Tribalism and Atheism


            The Atheist says to the Christian, “How can you defend your religion when it has been the cause of so much suffering, death, and destruction?  Atheists don’t do those kinds of things. We take responsibility for our actions in this world. There isn’t a heaven to reward people who kill and destroy in the name of God.”


            The Christian replies, “It isn’t a matter of religion, the killing and destruction are part of human culture. Religion is just a convenient excuse.”


            Atheist, “Maybe, but you can’t use Atheism for an excuse”.


            Christian, “I could”.


            Atheist, “Maybe to kill Atheists.”


            Christian, “As an Atheist, I could use Atheist thinking to kill, or allow to die, lots of people, and choose them to mostly be religious people.”


            Atheist, “Atheists don’t want to kill the religious, just release them from their delusion and stop them from killing us.”


            Christian, “Evolution has designed humans to be protective of their own tribes. This can be their family, their neighborhood, their city, their nation, their religion, etc., whatever tribal relationship is threatened. To what we might call an enlightened person, this could even be the whole human race, or all living things.”


            Atheist, “Agreed. I see where you’re going, but…”


            Christian, “Let me finish. Like most of our hard-wired instincts, this developed in an environment where our species was limited in number and our means for controlling predators, famine, and diseases was also limited. We needed to have a very strong sense of the value of our tribe in order to survive. This created robust tribes of survivors that spread out all over the world in order to avoid too much conflict between tribes, which was not good for our species, as it would tend to reduce our general population rather than increase it. In today’s world that instinct for tribe survival is no longer useful. Tribes can’t avoid each other anymore, so we have constant conflict between them. The weapons available today make it possible the conflicts will lead to a catastrophic crash of the human population that will be too extreme for society to adapt to. If that happens, survival will be a matter of chance and specific preparations.


            Some people in all kinds of tribes know this. All tribes will eventually determine that they need to find a way to ensure their tribe has a higher chance of survival than other tribes. Atheists will be no different. The Atheist point of view is that their philosophy is better suited for long term survival of human society, so they could argue a responsibility to take power from other tribes for the benefit of the species as a whole. This would naturally lead them to devise ways to eliminate competition from other tribes and cause, or allow, many to die.


            Atheist, “Ridiculous. Even if that were true, there aren’t enough of us to have any real effect.”


            Christian, “That’s actually part of my point. The only reason Atheists aren’t out there killing people now is because there aren’t enough of them. Weak tribes are always in favor of peace, because they will be the losers when it comes to war. Let the Atheist tribe become strong, and that will change.”


            Atheist, “This assumes that a society led by humanist Atheists can’t be governed rationally. I disagree.”


            Christian, “If humans ever become rational (or universally loving), any philosophy, any religion, any culture could govern successfully, but we are a long way from that now. If you are right, and Atheists come to power and govern peacefully, then my scenario is wrong. But all I had to do was show that Atheism could be used as a basis for the intentional death of others, just as religions are. I believe I have demonstrated that. Please don’t blame religion for the evils of tribalism. We must all struggle to control our tribes, so they are not destructive. We cannot eliminate that tendency. If we don’t recognize this—if you, as an Atheist, can’t recognize that your tribe has this evil potential also—then we have no chance.”



Hugh Moffatt

Nashville, Tennessee

January 7, 2015