Atheism: would you die for it

97


Discussion by: Malaidas

Given the strange but consistent view towards martredom amongst theists, against the rational sense of self preservation, this seems to me that there is something interesting in the human psyche that bears some further investigation. As part of this I wish to have a look at the atheist response

I therefore have a simple question to put before you which is as follows

Lets say you were a major player in the fight for reason, now then you are captured by some extremists of X and told, either publically claim to have converted to X, or die a horrible death. Now you know that your public conversion, might lead various people on the brink of dropping their theist claims to continue being theists,seeing you in theist eyes to be a coward and lacking the courgae of your convictions. In this case, would you die for your atheist belief, or pretend to convert, saving your own life? 

97 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #5 by Peter Grant:

      Sigh!

      there’s always one :). I’m asking this for a reason to be honest, its the beginning of a more complete invetsigation . I just don;t understand how someone can choose to die for an abstract concept.So first want to look at those who aren’t tied into what might be described as a self destructive memeplex

      • In reply to #8 by Malaidas:

        there’s always one :). I’m asking this for a reason to be honest, its the beginning of a more complete invetsigation . I just don;t understand how someone can choose to die for an abstract concept.So first want to look at those who aren’t tied into what might be described as a self destructive memeplex

        This memeplex has survived thus far. Want to try me?

        • In reply to #10 by Peter Grant:

          In reply to #8 by Malaidas:

          there’s always one :). I’m asking this for a reason to be honest, its the beginning of a more complete investigation . I just don;t understand how someone can choose to die for an abstract concept.So first want to look at those who aren’t tied into what might be describe…

          I’m glad to hear this. Like I said I’m gathering data, for the record I wouldn’t either, but want to get the responses from atheists, who rationally have no reason to die for their beliefs, before I pose similar and more probing questions to deists and theists. I perhpas will be back with more control questions. I think its important to get to the bottom of this, beyond the appeal of paradise how can people be brainwashed into comitting suicide for their beliefs.

          • In reply to #11 by Malaidas:

            atheists, who rationally have no reason to die for their beliefs

            That’s correct, so they wouldn’t. Martyrdom, in this context, is for those with religious beliefs. You are failing to see the difference between religious beliefs and rational beliefs. So, your question is completely senseless.

          • In reply to #17 by aldous:

            In reply to #11 by Malaidas:

            atheists, who rationally have no reason to die for their beliefs

            That’s correct, so they wouldn’t. Martyrdom, in this context, is for those with religious beliefs. You are failing to see the difference between religious beliefs and rational beliefs. So, your question i…

            not at all, I know the difference should be there, I’m looking to show that it is. This gives me a kind of baseline upon which to evaluate this in the context of theism.

  1. I’d pretend to convert then say that’s what I did when I got home. (By the way, atheism is not a belief, it’s a rejection of daft beliefs). I’m a bit surprised this question has been posted, no offence…

    • In reply to #6 by Alexinpessac:

      I’d pretend to convert then say that’s what I did when I got home. (By the way, atheism is not a belief, it’s a rejection of daft beliefs). I’m a bit surprised this question has been posted, no offence…

      Either way, my persecutor would be dead…

    • In reply to #6 by Alexinpessac:

      I’d pretend to convert then say that’s what I did when I got home. (By the way, atheism is not a belief, it’s a rejection of daft beliefs). I’m a bit surprised this question has been posted, no offence…

      None taken, its part of a more complete analysis, of the martredom concept. I’m expecting to receive negative responses here,

  2. no. my life is not worth a few people changing their minds whether the believe in fairy tales and superstitions. Its fairly common to hear about individuals in these situations “converting” then later recanting.

  3. There are already too many people trying to glue their particular pet ideology onto atheism &
    declaring the result to be the one true atheist position [& those who don’t agree should be sent to Coventry].

    I can imagine that type of “atheist” dying for a cause & I hope they will. Soon. :)
    For myself… I aim to live a long life taking my non-belief “straight up” in a cool glass with no mixers or chasers thank you

  4. Euphoric post, my brother. The greatest minds in philosophy and science have believed in God, but,truly,atheism is the cornerstoneof reason and science! Amen to Pope Dawkins III and Saint Sagan, Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you!

  5. It depends on the exact circumstances but I can definitely say, without a shadow of a doubt, ‘maybe’.

    All that will remain of me when I’m gone are the records of my achievements, actions and statements. My reputation, if you will. I may (or may not, depending on the specific circumstances) place the value of that higher than whatever life I think I have remaining.

    I certainly wouldn’t have called that a ‘simple question’, though.

    • In reply to #19 by Neodarwinian:

      ” lacking the courgae(sic) of your convictions “

      What convictions?

      I meant to edit that typo, anyway the point stands as follows, some people, especially those of none rational belief, i would hold, will put more belief in something someone says, if they are willing to stand by their beliefs no matter what. In this context, someone who would die rather than say that they believe something else. So if we are trying to convince theists to believe otherwise, this is the kind of thinking that might happen. The argument I think is simple from my point of view. The fact is that to be an atheist doesn’t depend on other’s beliefs it depends on factual evidence. However for theists in general I would argue that the opposite is true.

