Kate Cohen believes America doesn’t need more God. Instead, the author and occasional Washington Post columnist believes America needs more atheists. Cohen’s October 3 thesis in the Post covers a lot of ground so it’s difficult to divine her preeminent rationale for increasing atheism but one of her prime reasons is to ensure the survival of American democracy.
In urging people to proclaim atheism, Cohen advises, “Consider that the United States – to survive as a secular democracy – needs you now more than ever.” Apparently, Muslims, Jews, Christians and others who believe in God pose a threat to democracy, though Cohen’s column stopped short of explicitly claiming this threat to be existential.
Cohen is adamant in her desire for more people to identify as atheists. “We can tell people we don’t believe in God,” she writes. “The more people who do that, the more we normalize atheism in America, the easier it will be – for both politicians and the general public – to usher religion back out of our laws.” Cohen also worries that, “Religious belief is – more and more, at the state and federal levels – a way to sidestep advances the country makes in civil rights, human rights and public health.”
If Cohen is concerned that belief in God might erode civil rights, human rights and public health, she might consider how these and other rights could be affected by an atheistic society and government. No speculation is needed to understand the results of this approach to civic life; it’s been tried before, many times, with remarkably consistent results.
In the late 18th century, France ushered in the atheistic Cult of Reason, one of many mechanisms for excising God from the public square. Tens of thousands of clergy were murdered or exiled, church property was stolen by the government and the Reign of Terror sent many thousands more to their deaths at the guillotine.
Mexico experimented with atheism in the early 20th century. President Plutarco Elias Calles sought to eradicate religion in the 1920s, outlawing monastic orders and suspending basic rights for Catholic clergy. When citizens took up arms in protest of Calles’ abuses, a bloody war erupted, prompting the government to line up thousands of believers in front of firing squads.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Fidel Castro’s Cuba killed, imprisoned or exiled untold numbers of Catholic priests, and closed or destroyed Methodist, Pentecostal and Baptist churches. Religious schools were shut down and seized by the ruling government atheists.
Albania proclaimed state atheism in the 1960s and enforced it through executions and exiling monks, priests and nuns. The government also appropriated churches, mosques, monasteries and other religious properties, closing them or converting them to gyms, warehouses and centers for other secular purposes.
More recently, Cambodia tried state atheism beginning in the second half of the 1970s. Cambodian atheists murdered tens of thousands of Buddhist monks while destroying their temples and monasteries. The ruling Khmer Rouge banned all religious practices and sought the extermination of certain Muslim sects.
Murder, theft, and starvation were also rampant in other, better known atheistic regimes. The histories of the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and similarly instituted nations are replete with abuses of civil rights, human rights and public health, and require no amplification here.
Given this well documented history of what happens in societies anchored in atheism, it’s not unreasonable to wonder why anybody would advocate for more of it and the totalitarianism that invariably accompanies it. Atheism being a core component of Marxist-Leninism and similar civic constructs, it begs the question of why Cohen is advocating a social structure that is fundamental to those ideologies. That question was not addressed in her column.
It’s inevitable that some people will read Kate Cohen’s Washington Post column and think, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ll start telling people I don’t believe in God so we can normalize atheism.” That is their right. But we should be wary of people embracing the philosophies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro and their fellow travelers. Like Cohen, many of these tyrants held a belief in God before being led to atheism, and history is unambiguous on what happened next.
If America is to remain a democratic republic, we cannot ignore Cohen and those like her. Truth is, America needs more God and fewer atheists, and we can take our cues from George Washington. In his 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, Washington wrote, “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” Washington’s counsel was wise because he knew that democracy dies in atheism.