Christian Billboard Suggests Stalin’s Atrocities Were Due to His Atheism

Larry Taunton is a Christian and the author of a book called The Grace Effect. A large chunk of the book focuses on how awful societies ruled under atheism are. Because apparently those exist…

And that brings us to the promotional campaign for his book — a number of billboards in Birmingham, Alabama with a picture of Stalin and the words “Imagine no religion? So did he.”

Wow… It takes cojones to do something that utterly ignorant.

Taunton thinks that because Stalin was an atheist, he committed awful acts of genocide. That argument makes as much sense as saying his mustache was the cause of all the horrors. It’s also an argument that’s been refuted over and over and over again.

Stalin didn’t kill anyone in the name of atheism. There’s no “atheist doctrine” other than disbelief in any god. Stalin preached dogmatism in political ways, not anti-religious ones. He replaced god with himself.

But, you know, admitting that would undermine the entire premise of Taunton’s book so he just ignored all those facts.

Here’s the truth: People can be good or bad no matter what their religious views are. If someone tells you he’s a Christian, you know very little about how he treats other people. If someone tells you she’s an atheist, all you know is that she doesn’t believe in a god. You have to talk to them or listen to them to get a better sense of who they are as people.

Does Taunton really believe we’d be better under Christian rule?

We have had Christian presidents and an overwhelmingly Christian Congress for decades now and look at what we have to show for it: thousands of dead soldiers from unnecessary wars, GLBT people denied equal rights under the law, women unable to get safe abortions (or even birth control) in many parts of the country, etc.

We need leaders who are willing to be criticized and who make decisions based on the evidence and not their religious (or dogmatic) beliefs. Stalin didn’t fall into either of those categories.

And Taunton ought to be ashamed of himself for promoting a fully-debunked myth.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Achess

    “Cojones” Hemant, “cojones”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Four years of Spanish, my friend. I learned a lot, as you can tell.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    Hitler was on a “mission from God” and many Nazis were Lutherans and Catholics.

    (But that’s another billboard.)

    • SJH

      This is debatable. I believe that Hitler also made atheist claims and was very vague about his religion. I think you could probably say the same as was said regarding Stalin. Hitler replaced God with himself. I think that if a Nazi claimed that he was Lutheran or Catholic and stated that he followed the moral dictates of his religion over the will of Hitler then Hitler will have likely imprisoned them or sent them to a concentration camp as he did many protestant ministers and Catholic priests. Nazis obviously put their belief in Hitler before their belief in God.

      • Jim

        In his book Mein Kompf, Hitler stated that he was a Christian.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1078695333 David Kopp

        Obviously. Or perhaps they thought they were doing God’s work? I mean, the Jews are the ones that killed Jesus in the first place, right?

        Never underestimate the human mind’s power of justification.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        Hitler was not “religious”, but there are many of his quotes
        available (including some in Mein Kampf) that clearly display his faith in God, and gratitude for His getting him out of trouble.
        The coexistence of Nazism with Christianity was not a problem
        for a large number of Germans. Religiholics are masterful
        rationalizers.

      • Mr Nobody

        Hitler referenced pseudoscience, calling it evolutionary reasons does not make it an atheist claim.

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

      The Nazis didn’t do what they did because of religion. If so, every Christian nation would be a racist, fascist state as Germany was certainly no more religious than other European nations or the U.S. at the time. Nazis did what they did because they were Nazis.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        Authoritarian religion must be considered a “contributing factor”
        in a nation’s support of a Fascist dictator. It creates the proper 
        mind set. In this case, the post WWl treatment of Germany
        made a big difference. And not every religious country
        produces a demagogue with Hitler’s charisma and evil genius.

    • Anonymous

      It wasn’t until Vatican II in the 1960s that the Catholic church absolved the Jews for the killing of Jesus.  Everything that Hitler did to the Jews, and was done for centuries before, was justified by Catholic doctrine.  Hitler was a Catholic, perhaps as good a Catholic as most of them.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Lutherans… didn’t they only in the last quarter-century or so repeal Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic screed?

  • Zachary Moore

    Taunton was good friends with Hitchens. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xorMPrHrzNU) He DEFINITELY should know better than to invoke Stalin.