  6. Not only do I “not have to die for my beliefs” (or my lack of beliefs as it were…)..
    But, I do not have the luxury of heaven or reincarnation. This is all I get and as a result I value it very very much.

  7. Now you know that your public conversion, might lead various people on the brink of dropping their theist claims to continue being theists,seeing you in theist eyes to be a coward and lacking the courgae of your convictions.

    That seems somewhat lacking in credibility. Theists under duress may well convert to some other religion, but atheists have no supernatural beliefs.

    In this case, would you die for your atheist belief,

    Atheism is not a belief. it is an understanding that reality lacks evidence of gods.

    or pretend to convert, saving your own life?

    Under duress, I think most would pay lip service to their captors, and explain that the forced statement was made under duress, after their release. This is common in hostage situations.

    • It just doesn’t mean anything to me. I cannot value something that has no value. So, like you, I’d pay the lip service. I just could not care less.

      In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

      Now you know that your public conversion, might lead various people on the brink of dropping their theist claims to continue being theists,seeing you in theist eyes to be a coward and lacking the courgae of your convictions.

      That seems somewhat lacking in credibility. Theists under duress may well…

    • In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

      Now you know that your public conversion, might lead various people on the brink of dropping their theist claims to continue being theists,seeing you in theist eyes to be a coward and lacking the courgae of your convictions.

      That seems somewhat lacking in credibility. Theists under duress may well…

      Out of interest how do you define belief? do you maintain its the same as faith?

      from my point of view the 2 are completely separate. You believe that there is no god, this is likely correct, i.e. a justified true belief ala fact. Just because you have real evidence doesn’t stop it being a belief. Faith however is that which lacks evidence but which you believe anyway.

      • In reply to #27 by Malaidas:

        Out of interest how do you define belief? do you maintain its the same as faith?

        “Faith” is a belief, but “belief” has a wider meaning than “faith”.

        from my point of view the 2 are completely separate.

        While the meanings overlap, it is wise to try to keep them separate to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings.

        You believe that there is no god, this is likely correct, i.e. a justified true belief ala fact. Just because you have real evidence doesn’t stop it being a belief.

        It is better not to use the word “belief” in debates involving “faith” because of the ambiguity. Several people including myself have commented in the past, “I don’t need ‘faith’/’belief’, I have evidence and understanding”.

        Faith however is that which lacks evidence but which you believe anyway.

        True – I linked that dictionary definition @18. It is often about choosing words carefully to avoid opportunities for misunderstanding or side-tracking.

        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belief

        http://www.thefreedictionary.com/false+belief

        You believe that there is no god, this is likely correct

        I usually phrase this as: “I understand there is no evidence for gods”! (and evidence against many claims made about them – So in all probability they do not exist). I would avoid phrases like, “There is no God”, as this makes an unjustified presumption of a specific god as a default position.

  8. Define major player in the fight for reason. Do you see Harris, Dawkins and the like as examples of major players? Because a great number of people that influence this very dialogue don’t get a lot of public attention and as such the form of sacrifice you refer to is fairly moot.
    For every public figure that happens to be an atheist and is willing to discuss it openly there are many people that go unnoticed mobilizing ways to get other non religious people involved in civic and other activities. Would their status as a major player matter since they’re not in the public eye?

    And in all honesty, in this day and age, if anyone in a civilized country ends up in such a predicament I would hope we would concerned with far more than whether or not they were willing to martyr themselves. Martyrdom is more than a little overrated and lacks the sting it had when religion was far more powerful.

    I wouldn’t convert to satisfy someone else’s whim, and as some have indicated the whole notion of openly extolling one’s faith is not necessarily evidence of strong conviction as it often is of faulty reason.

    A better question would be: Why would publicly stating one’s religious affiliation change what one does in their public or private lives? Politicians, priests, cult leaders…we have a world of people that claim to believe and are more than willing to whore themselves on TV but don’t believe a word of it and will do anything to get what they want, even if it means lying. Does that satisfy the notion of conviction any more than someone who is willing to do a fake conversion because a lunatic is forcing a false choice?

    • In reply to #28 by achromat666:

      Define major player in the fight for reason. Do you see Harris, Dawkins and the like as examples of major players? Because a great number of people that influence this very dialogue don’t get a lot of public attention and as such the form of sacrifice you refer to is fairly moot.
      For every public fi…

      these are good points and well made,

      By major player, I mean in terms of public perception, rather than actual contribution, where such would differ

      your alternative question is a good one, but doesn’t negate my initial enquiry which will be more aimed at theists, just why would you die for something as nebulous as a faith?

      • In reply to #33 by Malaidas:

        just why would you die for something as nebulous as a faith?

        You seem to make the mistake of thinking faith is nebulous for the believer. If I believed that death was just a transition to an eternal life and that my behaviour on earth could cause me to suffer in torment for all of that eternal life then yep I would die for faith.

