Arguments for Atheism - Living without religion, with a clear conscience


The Argument | The Refutation

The Argument Back to Top

Theists often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of atheism. Although many deaths, wars and murders have been carried out in the name of religion, these are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despots of the 20th Century.

The Refutation Back to Top

Atheists do not try to condone or justify the atrocities and genocides of such individuals, but they would point out that they were not committed in the name of atheism per se but for (often unfathomable) political, racial and nationalistic reasons.

While Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot were almost certainly atheists (the jury is still out in the case of Hitler, and will probably remain so, largely because his statements on religion are so contradictory), the important point is that it was not their lack of belief in a god which drove them and motivated them. The fanatical and uncompromising political, racial and nationalistic dogmas which animated them were not the product of any religious belief (or lack thereof), but political beliefs taken to excess. Thus, while Stalin and Mao happened to be atheists, they did not do their deeds in the name of atheism, but in the name of their own dogmatic variant of Marxism.

Some would claim that fascism and communism, with their extreme dogmatism and reliance on personality cults, are actually themselves like a kind of religion. In the warped communism of Stalin and Mao, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God of Christianity was essentially replaced with the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God of the State.
I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.
- Adolf Hitler (1941)

The characterization of Hitler as an atheist is problematic in the first place, as he repeatedly claimed to be a Christian, while also labelling it a scourge and a disease. However, Hitler in particular, even more than the other despots mentioned, elevated concepts such as blood, soil and nation to quasi-religious status, and he ruled (as did Franco in Spain and Mussolini in Italy) with the open support of the Catholic and Protestant churches of Germany. The history of Christian anti-Semitism throughout Europe since the time of Constantine provided the backdrop to, and to some extent the mindset for, the horrors of the Holocaust. Certainly, there is nothing particularly atheistic about fascist ideology or practice.

It should also be noted that, over the course of human history, religion and the internecine battles between competing religions have caused a great deal of war, bloodshed, repression and strife, and there is insufficient historical data to fully calculate the death tolls from the Crusades, the Witch Trials, the European wars of religion, the European and Russian pogroms, the Mideast conflict, the Islamic Jihad, the Indo-Pakistani War, etc, etc.

But this should not come down to a head count. The overarching point is that many wars have been explicitly fought in the name of religion, while none have been explicitly fought in the name of atheism. In addition, many religious leaders have contributed to secular wars and terrorism by endorsing or supporting the violence, and, conversely, religious fervour is often exploited by secular leaders to support war and terrorism.

Perhaps a better question is why an all-seeing, all-loving God would allow such travesties of justice to take place at all, whether perpetrated by religious or atheist leaders, a matter which is further discussed in the section on the Problem of Evil.

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