    • Rich Wilson

      You got a bracket stuck on the end of your link

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xorMPrHrzNU 

      I am surprised to see this come from Taunton.  Seems like every day something happens that I wish I had Hitch’s response to.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        Except Iraq and Afghanistan.

        • Rich Wilson

          Even those.  I didn’t have to agree with him to appreciate his take.  I knew it was an honest, and informed, opinion.  What I was less interested in was his “women aren’t as funny as men” bullshit.

          • http://www.facebook.com/Nodtveidt David Lee Perry

            Why do so many people misunderstand what Hitch said about that?

          • Anonymous

            “honest, and informed, opinion.” Thanks for the lulz.

            • Rich Wilson

              What part do you disagree with, the honest or the informed?  Or both?

              • Anonymous

                Mostly the honest part. He started writing things with clever turns of phrase and juxtapositions to strongly imply and create links in readers minds to disparate things, which he knew to be false. He was pretty good at not outright lying but making the reader think he or others had said or done certain things with the way he put things. He was very dishonest in defense of self justification. He seemed far more interested in being seen to be right than in actually trying to find the truth of the situation. Of course he was a success I give you that.

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

            Maybe honest, not so informed.

          • Anonymous

            While Hitchen’s article about women not being funny was a ridiculous generalization, I’m willing to be that he wouldn’t have gotten so much flak if he had written an negative overgeneralization about men (“why are men so lazy” or something like it). If there is an article that over generalizes about women, people assume the author meant all women (even though Hitchens says otherwise in that article). If there is an article that over generalizes about men, people assume that the author meant just some men. Whatever the standard, I wish people would make it the same for both genders.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

      Maybe that’s why he waited until now?

  • Drew M.

    I wonder how many of his target audience will actually recognize Stalin…

    • Anonymous

      You mean that’s not Mario on the billboard?

    • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ Kathy

      That’s a good point.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Question: how many people are going to be able to identify Stalin from just a picture?

    • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

      I did… but I’m also not an evangelical Christian American. ;-)
      It helps being from Europe and “closer” to the country in question.
      On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t recognize all the American Presidents just from pictures. Most, but not all.

    • Nazani14

      My thought exactly.  This billboard would be more effective in the Northeast or other regions where there are more people of Eastern European heritage.  Alabama, not so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

    Ashamed? I think it’s an excellent marketing strategy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    Someone should erect an identical billboard, except with a picture of Albert Einstein.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

      Or with “Have a mustache?” in place of “Imagine no religion?”

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      Nah, why bother with Albert Einstein?

      Just pick one of the founding fathers.  Most of them were Deists, if not outright Atheists.  I’m sure some scholar could pore through their writings to determine which one was most likely an Atheist.

      Same billboard with the same wording, just put a picture of a Founding Father on there.  One could only imagine the billboard controversy arising from that.  Faux News would go completely apoplectic!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003293001320 Diana Winters

    Poor persecuted sheep.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1132020345 Jaime Delgado

    “recently-unearthed secret documents indicate that Stalin may have been made a deist who “made his peace with God” and who brought priests back into favor and who encouraged religious icons to be paraded around Leningrad for good luck during the siege. He had “complex” relations with religious institutions in the Soviet Union, notes Hector Avalos, and so there is every indication that Stalin might have been a closet atheist turned closet diest, or even Orthodox Christian, who kept his faith very private” – John Loftus’ “The Christian Delusion”

    The truth is that Stalin’s violence, as well as that of the Maoist regime in China and other communist governments, had much more to do with their need to harness power and control of their countries than it did with their atheism.

    • Anonymous

      Stalin, Mao and especially the North Korean Juche ideology as the poster children of personality cults. They are ersatz religions. Each one more so than the next. Worship of deities was replaced by worship of the state and/or the leader.

      All those people at mass functions or mourning their dead leaders – like in NK now – aren’t entirely staged. They are conditioned to revere and depend on them. Kim-Jong Il and his father really are seen as god-like figures.

    • Greisha

      Stalin “brought back” priests when he need all help he could get to mobilize Soviet Union’s population to resist Nazi.  Before and soon after that he suppressed established religions as competitors to quasi-religion he created, where he was seen as a demigod. 

      I agree with Stev84 – people were conditioned.  My parents and grandparents witnessed masses of people crying when Stalin died.  My mom’s father was a victim of Stalin repression and she did not cry herself, but she was concerned how well country would do without him.

