Isn't Atheism the Same as Communism? Doesn't Atheism Lead to Communism?

Atheists are All Just Pinko Commies Out to Undermine Christian Civilization

Communist Flag. Scott Olson/Getty

Are all atheists just communists? Does atheism cause communism?

A common complaint made by theists, typically those of the fundamentalist variety, is that atheism and/or humanism are essentially socialist or communist in nature. Thus, atheism and humanism should be rejected since socialism and communism are evil. Evidence indicates that bigotry and prejudice towards atheists in America is due in no small part to anti-communist activism by conservatives Christians in America, so this claimed connection has had serious consequences for American atheists.

Perhaps the first thing we should note is the automatic and almost unconscious assumption made on the part of such Christians that their religion is somehow equivalent with capitalism. Any observer of America's Christians Right will not be the least bit surprised by this because conservative Christianity and right-wing politics have become almost synonymous.

Many Christians today act as if certain pre-specified political and economic positions are necessary in order to be a "good Christian." No longer are faith in Jesus and God sufficient; instead, one must also have faith in market capitalism and small government. Since so many of these Christians carry the attitude that anyone who disagrees with them on any one point must disagree with them in everything, it isn't surprising that some assume that an atheist or humanist must be a communist. This isn't helped by the fact that Communism in the Twentieth Century has been almost entirely atheistic in nature

Communism is not, however, inherently atheistic. It is possible to hold communist or socialist economic views while being a theist and it isn't at all uncommon to be an atheist while staunchly defending capitalism — a combination often found among Objectivists and Libertarians, for example. Their existence alone demonstrates, without question, that atheism and communism are not the same thing.

But while the original myth has been refuted, it is interesting to look and see if perhaps the Christians who made it have gotten things backwards. Perhaps it is Christianity which is inherently communistic? After all, there is nothing in the gospels which even so much as suggests a divine preference for capitalism. On the contrary, quite a bit of what Jesus said directly supports many of the emotional foundations of socialism and even communism. He specifically said that that people should give all they could to the poor and that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." More: What Does the Bible Say About Communism & Socialism?

Most recently, we have seen the development of Liberation Theology in Latin America which encourages people to actually practice what Jesus preached: "what you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me." According to Liberation Theology, the Christian Gospel demands "a preferential option for the poor," and that therefore the church should be involved in the struggle for economic and political justice around the world, but particularly in the Third World.

The origins of this movement dates to the Second Vatican Council (1962—65) and the Second Latin American Bishops Conference, held in Medellin, Colombia (1968). It has brought poor people together in comunidades de base, or Christian-based communities, to study the Bible and to fight for social justice. Many Catholic leaders have criticized it for improperly supporting violent revolutions.

Social justice and minimum standards of living become not simply a concern for the individual involved, but for the whole community. It is hardly surprising to see such economic policies developing in a Christian context, since Jesus' ministry was aimed primarily at the poor underclass of society, not the exploitative rich.

Liberation theologians argue that Christian belief and practice ranges along a continuous scale between two forms, one at each end. The opposition of these two poles is quite relevant to this topic. At one end of this scale is the kind of Christianity which in effect serves the establishment — including both political and economic masters — and this kind teaches that reward will be a better life in a life to come. This is the type of Christianity which tends to be very common today and which is, unsurprisingly, typical of those who attack atheism and communism in one breath.

Liberation theologians advocate a second kind of Christianity, at the other end of the scale. They emphasize compassion and leadership in the struggle against oppressors, in the struggle for a better life here and now. More: Catholic Liberation Theology in Latin-America