Now, another common accusation towards atheism is that it leads to communism or that, more generally, that it is responsible for the many terrible genocides of the 20th century. I have heard this attack from many people over the years but one of the more recent examples I have seen was in this video where Matt Dillahunty debates father Hans Jacobse, who despite being fairly liberal religious leader still believes this slanderous lie.
There are many more cases of this but rather than just start going through all of them if you doubt that this McCarthy era argument is alive an well just take a look at this Google search.
Of course most will admit that bad things have been done in the name of religion but, they will say, Hitler, Marx, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong were all atheists and they killed more than any of religion ever killed throughout history. First I’ll point out that this argument, even if correct, is an affirmation of consequence and thus does nothing to prove god actually exists. Arguing that god must exist because not believing in him might make us violent is not even an argument worth refuting. However, this argument is flawed; indeed it is flawed in so many ways I am not even sure where to begin in refuting it.
|Bullshit at it’s best.|
First, since Hitler was the only member of this group who was not communist, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, I will speak about him shortly. There is basically no evidence that Hitler was an atheist, though I will not claim to know exactly what his religious beliefs were he never once said that he did not believe in some kind of god. First it needs to be mentioned that no matter was his religious beliefs were all of Europe had been steeped in an antisemitism based upon Christianity for well more than a thousand years. Martin Luther, the German reformer, wrote a book entitled “On Jews and their Lies” in 1543, nearly 4 centuries before the Third Reich, and his views were hardly uncommon.
|Good Christian literature in the 16th century.|
Hitler’s speeches were peppered with religious symbolism. You can easily dig up many quotes from him on the internet, but just one will do for the purposes of this article.
“I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” [Adolph Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936]
Of course it is not possible to know how much of it he actually believed and how much was used just to manipulate the German populace, but to argue he was clearly atheist is entirely contrary to the facts we have available.
|Perhaps by lord he meant the flying spaghetti monster? Oh wait FSM doesn’t condone this sort of shit.|
Communism is something quite a bit different of course in that it is atheistic, or at least very anti-religious. Of course we can look back into the history of communism and see the thinking in the famous quote by Karl Marx
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo”
One will noticed that Marx speaks about religion not god, but clearly he was no friend of religious beliefs and certainly many communist regimes seem to mandate a lack of religion
I could get bogged down in a debate about the history of Marxism here, but quite frankly this is a blog post not a graduate dissertation, so I will simply stipulate that the most if not all communist governments have mandated atheism.
One exception I must note. I personally think that North Korea may well be an exception as they believe that the current leader is a reincarnation of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, which strikes me as, if not a religious claim, then something rather like such a claim. In any case I do not think communism’s support of atheism says anything about the modern atheist movement in America.
|Though we might want to check under the bed just in case.|
There are two reasons that the argument that atheism is to blame for the atrocities of the 20th century fails, one is a factual problem and the other a philosophical one.
First, there these communist countries forced atheism on people, this is not only ethically wrong it is entirely contrary to the goals of the modern atheist movement. While I will not hide the fact that I think the world would be a better place if it were less religious, (not perfect, just better) how one reaches the conclusion of atheism is actually more important than the conclusion itself. I happen to believe that the world would be a better place without religion because religion is not rational or evidence based and it is far better to believe in something for rational reasons. However, forcing a belief using political or physical force does not make anyone more rational.
Many societies other can communists ones have forced a belief onto its people such as many Middle Eastern countries where many governments are Islamic theocracies or Europe in the middle ages being controlled by Catholicism in many ways. None of these are examples of humans behaving rationally, and forcing any view onto a populace using political force is not something that leads to more rational people.
|On second thought maybe I should reconsider Catholicism.|
There is a further philosophical problem with ALL of these claims. It must be asked if atheism is both necessary and sufficient to justify the atrocities of these totalitarian regimes. “Necessary and sufficient” is a phrase in logic used to define the two elements needed to prove causality.
One must ask if atheism is necessary, meaning that totalitarian regimes, and the atrocities they commit are necessarily atheistic. Second, one must ask if atheism is sufficient, meaning that the mere lack of belief in a god is sufficient to justify the atrocities.
Of course there is no argument that manages to prove either necessity or sufficiency. In fact, plenty of empirical data exists to show that atheism is hardly necessary. There are plenty of examples totalitarian regimes and human rights violations from a variety of cultures and religions.
Now when it comes specifically to communism I could grant that atheism is necessary for it, except that there are quite a few theists these days that support Communism. Liberation theology for instance seems to be rather chummy with a lot of communist ideals.
Now, as to atheism’s sufficiency, even if you take the most extreme definition of atheism where it is defined as a total rejection of even the possibility of any god existing, (no atheist I have ever met would go this far) one could not state that such a claim could, on its own, justify genocide, eugenics, communism, or totalitarianism. Each one of these ideas are completely irrational, there is no empirical support for them and there is no valid reason to assert that just because atheism is sometimes mixed up in these things that it is integral to why they all went so wrong.
This argument is made more out of fear and prejudice than anything else, the cure for those prejudices is for us to be out and letting people know that these are not the sorts of things we believe in. Preachers and other religious leaders may keep attacking us with all the prejudice and bigotry that they can muster, but more and more people will realize that the things they say just do not mesh with reality, and that we atheists are not the bogeyman that religion makes us out to be.
I believe that the idea that atheists do not care about ethics and that we turn a blind eye to human suffering will become increasingly laughable, and that the views of the bigots who say such things will eventually be ignored by most people in the same way people ignore the KKK today. Indeed it is quite the opposite, many atheists think this way precisely because we do care and we see the harm religion does to people and societies. As long as religion is used as a tool to hurt our fellow humans beings we will be here calling out the religious for their bull shit.