You Can’t Beat Something with Nothing

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) crowd that President Obama is supporting without reservation is a diverse and scary group of malcontents. We’ve learned that Nazi and Communist groups have embraced the movement, but for different reasons. “The Nazis equate capitalism, which the demonstrators are opposed to, to their hallucinations of a Jewish conspiracy. This may be reflected in some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric. . . . The communists see the current demonstrations as a beginning of an American Bolshevik Revolution and the establishment of a Soviet-style government in the United States.” The enemy of my enemy is my friend until the smoke clears and there are just Nazis and Communists. Then you’ll see a real war.

Without an incentive to make a profit, there is no capital. There are no iPods, iPads, cell phones, smart phones, social networks, electric cars, or tax money to redistribute. What will they replace the current system with? You can’t beat something with nothing. What’s the something? We’re never told.

Atheists are like the OWStreeters. What will replace our present moral system? Why is something going to right or wrong in a worldview without a transcendent law giver, without God? Right now, atheists borrow from the Christian worldview to construct a moral base for their atheistic world because there’s no such thing as ethics based on atheism. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who is an atheist, has acknowledged as much:

Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” (Jürgen Habermas, Time of Transitions (Polity Press, 2006), 150–151.))

Former theist and now self-avowed atheist Dan Barker, who is co-president of the Freedom of Religion Foundation, is promoting a “Beware of Dogma” campaign using billboards that also include the line “Imagine No Religion.” The line is taken from John Lennon’s atheist national anthem Imagine.

Of course, we don’t have to imagine what our world would be like without religion. Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) gives us a window into such a world:

Our propaganda necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism. . . . We shall now probably have to follow the advice Engels once gave to the German Socialists: to translate and widely disseminate the literature of the eighteenth-century French Enlighteners and atheists.1

The French “enlighteners” worshipped reason. “[T]he success of the physical and other sciences in England in the seventeenth century,” Robert Conquest observes, “gave the French intelligentsia the idea that everything could be determined by Reason — in whose name the Revolution was made — with the ‘Romantic’ input from Rousseau as part of the meld.”2 What was the result? The guillotine and blood in the streets. All together now, “Imagine no religion. It’s easy if you try.”

The atheism that spawned Communism was very reasonable and led to the deaths of 100 million people in the 20th century. When I made this statement in response to an email I received, I was met with this challenge: “Who are these high priests of atheism exactly? Name them and quote them. Then I want to know how many people were killed in what country during what period exactly and who killed them, within a million or so. I need you to account for all 100 million Gary, or close to it. I have history books in three languages and they don’t mention a word about atheists killing anyone.”

Lenin, Stalin, Cambodia’s Pol Pot (remember the “killing fields”?), Romania’s  Nicolae Ceauşescu, China’s Mao Zedong, North Korea’s Kim Il Sung, all atheists and Communists, committed well-documented atrocities that led to the deaths of mega millions. The authors of The Black Book of Communism (1999) offer the needed documentation the e-mailer demanded me to produce. Tony Judt of the New York Times writes of the book:

An 800-page compendium of the crimes of Communist regimes worldwide, recorded and analyzed in ghastly detail by a team of scholars. The facts and figures, some of them well known, others newly confirmed in hitherto inaccessible archives, are irrefutable. The myth of the well-intentioned founders—the good czar Lenin betrayed his evil heirs—has been laid to rest for good. No one will any longer be able to claim ignorance or uncertainty about the criminal nature of Communism, and those who had begun to forget will be forced to remember anew.

From The Black Book of Communism he can move on to Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century (1999) and The Great Terror (1990). Conquest writes:

Organized irreligion in the twentieth century committed atrocities on a scale that the fiercest religious wars never approached. The scientific racism of Nazi Germany killed forty million and attempted genocide against Europe’s Jews. The scientific socialism of the Communist countries killed a hundred million (and still counting) people around the globe. As the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has noted, people in the West routinely invoke the Spanish Inquisition as an example of religious horror. And they are right to do so. But the Inquisition, in the course of three centuries, and after legal procedures of a sort, killed fewer people—probably around three thousand—than the Soviet Union killed on an average day.3

It is significant to note that “after 1949 when the communists took control of China, the first new text introduced to all the schools was neither Marxist nor Leninist, but Darwinian.”4 With Darwin, all things are permissible. For a fleeting moment, Communism was seen as the new god that would save us. But even here, disillusionment set in as the logical extension of its materialist assumptions were worked out consistently.

On the atheist foundation of Marxist Communism, see Religion in Soviet Russia: 1917–1942  (1942) by N. S. Timasheff, the doctoral dissertation The Role of Atheism in the Marxist Tradition (1979) by David B. T. Aikman, Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless (1998) by Daniel Peris (a summary of the movement can be found here), and the three-volume A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policies by Dimitry V. Pospielovsky (1987). For the most comprehensive study of the philosophical roots of Communism, take a look at Francis Nigel Lee’s Communist Eschatology (1974). There are 120 pages of chapter notes with 30 to 50 notes per page in the 1100-page volume.

Barker’s Freedom from Religion Foundation has a lot to live up to. Let’s hope the day never comes when either the views of Vladimir Lenin or John Lennon become a reality. The good billboard people in Grand Rapids, Michigan, refused to display the atheist advertisement. I think they should do it. Churches should counter with a billboard that deals with the perils of atheism and the end-point of capitalism:

Imagine no Religion?

We already did — 100 million dead!

Imagine no capitalism? Millions more dead.

  1. Vladimir Lenin, Socialism and Religion” (1905). []
  2. Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999), 4. []
  3. Robert Royal, The God that Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), xvii. []
  4. Michael Pitman, Adam and Evolution (London, England: Rider & Company, 1984), 24. []
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