        Michael

      • In reply to #33 by Malaidas:

        In reply to #28 by achromat666:

        Define major player in the fight for reason. Do you see Harris, Dawkins and the like as examples of major players? Because a great number of people that influence this very dialogue don’t get a lot of public attention and as such the form of sacrifice you refer to is…

        Actually what I’m saying is that the question, however phrased, is functionally invalid. Your initial scenario does not paint a realistic picture of what it means to martyr oneself and certainly not what it means to have anything resembling conviction.

        As for the refrain:

        your alternative question is a good one, but doesn’t negate my initial inquiry which will be more aimed at theists, just why would you die for something as nebulous as a faith?

        Who said anything about dying for faith? Specifically in the theistic sense where it represents a blind devotion to an unprovable ideal. The idea of dying for what one believes in is entirely different than the example you pose, and people of all walks of life have at some point or another died for something they were passionate about, right or wrong. Theists, atheists and all points in between have sacrificed at one point or another for something they hold precious.

        Being a popular atheist or a popular theist on this point is meaningless. You’re trying to create a false scenario where the outcome is controlled when the whole scenario is pointless.

        • In reply to #52 by achromat666:

          Actually what I’m saying is that the question, however phrased, is functionally invalid. Your initial scenario does not paint a realistic picture of what it means to martyr oneself and certainly not what it means to have anything resembling conviction.

          Exactly! In fact I would go a step further and say the whole idea of a “martyr” being someone that should be a model for a cause is mostly BS anyway. It’s something that is used to motivate unthinking people not something that is needed for rational people who know what they are fighting for. Is there anyone out there who decided to not go into science because Galileo was a wimp and not a martyr? I sincerely doubt it. Galileo made the rational choice, to lie to the crazy people and stay alive and continue to do more work.

          If you look at the actual martyrs of history they were usually people who were shot down while actually being courageous not who chose death when forced to by their enemies. MLK is a hero and martyr because he continued saying things he knew would infuriate the white power structure and he didn’t do it from some safe location, he continued to go the the most racist parts of the country and he knew the danger and he did it anyway. That is a real hero. The marchers who marched at Selma even though they had nothing but principle on their side and went up against cracker white racists with clubs, dogs, guns, and the police on their side. Those nameless people were real martyrs and heroes because they made an actual point and the pictures of those peaceful people getting their heads bashed in made many decent white people in America change their minds about segregation of african americans.

          Even the biggest martyr of all time Jesus probably was a martyr after the fact. He was a fanatic and at least according to some scholars like Reza Aslan the actual Jesus had no intention to be a martyr. He thought he was going to raise up the Jews and reclaim Jerusalem from the Romans. It was only after the fact that his followers made the death seem as if it was the plan all along.

          And one last point: those of you who claim you would do this are practicing self deception. You may like to think you would but no one can know what they would do in a situation like that until they actually face the choice and the people who would be the most likely to do it would know that. I mean I actually know in this case I wouldn’t do it because I think it would be stupid but even in cases where I think self sacrifice would make sense I would never claim that I would do it because I know there is no way I could say with confidence what I would do until I actually had to make the decision.

  9. If I had lived in Spain during the Inquisition, you’d find me on the front pew,singing the loudest. I’d give all the outward signs of piety, while privately I’d hold onto my own views. The one thing I wouldn’t do, would be to try to convince myself that gods were true.

  10. or pretend to convert, saving your own life?

    That. Then drop it as soon as possible. I don’t care. Your crazy beliefs have no value to me whatsoever.

    Using coercion means you’re only undermining your own position. When talking about ideas, beliefs, truth statements, it should be self-evident, and therefore enforcing your views is a sign of doubt. And to the extreme, madness.

  11. We should make a balance here. Atheist would easily change his mind but has to have a reason to do so. Theist would never change mind and he don’t need a reason for that. Is death a reason to change mind without a reason? I do think that there would be people, who would consider that living in pretending is hopeless and that in death there is more hope to change others mind. Others would accept that that pretending is their new role in this situation and enjoy the benefits of lying. It all depends on wether you are your opinion defender by nature or not.

  12. So, either I get killed for staying atheist or I have to lie and tell in public, that some sort of god exists. But because there is always a chance that the death threat is not implemented, staying true does not mean certain death. On the other hand, a group of lunatics using brute force to press a false statement from me, will most likely kill me after the statement only to make sure that I can´t revoke it. I am ready to risk my life for my view of the world (in fact, I have often risked my life just for fun..). But I will not just give up my life. So, in this theory, I would stay to atheism, because the chances to survive are roughly the same in both choices.
    But in real Life, I would chose one or more of the dozens of other possibilities, like fighting back, messing with their brains, playing insane, bribing, holding my breath, wangle time, etc.

      • In reply to #36 by GerhardW:

        In reply to #35 by GerhardW:
        Oh, I forgot, the more interesting question is, would you kill for atheism?

        To paraphrase General Patton addressing his men as they advanced on Germany: I’m not asking you to die for your country, I’m asking you to make the other bastard die for his.