      I am also curious how many people here (in US) recognize Stalin.

  • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ Kathy

    “We have had Christian presidents and an overwhelmingly Christian Congress for decades now and look at what we have to show for it: thousands of dead soldiers from unnecessary wars, GLBT people denied equal rights under the law, women unable to get safe abortions (or even birth control) in many parts of the country, etc.”

    But wouldn’t someone who would write this book think these are good things?

  • Michael

    I have to agree with Ed-words.  A bill board with Hitler’s picture should go right next to it. “Imagine what can be accomplished through faith”

    • http://rrlane.blogspot.com rrlane

      Guess which one would be vandalized.

    • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

      Or Ahmadinejad/Khomeini.
      Heck, even one with the Pope and an altar boy…

      • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

        Or one with the current Pope in his Nazi uniform.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomtrue Thomas True

    When will they have a billboard up with all the people who have done evil in the name of God. They can start with their own state. I think that would fill the space up pretty quickly.

  • Nohunger

    Jeeze dog I’m a staunch dem but can you direct me to the part of this country where a women is unable to get birth control?

    • Asm

      Conscientious objection clauses for pharmacists, for one. New Hampshire tried to change some of its laws so clinics like Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be allowed to write prescriptions for antibiotics or birth controll, and it can be argued that states like Indiana and elsewhere trying to deny funding to PP interfere with the availability of birth control. Recently, haven’t you paid attention to the U.S. Catholic Bishops in a tizzy in Washington because the Obama Administration wants birth control recognized as preventative medicine? This, of course, says nothing about the paternal oversight of the medical profession making it so difficult for women under 30 to obtain an IUD or sterilization.

    • Rich Wilson

      women unable to get safe abortions (or even birth control) in many parts of the country

      I skimmed that too quickly at first.  Some of the GOP candidates are pushing positions that would make some forms of birth control illegal, and the RC Church would like to just give us all ovulation prediction calendars, and some people are squawking over the idea that health insurance be required to cover oral contraception,

      but

      “unable to get” and “many parts of the country” is a little over the top for me.

      • Rosemary

        South Dakota.

        • Rich Wilson

          We’re talking about contraception, right?  I agree that limitations on Plan B count, but I don’t think that equates to ‘unable to get birth control’.

          • Shawn

            In Virginia, they’re getting ready to introduce a “personhood” bill (not sure of the wording yet, but it’s supposed to be very similar to the Mississippi bill that failed a few weeks ago). Republicans control our entire state government. If it passes, almost all forms of hormonal birth control will become illegal, no matter what they’re used for.

            We’re currently not “unable,” but within a few short months women might not only be unable to get it, they may be felons if they’re caught with it.

  • Heisenberg

    Waiting for the photoshop, “Want to grow a mustache? SO DID HE.”

  • Theskepticalmagician

    I always tell Christians that I’m willing to accept that atheism caused Stalin’s murderous actions, if they’re willing to accept that Jesus caused Ted Haggard to do crystal meth, and cheat on his wife with a male prostitute.

    • http://conuly.livejournal.com/ Uly

      You’re forgetting their trump card. Every time a Christian does something bad, it’s because they’re lying and not a “real” Christian. Atheists, however, are always atheists.

      • Theskepticalmagician

        To which you reply, “Then you’ll understand completely when I tell you that Stalin wasn’t a REAL atheist.”

  • Roshan

    Don’t just add Hitler, please put up Osama & Saddam as well.

  • Anonymous
    Stalin preached dogmatism in political ways, not anti-religious ones. He replaced god with himself.

    The second part of that sentence is accurate, the first, not so much. Stalin most certainly did persecute religion systematically. Of course, he did so not “because of atheism” but because he did not want any competing institutions to his rule. I think it’s not problematic to admit the obvious fact that Stalin supressed religion, just as long as we make it clear that his motivation wasn’t atheism (because atheism is not a belief system) but the search for absolute power.

    Stalin and Kim Jong Il are actually very useful to atheists, because they remind us that religion can exist without an unseen supernatural agent. Though it might be a lot more work, you can for a time sustain a faith-based dogmatic ideology with a human at its center. Stalin is not a indictment of atheism, it’s an indictment of systems where loyalty is obligatory under pain of death, free thinking is unacceptable, and adoration for superiors is mandatory. There’s a name for that sort of system, and it isn’t atheism.

