Atheism and forgiveness

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An angry atheist speaking to a woman with a Bible in her hand. The Christian philosopher James S. Spiegel says that the path from Christianity to atheism among several of his friends involved moral slippage such as resentment or unforgiveness.[1] See also: Atheism and anger and Atheism and love

The atheist Neil Carter wrote:

Friends of mine have noted lately how biting and critical the atheist community can be, not only toward outsiders, but even toward its own members. Has there ever been a subculture more prone to eating its own than this one? I really don’t know...

At least Christians have to pay lipservice to forgiveness because they believe it’s what God wants from them. Do atheists have any such compunction? I fear that we have no mechanism which compels us as a community to be kind to each other, to speak to one another with respect [2]

Atheist Todd Steifel, a donor to atheist organizations, admits theists are "much more more able to forgive sin" and says that the atheist movement is weak.[3] See also: Decline of the atheist movement

Jesus Christ and Christendom have emphasized the importance of forgiveness and in the last few decades mental health specialists have increasingly seen the importance of forgiveness to alleviate bitterness and other emotional problems within individuals.[4]

As adults, children who attended religious services regularly are 87 percent more likely to possess high levels of forgiveness.[5] See also: Atheism and emotional problems

James S. Spiegal and unforgiveness as a cause of atheism

The Apostle Paul defends his preaching (Giovanni Ricco)

See also: Causes of atheism and Atheism and bitterness and Atheism and love

The Apostle Paul taught about love that "it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.." (1 Corinthians 13:5 NASB). See: Atheism and love

The Christian Post reports about the Christian philosopher James S. Spiegel's book The Making of an Atheist: "Spiegel, who converted to Christianity in 1980, has witnessed the pattern among several of his friends. Their path from Christianity to atheism involved: moral slippage (such as infidelity, resentment or unforgiveness); followed by withdrawal from contact with fellow believers; followed by growing doubts about their faith, accompanied by continued indulgence in the respective sin; and culminating in a conscious rejection of God."[6]

Atheist Blair Scott about atheist infighting with the atheist movement

See also: Atheism and social skills and Atheist factions and Atheist movement and Atheism and anger and Atheism and bitterness

Blair Scott served on the American Atheists board of directors. Mr. Scott formerly served as a State Director for the American Atheists organization in the state of Alabama. On December 1, 2012 he quit his post as a director of outreach for the American Atheist due to infighting within the American atheist movement.[7]

Mr. Blair wrote: "I have spent the last week mulling over what I want to do at this point in the movement. I’m tired of the in-fighting: at every level. I am especially tired of allowing myself to get sucked into it and engaging in the very behavior that is irritating me."[8]

David Silverman is a former president of the American Atheists organization.

Communism, atheism and forgiveness

Communist literature and the rarity of mentioning of forgiveness

See also: Militant atheism and Atheism and communism

According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power."[9]

Atheism was a part of communist ideology (See: Atheism and communism).

The International Forgiveness Institute declares:

Does Communism mention forgiveness?

This is one of the few questions (received in our Ask Dr. Forgiveness section of this website) I had never considered until it was asked of us at the IFI this week. I am presuming that the question-asker is focusing on the concept of forgiving (not apologizing and seeking forgiveness). I spent some time “googling” forgiveness in communist literature, including excerpts from the writings Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Mao Zedong. I further examined the work of Louis Althusser, an influential French Marxist philosopher. Finally, I consulted the literature on liberation theology, which has roots in the Marxist notion of freeing the poor from oppression though class struggle.

The short answer is that forgiveness is rarely mentioned in the above literature, whether it concerns political, philosophical, or theological writings. I found no mention of forgiveness in Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, or Althusser. Of course, this does not mean that the word is completely absent in their writings or in other authors’ works that I did not consult. It only means that I did not find it and that it appears not to be highly emphasized.

This is not surprising, given that the origins of the word “forgiveness,” at least in a focused and repeated sense, is in the monotheistic traditions of both Hebrew and Christian ancient writings. Marx, for example, decried religion as an excuse to remain oppressed: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”[10]

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin's 34 letters to Stalin. Bukharin asks Stalin for forgiveness. Stalin executes Bukharin

See also: Atheism and mass murder

Joseph Stalin, the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953, patronised the League of Militant Atheists, whose chief aim, under the leadership of Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, was to propagate militant atheism and eradicate religion.[11][12]

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin was a Bolshevik, Marxist theoretician and economist. He was also a prominent leader of the Communist International (Comintern).