  13. The question is too meaningless and leaves out too many factors that people would be prepared to, if not die for, at least accept a risk of dying.
    Fighting against an opprssive army/ideology, taking a stand against the bullying tactic of ‘believe or die’, many might form or join an opposition and not leave themselves open to te predicament.

    To remove all factors and try and get any data is worthless, there’s not one of us who can possibly say ‘yes’ unless they’ve been in a similar situation. Even those saying no might react belligerently and violently should someone threaten their life.

    So we can only be left with the situation of ‘if someone totally caught you by suprise & held a knife to your throat would you state belief or die’. Well personally I think I’d either gibber insanely, shit myself, or go totally postal on whoever had jumped me.

    And I nor anyone else here can say what they would do.

    • In reply to #39 by imp:

      the choise here is between sacrificing yourself of sacrificing yourself. That is what makes this question infinitively discutable

      Are these spelling mistakes, or is it some weird new language? I’m baffled.

  14. I think I would pretend to convert, though I’m not sure that my acting skills are good enough to do so convincingly. I don’t really care if others share my particular beliefs (well not enough to try and convert people though I’m as susceptible as anyone else to the warm fuzzy feeling you get when people agree with you) as long as they don’t impose theirs on me.

  15. I don’t think the question is very meaningful because I don’t think it’s a realistic scenario. In this kind of situation no intelligent person would be convinced by what someone says at the threat of death. If Prof. Dawkins was threatened with death I would hope he would say whatever nonsense he needed to in order to stay alive and keep on fighting rather than wasting his life in a pointless death.

    In fact it seems to me that the strength of atheism is our rationality and that the rational thing to do in this situation is to lie to the crazy people.

    Also, perhaps I’m reading too much into it but there seems to also be a hidden assumption that theism may be stronger than atheism because theists can be more fanatical. Even though I’m a political pacifist the guy side of me finds military history fascinating and one clear thing I’ve seen is that the fanatic side is usually the loser. In WWII the Japanese were far more fanatic than the Americans. They even out fanaticed the Nazis. But time and again the Americans won because while the Japanese were busy dying gloriously the American kept on thinking. As the great American general Patton said “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country, he won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country”.

  16. I’m not sure many people would care if some random stranger like myself declared myself converted, beyond family and friends of course. And even they would see it as some kind of bizarre joke.

    Plus I wouldn’t be a coward or lacking convictions in anyone’s eyes, unless they were aware of the threat to my life. In which case most reasonable people would completely understand my ‘conversion’.

  17. What is that “it” one should die for? Usually I would leave any place or country that would threaten my life (or of my faamily) for my denial of superstition. Besides atheism is a null-hypothesis. I just don’t believe in supernatural powers and I am lucky to live in a country where this is no problem. That doesn’t mean Germany is all secular (the chancelor belongs to a Christian party!) or easy (459 Billion € per year besides the church taxes, a lot of jobs you can’t get not being a member of a church etc.). But I’m not literaly threatend by the believers here … So where ever you are leave!
    By the way, it would be an interesting case whether Germany would give an American citizen asylum because he is an atheist in “Gods own country” (or someone from a really dangerous islamc country …)!

  18. What is that “it” one should die for? Usually I would leave any place or country that would threaten my life (or of my faamily) for my denial of superstition. Besides atheism is a null-hypothesis. I just don’t believe in supernatural powers and I am lucky to live in a country where this is no problem. That doesn’t mean Germany is all secular (the chancelor belongs to a Christian party!) or easy (459 Billion € per year besides the church taxes, a lot of jobs you can’t get not being a member of a church etc.). But I’m not literaly threatend by the believers here … So where ever you are leave!
    By the way, it would be an interesting case whether Germany would give an American citizen asylum because he is an atheist in “Gods own country” (or someone from a really dangerous islamc country …)!

  19. Context is what is all about and how we understand believe. I will save the life of my child as I believe she or he deserve the chance to experience life, well yes, It is a natural response. In the context gave it here, die for people who can think for themselves of course not. In this case I will do more for reason if I am alive, no death. I cant think being death right?. Regards

  20. I probably would. Before anyone flips out, here’s why:

    1. I used to be a preacher. I was conditioned to die for what I believed. My willingness in this topic is probably a ‘side effect’ of my previous brainwashing.

    2. I really don’t value anything too highly, even my longevity. I feel fulfilled. If I could die to help someone, doesn’t seem to be a problem for me. In this modern world, were I to die for atheism, it would get out (hopefully) and make everyone else’s lives (hopefully) a little better.

    3. I am a pessimistic ass, maybe a little psychopathic. Meh. I wouldn’t be around to care much anyway.

    That said, would I just go out and die for atheism? No. Would I actively choose to? No. If someone were in danger, and somehow dying for my atheism saved them? Yes. Would I also die to save someone NOT for atheism? Of course.

    Probably not the best mindset for average people. I am about to leave for the Canadian Armed Forces soon. This mindset might be valuable for me. Who knows.

