May 29, 2024

How is secular humanist governance better than theocracy?

Occasionally I’ll get a PM that I think warrants a public reply.  The questions recently posed to me by quranresponse are a good example:

I am talking to you now, as smart atheist manwomen I want to see your opinion how can atheism solve the world problem

Atheists are simply people who are not convinced that any actual deities really exist. There is no collective group of that kind. About the only thing all atheists agree on is that there isn’t any reason to believe in gods. However there are many atheists who believe in other things that are almost as absurd, homeopathy, reincarnation, extraterrestrial alien visitors and so on.

I identify as apistevist, meaning that I’m a rational empiricist who don’t hold any beliefs based on faith. For the purpose of this conversation, you could also consider me a secular humanist, as that seems to be who it is you mean to address.  So let me correct your question as necessary in order to answer.

How could rational, analytical, and compassionate people deal with these real world problems with real-world solutions rather than pretending that a magic invisible ghost will make their wishes come true, or actually do anything to help? Or how could we construct laws based a reasonable and enlightened analysis of reality rather than the primitive authoritarian mandates of the ignorant and bigoted savages who wrote all our supposedly sacred scriptures?


(1) wars: Religions way of solving this problems:

The old testament says fight back.

The new testament says turn your cheek to the transgressor.

Islam says fight back the transgressor until they stop.

(A) How can atheism stop war?

Diplomacy. It doesn’t matter what our out-dated, hate-filled, prejudicial doctrines and man-made mythologies might have said. There is no such thing as a ‘religion of peace’. Religion only knows how to react violently because they don’t understand reason and have never practiced tolerance. That’s why secular humanist diplomats will be necessary in order to end wars and other violations of human rights.

(2) killing or murdering ineccent people?

Religions way of solving this problems:

Actually jail doesn’t exist in religion books as a part solution, it is man made solution who thought that, the law of God is unfair and it is not wise, so he thought himself is more merciful and wiser than the one who created man and knows how to fix him up.

Actually jail is part of the problem.

(1) The old testament says the killer must be killed.

(2) The new testament doesn’t give a solution, because Jesus died for the killer sin, and Paul said Christians no longer live on the law of God.

(3) Islam says the killer must put to death unless if he killed some one by mistake. Or the family of who got killed forgive the killer.

(B) How can atheism stop the killing?

Again, ‘atheism’ doesn’t stop killing, and religion obviously doesn’t either. Secular humanism does however.

Religion’s preferred punishment is almost always death, regardless of the crime. But the death penalty is a statistical failure just like all their proposed solutions to other problems always are. Here in the US, the states that still have the death penalty also have the highest murder rates; its a negative correlation.  The problem there is one of society, the conditions imposed and the types of responses that are culturally coaxed.  When murder happens, and that person is caught and tried, we should remove them as a threat, and whether they are imprisoned, institutionalized, or what have you should be determined by the particulars in each case.

(3) stealing:

Religions way of solving this problems:

(1) The old testament has no solution it just says don’t steal..

(2) The new testament doesn’t give a solution, because Jesus died for the thief sin, and Paul said Christians no longer live on the law of God.

(3) Islam says if the thief make of stealing a job government must cut his hand.

But if starving people steal to eat, no cutting hands for those people.

(C) How can atheism stop stealing?

It seems that religion only knows how to react violently, out of vengeance. Again this is because it’s a belief system rooted in dichotomy and bigotry, with little or no desire to consider extenuating circumstances and NO ability to question itself objectively. Rational apistevists have that.  That again is why secular humanist leaders are better equipped to invent punishments and deterrents that are more appropriate and actually bring justice in one form or other as necessary. For example, payment of fines, or performance of community service, things like that.

Despite the severity of their punishments, religions have still consistently failed in virtually all attempts to curtail criminal behavior, and have in fact actually empowered or promoted criminality in many ways. More reasonable laws are usually more effective.

(4) rape:

Religions way of solving this problems:

(1) The old testament says if some one rape your daughter and paid you money it is ok..

(2) The new testament doesn’t give a solution, because Jesus died for the rapist sin, and Paul said Christians no longer live on the law of God.

