Social Stability without Religion

I consider myself an atheist and therefore ask this question, not for debate, but for my own personal uncertainty. What would happen to the world, specifically to western civilization, if science completely disproved any existence of any and all deists and religions? I realize this is a very broad question, so please let me explain where I’m going with this: I believe that many people accept the life they have because they believe that something better waits for them in the “afterlife." For example: They make minimum wage when the more fortunate’s incomes are in the billions. They die of curable diseases when high priced medical procedures exist. People face racism, deadly storms, and transportation catastrophes. Others join the military and deploy into "imminent danger" zones. In other words, I feel as though many people would not accept these horrific, but realistic, situations if they thought this world is all they get in life. Do you think that without this so called crutch, that anarchy would rear up as people realized how the elite own an unspeakably imbalanced percentage of resources? I honestly think that it would cause at the least a serious threat to social stability. Thanks in advance for answering this question!
Atheist Answer: 

I agree with much of your thinking, but I'm a lot more optimistic.

Religion can keep people from seeking a better life in the here and now. Here's an extreme example: Christianity was drummed into African slaves around the world, at least partly to give them a better existence to look forward to that did not at any stage involve killing their masters.

However, look at what happened in the end. While there were a few slave uprisings, that's not what freed them as a whole. Freed slaves and their descendants slowly gathered the political, financial and social impetus to change basic attitudes toward slavery worldwide, until they had enough public support for such achievements as the Emancipation Proclamation. The cause wasn't only championed by believers; William Lloyd Garrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Ingersoll were all atheists or agnostics, and Abraham Lincoln thought pretty darn freely even if he was finally a believer.

To answer your question directly:

I'm not confident that there will ever be a proof of the nonexistence of gods. It's the ultimate unprovable negative. If it did happen, however, I see two major reasons why we would likely avoid anarchy:

Firstly, pragmatism. As the slaves would have realised, violently subjugating others and/or completely destroying the society in which you live is probably not the best way to improve your lot. Peaceful advancement from wherever you are will win you the respect of your peers and any observers, rather than widespread condemnation and retaliation.

Secondly, empathy. After you realise you have only one life to live, if you care for your fellow humans at all you extend this epiphany, and it dawns that they each only have one life themselves. Finding ways to be happier without harming others will reward whatever conscience you have.

Finally, C510, don't take this the wrong way but consider that your question is rather patronising towards its subjects. The idea that while you and I do fine without faith, "people" deprived of it would go off the rails is somewhat elitist in itself.

- SmartLX

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