    Enjoy your slices of life, respectively. I would never expect someone to die for anything. I would never look differently at anyone who wouldn’t. I understand I am in a (crazy?) minority on this topic.

    Cheers,

    • J
  21. No i would not die for atheism. I’d try to survive as best i could. And when i’m dieing i would hope that i’d have enough courage to say i don’t believe.

    But the reality i’m afraid it seems that the dieing brain hallucinates alot , this coupled with the meds and the fear of death , i’ll probably bow out without making any pronouncements on my views.

  22. Having actually looked at you post again . I didn’t really answer your question.

    First off it would be very hard to disconnect from the emotions conjured by the situation. The emotion that wants to say a big f•ck you to authority. So the hardest thing would be to act rationally but that would be my goal. So in my effort to be reasonable i’d ask myself what kind of life would i possibly have if i avoided death. Could i recover to have a decent life. Also questions like who is dependant on me? And what kind of havoc would be caused should i loose my life? Then theres the idea of self , and could i live with myself if i didn’t die. Yeah that last one would be the rash choice , bizarely it could be an egotistical response , many would see it as brave. So the last option is the rocknroll option , if i was at the point , and i could objectify the whole situation and look at it as a third person , i’d be disappointed , like you would be in a child you cherish. I’d think ‘sucked in’.

  23. Statements made under pressure are not valid.
    In this particular situation, if I were sure that I would be killed anyway, I would not pretend conversion, I guess, but if I’d see a chance to survive, I would try to survive and flee and speak out later. But each situation has to be assessed separately. Eg. in the (EU) country I live, being active in one of the traditional churches is at present an advantage if you want to work in a state institution.

    • As addition to #57 by myself:
      I would also like to remind you about what Christpoher Hitchens said regardint his possible deathbed conversion, which could be summed up as “that wouldn’t really be myself”…

      (Sorry, English is my third or so language.)

  24. My answer: No, no dying for me thanks.

    But as to the larger project, it seems very interesting but I suspect it is doomed to uninterpretable results. While non-theists may answer honestly in the negative the same is not necessarily (or even likely) true of theists – especially of the monotheist traditions. If your belief system includes the concept that dying for your beliefs is laudable – even desirable – you will be motivated to ah, stretch the truth in answering a question like this.

    Self reporting surveys are notoriously unreliable – ones that strike at core beliefs (like this one) even more so. If I were you I would try trawling the psych literature for data on proxy questions that might serve as a validation measure for the answers you receive.
    But good luck.

  25. Religion removes the notion of self preservation from the equation and replaces it with the idea that you are immortal. “Who cares if I die this body is just a vessel.” This is the main selling point of religion in that we remove the fear of death because death itself is not the end. It is a very powerful belief but atheism is not believing the supernatural and understanding physical principles. Sadly, death is most likely the end so an atheist will be far more inclined towards self preservation.

    • In reply to #60 by ask_?s:

      Religion removes the notion of self preservation from the equation and replaces it with the idea that you are immortal. “Who cares if I die this body is just a vessel.” This is the main selling point of religion in that we remove the fear of death because death itself is not the end. It is a very po…

      That’s not necessarily true. Immortality is not a concept you find in all religions. There is usually some concept of continuing to communicate with loved ones after they are dead in some fashion but the idea that we live on after death, and especially that this “afterlife” is either awesome or totally sucks, all that is fairly new and an invention of Christianity and religions that followed it. Talk to most Jews about heaven and hell, they don’t really have the concept. The same goes if you read anthropological descriptions of most tribal religions.

  26. There is one scenario where I’d be willing to die for atheism. If I knew my sacrifice would turn the whole world against theism, then yes, I’d do it. Of course, I have no way of knowing this would happen…but I think your questions is asking about the mind-set that would put an ideal over self-preservation. I think we do that a lot in our lives for a lot of more unquestioned “beliefs” and ideologies. Marriage is one of those ideals. We sacrifice a great deal of our lives staying married to someone we don’t love in order to receive the “benefits” we perceive to get out of this sacrifice. I also think people who die in the name of religion truly believe their god will reward their actions and therefore that circumvents the “self-preservation” part of the equation.

  27. I may have several beliefs that I can’t rationally justify. One of them is a commitment to what I understand as truth. If someone beloved to me asked me to lie in court or to their spouse or business partner I just couldn’t do it. All of my real friends know this, and so some of them avoid telling me things that require denial to persist. Would I do it to save their life or mine? I don’t know — my commitment to what I understand as truth has had serious challenges, but none yet quite that serious. I’m almost at the end of my pier, and so there’s not much to save of my life. I like to think that I would remain true to what I understand as true even if it meant a slightly earlier end of my life. Did I feel that way half a life ago — hell, I probably did, but can’t honestly say how I would have reacted then. It just never came up — not really anyway. I risked prison rather than submit to my government’s demand that I go kill people in Vietnam, but prison is not death and anyway the other option involved a greater likelihood of death.
    I can’t relate to the given scenario of my statement affecting a large group of others. That seems more like martyring oneself for some cause or agenda, which is not directly a belief of mine. It may be a belief of others in the cause, and I may share it, but my belief is not theirs. I try to project myself into the mind of a jihadi or patriot or whatever and just can’t. If I really thought that sacrificing my life or saving it by lying could affect a change that I cherished, would that effect my calculus? I don’t know. I can imagine a scenario of myself as martyr, but imagining is all it is.
    If someone showed up here tomorrow and said that they had come to kill atheists I’d probably either shoot them or tell them to fuck off, since I have one foot in the grave anyway. I can’t see compromising to save myself. If it were up to me to defend a family or maybe some cause in which I believed strongly I imagine that I’d be more circumspect and willing to compromise my commitment to what I understand as truth. If copping out could save my wife or child or sibling or tribe member or anyone I’d do it without a second thought (well, OK there would be second and third… thoughts later). To save just myself, probably not — but I could be wrong.

