The Bikecast Episode #32: The Common Denominator Betwixt God and State
Underpinning all arguments for both theism and statism is fear. Most people spend their lives, consciously or unconsciously, afraid of their fellow humans. At the end of the intellectual exercise of dispelling the illusion of deities and of a just and noble state, many people retreat to the unsubstantiated position that a free and clear-eyed humanity is simply too dangerous to be contemplated.
Non-believers tire of the absurd idea that, without the fear of a judgemental god and his/her/their divine and eternal retribution for earthly “sins,” people would kill, rape, and steal with reckless abandon. Similarly, anarchists constantly encounter concerns about how humanity would be “controlled” if it weren’t for the police and prison system forcing people not to fall on each other in endless bloody conflict.
A couple friends and I were discussing statelessness. One admitted that the argument that came to his mind to dispute the possibility of an anarchist society is the same argument that he hates to get when talking about the “danger” of widespread atheism. The argument is that people cannot be trusted unless they are constrained by the state (with the atheist corollary: unless constrained by a belief in god).
The pattern that he noticed is striking and matches what we’ve encountered in a couple of bikecasts thus far. Arguments based on instilling fear are rarely supported by evidence. More specifically, arguments based on fear of humans rely on the fear of some bloodthirsty other that will materialize when a particular criteria is met (lowering “our” national defense [sic], disbelief in god, abolition of slavery, abolition of the state, etc.)
As I’ve noted a number of times, atheism is “running ahead” of anarchism in acceptance by increasingly sane, disillusioned people. Most competent adults understand that god isn’t stopping criminal behavior–not even professed belief in god seems to deter criminal behavior.
In a parallel way, the understanding is slowly growing that the state doesn’t curb crime and in a number of ways, state institutions increase the amount and severity of crime (besides criminalizing victimless activities, making criminals of peaceful people).
If the state security apparatus were all that stood between robbers and possessions, we would quickly be stripped bare. Luckily, most people don’t want to steal or harm people, with or without the existence of god and state.
It makes sense, in fact, that a society premised on the use of force to determine right and wrong would be more prone to acts of violence. It’s also reasonable that in a world in which god’s will trumps human morality, one person could be convinced that god is compelling them to harm or rob another. When the use of violence can be “good” under certain conditions, it opens the door to individual judgements about what violence is appropriate and what remains off limits.
As we’ve talked about before, human beings are naturally disinclined to violence. It requires the will of a god or a state to push most people into immoral courses of action (they often helped early on by brutalizing parents that kill the natural empathy of the child).
Speaking of children, another common feature of theism, statism, and fear of others is that they need to be introduced early in life. Bible stories (or Koran stories, or whatever) don’t make any sense–they’re obviously artifacts of primitive, albeit inventive, cultures filled with great hallucinogens and scribes with plenty of time on their hands.
The great national stories of the world are equally obviously fictitious and collapse under a moments scrutiny. For this reason, both kinds of stories must be introduced and repeated endlessly during the victims’ childhood.
As the child ages into adulthood and begins to question (for those that retain the capacity to question), the stories become more nuanced and less defined where challenged. Should a hypothetical adult, fully formed, be told of either Adam and Eve or of a slave-holding nation “of the people,” he/she would understand it to be pure fiction.
In the end, it’s the fear that keeps the whole bloody hierarchy in place . . . and the police and armies, of course. So strong is the fear of one’s fellow humans and so strong is the lifetime of indoctrination and so ubiquitous is the suspicion and distrust among us that we cling to illusion and violence rather than face the challenge of a humanity free from illusion, coercion and authority.
In the bikecast, I make reference to claims that atheists are no less “moral” than theists:
The Secular Web
has the most comprehensive index of related research and thought that I’ve ever encountered.
The Atheist “about” pages are pretty strong too.
-  I show my euro-centrist racism on the bikecast by attaching the leading edge of disillusionment to “educated westerners”. It turns out that Japan is the most thoroughly atheist country by many metrics. My bad. ↩
-  We can see that religion still maintains it’s deathgrip even when it’s not officially allowed to kill disbelievers anymore. ↩