(3) Islam says rapist must put to death, to keep the society clean. (D) How can atheism stop rape?

Islam also allows that the victim should be blamed, which is about as wrong as wrong can get.

Religion doesn’t solve the problem of rape at all; it exacerbates it. It should be (and in some atheist societies, it is this way) that women could walk about scantily-clad or even nude, and that men would have respect or sanity enough not to be violent against them on such paltry excuses as a lack of human decency or self control.  I mean, you don’t bludgeon children to death when someone’s kid is crying loudly and annoying you, right? So why would you victimize a woman just because you find her attractive? That’s sick, but that is the attitude that is typically perpetuated by religion.

Among religion’s many failures is that it is supposed to inspire moral behavior in all people, regardless what they look like or how they dress, and yet we constantly hear about sex crimes being most often committed by devoutly religious people, and these also tend to be the most savage cases too.

Rational progressive people admittedly can behave that way in relatively rare instances, but its neither as severe nor as frequent because we just have no excuse for it.

(5) Starvation or hunger.

Religions way of solving this problems:

(1) The old testament says charity..

(2) The new testament says charity.

(3) Islam says charity and sadaqa.

(E) How can atheism stop Starvation and hunger?

We would say charity too, but that would be secondary. The first suggestion is education, including sex education, empowering women to control their reproduction, and empowering all people to better master their situation. Otherwise all the charity you have isn’t going to work. This is another area where religion always fails.  Remember you’re talking to a Texan now. So I have some direct experience with several aspects of this particular failure on the part of the religious right.

So my question in response is that, since religion has failed so completely in all these applications and more, why do you still practice it?

18 thoughts on “How is secular humanist governance better than theocracy?

  1. One thing that atheism can do is remove the religious excuse for evil. “God told us to (not) do X” is a non-starter under atheism. For instance, working against same-sex marriage because “God thinks what gays to in bed is icky”, like the Mormon and Catholic churches do, wouldn’t happen under atheism. However I know atheist homophobes would find other excuses to justify denying GLBT people basic rights.

    1. If the theists really think this nation is a xian nation, and founded on xian principals, then why do we not have a “god told me to” defence in our justice system? Oh perhaps we might, just mention that god(s) told you to and see how fast your defence lawyer claims a “legally insane” defence and the judge whisks you off for a “mental evaluation”….. This from the folks that brought you a talking snake and burning bush that speaks…. I think they too at times have a hard time swallowing their own BS….

  2. The problem with religions is that they don’t seem to think about the root causes of problems – this is especially true of Christianity, which uses the whole ‘human sinfulness’ label to explain away everything bad. It’s a failed explanation since anything that could account for such diverse problems is going to be too vague to be useful. The reason nations go to war, the reason some local teenagers shoplifted from the 7-11 and the reason why people commit sex crimes aren’t really explained the one size fits all ‘sin’ label.

    A lot of problems are really caused by poverty, which is solved either through better technology or better public policy or through some sort of labor movement. Charity doesn’t really address the cause of poverty and relying on ‘charity’ isn’t really a good long-term solution.

    On murder – I get the vibe that the author seems to think that a swift punishment is a deterrent and is good, but with contemporary forensic science, we actually have the ability to find out guilt or innocence and it’s often a time-consuming project. If the idea is that we think we’re better than some god because we don’t make heads roll immediately it’s because we actually care about only punishing guilty people, and we’re sensible enough to know we can’t figure out guilt without a meaningful investigation.

    I felt I’d add something on rape – the way many Christians view sin, they don’t see rape as a special sort of morally wrong action, but just something in a grocery list of ‘sexual sin’ which includes such mundane behaviors as masturbation. Often the doctrine of ‘forgiveness’ is just a means for offenders to argue that it’s the victims who are really bad since they aren’t leaping to forgive the rapists and abusers, or that *rape isn’t actually worse than some trivial act like masturbation.* Christianity in particular warps the whole notion of whose the victim and whose in the wrong – sins are against god, and who cares about the people. Rape myths also seem popular among many Christians I’ve talked to, even though they’re not true by the actual evidence.

