Atheism and Depression

I am sure you have all heard how religious belief is declining among young people.  Thus, you have to wonder if there is a connection here:

New research shows there’s been a sharp spike in cases of major depression in the United States in recent years, especially among teens and millennials.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association analysis of medical claims data showed that the overall rate of major depression was 4.4 percent and that diagnosis rates rose 33 percent between 2013 and 2016. Those rates increased 63 percent among teens and 47 percent among millennials.- Depression rates among youth in U.S. higher than ever.

 

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37 Responses to Atheism and Depression

  1. Michael,
    I’m sure this is multifactorial. No doubt that any increase in atheism would have to contribute. What hope is there if there is no afterlife, no ultimate truth or justice?
    I do think that there is solid evidence that the rise of social media has greatly contributed to depression and suicide amongst young people. It’s omnipresent in their lives and there’s no escape from the comparing & social shaming that they bring with them into every waking moment of their lives.
    Many other factors unique to modern times – John Stonestreet at the Colson Center and others have really been spot on in diagnosing the reasons.

    –William
    Forest, VA

  2. mattwwriter says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is an interesting thing to think about. Personally I suffered with depression and anxiety as a Christian. I was bullied at church and had no diagnosis of my mental health, which made things worse. Flash-forward to now (agnostic, not atheist) and I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been.
    Also, we have more diagnosis nowadays because we know more about mental health and how it works.
    It’s worth considering, as all things are, but just thought it would be good for you to hear a first-hand account of someone who goes against this theory.
    Have a great day!

  3. Michael says:

    I’m sure this is multifactorial. No doubt that any increase in atheism would have to contribute. What hope is there if there is no afterlife, no ultimate truth or justice?
    I do think that there is solid evidence that the rise of social media has greatly contributed to depression and suicide amongst young people. It’s omnipresent in their lives and there’s no escape from the comparing & social shaming that they bring with them into every waking moment of their lives.

    I agree with this. For young people who don’t take belief in God seriously, the internet can function as a type of God-substitute. It can help them feel connected to a larger reality. It’s a place to search for validation, a place to be noticed, and perhaps a sense of belonging. Maybe even find a meaning for life. But as you note, the internet is a cruel place, full of lots of mean and/or mentally sick people.

  4. Michael says:

    It’s worth considering, as all things are, but just thought it would be good for you to hear a first-hand account of someone who goes against this theory.

    Thanks. But I don’t have any “theory” here.

  5. mattwwriter says:

    Well, you do, since there’s no hardline evidence to suggest a permanent link.

    Also, just read the comment above, I’m 25 and spend 2 hours online a day (similar with my friends), all the rabid users I know are 40+

    I wonder, where are you getting your opinions on today’s youth from?

  6. People become depressed or anxious for biological reasons, not because of their beliefs about a god.

    Otherwise the god theory has trouble explaining why depression and anxiety respond to medication and to Eastern techniques like yoga and meditation which produce measurable physiological changes in the body.

    For example:

    Buddhists ‘really are happier’

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3047291.stm

  7. Michael says:

    People become depressed or anxious for biological reasons, not because of their beliefs about a god.

    Biology plays a role. But so too does the environment.

    Otherwise the god theory has trouble explaining why depression and anxiety respond to medication and to Eastern techniques like yoga and meditation which produce measurable physiological changes in the body.

    For example:

    Buddhists ‘really are happier’

    This type of social science is too squishy to function as an authority. For example, it looks like most of the pro-meditation science is cargo cult science:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2018/02/10/sam-harris-meditation-and-science/

    I think this article nails it:

    When asked what the average person could do in order to make sure that the information that is backing public policy is credible, Randall recommended: “Always ask ‘has this study been reproduced? Did this study have pre-registered research protocols? Does it support an unpopular belief?’ If the answer to any of these is no, suspend judgment. Don’t disbelieve blindly, but don’t believe blindly either.”

