According to theists, the whole concept of a world without religion (beter put, without God) would be disastrous and is a concept idiotic from conception. Those same theists attribute basic nihilism to be equal to society-wide atheism, greatly exaggerating the importance of religion in defining moral principles for the community.
Nihilism is attributable to atheism in some of its characteristics, I cannot deny that bare fact of life. Atheism, in its purest form, obviously rejects the authority of any religious principle, as religion, to an atheist, is nothing more than the organised concept of supreme beings (God in Abrahamic religions), and an atheist does not consider religion to be the backbone of society (or moral law). But does this also mean that atheists reject all moral principles, that they believe life is meaningless and that, philosophically speaking, nothing in the world really exists?
Without any doubt, the answer to that question is no. This of course saying without taking into account those individual atheists who independently take on the case of nihilism — but then they wouldn’t be atheists, they would be nihilists. In arguing that a nonbelieving society would not be restrained by moral laws, the theists show ignorance. Firstly, they cannot keep apart the separate concepts of nihilism and atheism. While atheism follows from the definite belief that there is no God (or any other supreme being), nihilism follows, not from the concept that religious and moral principles are wrong, but from the concept that they account to nothing — as life is meaningless, everything that governs it (and follows from it) is also meaningless. The atheist will never argue this.
Secondly, they assume that human beings are not capable of keeping moral laws without fear of retribution. Theists often claim that the basic principle that there could be some afterlife — and that in this afterlife you could either go to Heaven or Hell — that this concept keeps people on the right track. But strip it down to its nude appearance (as should always be done), and you will discover that the theist does not assume that moral principles come from God, or religion, but that it follows from plain fear of something unknown.
Before Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, if the theists’ claim is to be believed, society had killing sprees at random, and nobody took any form of responsibility, not for themselves and not for others. By giving the society he created, a few basic moral laws to abide by, all of a sudden things changed and all went the way of peace, happiness and tranquility. Is this how history went, or is the theist just blowing smoke with their defense?
Let’s look at the definition of nihilism again. Those who accept nihilism, reject all religious and moral principle. It does not say that they reject the belief that there is a God, though in Abrahamic religious fashion it does follow from that, but even if it would, they do not begin by rejecting God and then rejecting all religious principles. No, the nihilist firstly rejects all the institutionalised and organised principles, thought up by religion and pushed unto society; and by rejecting those principles, they then also deny the existence of God of course (but not per se). Does the atheist reject all religious principles? No, for some might have followed from society first, and may have been incorporated into religious law after its in-existence springing.
Those will then return to be moral laws, as they originally were. But then, no longer will they be governed by institutions whose intentions are not always clear, but responsibility would then fall back onto society, and for the serious cases, the justice system of course.
Often, theists will present the cases of Soviet militant atheism and Nazi atheism as good representations of historical occurrences when atheistic societies went wrong. The question here is, if the same political choices would’ve been made if Stalin and Hitler had been theists. In my opinion they would have been, as they weren’t so much atheistic choices, but decisions made by atheists.
The theist needs to remember that atheism as bare concept is not a way of life, or system to live by, as religion is. The opposites are not religion and atheism, but religion and a self-responsible society (self-responsability), and belief in a supreme being and atheism — just like theism isn’t the same as religion, atheism isn’t the same as non-religion.
Stalin’s genocide of theists had little to do with the fact that he himself did not believe in God (or classical religion), but with his (paranoid) belief that those believing in God were a risk to communism and, most important to Stalin, his own position. A Christian leader would have just been as able to make those decisions, and Christian leaders have throughout history, though modern theists will then claim that when it comes to those leaders, their stance on religion all of a sudden doesn’t matter anymore.
Even if the theists’ claims about Soviet and Nazi atheism being good representations were true (and I stress, they are not), it would not be able to save their opposition to atheistic societies. These are only two historical cases, and also specific manifestations which overlap in time period. The twelve-year rule of Hitler and the thirty-one year rule of Stalin, are still greatly contrasted by the atrocities made in the name of God (and religion in general) throughout all of history. The Spanish Inquisition alone held up from 1478 till the early nineteenth century — over three hundred years of religious prosecution. But theists will then go on to claim, as I have emphasised before, that those were not actually done in the name of God, and that political and social pressure was behind it, not religion. This selectiveness when it comes to determining what part of history is attributable to (non-)religion and what not, is a character trait innate to theism. (As they also claim the bad parts of the Bible are not actually part of the Word of God, even though the Bible is the Word of God.)
In all their inaccuracy, theists do present a genuine case against atheistic societies — one they don’t even know they are presenting. While we have centuries-long knowledge of societies based upon religion, there is little that we know about the effectiveness of atheistic societies. This does not mean that the whole concept should be out of the question, but that caution should be taken to introduce it into the world — yet, this is a non-issue, considering that it is something atheists already know.
Before I end this article, let us go back to Soviet atheism. Now that Soviet communism has fallen out of use within Russia, according to theists, a complete nihilistic pit of fire would be left behind. But, if one would look at Russian society after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, there is only to conclude that atheism has changed little of people’s moral principles. In fact, many young people who now disbelieve in God (because they grew up in the militant atheism program), take on the moral principles used by the Russian Orthodox Church — without taking on the cause of that Abrahamic institution. This again solidifies my point: atheism is not generally opposed to anything religious, as much of religion had been a general social understanding before it became church law. Society will always control itself, even without the fear of God’s damnation.