I have been struck repeatedly by a certain fact about episodes of sudden or extraordinary expansion of the state: when push came to shove, those who resisted–often to the death–tended to be people of faith. In U.S. history they included primarily Anabaptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other marginalized Protestant sects. In Nazi Germany, many of the regime’s opponents were Roman Catholics, as were the opponents in Poland under Communist rule. Atheists as a class did not distinguish themselves as resisters of tyranny or totalitarianism, although some individual atheists did resist.
Pointer from Tyler Cowen.
In my Notes from Haidt, I included the findings he cited that religious communes did better than non-religious ones in the late 19th century. I suspect that religious movements do well at solving some free-rider problems that give atheists trouble. Resistance to tyranny would be one example. The incentive for the individual is not to resist while hoping that others will resist.
I am troubled by the story that Jews tell concerning Passover. It is not about resistance to tyranny. Instead, it is about oppressors and victims, with a higher power intervening on the victims’ behalf. My concern is that this story has gradually evolved into one in which successful individuals and corporations are viewed as oppressors, others are viewed as victims, and the higher power that we should pray to for intervention is government.
Another way to read the Passover story is as a story of emigration. From ancient times through the 20th century, emigration has been the salvation of the Jews
What is the answer to oppression? I don’t believe that a higher power is the answer. I believe that choice and mobility are the answer. Imagine a world in which people could change jurisdictions freely. No restrictions on emigration or immigration. Go further, and imagine jurisdictions that are not determined by geography (the Snow Crash scenario, if you will). To me, that is a world in which the oppressors have been defeated and people are free.