  8. Michael says:

    Well, you do, since there’s no hardline evidence to suggest a permanent link.

    Can you quote where I claimed there is “hardline evidence to suggest a permanent link?”

  9. mattwwriter says:

    You didn’t, that’s what I inferred from your response and I apologise.

    But you did say that it wasn’t a theory to you, so you already take it to be a fact. And for a fact you need strong evidence.

  10. Michael says:

    But you did say that it wasn’t a theory to you, so you already take it to be a fact. And for a fact you need strong evidence.

    A theory is something that is well established (I’m thinking scientifically). All I did is wonder if there is a connection. That doesn’t rise to the level of theory.

  11. mattwwriter says:

    Fair point. Sorry it I came off as misinformed RE: definition of a theory.

    I just saw your original post and thought it would be useful for you to consider a human perspective.
    Have a great day!

  12. Kevin says:

    The one time I had clinical depression, it got bad enough I was fantasizing about suicide every day. I simply could not experience the feeling of happiness anymore, while the feeling of sadness or hopelessness would wash over me like a wave. I was finally smart enough to mention it to someone, and they convinced me to go to a doctor for meds. I got some seratonin production stimulated, and I’ve been fine ever since. Haven’t taken meds in about six or seven years and only needed them for less than a year.

    While there was obviously a hormonal problem keeping me from being able to feel happy, this condition followed about a solid decade of terrible marriage and equally terrible divorce and aftermath, so I’d say environment was definitely the stimulator for the depression in my case.

    That said, experience and research lead me to believe that generally the more prosperous people are, the less they think of God. These people are of course also pretty happy in general. On the flip side, the atheists I know who are dirt poor are far more miserable than the Christians I know who are also that poor. And poor atheists tend to vote left-wing, wanting the government to lift them up. Marx figured that out, I think.

    The happiest people I know are actually poor Christians, while the most perpetually bitter are poor atheists.

  13. TFBW says:

    From what I can tell, the connection between declining religion, increasing use of social media, and increased depression goes something like this.

    The decline in religion results in a decline in shared moral values. Pick a religion — just about any religion, really: this doesn’t have to be specific to Christianity. One thing a typical religion provides is a moral framework: a set of things to be valued or frowned upon, and some kind of narrative which turns those disparate facts into a coherent whole. Most often, this is based around the teaching and life-example of some person who is considered an exemplar. People who are adherents of the religion use this as a moral guide. People who are not adherents of the religion but who live in a society dominated by that religion tend to adopt the values as a matter of cultural assimilation: they don’t follow the religion, and they may disbelieve its narrative, but they tend to take most of the actual values it promotes for granted — often with some very specific exceptions (if they can get away with it), particularly as regards sexual morality.

    As religion declines (or, equivalently, as religion itself cedes influence over the culture), shared moral values decrease, and strident differences of opinion emerge. The absence of religion does not decrease the human sense of right and wrong: people become no less moralising and willing to declare things “good” or “evil”; they simply lose common standards for making such judgements. Instead, some other foundation takes the place of the shared religious narrative. When retreating from a shared narrative, people will generally go in whatever direction seems right to them based on their own emotional instincts. This means we have a fracturing of moral values on the lines of personality. Further, the normative nature of morality means that people won’t generally be satisfied with, “you do your thing, I’ll do mine.” They feel a duty to oppose evil. This results in the politicisation of morality, and politicisation results in tribalism, and tribalism results in division of the kind that will not be resolved by reference to facts and evidence. Under the influence of Tribalism, human beings can not even agree on what the facts are: they look at the same data and see different things.

    Tribalism results in a fractured society, where half your countrymen suddenly seem like they have turned into monsters. This creates a form of Moral Panic, where people are on high alert for indications whether other people are a threat. This would cause anxiety and depression in and of itself: high alert status is stressful. It also results in a purity spiral within the tribes, such that you run the ever-greater risk of being severely punished by your own tribe for stepping out of line. It’s a remarkable thing that one could write about the cases (plural) where someone has made an unintentionally politically incorrect Tweet before stepping onto a plane, and then discovered on landing that there has been such an uproar about it within the tribe that the offender has acquired pariah status: they were sacked in absentia, mid-flight, and have become essentially unemployable due to social stigma.

