of thinking went on to associate Nazism with atheism. The Nazis repressed atheist groups in Germany with Hitler proclaiming in 1933 that he had “stamped [atheism] out”. It is just as ridiculous to claim that Catholicism lead to Nazism (as Hitler was brought up Catholic) as to associate atheism with the Nazis.

From his speech, it would seem that the pope is implying that atheists are less moral than those who believe that their imaginary friends will punish them severely if they behave badly. It is true that atheists do not have a single written code of morals to follow, but nothing stops us from following the sensible bits out of (for example) the bible. But what evidence is there that atheists behave less morally than those who believe in some religion ?

Of course we can all point out a list of historical atheists who haven’t exactly been good – Stalin, Lenin, and Hitler are usually top of the list, although it isn’t totally certain that Hitler was an atheist. The bigoted will point to that list as evidence that all atheists are evil, but of course you are not one of those fools.

The pope may have a point where he claims that morality in public life is in danger, but not when he claims that atheists are the root of the problem. A moral atheist is better than an immoral christian every single time, just as a moral christian is always preferred to an immoral atheist. We may not be able to agree on religious issues, but on most of the basics a moral atheist will be in full agreement with a moral christian – for example that all forms of murder and theft are wrong.

It is also a mistake to label everyone who doesn’t attend church or claim some sort of belief as an atheist. In a traditionally christian society, atheism is a choice to be made, and most people in Britain haven’t made that choice. Even those who put down “no religion” in the 2001 census (between 14% (England) and 19% (Wales) can’t be labelled as “atheist”, as “no religion” is a category that covers atheists, agnostics (the “don’t knows”), and the “don’t cares”.

And what examples of atheist extremism have we seen ? How many churches have been burnt to the ground ? How many bishops have been hung from lamp posts ? How many people attending churches or mosques have been spat at and reviled ? Well if all that has been going on, it mysteriously hasn’t shown up on the national news.

Perhaps us atheists aren’t that extreme at all.

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