  28. I think there are a couple of different ways to look at this, and various factors that would alter the scenario.

    There’s the dignity and principle of the individual, and then there’s the greater cause being fought for.

    If I was an atheist in the middle east, fighting for the very freedom to be anything other than Muslim, I would probably say yes, I would die for my lack of faith. I would be working for a greater cause than simply my own dignity or the proliferation of my personal ‘faith’, I would be working towards liberating my oppressed brethren.

    From my position in the UK however I most certainly would not, because in this context, these terrorists threatening to kill me are a bunch of wackjobs and simply aren’t worth it. In this battleground my own personal declarations aren’t so important in the greater fight against superstition. In this case the old stamp collector analogy comes into play, would I die for my lack of a stamp collection if threatened by some fanatical stamp collectors? Of course not. I would lie my ass off to get away from them, then if questioned later, deny everything I said because I know my fickleness will be understood.

    • In reply to #67 by Sceptic-mo:

      By my reckoning atheism isn’t really a belief but rather the rejection/lack of theist beliefs. Why would I or anyone die for a neutral stance?

      This is true,(if a little off topic), but its still a belief in the purest sense I would hold. For the simple fact that we cannot actually disprove the existence of a god in general, if that god is none revealed in the deist sense. We can argue philosophically, about infinite regress problems and using the argument of relative probabilities from the number of states, but nothing here represents any sort of empirical proof, my belief is that that I feel it very unlikely and to be honest, rather unimportant: If we cannot tell the difference between a universe with a god and a universe without such a god, we may as well fall back on Occam as with anything else, pending any sort of evidence either way, (which is very unlikely to ever be found).

      Of course the existence of a god could theoretically be shown if we were to find something with irreducible complexity for instance, but even if we find such evidence how could we say for sure that it actually is such, or just that we are unable to currently show that it reduces. Finally of course, even if we find out everything there is to know about our particular ‘brane’ and find no such evidence, this still wouldn’t disprove a creator, simply that if he/she does exist, he/she hasn’t left any evidence.

      So whilst it is most certainly still a belief in my opinion, I agree with you in that its a very different sort of belief to that held by theists. Our beliefs are rational ones, based on the available evidence, and rational interpretation/extrapolation from this, their’s are based on ‘Faith’.

      As a caveat here, I will maintain that we can amply disprove theists beliefs with more than reasonable satisfaction, from analysis of the claims of their sacred texts, vs the evidence of the natural world. It has ceased to be a philosophical argument at this point, they disprove themselves beyond reasonable doubt by their own predictions. To believe in such at this point is purely irrational and is beyond belief…. a matter of faith, (sorry couldn’t resist that one).

      • In reply to #69 by Malaidas:

        In reply to #67 by Sceptic-mo:

        One can classify evidence-based atheism as a belief, but by that one could classify any knowledge as belief. It’s not a useful understanding of words, IMO.

        • In reply to #85 by PERSON:

          In reply to #69 by Malaidas:

          In reply to #67 by Sceptic-mo:

          One can classify evidence-based atheism as a belief, but by that one could classify any knowledge as belief. It’s not a useful understanding of words, IMO.

          It is however the true meaning of the word.belief is what you consider to be true, your belief may rational or otherwise vis ‘Faith’. Unfortunately its been hijacked

  29. Everyone becomes an atheist the moment they die. So you might say the answer is everyone dies ‘as’ an atheist. Or you could say that since ‘A’theism is a nothing belief, dying for atheism is dying for nothing and nobody would die for nothing or no reason at all. What about strategy in the war for human minds? Well dying as a martyr is only valued by the stupid or the religious so it wouldn’t help the cause of non-belief. Better to find other ways of spreading reason.

    Would I die for Atheism? No chance. I’d lie and then subvert the religious in secret. Much more effective. Besides if I were to die I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t give a damn either way…

  30. I would not die for a belief if all I had to do was claim to convert to whatever fairy tale my captors wanted. Unlike religious zealots, non theists typically base their opinions upon evidence (or lack thereof) and aren’t likely to be swayed by martyrdom anyway. The rational, thinking person, I feel, would totally understand the ploy and dying for a belief system is silly and only worthy of the theists.