    • Rich Wilson

      I think “Stalin replaced god with Lenin” would be more accurate.  Lenin was the more deified figure.  Stalin was happy to be ‘the pope’.

      • mike

        Also remember that Stalin was a pope of sorts.  He founded the Russian Orthodox Church and some members of that church have attempted to beatify him.  I really hope that they succeed one day.  That would be soooooo awesome!

        • T.S. Taunton

          Mike, Russian Orthodox Church has been around for centuries (along with greek and other Orthodoxies) since splitting with the Roman Catholic Church, largely over the notion of an infallible Pope as the voice of God-based in Rome-lording it over the other bishops. Think 1054 with the seeds of the schism planted some 500 years earlier.   In Russia, the Church has always been a political force and that’s what you are seeing play out in extreme Nationalism and anti-gay fervour … sad. It’s fundamentalism of any kind that is, be definition, unwilling to accept difference. 

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Bertrand Russell, after visiting Russia, called communism an atheist religion,
      and roundly condemned it. How can it be confused with ‘freethinking’? 

    • Greisha

      Many soviet people felt or at least hoped he had some kind of supernatural power.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Funny you should bring up Kim Jong Il. Recently, North Korea claimed that the sky turned red when he died, heralding, as it were, his passage from this world. I think we’re at a rare period in history, witnessing the birth of an actual religion.

  • Jetson

    So, a simple billboard with God pouring water over the entire planet, and killing everyone would be a nice match.  Of course, we can add the boat with Noah, to be fair…

  • coyotenose

    I’ve pointed out to the local yokels several times that both Marxism in theory and the version practiced in Communist Russia are essentially authoritarian religious ideologies, and that Marx pretty well said so – he indicated that Christianity was COMPETITION.

    The best, the very best of them can’t come up with a better retort than a lengthy, ranty “Nuh uh!”

  • Zombied54

    Ok religious ass heads, Communism is so 1980′s , I notice every time a religious dick brain wants to shit on Atheism or anything having to do with socialized healthcare  they try to site Communism, usually saying something like “Oh you want socialized health care, Well just look at  Communist Russia”. It’s the last bastion of a desperate god fearing (republican, libertarian or Tea party) moron.

    • Rosemary

      And they are equally silent (selective ignorance?) about the situation in those with Socialist governments (Scandinavian countries) or those with combination Capitalist-Socialized governments (Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand).  

      • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

        Social Democratic governments in Scandinavia, just to be precise. ;-)
        There’s a difference, although many socialist ideas are incorporated and even right wing political parties want to keep most of those.

  • Erp

    There was the Союз воинствующих безбожников (league of militant/belligerent atheists) which was encouraged (late 1920s-1930s) and then discouraged/disbanded by Stalin (between 1940-47 when Stalin wanted the support of the Orthodox and the Orthodox church during World War II).

  • JohnJay

    Just listen to the lyrics of the old Soviet Union National Anthem, and you can see the state wasn’t a government… but a religion.  All you have to do is change a few words: Communism to Christianity, Lennin to Jesus, and the scarlet banner to the sacred cross… and you almost have the perfect anthem for the American Theocracy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yDrtNEr_5M

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      You can also listen to Obama sing it ;)

      • Greisha

        The video is stupid beyond believes.

  • Anonymous

    Idea for a counter banner.

     Imagine growing facial hair?

    So did them: (Pictures of Stallin,  Hitler and Jesus)

    Read “Why this kind of ads are stupid”
    On (http://somepage)

    • Newavocation

      How about how bad Stalin would have been if he thought GOD was on his side.

      • The Other Weirdo

        You mean the way Dexter does?

  • Anonymous

    Would billboards with images of all the good stuff in the Bible be too much? Such as all the children and pregnant women (and their unborn babies) who were murdered in the flood? The Amalekite and Midianite children and pregnant women (and their unborn babies) who were murdered? The children and pregnant women (and their unborn babies) who were murdered in Jericho? Or maybe a movie based on all of that, and more. The CGI effects would be awesome.