    This is a social media phenomenon, but it’s not just a social media phenomenon: there has to be an environment of moral panic to induce this kind of insane reaction at scale. The moral panic is brought on by widening political divisions which are in turn caused by the loss of shared values brought on by the decline in religion. The moral panic usually needs some kind of trigger event to really kick it off, but we had that with the shock victories of Trump and Brexit. Even for those outside the USA and UK, those political battles triggered many into a state of moral panic, as they had not realised how thoroughly surrounded they are with people who have abhorrent political views, or “Nazis and Fascists” as they prefer to call them.

    If you were a social media user, and you were a member of a tribe that adhered to some form of political correctness, then you would be under pressure to perform in accordance with that view of correctness on a fairly constant basis. The effects of this are non-uniform, as acceptable behaviour can vary on the basis of race, sex, and sexual proclivity: some will need to self-police more than others. Even for the tribal leaders, however, the process of constantly policing the behaviour of others can be quite exhausting.

    This is the world we live in, and I hate it. On the other hand, I think that reality is becoming an excellent rebuttal to the now-dated New Atheist talking point that “religion ruins everything”. No tribe has divided up more severely and descended more rapidly into moral panic and purity spiral than the anti-religion atheist tribe. Even an awful religion is better for social cohesion than atheism. The only kind of coherent officially-atheist state which can exist is the kind held together by some other moral narrative, like Marxism, and Marxism is the most horrible ideology on Earth, based on body count.

  14. essiep says:

    Correlation does not mean causation.
    Americans are getting fatter so is thst the cause of the rise in atheism? No, neither is there a link between depression and non-belief.

  15. pennywit says:

    If we assume, arguendo, that there is some level of correlation/causation between the decline in religious identification and an increase in depression, does that necessarily flow from the lack of belief in divinity? Or does it flow from the social connections and support network provided by a religious community?

  16. TFBW says:

    @pennywit: I would say mostly the latter. It seems a safe bet that social stress is a larger contributor to depression than existential angst.

  17. TFBW says:

    @essiep: you can’t just dismiss the possibility of a link by parroting, “correlation is not causation.” Sometimes correlation exists because of a causal link. The correct maxim is, “not all correlation is a result of causation.”

  18. FZM says:

    The only kind of coherent officially-atheist state which can exist is the kind held together by some other moral narrative, like Marxism, and Marxism is the most horrible ideology on Earth, based on body count.

    The big problem for the Marxist-Leninist versions of this is that they crumbled from within a generation or two after being implemented and left a kind of quiet but huge social catastrophe in their wake. It’s interesting though that ‘softer’ forms of Marxism are still pretty current and, I think, still really at the core of the main secular alternatives to religious moral narratives. The other kind of secular alternative I see is the secular ‘nationalist’ one, this can make a certain use of traditional religion at the same time as rejecting a lot of the spiritual/theological content and being more focused on politics.

    I’m undecided about whether Marxism really is the most horrible ideology. It has to be weighed against a couple of far-right options, first the National Socialist option, not that widely adopted, had a limited life span but the intensity of killing and destruction in that limited time is impressive. Then there are these far-right regimes that don’t have the utopian racial and militaristic content of National Socialism but engage in democidal activities based essentially on economic class and actually resemble Marxist-Leninist regimes, just targeting different social groups.

    On the other hand, I think that reality is becoming an excellent rebuttal to the now-dated New Atheist talking point that “religion ruins everything”.

    I think observation of what was happening in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s alone should have made this point totally redundant.

