Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Government Atheist

Does believing that most of the problems in life could or should be solved by government constitute a form of theism?

I think the instinct is to say no, that's hyperbole. And yeah, perhaps it is. On the other hand, I do wonder if it is in theory possible to worship government as a god. And if it is, then would I be an atheist with regards to that god?

People can worship nature as god. Or natural things. Why not government? How would I know if they were doing this thing?


IlĂ­on said...

Realistically, any worldview which conceives its “highest power” as being inconsistent with or in conflict with a conception of God which is broadly consistent with the Biblical view of God (or “theism” as some call it, downplaying the Biblical connection) ought to be seen as atheistic, no matter how many “gods” the system may entail.

"Does believing that most of the problems in life could or should be solved by government constitute a form of theism?"

You may recall that I dislike (and try to avoid using) the word "thesim" -- for its use tends to lump together wholly disparate things; such as, for instance, Judeo-Christianity and classical paganism. In my view, use of the term leads to thinking and analysis which is based upon a category error.

I realize that “theism” is grammatically paired with “atheism”, and I see no way out of the language difficulty. If it came to be widely understood that “theism” cannot be used as a common category both for Christianity and (for instance) the old Norse mythos, and assuming “theism” were then reserved for those metaphysics not in essential conflict with the Biblical understanding of God, I’d no longer object to the word.
Recently in my inbox there came a notification of a whine by some silly atheist, posted to a blog-item to which I’d subscribed, in which he tried to assert that the Communists weren’t really atheists, since they had [Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc] to be their gods.

I also recall some science fiction story I’d read as a kid, which assumed that socialism/communism was the wave of the future, in which I recall “State Atheism” as being counted as a religion among the characters.

Crude said...

I agree that there's a tremendous gulf between God as conceived by classical theists and orthodox Christianity generally, and those 'other gods' like Zeus, etc. But as you said, it's a language difficulty from which there seems to be no practical escape.

On the other hand, I think there would need to be a word to distinguish 'a guy worshiping Zeus or the Zeus-like' from 'a guy who worships nothing at all'. Putting aside for a moment the claim that everyone worships something. I usually handle it with a supplemental argument that Zeus and company were 'natural' and that those who worshipped Zeus were naturalists. But the problem there is it's not exactly pithy.

That said, I should say I'm surprised that someone is running around peddling the 'Communists weren't atheists but theists' claim. It opens up all atheists to the charge that, despite their protests, they are theists after all. Also, they'd have to classify a political ideology as a religion for the claim to have much "bite" - in which case the argument for New Atheism as a religion becomes even easier.

On second thought, I'm not all that surprised that some atheist is still using the argument, since A) It's a tremendously stupid, self-defeating argument for any atheist, and B) Most New Atheists are morons.