    I’d agree that atheism itself isn’t a solution, but a reason and evidence based approach will lead you to useful conclusions.

  3. Of course your excellent post assumes that religion really gives a schite about the points you made.

    THEY DON’T! Religion is about power, and its use. Wealth as it pertains to power and a comfortable life. You don’t think the pope really cares about charity to the poor except how it pertains to keeping power. Almost all charity or even civil rights can be seen somewhat on the very lowest levels such as the small church up the street with a minister that looks and lives the same way as his handful of parishioners.

    Religion is an absolute failure in helping the world situation, and a great success at maintaining their power and wealth.

  4. Any who doubt my previous post go watch ‘ Mission Congo’ which is about Pat Robertson’s ‘charity program’ in the Congo.

  5. If the religious documents are placed in their historical context, their “solutions” make some degree of sense. Up until quite recently in human history, states lacked the capacity to imprison individuals for their crimes (costs, manpower, food, etc), even for minor crimes like theft (compared to murder, obviously theft can be quite major–i.e. see the financial crisis, Madoff, and just about any banking scandal that causes significant damage, of course, given the relative poverty of the world when these religious texts were written such large scale theft could hardly be conceived of), thus they state had to rely on severe punishments such as execution, corporal punishment, and shaming. (I am fairly certain, for example, that the families and friends of Roman prisoners had to provide food for the prisoner else they starve).

    In effect, we have come a long way since the proposed religious solutions to crime and punishment, which means those books are hopelessly outdated (though arguably, our current prison system in the US is a hodgepodge of Christianity (see the early prisons), capitalism, and racism–consequently, the current prison system is not all that effective either). So yes, it appears that the only real answers to those questions (at least as it concerns crime and punishment) is some sort of rationalist thinking (i.e. shaping incentive structures, solving underlying problems, etc.).

  6. I think the strength of atheism, and why it works so well on all of these issues is that it doesn’t start off by proposing a solution.

    Sometimes you need silence so you can think.

    Murder hasn’t been solved by religion – because religion puts forward a ‘solution’ without really examining the issue. Thus the religious solution to murder tends to be, well, more murder. It doesn’t really fix things.

    With atheism you don’t have that ready prescribed solution, so you can start asking why people are murdering each other, what is causing this problem and thus you can work from there to get solutions.

    The lack of a ready and trite answer leads to better quality solutions over time, because you are still investigating, you still haven’t got the perfect solution, but you can see the need for a better one.

    Theft is another example. Religion has prescribed ideas on how to deal with theft, and they fail. People still steal, and in fact I remember at one point highlighting a fraud expert (who was, ironically, preaching creationism) who put forward the fact that a high degree of religiousity is a fraud risk in your book-keeper.

    With atheism, you don’t have that getting in the way, you can actually examine the problem and try to figure out how to solve it from the evidence presented, again leading to better results.

    The final example, poverty is also an example of this in action. Religion says charity – but does that actually solve the issue? Well, no, otherwise the most religious societies wouldn’t be the most impoverished.

    But with atheism, we can ask ourselves what actually works, we can adopt strategies including education, investment, technology (some of which may be forbidden by religion) and communication, each approach slowly improving as we recognise that they aren’t perfect or the products of a perfect being.

    The silence of atheism is its strength with regards to these problems.

  7. I’ll skip the dissertation and just give my opinion; I think most people understand birth control, education that leads to middle class employment would be better. This means developing infrastructure for a middle class too of course. Poor people continue to have babies for the same reasons people have throughout history, for security. Seems backwards to us, and I’m not defending it, but economic improvements have always led to lower birth rates.

    1. Depends on what populace you’re describing. In the United States, I don’t know if I’d say “most people” actually understand those things. Or they understand it and care more about their own personal ideological bullshit anyway.