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

After Lenin’s death in 1924, Bukharin became a full member of the Politburo. He continued to be a principal supporter of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (promulgated in 1921), which promoted gradual economic change, and opposed the policy of initiating rapid industrialization and collectivization in agriculture. For a time Bukharin was thus allied with Stalin, who used this issue to undermine his chief rivals—Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinovyev, and Lev Kamenev. In 1926 Bukharin succeeded Zinovyev as chairman of the Comintern’s executive committee. Nevertheless, in 1928 Stalin reversed himself, espoused the program of enforced collectivization advocated by his defeated opponents, and denounced Bukharin for opposing it. Bukharin lost his Comintern post in April 1929 and was expelled from the Politburo in November. He recanted his views under pressure and was partially reinstated in the party by Stalin. But though he was made editor of Izvestia, the official government newspaper, in 1934 and participated in writing the 1936 Soviet constitution, he never regained his earlier influence and power. Bukharin was secretly arrested in January 1937 and was expelled from the Communist Party for being a “Trotskyite.” In March 1938 he was a defendant in the last public purge trial, falsely accused of counterrevolutionary activities and of espionage, found guilty, and executed. He was posthumously reinstated as a party member in 1988.[13]

His last letter to the communist leader Joseph Stalin said, "My conscience is clear before you now, Koba. I ask you one final time for your forgiveness (only in your heart, not otherwise). For that reason I embrace you in my mind."

Bukharin wrote 34 letters to Stalin and not one was answered. Nikolai Bukharin was executed on March 15, 1938.[14]

Communism and mass murder

See also: Atheism and mass murder

It is estimated that in the past 100 years, governments under the banner of atheistic communism have caused the death of somewhere between 40,472,000 and 259,432,000 human lives.[15] Dr. R. J. Rummel, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, is the scholar who first coined the term democide (death by government). Dr. R. J. Rummel's mid estimate regarding the loss of life due to communism is that communism caused the death of approximately 110,286,000 people between 1917 and 1987.[16]

Atheism, forgiveness and open-mindedness

See also: Atheism and open-mindedness and Atheism and dogmatism and Atheism and intolerance and Atheism and groupthink

Forgiveness frequently involves having empathy and seeing things from another persons perspective. In addition, getting along with others often requires having tolerance and open-mindedness.

Research indicates that atheists are less open-minded (see: Atheism and open-mindedness).

Elevatorgate controversy and unforgiveness

See also: Elevatorgate and Atheism and women and Atheist factions

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins at the 2012 global atheism convention.

Elevatorgate is a term commonly used to describe a controversy involving New Atheist Richard Dawkins' 2011 comments made to atheist Rebecca Watson which are perceived to have been inappropriate by a sizable portion of the atheist community and to the public at large.[17] Watson is a feminist.[18]

The Elevator incident produced an abundance of vitriol and on the whole there was a lack of calm and reasoned discussion among many atheists (see: Furor surrounding Elevatorgate). Subsequent to Elevatorgate, there was a decline in internet atheism in terms of web traffic (see: Decline of internet atheism).

The Elevatorgate controversy also caused Richard Dawkins to lose a significant amount of influence within the atheist/agnostic populations (See: Richard Dawkins' loss of influence).

Skepchick writer and unforgiveness

Mindy at Skepchick wrote about Richard Dawkins during the Elevatorgate controversy: "I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn.. You don't get a second chance."[19][20]

Richard Dawkins and unforgiveness

See also: Richard Dawkins and anger and Feminist quotes about Richard Dawkins

An article by Sarah posted at Skepchick about a conversation between Richard Dawkins and David Silverman, the president of the American Atheists organization, which took place during the planning phrase of the Reason Rally:

Richard was standing behind the podium, and he asked Dave something along the lines of, “What exactly is the Reason Rally?” Dave started explaining it, and as he did, someone who was waiting in the line outside opened the door to peek inside and we could all hear a lot of noise. I rushed up the aisle and made frantic “shut the door” gestures at the people peeking inside, and they did. As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

I was crushed.[21]

Madalyn Murray O'Hair's disowning of Christian son

"One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. ...He is beyond human forgiveness." - Madalyn Murray O'Hair on her son William's rejection of atheism, conversion to Christianity and calling as an evangelist.[22]

Secular morality of universal utilitarianism and forgiveness

The atheist Adam Lee writes:

In the secular morality of universal utilitarianism, forgiveness has a place...

UU teaches that human happiness is paramount, and refraining from causing others to suffer is our highest duty. When we violate that duty, we incur reponsibility – the responsibility of undoing that hurt if possible and restoring the lost happiness; and the responsibility of reforming ourselves so we don’t perform similar wrong acts in the future.