  • Rich Wilson

    [Richard Dawkins's] website plays host to the largest atheist congregation outside of North Korea

    -Larry Taunton

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2011-12-26/dawkins-atheism-christmas-meaning/52230682/1 

    • Darrylb

      Wow.  That’s remarkably stupid for someone that is supposed to have been Hitchin’s friend.  Well, it’s remarkably stupid anyway, now that I think about it.

      • Greisha

        Could you be more specific, please.

    • Anonymous

      Pretty ironic, given that the country’s president (for eternity) is a dead man who has shrines built for him all over

      • Anonymous

        Hitchens called North Korea a “necrocracy” since the “Eternal President” was the dead Kim Il Sung. At the time he said that with the “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung and the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il they were “one short of a trinity”. Now they’ve got the third.

        As an aside, having seen many documentaries about North Korea recently, I can also say that Kim Jong Il’s mother, Kim Jong-su, is also revered as a model “revolutionary” woman, so it seems they also have their Virgin Mary. Anyone calling North Korea nonreligious is delusional.

    • https://www.facebook.com/GentleGiantDK GentleGiant

      Wow, just wow. That article is so filled with straw men and downright wrong facts that I’d be ashamed as a newspaper trying to be factual to have it on my site.

  • Mr Nobody

    if they want to play that way, fine: “atheism, we didnt cause any crusades”, “atheism, we dont just allow pedophiles to escape the authoruties (this one needs some rephrasing, my eglish isnt perfect but you got the idea), “religion: we never did anything wrong and one of us  represents all” with a picture of a KKK member in the background, dont use hitler, my first association response but dont use him, its disrespectful for all the people he killed, dont fall into their levels

  • jbrock

    [Stalin] replaced god with himself.

    Which, of course, is what many Christians assume atheism is all about. Thus, while Taunton’s conclusion is highly questionable, it’s consistent with his assumptions.

    Well, sort of. Personally I’d think that autoapotheosis (which apparently isn’t a word, but should be) could be just as plausibly associated with Objectivism.

    If someone tells you she’s an atheist, all you know is that she doesn’t believe in a god.

    But the odds definitely favor her being to the “left” of the political spectrum. (In the USA, anyway. IIRC the correlation is much less predictable in other, less theomaniacal nations.)

    • Rosemary

      What goes with non-belief in gods depends on how one came to that position. 

      Those who came to it by long investigation of the claims of their “home” religion tend to be both educated and liberal, things that correlate well with the investigative personality. 

      On the other hand, those who came to atheism as the result of reading Ayn Rand and other Libertarian literature, tend to be less well-educated and side with red necks and conservative thinking. 

      Then there are those who came to their atheism by virtue of never having been indoctrinated during childhood.  They are all over the place in their attitudes, values, political leanings, educational accomplishment and moral reasoning.

      The reason why atheists are so often associated with liberal thinking is that those who have the education and interest to write about it are also those that came to their atheism as the result of engaging in activities that generally lead to liberal viewpoints, regardless of religious beliefs.

  • Anonymous

    As bad as the stupid atheist billboard “Science put a man on the moon and religion put planes into buildings” I just hate these sweeping ignorant statements from either side. To many commenter recommending equally ridiculous signs from the other viewpoint. Enough already don’t get on the same level.

    • Greisha

      What is exactly stupid about this billboard?

      • Anonymous

        I do not know which one you refer to, but the one at the top of the article tries to imply that because Stalin was an Atheist and as a result of his disdain for religion he was a mass murderer, a ridiculous implication, unless he made the claim himself. Just as to say that religion caused the evils of so many who claimed religion drove them to evil acts, unless of course as I said the person committing the atrocities made the claim themselves. As far as the one that science put a man on the moon and religion put planes into buildings, it is the same stupid broad brush. Science also gave us the A-bomb. In other words it is morally neutral and only gives humans additional capabilities that can be used for good or evil. As far as religion many have lived lives of tremendous service through religious motivations, again, it has both positive and negative possibilities in it.

  • Anonymous

    I think the Scientologists should put up a sign pointing out that all evil regime leaders have been non-Scientologists.

    (They were probably non-believers in fairies too.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mvahowe Mark Howe

    Yes, it’s somewhat crass. But I can’t see how it’s different in kind to the knee-jerk reaction to be found on almost any thread anywhere on the Internet whenever someone says something positive about religion, ie “What about all the evil that has been done in the name of religion?” Richard Dawkins, mentioned above, has made a career out of claiming that religion makes people evil in the sort of simplistic, broad-brush terms that make many atheists I know wince.

