Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Blame the atheists?

This is from a discussion on alt.atheist in November 2008 in which one poster (whom I took to be a Bahai, wrongly as it turned out) blamed atheists for the persecution of Bahais, hatred and violence. More broadly, it addresses the atheist charge that religion has been the cause of oppression, and the believers’ counter-charge that atheist regimes have in fact been most oppressive.

My reply
XX, you are a disgrace to the Faith you claim to defend.
In a tablet to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, starting at,
Abdu’l-Baha sets the standard:

“I adjure you by the Ancient Beauty not to insult anyone or wish humiliation on any soul. …
“Do not argue with anyone nor engage in disputation. Do not wish any person’s degradation, nor mention their name in fault. Do not seek anybody’s loss and do not loosen your tongue to an unkind description of any man. …” (draft translation by Ahang Rabbani)

In the long term, the interests of the Faith, and of humanity, will be served by living up to this standard.

Now, lets try to inject a little rationality into the discussion.

1) It is true that all the states which have been officially atheist have been totalitarian regimes, and usually brutal: North Korea, the USSR especially under Stalin, Albania under Enver Hoxha, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, China especially under Mao.

2) However, the same could be said of all states with an official ideology: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Spain, today’s Iran and Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser degree McCarthyist USA, Turkey (less today than in the past). This is not very surprising: how do we define a totalitarian regime? One that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life, maintaining its political power by means of an official all-embracing ideology. (thanks to wikipedia: totalitarianism). A totalitarian regime without a state ideology is impossible, and every state with a state ideology is bound to limit at least what people may do and say, and seek to control what they think and teach their children.

The correct analysis, which covers both the case of the USSR, Catholic-fascist Italy, and Shiah-theocratic Iran is that the brutality is due to having a state ideology, and therefore needing to defend it. Evidently, it makes no difference whether the state ideology enforces a particular religion, or is atheist or says nothing about religion. The mere fact of the state’s intrusion into the world of thought and conscience makes it totalitarian, and forces it to be to some degree oppressive.

Abdu’l-Baha writes:

“[To insure] freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul is one of the duties and functions of government, and is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendency over other lands. Other civilized countries acquired not this preeminence, nor attained unto these high degrees of influence and power, till such time as they put away the strife of sects out of their midst, and dealt with all classes according to one standard. All are one people, one nation, one species, one kind.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 87)

He goes on, over several pages, to give examples of countries that suffered when their governments interfered in matters of conscience, and contrasts this to the progress of European states once they had established the principle of freedom of conscience (this was written circa 1886).

Since it is interference in matters of conscience that makes a state backwards and brutal, there is no justification for attempting to hang the crimes of the communist USSR on modern atheists, or the crimes of Fascist Spain on modern Catholics, or the crimes of today’s Iran on the Shiah. The only people — outside the regimes themselves — who bear responsibility as apologists and facilitators of such crimes, are those who advocate a state ideology, whatever that ideology may be.

~~ Sen

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