Today, I was told two things about myself I didn’t know (add groan). The first being I’m a Marxist. The second being that since I’m an atheist, I subscribe to a religion. While it’s entirely possible I misunderstood the person’s intent (this was after all a Facebook discussion, which aren’t known for their details and included people I’ve never met in real life), I don’t think I did. And it made me want to explore these hilarious ideas more in depth.
As an atheist, I’ve been told many times by religious people that atheism is a religion, and the variation of that is it takes a lot of faith to be an atheist. Let me start by using the dictionary definition used by the person who told me atheism is a religion:
Religion (noun): a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
There is a lot there, but from what I can tell, atheism does not meet any of the criteria listed. Atheism is not a set of beliefs about anything. There is no universal doctrine about creation, the purpose or nature of the universe. There are no devotional observances or rituals that all atheists must subscribe to. There is no one all-inclusive moral code. Atheism is merely a rejection of any supernatural supreme being aka god(s). That is the only thing that binds atheists together. Now, from that lack of belief, there naturally come many similarities in world views, but not always.
Religious people often mistake passion for religion. One can be passionate or outspoken about the topic of atheism or theism. But that passion does not automatically make one religious. This distinction confounds me, and most atheists I know. It’s usually thrown out as a red herring in order to make the atheist look like a hypocrite for daring to care about whether or not people believe in god. I care about world peace, ending hunger, women’s rights, music, and movies. Does that mean I am part of corresponding religions for each of those? Any reasonable person would have to say no. Religion, as its definition states, includes a supernatural agency (or agencies), and devotion or rituals related to that agency. Atheism does not meet this requirement.
Regarding me being a Marxist… this is even funnier. There was a time, in my younger and Christian days, when I very well was headed down a somewhat Marxist path. I’ve always been a capitalist, but I can remember a window of time during high school when I began to see the world from a Haves and Have Nots lens. When I saw the pursuit of material wealth as crass and corrupting. I saw Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of an egalitarian leader, showing us how to live together in peace and harmony. I did not want to be thought of as one of the greedy money changers in the Temple that angered Jesus so much in the gospels. And those money hungry Ferengi on Star Trek just seemed gross.
Then I learned about Adam Smith and John Locke. I read Frederic Bastiat and Milton Friedman. I learned, despite not being exposed in public school or through the mainstream media, that Capitalism overwhelmingly has increased human well-being over pretty much every other social strategy every conceived by man. This isn’t theoretical. Its reality. That data was supported by my anecdotal observances, especially when I worked for the Federal Government. I learned about incentives, and how they really matter. I learned that what many people think is Capitalism, isn’t. Capitalism is not the dominance of big business, riding on the wings of big government to squash the little guy. That is crony capitalism, where the government colludes with business to control the markets and pick winners and losers. True Capitalism is the most democratic process there is. It’s the way I as an individual can most make an impact every single day in the course of society. The United States currently leans more towards Crony Capitalism than most libertarians would prefer. This results in “too big to fail” banks, local restaurants crowding out the food truck competition, and ridiculous licensing rules making entry into a business all but impossible for many would-be entrepreneurs. All of which leads to more power for the established businesses and entrenched politicians, and less power and higher prices for the consumers. In true capitalism, businesses must serve their customers well, or they will exist no more. Serving consumers (read you and I) well means a better economy. A better economy leads to more prosperity for all. This is not Marxism. This is not shared work and shared fruits. Crony Capitalism may be closer to what Marx was fighting against. He saw the businesses and the governments with all the power, and the little guy getting beat up time and time again (figuratively and literally), powerless to control the winds of fate. In true Capitalism, the little guy holds all of the power. The little guy gets what he wants for better prices, leaving him with more money to get other things (or services) he wants.
The person who called me a Marxist did so because he Marx was an avowed critic of religion. He called it “the opiate of the masses.” This might be one area where Marx and I see eye-to-eye (hey, I’ll give credit where it’s due), but his prescriptions (ore his followers interpretations of them) for overcoming religion were about as far in the other direction as I could be. Communist governments are usually a-religious. Christians I have met often assume that where atheism resides, so must communism, socialism, or Marxism. I won’t even get into the ridiculous barb often thrown at atheists that most of the atrocities committed in the 20th Century were committed by atheists, but I will merely say that it is a logical fallacy to suggest that because one is an atheist, one must be a Marxist. As I mentioned earlier, atheists have no universal moral code or philosophy. It is merely the lack of belief in a supernatural deity or deities. Marxism is a philosophy for how society should behave. As an atheist libertarian, I believe in the proven power of capitalism to solve many of the world’s problems. If I could ever be accused of being religious, it would be regarding my love of capitalism. It has done far more in the name of ending human suffering than anything else the world has known.
But to do so, would defy the definition of religion. So I won’t.
P.S. I wrote this extremely quickly and didn’t edit it at all (except to spell Ferengi correctly and add some hyperlinks). Apologies if that’s evident. Sometimes you just have to get ‘er done!