So recently Doug Wilson stirred up some controversy by arguing that he has more in common with a Nigerian Anglican Christian than with a conservative white atheist. This has understandably stirred up quite a bit of argument within the right wing Christian sphere, a lot of its focusing on the what exactly does he mean by “more in common”.
I don’t have much interest in litigating the term “more in common”, but I have on numerous occasions discussed the question of whether it is possible to share a polity or commonwealth with atheists. In this I would like to quote a few sections from Sean Mckeein’s “Stalin’s War” describing the emergence of the first Communist state:
THE UNION OF Soviet Socialist Republics was a state like no other. From its earliest days, the “world’s first proletarian government” defined itself in opposition to the existing capitalist states of the world. By repudiating all of the sovereign treaty and debt obligations of formerly Tsarist Russia in February 1918, Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary government effectively set itself up as an outlaw, outside—or above—the entire international system, bound only by its devotion to the global proletariat and the world revolution, not to shopworn, bourgeois concepts such as treaties and the rule of law. As Lenin explained with characteristic bluntness in his pamphlet denouncing the now-outmoded “petty bourgeois mentality” in May 1918, “If war is waged by the proletariat after it has conquered the bourgeoisie in its own country, and is waged with the object of strengthening and extending socialism, such a war is legitimate and ‘holy.’”
Before the October Revolution of 1917, Russia had been allied to these Western nations, which held the bulk of its foreign debt, in the Great War and had been bound by the London convention of September 1914 not to sign a separate peace treaty with the Central powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary, later joined by the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria). When Lenin’s diplomats signed just such a treaty with the victorious Germans at Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, this provided still more confirmation for the Allies of the lawless nature of Lenin’s regime.
Far from being a loyal German agent (as many Allied critics believed because of his acceptance of German funds and logistical support prior to the October Revolution), Lenin agreed to German terms at Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 only to win time, and he repudiated those terms with perfect impunity as soon as he learned of the German collapse on the western front at the end of September. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty, a German diplomat reported from Moscow on October 10, “is a dead letter. Our influence with the Bolsheviks is completely exhausted. They do with us now what they wish.” With schadenfreude, Bolshevik diplomats celebrated Germany’s comeuppance by confiscating German diplomatic bags in Moscow and Petrograd; in the bags, they found (and helped themselves to) 250 million Tsarist rubles. The same was true of Soviet encouragement of autonomy for national minorities, such as Finns, Poles, and Ukrainians. This policy was embodied in a decree on the “Rights of the Peoples of Russia to Self-Determination” signed by Lenin and his nationalities commissar, Josef Stalin, in November 1917, when the Bolsheviks still wished to break up the Tsarist empire. Once his government was strong enough, Lenin fought to bring these peoples back under Soviet control—succeeding in the case of Ukraine, although not with Finland, which preserved its independence in the Russian Civil War, or with Poland, which defeated the Red Army in 1920 and expanded its borders eastward into Soviet Ukraine, well past the Curzon Line endorsed by the Entente powers at Versailles in 1919.
Treaties signed with capitalist powers, such as the diktat peace imposed by Germany at Brest-Litovsk, were seen as temporary truces, valid only so long as they served Soviet interests, or when the Soviets were too weak to break them. This was equally true of Soviet agreements with the Western Allies, such as Trotsky’s invitation for Allied troop landings in March 1918, which was later expunged from memory as the Bolsheviks mythologized a conspiratorial “Allied intervention” to strangle Lenin’s infant regime. As early as June 27, 1918, Georgii Chicherin, Trotsky’s successor as commissar of foreign affairs, issued a formal protest against the “invasion of the English armed force” at Murmansk, notwithstanding the fact that the English had been invited there by Trotsky as a result of the German military occupation of western Russia.
The behaviour of the Soviets, which combines official atheism with ideological superiority as the “elect” nation, which may manipulate their adversaries with their own civic principles until they are in a stronger position to repudiate them, echoes so strongly John Locke’s exceptions to his religious toleration that his exceptions bears repeating:
Another more secret evil, but more dangerous to the commonwealth, is when men arrogate to themselves, and to those of their own sect, some peculiar prerogative covered over with a specious show of deceitful words, but in effect opposite to the civil right of the community. For example: we cannot find any sect that teaches, expressly and openly, that men are not obliged to keep their promise; that princes may be dethroned by those that differ from them in religion; or that the dominion of all things belongs only to themselves. For these things, proposed thus nakedly and plainly, would soon draw on them the eye and hand of the magistrate and awaken all the care of the commonwealth to a watchfulness against the spreading of so dangerous an evil. But, nevertheless, we find those that say the same things in other words. What else do they mean who teach that faith is not to be kept with heretics? Their meaning, forsooth, is that the privilege of breaking faith belongs unto themselves; for they declare all that are not of their communion to be heretics, or at least may declare them so whensoever they think fit… That dominion is founded in grace is also an assertion by which those that maintain it do plainly lay claim to the possession of all things… I say these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate; as neither those that will not own and teach the duty of tolerating all men in matters of mere religion. For what do all these and the like doctrines signify, but that they may and are ready upon any occasion to seize the Government and possess themselves of the estates and fortunes of their fellow subjects; and that they only ask leave to be tolerated by the magistrate so long until they find themselves strong enough to effect it?
A Letter Concerning Toleration
Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.
Thus, while Locke was generously tolerant of different sects of Christianity, and even towards non-Christians, he categorically precludes those religions who believe that civil obligations do not extend to “heretics”, that they will appeal to promises, civil obligations, and principles of toleration, as long as it suits them and to their advantage, but the moment they are in a stronger position to repudiate them without consequence, they will do so, as well as to the atheist for whom promises, oaths and social covenants have no hold or meaning.
As such, we see that the first Soviet state has the characteristic of both an elect sect: their ideological purity means that they are bound to no civil obligations to heretics, that they may manipulate and make use of any civil principles as long as it is to their advantage, which they may repudiate the moment they are strong enough to effect it, as well as their atheism obviously means that international treaties and obligations have no effect.
To tie this in with my recent discussions on oaths and sticking to the legal text, the reason why atheists cannot be trusted here isn’t merely because they don’t believe in an infinite power to whom they shall answer for their oath breaking, but it is also because fundamentally they do not believe that words have objective referents, that words have a certain sacredness which objective referents have been marked out by the Divine Logos himself, that they may manipulate the meaning of words as they please to conform to their own human and subjective intentions. Thus as the Anti-Federalist once warned of a Supreme Court which answers to no one for their judgement:
they have made the judges independent, in the fullest sense of the word. There is no power above them, to control any of their decisions. There is no authority that can remove them, and they cannot be controlled by the laws of the legislature. In short, they are independent of the people, of the legislature, and of every power under heaven. Men placed in this situation will generally soon feel themselves independent of heaven itself.Brutus XV
Thus, how can you possibly bind an atheist to the terms of his contract, when he can redefine recession, men and women, and marriage at will? How can an atheist be held to their words when it means whatever they intend or want it to mean, when they subject words to literally their subjective intentions?
You obviously cannot. Thus to bring this discussion back to the original point, whether white Christians have “more in common” with the Nigeran Anglican women or not, it is the clear testimony of both history and the history of political philosophy that you cannot form a society or community with atheists, no matter how white they may be. Your white neighbour need not be an Evangelical, or even a Christian, but the whole tradition of Western political philosophy, even its most liberal tradition, is clear that you cannot share a society with atheists.