  19. stcordova says:

    Michael,

    There is a sociological study that is not being done that is peripherally related to the OP. Apologies in advance if it is off-topic however, but I think it is too interesting not to ponder…

    While the younger generation are losing faith as a whole, there is potentially one demographic group that is growing in faith, namely, SCIENTISTS! While scientists in the 70’s and 80’s tend to be atheist, the ones in their 20’s and 30’s are theistic. There might be any number of explanations for this generational drift, but…as I’ve been taking biology classes at the National Institutes of Health FAES Graduate school where many of my classmates are post-docs of MD’s. Classmates have confided their belief in God and I can sense the students and professors have closet design sympathies.

    One biology student I met through an atheist group, by her senior year said she no longer was an atheist. The universe didn’t seem accidental. I’ve met young students who were atheists in their early teens and became theists after learning of the complexity of the cell. Even though they may have remained evolutionists, they find the universe and life too well designed not to think of God!

    This group, namely young theists who used to be atheists, should be polled in terms of whether they feel their belief in God has given them more ability to cope with life and suffering and whether belief in God gives them hope….

  20. TFBW says:

    Will someone please explain to me how any kind of Socialism, National or otherwise, gets classified as “far right”. It’s the far right … of Socialism … which is still pretty far left. Further left than, say, Social Democrats, who are still left of centre but not quite Socialists as such. As to whether Stalin was a bigger monster than Hitler, have you heard of the Holodomor? I grant you it’s an open question whether the Nazi style of Socialism would have resulted in a larger body count if it had been practised on a wider scale, but the Marxist-Leninist model had three unrelated implementations in Russia, China, and Cambodia, and they were all slaughterhouses. Based on actual experience, it’s the number one most blood-soaked ideology on Earth. Nazism tends to attract opposition because of its overt expansionism: it’s a threat to external parties. Leninism tends to run its bloody course because it conducts most of its slaughter internally and behind a curtain.

  21. Kevin says:

    The whole concept of “left” and “right” as useful metrics is pretty silly and incoherent. Authoritarian ideologies and anarchist ideologies are the dangerous ones, which on the typical compass would be the “far top” and “far bottom”. But we never see that one in the news.

  22. Dhay says:

    Venturist Church > Buddhists ‘really are happier’ …

    Let’s look at the conclusions of that Ekman study, as reported by that 2003 BBC News article:

    Researchers at University of California San Francisco Medical Centre have found the practise can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory.

    Tame? Now there’s a pop-science non-scientific term for you. It’s as vague and imprecise as you can get. I hope it wasn’t in the original paper.

    They found that experienced Buddhists, who meditate regularly, were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry compared to other people.

    How did they test the levels of shock, fluster, surprise and anger? MRI or fMRI just shows activity in areas of the brain associated with good mood and positive feelings – but the brain is multi-functional so the same area is also associated with much else; which particular cause of the activity is ambiguous, and the researchers’ inference to it’s ‘good mood and positive feelings’ should be tentative and qualified and need I point out that “shock, fluster, surprise and anger” are bad moods and negative feelings, different from good moods and positive feelings and (I understand to be) associated with different brain areas. Looks like crap research, or perhaps a very muddled BBC science correspondent.

    These “experienced Buddhists” – were they monks, who have dedicated years of their lives wholetime to meditation; and who are freed of normal stresses of earning a living, freed from getting to work on time and working long hours, freed from coping with a wife, social life and demanding children? …

    Were the “other people” a genuine control group of people just like you and I; were they meditation-interested people, people unlike you and I; were they perhaps even Buddhist monastic novitiates; were they WEIRD university psychology students? …

    Without such basic information it’s impossible to assess Ekman’s claim that:

    “The most reasonable hypothesis is that there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek.”

    After all, Buddhist monks (whether conscientious or not) have a very laid-back, relaxed, stress-free life compared to most “other people.”

