In many debates between Theists and Atheists, a common strategy is employed by Atheists to silence their opponents. Commonly, they like to argue that in history and currently, no Atheists have ever killed people in the ‘name of Atheism’, yet it is claimed that many people who follow a religion, have killed in its name. Therefore, they conclude, that Atheists are somehow more prone to peace, or have less reasons to kill than Theists, and ‘therefore’ religion is more dangerous than Atheism. This is the ‘no one kills in the name of atheism’ argument.
This argument is based upon a subtle but false comparison. The opposite of Atheism, is not Religion, but Theism. Atheism is the denial of belief in a God, while Theism is the belief in a God. To believe in a God, or not believe in a God, does not by itself predispose a person to violence or to peace. Belief or disbelief in a God, is a neutral idea, devoid of any practical significance without any further thought. Hence Atheism and Theism are comparable, but not Atheism to Religion. It literally is absurd to compare Atheism and Religion, any more than it is to compare Theism with with say Communism!
The issue is not Atheism or Theism, but rather what people ‘add on’ to these ideas, that affects their behaviour.
Religion is a system of beliefs, or a set or collection of linked beliefs, about the world in most cases based around a central concept of Theism. The beliefs of each religion forms the worldview of the Theist holding them. It is these worldviews that shape how the Theist treats other humans, whether helping others, or killing them. No Theist has ever ‘killed in the name of Theism’, but some may kill in the name of their religion, or (more likely) they may twist the text of a prominent religion in their society to achieve kind of social justification amongst their Religious peers.
Likewise, Atheists may also believe in a set of beliefs that form their worldview. Usually these worldviews hold beliefs that deny, ignore or render irrelevant the need for God. It is these worldviews that shape how the Atheist treats other humans, whether helping others, or killing them. Worldviews based upon an assumed concept of Atheism, sometimes called ‘materialistic worldviews’, like Communism, Social Darwinism, or those based upon a worldview that renders God irrelevant, and is compatible with Atheism, like Nationalism, Fascism, Secular Liberalism/Humanism, have had adherents kill, massacre, torture and force convert others in their names (e.g. Communism killed and suppressed millions in the name of eradicating religion because ‘it is poison’ or ‘false consciousness’).
The difference between Religious worldviews and Materialistic worldviews is that Religious worldviews tend to be based around a fixed tradition, book or set of books. These traditions or books usually are believed to be from a divine or spiritual source, and constitute an obstacle for humans trying to justify their own vanities or desires in conducting immorals actions. These obstacles may only be bypassed by unscrupulous individuals resorting to ‘twisting’ the texts to permit their actions, but these ‘twists’ are not easy or believable by the wider community. However, Materialistic worldviews are not based upon any fixed traditions or book or books, and only possess authority of the humans that created them. Consequently, if an adherent to a materialistic worldview becomes convinced that their worldview is no longer convenient for their desires, or decides to invent an exception, there is no fixed tradition or book that must be surmounted or twisted to achieve their objectives. This means that while religion does not prevent all injustices or wrongful killings, its absolute rules and laws would certainly provides more of a safeguard then a worldview based originally on human whims and desires, perpetuated by whims and desires and completely changeable at any moment according to whims and desires.
There are further problems with materialistic worldviews. While Religion tends to supplement the imperfections of the world with divine justice distributed via an omniscient and just God, Materialistic worldviews are prone to attempt to deal with the imperfections of the world directly. While this may seem innocuous and innocent, it leads to very terrible consequences.
Humans are not perfect, and all are liable to commit minor injustices. While Religion generally papers over the imperfections with promises of final justice against all wrongs (both open and secret), Materialistic worldviews are unable to provide this satisfaction to aggrevied people. This leads to people necessarily taking ‘revenge’ upon others, or stealing to address wealth inequalities, or undermining their competitors through illegal means, or ‘doing what is necessary’ to attain whatever they view as their happiness, as their grievances and expected rewards will never be addressed in any other life. This leads to governments and states who follow Materialistic worldviews to increase their surveillance and monitoring of the people, and then increase their control measures, in order to establish order – leading to totalitarian governments and police states.
Secondly, since humans are more complex than any single principle, materialistic worldviews will enforce a perfection of their ideas to such an extent, it produces oppression and absurdities. For example, Secular Liberalism enforced a concept of equality of men and women that demanded gender quotas, even if candidates of any particular gender were of substandard in merit. It’s laws against discrimination were taken to such an extent, that Religious individuals could be discriminated against merely for expressing their religious opinions. Likewise, Communism expected humans to work ‘for justice’ and improve their work despite low wages and no increasing benefits for doing so. Capitalism expected that increasing production would naturally lead to all members of a society receiving resources – yet the opposite happened. The list goes on.
Of course the biggest danger from materialistic worldviews is their reaction to perceived ‘threats’. Whereas Religions generally assure their followers of their Religion’s perseverance, survival and in some cases, ultimate victory – materialist worldviews have no such guarantee. In the absence of such guarantees, materialist worldviews have ‘over-reacted’ to opposing ways of life, and internal political dissent, where ‘necessity’ and ‘hard rational decisions’ were made leading to invasions, mass bombings, executions, mass imprisonments, or in ‘softer’ cases, permitting free reign for their majorities to discriminate against ‘dangerous minorities’ who are ‘not following the same values’.
While Religions may be used in similar ways by their adherents (in certain social, political and intellectual conditions), however, due to the inescapable fundamental characteristics of Materialist worldviews, and Religious worldviews, it is far more likely that Religion restrains these tendencies, and materialistic worldviews falls into their tendencies.
The real debate about who is more dangerous, is not between Atheism and Religion, but between Religion and materialist worldviews like Communism / Social Darwinism / ‘Humanism’ / Secular Liberalism / Nationalism and Fascism, that have killed millions, and been merciless upon the weak, in the pursuit of their materialistic goals.
P.S. Not all Theists have a religion; some may believe in God, but nothing else, or they may even believe in a materialistic worldview that ignores or separates God from having any political or social importance or concern in the material world, like Deists and Secularists (despite their belief in God). The possibility of a Theist to believe in a materialistic worldview doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in God, it just means that they demonstrate the ability to compartmentalise one belief, and ignore its significances, and live by a completely different belief. This would probably cause Cognitive dissonance.