If an offender meets this burden, then forgiveness should be given, but it must be deserved. To deserve forgiveness, a person who does wrong must recognize and acknowledge the wrong they have done; must express contrition and a sincere desire not to repeat that act; and must express willingness to make restitution as far as it is possible. If any of these conditions are not met, then forgiveness is not merited.

When an act, such as murder, is of such a magnitude that no true restitution is possible, then it’s up to the people who were made to suffer whether they wish to grant forgiveness. If the offender is sincere in his contrition and is willing to make restitution as far as possible, then the people who are wronged may choose to accept that. But – an important corollary which I want to make note of – in this view, there can be no deathbed conversions.

A person who finds remorse only at the very end of life, when there’s no further chance of repairing the harm they caused, has come to their senses too late to find forgiveness. Words alone, without action, do little or nothing to alleviate suffering. This is a major break with religious traditions, most of which believe that a last-minute repentance can make up for a lifetime of evil.[23]

Atheists and conflict resolution

See: Atheists and conflict resolution

Atheist quote relating to forgiveness

"But more and more I am enamoured of one element of Christianity that I consider its most striking, and most laudable, feature: forgiveness." - Militant atheist Ben Pobjie[24]

See also

External links


  1. Christian Philosopher Explores Causes of Atheism
  2. It’s Past Time for Atheism to Grow Up by Neil Carter
  3. Idolatry of the atheist kind is just as repellent as any other by PZ Myers
  4. Indian J Psychiatry. 2009 Apr-Jun; 51(2): 153–156. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.49459, PMCID: PMC2755173, Forgiveness: A note for psychiatrists by Prakash Gangdev
  5. How to Help Prevent Your Child from Becoming an Atheist by Joe Carter
  6. Christian Philosopher Explores Causes of Atheism
  7. Former 2012 web page at website entitled "An Open Letter from Blair Scott"
  8. Former 2012 web page at website entitled "An Open Letter from Blair Scott"
  9. Investigating atheism: Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
  10. Does Communism Mention Forgiveness?, International Forgiveness Institute
  11. Michael Hesemann, Whitley Strieber (2000). The Fatima Secret. Random House Digital, Inc.. Retrieved on 9 October 2011. “Lenin's death in 1924 was followed by the rise of Joseph Stalin, "the man of steel," who founded the "Union of Militant Atheists," whose chief aim was to spread atheism and eradicate religion. In the following years it devastated hundreds of churches, destroyed old icons and relics, and persecuted the clergy with unimaginable brutality.” 
  12. Paul D. Steeves (1989). Keeping the faiths: religion and ideology in the Soviet Union. Holmes & Meier. Retrieved on 4 July 2013. “The League of Militant Atheists was formed in 1926 and by 1930 had recruited three million members. Five years later there were 50,000 local groups affiliated to the League and the nominal membership had risen to five million. Children from 8-14 years of age were enrolled in Groups of Godless Youth, and the League of Communist Youth (Komsomol) took a vigorous anti- religious line. Several antireligious museums were opened in former churches and a number of Chairs of Atheism were established in Soviet universities. Prizes were offered for the best 'Godless hymns' and for alternative versions of the Bible from which ... the leader of the League of Militant Atheists, Yemelian Yaroslavsky, said: "When a priest is deprived of his congregation, that does not mean that he stops being a priest. He changes into an itinerant priest. He travels around with his primitive tools in the villages, performs religious rites, reads prayers, baptizes children. Such wandering priests are at times more dangerous than those who carry on their work at a designated place of residence." The intensified persecution, which was a part of the general terror inflicted upon Soviet society by Stalin's policy, ...” 
  13. Nikolay Ivanovich BukharinEncyclopedia Britannica
  14. Nikolai Bukharin letter to Joseph Stalin, March 1938,Encyclopedia Britannica
  15. Multiple references:
  16. Rummel, R. J. (November 1993). "How many did communist regimes murder?" University of Hawaii website; Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  17. Rebecca Watson (July 5, 2011). "The Privilege Delusion". Skepchick
  18. One year after Elevatorgate
  19. One year after Elevatorgate
  20. My Time With Richard Dawkins (Or, Why You Should Never Meet Your Idols) by Sarah at Skepchick, September 5, 2013
  21. Quoted without citation by Ted Dracos, UnGodly: The Passions, Torments, and Murder of Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair (2003), on her son William's rejection of atheism, conversion to Christianity and calling as an evangelist.
  22. On the Morality of: Forgiveness by Adam Lee
  23. An atheist's take on the virtue of forgiveness by Ben Pobjie, Eureka Street website