    And another thought is that there is something very different about anyone who will give up a normal life to become a Buddhist monk:

    *

    The ‘separate study’ in the BBC article “revealed activity in the left prefrontal lobes of experienced Buddhist practitioners.” My bet is, these were monks, probably Tibetan monks from Dharamsala: the researcher makes explicit reference to “those apparently happy, calm Buddhist souls one regularly comes across in places such as Dharamsala, India, really are happy.”

    There’s no reference whatsoever to controls.

    *

    A presumably separate(?) experiment dated 2007 “compared newly trained meditators to people with up to 54,000 hours of meditation experience.” Gosh, 54,000 hours is about six years, two months, solid: or if we estimate they didn’t meditate for 24 hours a day but for a mere twelve hours a day, that’s more like twelve years; at eight hours a day, eighteen years; or at a pitiful six hours a day it takes about twenty five years to accumulate 54,000 hours. What a waste of a life. (Plainly several had 40,000 plus hours, which is not all that much less.)

    While the subjects meditated inside the MRI, the researchers periodically blasted them with disturbing noises. Among the experienced meditators, the noise had less effect on the brain areas involved in emotion and decision-making than among novice meditators. Among meditators with more than 40,000 hours of lifetime practice, these areas were hardly affected at all. “Most people, if they heard a baby screaming, would have some emotional response,” Davidson says, but not the highly experienced meditators. “They do hear the sound, we can detect that in the auditory cortex, but they don’t have the emotional reaction.”

    https://news.wisc.edu/brain-scans-show-meditation-changes-minds-increases-attention/

    This highlights that the purpose of meditation is renunciation, not actually the cultivation of positive qualities; not empathy – what normal person would not respond emotionally to a baby screaming – but sociopathic qualities.

    Continuing with the next part of the Davidson article

    As Davidson notes, any comparison of average middle-aged Americans to people who have meditated daily for decades must try to associate the differences with meditation, and not lifestyle factors such as isolation or religious faith.

    Which points not to a strength of this particular experiment, but to its weakness: it failed to do so, it didn’t even try to do so.

    “This was a highly unusual group of people. Two-thirds of the experienced meditators were Tibetan monks, recruited with the help of the Dalai Lama, and they all had an extremely long history of formal practice.”

    Yes, I’d certainly call the experimental subjects highly unusual.

    *

    Let’s reprise meditation inducing sociopathic qualities:

    The article didn’t say what Han Chinese and Americans would do. It does say that “practicing Buddhist monks near the city of Lhasa” (presumably Tibetan monks) are similar to psychopaths and people with brain damage.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/does-secularism-make-you-more-vulnerable-to-mental-illness/#comment-21320

    There’s also this, from a psychopathy researcher who found he himself was clinically a psychopath:

    I gave a talk two years ago in India at the Mumbai LitFest on personality disorders and psychopathy, and we also had a historian from Oxford talk about violence against women in terms of the brain and social development. After it was over, a woman came up to me and asked if we could talk. She was a psychiatrist but also a science writer and said, “You said that you live in a flat emotional world—that is, that you treat everybody the same. That’s Buddhist.” I don’t know anything about Buddhism but she continued on and said, “It’s too bad that the people close to you are so disappointed in being close to you. Any learned Buddhist would think this was great.” I don’t know what to do with that.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/life-as-a-nonviolent-psychopath/282271/

    So I question what sort of mental health it is which 40,000 hour Tibetan Buddhist monk meditators possess and which Sam Harris style Secular Buddhist meditators aspire to.

  23. TFBW says:

    @Kevin: “The whole concept of “left” and “right” as useful metrics is pretty silly and incoherent.”

    I think that the usefulness of the terms is intentionally undermined by Leftists who want to smear the Right with detestable Leftist ideologies like Nazism — not just because they want people to develop a knee-jerk aversion to anything on the Right, but also because they don’t want people to even think about the idea that the Far Right actually offers. So long as you understand the Left/Right distinction in terms of Communism at the far left, in which there is almost no such thing as private property (you can probably lay exclusive claim to your toothbrush), and Laissez-faire Capitalism at the far right, in which one might say there is almost no such thing as public property (in the sense of government-owned), the distinction is quite clear. You don’t have to like the Far Right, but you should at least appreciate what it actually stands for, and it has nothing to do with the Nazis (a variety of Socialist).