      1. Mostly I’m talking about places where this is actual overpopulation, like Indonesia, Africa and India.

  8. See, this is the problem for many religious people: they have a philosophy that basically answers all their questions (often after doing the initial asking for them) and lays out how everything should be (“do what some preacher says God says”), so they find it really difficult to comprehend how someone who’s not religious could answer any questions or begin to determine how things should be. I’ve lost count of the conversations between believers and non-believers that start with “Atheists have no basis for … ”

    Any ‘philosophy’ or set of values that an atheist holds will necessarily be a product of many different and convergent lines of thinking on subjects social, political, scientific, legal, philosophical etc. and not derived wholesale from atheism itself. As a result no two atheists are going to align 100% on every topic. Some religious people simply can’t wrap their heads around that, so you get questions like “What does you atheism say about X?” or “How can atheism lead to a moral society?” Obviously the answers are, respectively, “Not much,” and “It can’t – not by itself.”

    “I don’t accept theistic claims” isn’t a philosophy per se, but by freeing the non-believer from the authoritarian, prescriptive, absolutist nature of many organised religions, atheism can provide a decent jumping-off point.

    1. Yeah, that’s pretty typical. The religious tend to accuse atheism of not only not being what it doesn’t purport to be, but also of not solving problems that aren’t solved by religion anyway.

      1. Much of the time it seems like projection (or whatever you’d call the inability to comprehend a mode of thinking different to your own): because their philosophy answers their questions (usually after telling them what the questions are) and prescribes their behaviour, they assume the same of other people. No wonder there’s so often such a disconnect when theists talk to or about atheists: they don’t just misrepresent, they plain old don’t comprehend to begin with, which leads to mistaken assumptions.

  9. A quick note:

    Here in the US, the states that still have the death penalty also have the highest murder rates; its a negative correlation. The problem there is one of society, the conditions imposed and the types of responses that are culturally coaxed

    Um. That’s not quite true. I might be myopic here, but I really hate when people do state-by-state comparisons and ignore just how BIG California, and other states, happen(s)to be. We do like killing people here, apparently. At least, we really enjoy holding people in prison while deciding whether they should die (see court cases: ad nauseum.).

    If you want to analyze the murder rate by state vs. population vs death penalty vs application of death penalty, vs variability by state/population/policy/application/county breakdown, I’d be happy to recognize your efforts.

    Until then, I’ll disregard your position without further resources.

    1. Facts being what they are these days,you know with fox “news” and all, we, the USA, still has far less people then China or India while having far more of our people imprisoned…. This we can all still agree on, yes PatrickG ???

    2. Murders _per 100,000 people_: * are states with the death penalty. NB this wasn’t hard to find, claiming not to have seen it does seem myopic yes.

      YEAR 2011

      *Louisiana* 11.2

      *Mississippi* 8.0

      New Mexico 7.5

      *Maryland* 6.8

      *South Carolina* 6.8

      *Alabama* 6.3

      Michigan 6.2

      *Arizona* 6.2

      *Missouri* 6.1

      *Tennessee* 5.8

      *Illinois* 5.6

      *Georgia* 5.6

      *Oklahoma* 5.5

      *Arkansas* 5.5

      *North Carolina* 5.3

      *Nevada* 5.2

      *Florida* 5.2

      *Pennsylvania* 5.0

      *California* 4.8

      *Indiana* 4.8

      *Delaware* 4.5

      *Ohio* 4.4

      *Texas* 4.4

      New Jersey 4.3

      West Virginia 4.3

      New York 4.0

      Alaska 4.0

      *Kansas* 3.8

      *Virginia* 3.7

      *Connecticut* 3.6

      *Nebraska* 3.6

      *Kentucky* 3.5

      North Dakota 3.5

      *Wyoming* 3.2

      *Colorado* 2.9

      Massachusetts 2.8

      *Montana* 2.8

      *South Dakota* 2.5

      Wisconsin 2.4

      *Washington* 2.4

      *Idaho* 2.3

      *Oregon* 2.1

      Maine 2.0

      *Utah* 1.9

      Iowa 1.5

      Minnesota 1.4

      Rhode Island 1.3

      Vermont 1.3

      *New Hampshire* 1.3

      Hawaii 1.2

      For 2011, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.7, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 3.1

      For 2010, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.6, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 2.9

      For 2009, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 4.9, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 2.8

      For 2008, the average Murder Rate of Death Penalty States was 5.2, while the average Murder Rate of States without the Death Penalty was 3.3

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