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Murder, Theism and Atheism

Last month I wrote about fragmentation: putting together ideas without making connections that should be made. And I wrote about the reverse: putting ideas together with connections that are false. This week I'm writing about both, concerning mass killings, atheism and Christianity.

On the web, a blog titled "The Crimes and Evils of Militant Atheism" describes atheism as "a major factor in the murder of countless millions, during the past century."

It's true that some atheists have done evil things. As I see it, if Hitler had been a good Catholic (as some of his opponents were) he would not have launched the holocaust. And if Stalin and his fellow politburo members had been devout Christians there would not have been all the deaths that occurred during their collectivization of the Soviet Union's agriculture.

But I'm not enthusiastic about making the atheist connection as "the major factor" in Stalin's merciless mass killings any more than I'm enthusiastic about claiming that there was something inherent in Christianity that led to mobs of Christians during the Middle Ages attacking non-conformists, torturing them and having them burned at the stake. The same goes for the Church and its Inquisitions later on when it felt threatened by a growing intellectual non-conformity – with fire believed to cleanse the soul. If there was something inherent in Christianity that caused this, Christians would still be doing it. Instead, I see historical development involved and a weakness in humankind in general, aggravated perhaps by monotheism, which was less tolerant than polytheism.

In my opinion it would be a false to associate the mass killings under Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot as inherent in the atheism that was a part of their Marxist-Leninist ideology. To single out atheism suggests that we must restrict our conclusions about the universe to theism if we are to be moral. But the world is full of non-believers who are not driven to kill people. Instead of atheism can we not point to the hatreds of political conflicts, including war as a factor in genocide and massive cold-blooded killings. With Hitler we had a man submerged in the anti-Semitism that was prevalent among Germans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and he was ignorant about race and associated race with a Darwinist struggle for survival. This explains his choosing genocide better than does his being one among a great number of people who were void of religiosity. With Stalin we had a believer in social revolution and social engineering fighting those he believed were wrecking what he was attempting – no excuse as I see it, but no reason for us to think of Stalin when asking ourselves about the validity of theological arguments.

It's silly, moreover, to favorably compare Christianity to Stalinism on the grounds that the Inquisition killed only 20,000 while "Stalin knocked that many off before breakfast" – a statement Ann Coulter makes in her book How to Talk to a Liberal. The arithmetic involved in any one series of evils in no way justifies the evil of a lesser number.

My apology for bringing up Ann Coulter again.

Copyright ©2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.