  31. I suppose it’s a matter of conditioning and the particular circumstances surrounding said incident.
    I’m a product of my up-bringing, (officer class, my ancestors served with the Jacobite Army, the East India Company Army and the Indian Army) as such there is a time to stand your ground and hope for relief to arrive, and times to retreat and wait for a better opportunity to advance.
    Colonial history is littered with stories of men being given the choice of converting to Islam or being killed by their own native guides usually, with a mix of results.
    I’m also aware of the plight of muslim apostates who live with death threats hanging over them, and the brutality of various theocracies, should they publicly re-convert to Islam?
    If they would kill me anyway I’d likely stand, (and try to take a couple of the b*****ds with me) otherwise I’d probably go through the motions looking to escape the position later.

  32. I think that this assertion is a ‘straw horse’. Where is the evidence that most, or even a significant portion of, people who claim to believe in some mythical super being are prepared to die for it. There aren’t millions of suicide bombers out there, right?

    • In reply to #76 by rzzz:

      I think that this assertion is a ‘straw horse’. Where is the evidence that most, or even a significant portion of, people who claim to believe in some mythical super being are prepared to die for it. There aren’t millions of suicide bombers out there, right?

      This may be the case, and if so, the investigation will show it. There may not be millions of suicide bombers, however the ‘sacred texts’ do support and idealise the concept. They speak (in the case of the bible at least) of the saints who would not publicly disavow their faith and instead died for it, gaining a fast track to heaven, and conversely that such a public denouncement is sinful, take the story of Peter for instance. A similar and even more powerful call to it, seems to exist within the Koran, but not having read such I cannot really make fair comment.

      In truth I have already taken on board what has been said about my question, and am learning about better mechanisms. The question is very contrived, because I agree its difficult to find a similar situation to ‘faith’ in a religion, the best I could manage was the idea that not sticking to your guns might have an effect upon those brought up with the idealised concept. The stigma of pretending something like this shouldn’t and indeed from the vast majority of responders seems doesn’t exist within atheism though.

  33. pretend to convert of course

    dying for a cause is wrong. since i’m not scared of a god checking to see if i’m fibbing i have nothing to lose by fibbing, everything to lose by telling the truth and I really don’t give a shit about the extremeist threatening me, the truth is wasted on “people of faith”

    • In reply to #78 by SaganTheCat:

      pretend to convert of course

      dying for a cause is wrong. since i’m not scared of a god checking to see if i’m fibbing i have nothing to lose by fibbing, everything to lose by telling the truth and I really don’t give a shit about the extremeist threatening me, the truth is wasted on “people of fait…

      Be that as it may, I agree with Dawkins, we have a responsibility to try and get to them anyway, if not for their sake, but for the sake of their children, who will be ill-informed in ‘faith’ schools

  34. We were always told wonderful gorey stories of all the Catholics who “died for the faith” during the Reformation. When you look at the background of these stories however, it turns out that since the Pope had told everyone to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I by violent means (a papal bull that has technically never been recinded) there was a little bit more going on than whether or not people could go to Mass of not. Similarly the Hussite wars were a little more politically complicated than what form to take communion under …even if on a purely technically level a large number of people seemingly killed each other over whether to drink wine or eat bread and when. Religion (particularly Catholicism) loves Maytrdom. Now no one publically disembowels them any more the RCC has had to invent “white maytrdom” … (as opposed to red) …this is where you dont actually come to any physical harm but people sort of laugh at you slightly sarcastically.

  35. I would absolutely, in almost all circumstances conceivable, publicly claim to have converted in order to save my life. Obviously, this does not mean that my conversion was genuine or sincere. This also, might I add, doesn’t mean that I lack the courage of my convictions or that I am a coward. I simply enjoy living. However, I would, after the fact, do everything in my power to combat the situation, including letting people know that I had been coerced. The information that I had been manipulated, upon pain of death, to make the claim to convert by a religious group would be an extremely potent force in cultivating their ignominious reputation.

  36. This question is almost impossible to answer without discussing the actual context. This really isn’t about atheism but reason and ultimately it’s about whether you would be ready to die for having certain beliefs. I like to believe I would, but it’s hard to imagine a realistic situation where that would be demanded of me. I mean, say that I was kidnapped by Muslim terrorists who forced me to convert to Islam in front of a camera or be killed. Sure, I would say whatever they wanted me to say if I thought it would save my life. It would be mere words to me. It would be stupid to die for something that trivial. Another example. Say that I was a famous writer who expressed my dislike of Islam in public. I would get death threats from extremists. Would I apologize and censor my own writings due to fear of being killed? I don’t know, but I hope I would not.

    The scenario you describe seems a bit absurd to me. If we were truly fighting for reason then surely other rationalists would understand that my words were not sincere but some kind of forced confession. Even if they did think my words were genuine I would not want people to be rational due to me. Say that Richard Dawkins went mad and started making claims about how he’s found god and is now a devout believer. That would be really weird, but it wouldn’t change my mind. I don’t see rationalists as followers. Or if they are, they are not really rational in my opinion. The whole idea is to think for yourself and make up your own mind.

