First, several atheists contended that you cannot really compare the crimes of Christian regimes of the past to those of atheist regimes of the twentieth century.
A representative of the American Humanist Association noted that population levels were much lower during the Inquisition than, say, the period of Stalin’s or Mao’s purges. This was a point I made in my original article. But our humanist friend also noted that the technology of homicide is much more lethal in an era of weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that Stalin and Mao didn’t use any of those weapons. They relied on primitive techniques of murder, such as forced relocation, forced labor, and forced starvation. Besides, the caveats of our humanist colleague hardly change the overall calculus. The best estimates are that between 5,000 and 10,000 were killed in the Spanish Inquisition. That’s compared with 100 million who were killed in the atheist purges of the twentieth century. The 100 million is actually a low figure, since it uses very modest estimates for how many people Stalin and Mao killed, and it leaves out a host of lesser atheist tyrants such as Pol Pot and Enver Hoxha. Even so, using this conservative estimate, a quick calculation reveals that atheist regimes killed ten thousand times more people in the space of a few decades than the Spanish Inquisition managed to kill over a period of more than two centuries.
Second, several atheist writers argued that Stalin and Mao’s crimes could not be blamed on atheism since atheism is not really a belief, it is really an absence of belief.
As one writer put it, “Leaders such as Stalin and Mao persecuted religious groups, not in a bid to expand atheism, but as a way of focusing people’s hatred on those groups to consolidate their own power.” Of course I agree that murderous regimes, whether Christian or atheist, are generally seeking to strengthen their position. But if Christian regimes are held responsible for their crimes committed in the name of Christianity, then atheist regimes should be held accountable for their crimes committed in the name of atheism. And who can deny that Stalin and Mao, not to mention Pol Pot and a host of others, all committed atrocities in the name of a Communist ideology that was explicitly atheistic? Who can dispute that they did their bloody deeds by claiming to be establishing a “new man” and a religion-free utopia? These were mass murders performed with atheism as a central part of their ideological inspiration, they were not mass murders done by people who simply happened to be atheist.
Third, many atheists angrily insisted that Hitler was not an atheist, indeed he was a lifelong Christian! (You learn something new every day.)
Since 1937 the policies of Hitler’s government became openly and increasingly anti-religious. In particular, they repudiated what they perceived as the Christian values of equality, compassion and weakness and extolled the atheist notions of the Nietzschean superman and a new society based on the “will to power.”
Here I discovered that the atheists were rummaging through various atheist websites that seem to have done their homework on Hitler. One letter noted that Hitler was “raised as a Roman Catholic.” Another quoted Hitler saying in a speech during the early 1930s that he was “doing the Lord’s work.” Another provided an excerpt of one of Hitler’s speeches praising Christ as a valiant opponent of the Jews. The atheist message was that Hitler was not one of them, he was one of us.
The poverty of the atheist argument becomes clear with a bit of examination. What does it prove to say that Hitler was raised Catholic? Stalin was raised in the Orthodox Church. Mao was raised as a Buddhist. Lots of people repudiate their religious upbringing. Hitler vehemently rejected the traditional Christianity in which he was raised. During the period of his ascent to power, he needed the support of the German people — mostly Christian, mostly Lutheran — and he occasionally used boilerplate rhetoric such as “I am doing the Lord’s work” to try and secure this. This rhetoric, it should be noted, is a commonplace rhetorical device among atheist writers. Nietzsche, for instance, regularly compared himself to Jesus, even titling one of his books Ecce Homo (“behold the man,” a biblical reference to Christ). But no intelligent reader of Nietzsche can doubt that he was a rabid atheist, as was Hitler. One should not confuse political opportunism with personal conviction. Not surprisingly, Hitler invoked Christ’s death at the hands of the Jews in order to solicit Christian support for his (secular and racial, not religious) anti-Semitic agenda.
Once Hitler and the Nazis came to power, however, they denounced Christianity and launched a ruthless drive to subdue and weaken traditional Christianity. Since 1937 the policies of Hitler’s government became openly and increasingly anti-religious. In particular, they repudiated what they perceived as the Christian values of equality, compassion and weakness and extolled the atheist notions of the Nietzschean superman and a new society based on the “will to power.” Hitler’s leading advisers, such as Goebbels, Heydrich and Bormann, were atheists who were savagely hostile to religion. Several of his associates reported that the Fuhrer’s personal views were deeply anti-Christian. Again, Hitler’s hostility to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, were not incidental to the violence that characterized his regime. They were part of the Nazi ideology — a secular ideology that deified race over creed — and they helped to justify the horrors of extermination and holocaust. Like Stalin and Mao, Hitler illustrates the point made by both Dostoyevsky and earlier John Locke: when God is excluded, then it is not surprising when morality itself is sacrificed in the process and chaos and horror is unleashed on the world. So it has been in our time, and all the elaborate evasions produced by today’s atheists cannot change what their anti-religious kinsmen did, cannot change the grim facts of history.
D'Souza. "Answering Atheist’s Arguments." tothesource (December 6, 2006).
This article reprinted with permission from tothesource. tothesource: Challenging Hardcore Secularism with Principled Pluralism.
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