Which would be better to live under: Islam or Atheism
I have written in the past that the ideas that make up Western Civilization are broadly Christian ideas. Even atheists who live in Christian countries tend to agree with the Christian ideas of universal human rights, equality of people before the law, the fact that the poor are as worthy of respect as the rich, and the fact that a good society cares for the least among them.
I have warned in the past what would happen if we cut the root of Western Civilization and abandoned Christianity. I think it would be a disaster... eventually. I think for a while the culture would maintain Christian assumptions without the foundation they were built on. But within a few generations, these ideas would be questioned and abandoned. Nietzsche said (I am paraphrasing), 'We have killed God but his ghost still haunts us.' But what happens when the ghost goes away?
The answer is not that we automatically become atheists. In fact, it is much more likely that another religion would replace Christianity. There are very few examples of societies that have endured long without some sort of theology.
I don't really think that Christianity will fade from the scene but for this thought experiment, I would like to consider two possible replacements: Islam and Atheism.
Why these two? Well, despite my skepticism that 'no religion' would indeed replace Christianity among the people, we have seen multiple examples of devout and passionate atheistic regimes in world history. The French tried it during their revolution. The Soviets did it. The Chinese did it. The North Koreans did it. Atheists are bad at changing the minds of the masses but they are pretty good at violent coups.
And I chose Islam as the other possibility not because I think that Islamic arguments will persuade the masses to convert. No, the reason Islam is possible (long term) is that demographics tend to be how the religion of the masses change. Rodney Stark in 'the Rise of Christianity' argues that one of the main reasons Christianity grew so quickly within the Roman Empire was that Christians did not believe in infanticide or abortion (both widely practiced by the Romans). This meant that Christians outpaced pagan families generation after generation for centuries. Right now, Islamic nations do have more children than Western Nations and it is possible that immigrants might continue this rate of growth in Europe and the US and that in some coming generation, the balance would shift. In democratic nations, that would bring Islamic politicians. I don't think this is happening - at least no time soon - but that is why I chose Islam as the other regime to do this thought experiment.
Given these two options, which would I rather live under?
I think that the answer has to be Islam. I know - many will point the many human rights abuses that continue to characterize almost all nations that are officially Islamic. I also am aware of the fact that historically (before the Christian west was able to apply political and financial pressure) that Islamic nations were much worse than they are today. But the truth is that Islam does have laws governing their behavior. I don't like their laws. I don't agree with the Koran. It's laws would be much worse than the Christian laws and ideals that have characterized the West for centuries. But there would be some sort of a check. In most Islamic nations for most of history, some sort of toleration of religious minorities was allowed (at least of Jews and Christians - not so much other religions). Often they were taxed heavier. Often Christians and Jews were enslaved and abused. But full out efforts to brainwash or exterminate religious minorities out of existence were not the norm (although they did happen from time to time). Because the Koran gives rules for how to treat, 'people of the book,' (ie Jews and Christians) that do not include extermination, Christians generally are allowed to live their own lives. And in practice, Christian communities have remained throughout Northern Africa despite Islamic rule for centuries. Most are allowed to live in peace to some extent.
Not a great option but consider our alternative.
With atheism, there is absolutely no check on behavior. As Dostoevsky said, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted." If we reject all this universal human rights stuff (based on Christian teachings), this care for the poor stuff, this do unto others stuff, and this loving your neighbor as yourself stuff.... if humans are nothing more than animals and are products of a purposeless evolutionary process.... if there is no postmortem judgement.... no Judge.... no eternal law.... all things are permissible.
And before you say this is a Christian falsely claiming atheists need Christian morals when atheists should be perfectly fine in finding morals themselves, consider that I am actually simply repeating what some of the greatest atheist thinkers in history have said. Consider Jean-Paul Sartre,
“Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself."
Consider David Hume,
“The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.”
“To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle [....] Without cruelty there is no festival.”
But much more compelling is how devout atheists act when they actually get control. Now... I am not talking about people that are like, 'well, I don't know if there is a God but whatever,' sort of people. I am not talking about people that are just skeptical or agnostics. I am talking about people who are convinced there is no God, think religion is bad for the world, and consider this the future of humanity. This is what I would describe as a devout atheist. And there are a ton of them. Richard Dawkins is a famous one. Bill Maher is one. Sam Harris is one. But there are so many others - sometimes it seems like half of Twitter. And almost all Communists are this sort of atheist. Lenin was. Stalin was. Mao was. Pol Pot was.
And the track record is frightening. Nations were enslaved. Mass murders were unleashed. Mind control and propaganda were made into sciences. Minorities were oppressed. Infants were aborted or murdered. Priests were slaughtered. Churches were shuttered. Atheist indoctrination was forced on all children. The French Revolution was a symphony of death. The Soviet Union was a symphony of death. The People's Republic of China was (and continues to be) a symphony of death. North Korea was (and continues to be) a symphony of death. Millions and millions dead.
Many will say, "But hey, what about the Inquisition?" But the fact that people point to the Spanish Inquisition as some sort of low point for Christendom actually proves my point. Because the Spanish Inquisition actually didn't kill that many people. Even the most pessimistic estimates are that the Inquisition killed few thousand over the three and a half centuries of the Inquisition. Consider that Stalin once killed 50,000 people without trial on a single afternoon (and then went to a movie afterward). In his life, Stalin killed at least 20 million. But he had nothing on Mao who killed 50 million. Pol Pot was sort of a slacker... only killed 2 million - of course he was dealing with a much smaller country.
No, devout atheists, despite being a tiny percentage of the world's population and having had only a handful of opportunities to grab power, have most of the top spots when it comes to murder.
So... we have our answer. Atheists like Bill Maher and Sam Harris get praise from Christians when they acknowledge that Islam is more dangerous than Christianity. But they do this without realizing that their own ideology is more dangerous to the world than Islam. And anyone that takes an honest look at history and the statements of people who thought largely like Maher, Harris and Dawkins will see that letting someone like that run a country is an epic disaster every single time.