    The authoritarian/libertarian axis is not so clearly distinct from the Left/Right axis as “the political compass” would suggest. It’s hard to be a Far Right authoritarian, because the whole point of the Far Right is a lack of government intervention. There’s moral authoritarianism, which might conceivably be distinct from economic interventionism, but one kind of control tends to encourage others, so it’s not an independent variable in practice.

  24. John Branyan says:

    This may be of interest. A study on the existential beliefs of school shooters.
    http://www.pfeiferbirgit.com/images/publications/implicit_religion_of_school_shootings.pdf

  25. FZM says:

    Will someone please explain to me how any kind of Socialism, National or otherwise, gets classified as “far right”. It’s the far right … of Socialism … which is still pretty far left. Further left than, say, Social Democrats, who are still left of centre but not quite Socialists as such. As to whether Stalin was a bigger monster than Hitler, have you heard of the Holodomor?

    National Socialism is usually categorised as far-right because of its racial, nationalistic and openly anti-democratic content, and it was much more tolerant of private property and business than Marxist-Leninism.

    I live in Belarus at present so yes, the Holodomor was next door so to speak. But, the high estimates for the number of deaths from this and the general Soviet anti-‘kulak’ democide campaign it was part of run to about 10 million across the USSR. Nazi activities within the territory of the USSR during their occupation are estimated to have caused around 15 million deaths of Soviet civilians. Plus, the Nazis were responsible for the unprovoked attack on the USSR in the first place so are likely responible for the deaths of a lot of the 10 million Soviet military killed, besides the at least 3 million German casualties fighting that war. They gratuitously attacked Poland in 1939 as well, 3 million Polish Jews and about 2.5 million non-Jewish Poles are killed by the Nazis during their occupation, and so on.

    I grant you it’s an open question whether the Nazi style of Socialism would have resulted in a larger body count if it had been practised on a wider scale, but the Marxist-Leninist model had three unrelated implementations in Russia, China, and Cambodia, and they were all slaughterhouses. Based on actual experience, it’s the number one most blood-soaked ideology on Earth.

    Himmler had a bizarre plan to elimate between 70 and 80 million Slavs in the Eastern territories and enslave the rest to facilitate the repopulation of the area with Germans, this is one reason why so many Poles and Soviet civilians were killed, so probably if the Nazis had been victorious more people would have died.

    I had forgotten about Cambodia and North Korea when I was writing, one was Marxist-Leninist inspired and the other is the Maoist variant. These examples might tip the balance, at least when more is known about what has been happening in North Korea. I find China to be a more difficult example because while the Communist regime caused mass death as a result of its policies, it was not the first Chinese social revolutionary movement to have this impact; the strange Taiping form of Chinese Christianity went to war with Confucians and Taoists of the Imperial establishment in the 1860s and between them they caused what is supposed to rank as the bloodiest social conflict in Chinese history, and Marxism wasn’t a factor in this.

  26. FZM says:

    I think that the usefulness of the terms is intentionally undermined by Leftists who want to smear the Right with detestable Leftist ideologies like Nazism — not just because they want people to develop a knee-jerk aversion to anything on the Right, but also because they don’t want people to even think about the idea that the Far Right actually offers. So long as you understand the Left/Right distinction in terms of Communism at the far left, in which there is almost no such thing as private property (you can probably lay exclusive claim to your toothbrush), and Laissez-faire Capitalism at the far right, in which one might say there is almost no such thing as public property (in the sense of government-owned), the distinction is quite clear.