    Then we have the historical scenarios. Scientists who were forced by the church to either withdraw their statements or be killed. Many thinkers have suffer greatly or even lost their lives for their beliefs. Say that I was a science teacher in Afghanistan who was told by Taliban leaders to either stop teaching evolution or be killed. What would I do? Take for example people like Malala Yousafzai or Ayaan Hirsi Ali who will live the rest of their lives with a death penalty hanging over their heads, just for holding onto their beliefs. Take Theo van Gogh who literally died for his beliefs. I think these can be considered modern martyrs for reason.

    I’m a bit troubled by the fact that most atheists so categorically claim not only that they would never die for their beliefs, but that it would be stupid and irrational to do so. In reality most of us are cowards and would do almost anything to not get killed. It’s impossible to know if you are a coward or not until your trial of fire. But, I think this issue is related to the old myth that there are no atheists in fox holes. That we are weak minded opportunists that only care about ourselves. That we believe in and stand for nothing. I would like to think that this is not true. But, after reading the comments on this page I’m not all that sure anymore :D

  37. I think it’s far less likely that someone would die for the concept of atheism than for, say, their desire for moral integrity or out of altruism. Would I for those or anything similar? I don’t know, it depends too much on the circumstances. I think the majority of possible situations are such that I would not, though.

  38. Good question. It reminds me of all those who died because of conflicting religious views over the last 1800 years of our history. Still prevalent in Islamic and Christian teachings today it seems. Persecution still exists but not to the extent that our ancestors experienced.JJ

  39. No

    By dying you would be no different to the religious fundamentalists, who we all know have major ‘perception on reality issues’ based on deep seated fears, insecurities and past indoctrinations which i fortunately do not have or have been subjected to in my life.

    Also

    “Eagles may soar high, but weasels don’t get sucked into aeroplane engines” :)

  40. You are under the assumption that an atheists holds any ethical or moral value in dying for the truth. Who cares? I’d lie through my teeth to survive, which is not a new evolutionary adaptation for survival in the human species, and then go on with my own beliefs. They can kill my body but they can’t take my core beliefs away. As for the others who would live in a state of delusion because of (my actions?), they are responsible for their own journey to the truth as was I. I grew up in a family surrounded by pastors, missionaries, Bible study teachers, etc. and yet … here I am. If you are too intellectually challenged, inept at critical thinking skills, or too cowardly to think for yourself, that’s not my, nor anyone else’s responsibility. As for those who would see me as a coward, being an atheist, I tend not to care what other’s think.

  41. I cant’ say I understand all of the end statement, but presumably you think that only atheists can reason. As this is plainly wrong, it suggests you cant. As for dying, it is an interesting point. I would say most would say, whatever, and then take the nearest exit.

  42. For me this is tantamount to say would you die for freedom. And this is a reason to risk ones life, however what Atheist lack is an afterlife so death is a permanent state of non-being. So if it was simply a “Spanish Inquisition” sort of Cake or Death Eddy Izzard scenario I would have the cake and know in my heart what I believe no matter what you sign or say. Like a prisoner of war. When I get away far enough I can return to my ways and private thoughts.
    My fear is less of the captured so capitulate scenario, and more of the Frankenstein scenario when the righteous villagers surround your home and burn it down, not offering the opportunity to capitulate or convert. You are an atheist a threat, and therefore must be destroyed. And in this case yes, I fear many will and many have died for their non-beleifes

  43. The decision to die or to live whatever the excuse will be emotional not rational. The reason is that if you die, what you would have achieved and if you had decided to live, what will you do after you get a bit of lease of life? Life as we live, we all know individually is important to each one of us. We have self consciousness which gives us that ‘I’ which is our identity. Then we have emotions, simple thinking, thinking about thinking which gives us free will or choice and finally we have memory. Whatever we do deliberately is consigned to our memory and we refer to it repeatedly as we progress through this journey called life. This concept of god or no god is meaningless if we do not look at the fundamental issue of our life. What is the purpose of my life and why do I have a free will?

  44. I’m coming from a mix of Christian and Islamic culture and I’m completely convinced atheist. I grew up in a strong Islam religious country and just spent most of my younger years, trying to raise people consciousness that religion is not the only way. Quickly, fanatic people (even if at the beginning they figure themselves as “open to discussion”) started considering me as an immoral person who is propagating profligacy ideas in the society and then they came that all what I deserved is to die in horrible tortures. I deserve it all the more because I was arguing using their own arguments (I spent much time reading and understanding the Islam and Christian principles and history in order to have “valid” arguments in their consideration).
    Now I left that country (livin in France) and I am much more beaming. When I consider all those years spent fighting their ideas, and considering only my personal experience, I would say that dying for it would not be even useful to propagate new ideas and raise consciousness, simply because, most of people point of view if I died would be “he was fighting our religion and he was just blaspheming, so he just got what he deserves”. In conclusion, I would say that the answer is extremely close to the context.

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