>DM> This is certainly the gist of Machievelli's position
>DM> on the matter. He advises the ruler to go through
>DM> the motions of belief as a means of reassuring the
>DM> ruled and thereby increasing social coherence. The
>DM> cost is trifling and the outcome generally beneficial
>DM> (personally, I very much prefer that the uneducated
>DM> believe they will go to hell if they misbehave: it
>DM> keeps some of them, at least, from attempting to murder
>DM> us in our beds.)
RB> It would be interesting to see what happened if suddenly
RB> everyone was convinced there was no god. Would there
RB> be anarchy? Blood flowing in the streets? And yet,
RB> we as atheists, are convinced that not believing in
RB> dieties has no ill effect on our behavior. Do you really
RB> think religion keeps the borderline assholes in line?
RB> I don't know.
Without education, atheism is as subject to abuse as belief. The classic example is the character of Smedykov in Dostoievsky's "The Brothers Karamazov." Smedykov is the half-witted bastard brother who concludes, "if there is no God, then everything is permitted," and proceeds to beat out his father's brains with a poker. We often get christians around here saying exactly the same thing, some even going so far as to imply that if THEIR personal god did not exist, nothing would keep tham from humping dachhunds and indulging in all sorts of vile behavior. Obviously, such people need a god for the their, society's, and our (not to mention the dachhund's) sakes, at least until they become sufficiently knowledgeable to perceive the need for an ethic in the absence of any divine enforcement and sufficiently wise to develop and practice such a thing.
The atheists who post here are indeed convinced that lack of deity belief does not affect their behavior, but then, as a group, they are sufficiently educated to have ethics.
Hate to sound like a crusty old conservative, but it is the knuckle draggers at the lower end of the social scale (and possibly gene pool) you have to watch out for. Keep them well supplied with scary gods--they are Smedykovs to a man, and pokers are never far from their gripe.
Personally, I would prefer to educate them, but this country appears to have abandoned that option some while ago.