    I think mostly the labels aren’t used in this way though, the right wing/left wing distinction has always had more than purely economic content. With this kind of criteria you can end up with Nazism as being classed as a moderate left ideology or political movement, because of its acceptance of private property and business and obsessive denunciation of Communism.

  27. Pennywit says:

    The whole concept of “left” and “right” as useful metrics is pretty silly and incoherent.

    “Left” and “right,” IMO, are meaningful only in relation to each other within a particular state’s politics.

  28. Pennywit says:

    Relatedly, my own observation is that Far Right and Far Left are something of a horseshoe. The ideologies at the extremes can have different ostensible goals, but the methods they consider acceptable — and the way they govern when in power — tend to make them indistinguishable.

  29. hikayamasan353 says:

    There is one study that shows some sort of atheism-depression positive correlation – which means that atheists are more likely to be depressed…

  30. Pennywit says:

    On the flip side … I wonder how many people consider themselves members of a religious faith (and attend religious services) not because they believe in the religion, but because they feel a social connection with the other people in that faith.

  31. FZM says:

    On the flip side … I wonder how many people consider themselves members of a religious faith (and attend religious services) not because they believe in the religion, but because they feel a social connection with the other people in that faith.

    It might depend where you are in the world, but I think in all the places where a low percentage of the population regularly attend religious services, this is more uncommon. Part of the reason people feel a connection with other people at religious events in the first place will be that they share beliefs and practices. (And there are some religions where religious practice is considered as, or more, important than holding particular propositional beliefs).

  32. TFBW says:

    FZM said:

    With this kind of criteria you can end up with Nazism as being classed as a moderate left ideology or political movement, because of its acceptance of private property and business and obsessive denunciation of Communism.

    Nazism isn’t moderate left: it’s merely one degree to the right of Socialism. Look to Social Democracy if you want moderate Left.

    Let’s say that Nazism is equivalent to Fascism (rather than Socialism) for the sake of argument. The principle difference between a Socialist state and a Fascist one is the question of ostensible ownership of the means of production. In Socialism, the state owns it. Under Fascism, it’s privately owned, but the state dictates what is and isn’t done with it, so they exercise the same degree of high-level control without the need to manage day-to-day operation. Fascism is just Socialism with that “improvement”.

    As to the propensity of the Communists and Fascists to fight each other so fiercely, the largest fights happen over the smallest differences, and no feud is quite so fierce as one between siblings. The different interpreters of Marx have always been at each other’s throats when it comes to implementing policy. Bolshevik-Menshevik Split, anyone? Even now, you can bet your bottom dollar that anyone railing against Fascism has the heart of a Communist.

  33. nsr says:

    My experience of depression has led me to conclude that the only logically consistent outcome of atheism is nihilism, something in which I dabbled in my youth before coming to Christ. Most atheists aren’t nihilists, but only because of an emotional desire to create and maintain the illusion of value and meaning in their lives. If God doesn’t exist we are just animals who procreate (if we can) and then die, no more significant than any other creature.

  34. Dhay says:

    Venturist Church > Buddhists ‘really are happier’ …

    There seems to be a big difference between the full-time Tibetan monks and the part-time (though dedicated) students of Soto Zen in America referred to here:

    79. The description of effortlessness and simplicity [of the Zen Master – Dhay] would resonate well with Suzuki’s students as it contrasted so with their Zen practice. Besides starting the day at 4 A.M. with meditation, many had families and jobs to balance, they also attended week long sitting meditation retreats (J. sesshin) and when possible three month long training periods (J. ango) at the Center’s monastery, Tassaraja. For many, the long meditation periods could be painful. Their lives would hardly be described as effortless and simple.

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/Zen_Master_in_America.html

    Or happy?

    *

    Looks like the great Zen Master Shenryu Suzuki, author of the famous and influential Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, was hardly a twinkling-eyed empathetic compassionate person:

    Suzuki’s relationship with his children was less than ideal. Despite being thought of as quiet, soft spoken and kind by his Japanese parishioners, at home he often scolded his oldest daughter Yasuko quite harshly. Suzuki’s relationship with his son Hoitsu was sometimes difficult. Hoitsu would run from his father, at times frightened by “the fierce look in his eyes.” His daughter Omi committed suicide after nine years in a mental hospital. Suzuki, living in America at the time, did not attend her funeral, despite pleas from his son Hoitsu, living in Japan. Suzuki waited six months to tell his other son, who lived across the street from the SFZC, that his sister was dead.

    He was a nasty domestic tyrant.

    I’ve no idea whether he was happy.

  35. FZM says:

    Nazism isn’t moderate left: it’s merely one degree to the right of Socialism. Look to Social Democracy if you want moderate Left.

    I think Nazism is a bit of a ‘wild card’ because it mixed party or state direction of the economy with a commitment to private property and, for social Darwinian reasons, a commitment to maintain business competition. But that was in the practical framework of a kind of despotism beholden to the ideas and feelings of a single man at any given moment.

    The central importance of racial ideas in Nazism is also something that can get overlooked, I suspect because now it seems crazy and almost no one in contemporary politics will believe that a central part of economic, scientific, technological success is dependent upon being of the correct Nordic or Aryan race.

    As to the propensity of the Communists and Fascists to fight each other so fiercely, the largest fights happen over the smallest differences, and no feud is quite so fierce as one between siblings.

    The reason for this, at least historically, may be that in the Fascist regimes, in places like Italy, Spain and Portugal, while the state and the party may play a dominant role in managing the economy, the party ended up dominated by middle and traditional upper class people and worked in close partnership with traditional social elites (banking, big business, large landowners etc.) The parties of the far left in these countries tended to have membership skewed to the opposite end of the social scale, or later on, also became protest parties against the lack of democracy. The struggle seems to have been most fierce where the inequalities and blocks on social mobility were greatest and where the poorer people lived from wage labour alone and had no property or land of their own.

  36. TFBW says:

    @FZM: “The central importance of racial ideas in Nazism is also something that can get overlooked …”

    Given the modern Left’s utter obsession with race and the evils of White Supremacy, I’d have to disagree. Hyper-racism and hyper-sexism is part of the current moral panic. The White Male is the root of all evil, and Diversity (the diminution of the White Male) is our Strength. Nazi racism itself is essentially dead, but the reverse Nazi racism of the Left is stronger than ever. If anything is going to revive Nazi Racial Supremacy as a popular idea, it’s the Left making such a huge fuss about it, and accusing anyone and everyone of being a Nazi.

    “The reason for this, at least historically, may be that in the Fascist regimes …”

    Possibly, but it doesn’t explain the in-fighting elsewhere. I think that the ideology is simply prone to purity spirals and auto-cannibalism.

  37. FZM says:

    Given the modern Left’s utter obsession with race and the evils of White Supremacy, I’d have to disagree. Hyper-racism and hyper-sexism is part of the current moral panic. The White Male is the root of all evil, and Diversity (the diminution of the White Male) is our Strength. Nazi racism itself is essentially dead, but the reverse Nazi racism of the Left is stronger than ever. If anything is going to revive Nazi Racial Supremacy as a popular idea, it’s the Left making such a huge fuss about it, and accusing anyone and everyone of being a Nazi.

    I think you are right that Nazi racism as such is essentially dead, or extremely fringe, to the point that a lot of its ‘grand narrative’ content and its original context is forgotten, at least outside of places like Germany itself and Ukraine. The way many on the left define terms like Nazi nowadays seems to be something of their own creation.

    There is some irony though in the idea of white supremacy, white people and the white male being so ‘problematic’ and Nazi given that all of the actual victims of Nazism were white Europeans, very large numbers of whom were white males. And somehow, in a place Belarus, which suffered so much destruction under actual Nazi occupation and whose culture was/is so heavily shaped by a real life revolutionary socialist regime, people are by Western standards relentlessly politically incorrect.

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