    Now, it’s true that a lot of religious people have done a lot of bad things over the years. But of course there is no point in history so far when religious people have not been in the majority. So, just on the basis of very simple stats, you’d expect more evil people to be religious.

    It’s also true that some religion-based states have acted in evil ways. But, again, the vast majority of state-years worldwide have been religious. And, to have any sort of baseline, we need to compare with how atheist states have done. So, you tell me, which atheist-led state would you like us to use for that comparison? China? Communist Albania? North Korea? Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? Zimbabwe? Any other suggestions?

    Of course it’s unfair to say that atheism = communism totalitarianism. Just as it’s unfair to say that Christianity = the crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity is also Martin Luther King. And there are some admirable atheists around too.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      But the Christian states commit their atrocities and eliminate
      freedom in the name of God, and pray to Him religiously
      for guidance.

      So where the H— is He?

    • Anonymous

      North Korea is anything but atheistic. Its president is a god-like figure and his now dead son is going to follow him. It’s the most extreme form of a personality cult possible.

      In any case, South East Asian countries are far less into big organized religions. Things like ancestor worship, nature religions or semi-religious philosophical systems used to be far more common there. Those are hard to suppress entirely

      Also, just because a state ideology is atheistic, doesn’t mean the population is. Neither Stalin nor the Alabanian communists managed to get rid of religion. The Russian Orthodox Church is alive and well, and most Albanians are Muslims – so much that the country is officially called a Muslim country sometimes. The numbers weren’t much different directly under those regimes either.

      • Greisha

        Has to disagree with you.  Not sure about Albania, but USSR was overwhelmingly non-religion in tradition sense.  The Russian Orthodox Church was marginalized most of the Soviet Era.  Judaism was effectively banned.

        Instead it was either cult of personality (Stalin) until 1953 or “worshiping” Lenin.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Just to be clear, Judaism wasn’t banned in the sense that it was actively persecuted. It was merely marginalized, and there were fewer synagogues than churches, all old affairs with no new construction. Jews were passive-aggressively persecuted, though many still managed to get into the better posts. After all, the joke “out of all doctors and scientists, every fifth one was not a Jew” held a grain truth.

          The people more secular than atheistic. I know that sounds counter-intuitive to North Americans, but atheists define themselves almost entirely in terms of theists, while secularists don’t think about religion at all.

          • Greisha

            Just to be clear – I lived there and witnessed it starting the sixties, my parents lived and thankfully survived through Stalin’s times.

            During Stalin’s time there was unannounced, but very real antisemitism, both in anti-religion and racial sense, similar to Nazi Germany.  It ended up in “Case of doctors” almost all of whom were of Jewish decent.  Antisemitic hysteria was  overwhelming.

            At Brezhnev’s times especially starting in the seventies, people were persecuted for teaching Judaism and even Hebrew, sometime criminally, sometime by methods of economics, such as losing job, place in queue for apartment or something else.

            To the best of my knowledge, until the end of the eighties, there were just two working synagogues, in Moscow and Leningrad.  Both were front for foreign visitors.

            I am not sure what passive-aggressively persecution is, but you are right about high percentage of Jews among professionals. However, starting 1976 no Jews were admitted to “Russian Ivy League” schools.  Please remember that in USSR Jews were those who were mark as such in their government ID.

            Finally about atheistic vs. secular.  USSR was actively atheistic until Brezhnev times in terms of suppressing traditional organized religions, but never secular – they produced their own quasi-religion based on communism myths.

  • benjdm

    AFAIK, Stalin never made his opinions known about whether he was a theist or an atheist.

  • Christian von Kietzell

    Not trying to defend that billboard, but are you sure the book’s author has much of an influence on the ad campaign? Did you read the book? Might be more of an attempt to get some publicity by the publisher in order to sell more copies.

    If it’s really the book’s premise that Stalin committed his atrocities because of his atheist world view then it’s another stupid attempt at trying to make a long-debunked argument true by repeating it. Until that’s clear I’d give the author the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

    Wow… It takes cojones to do something that utterly ignorant.

    Obviously you’ve never been to Alabama.

  • Drakk

    I really thought you were only supposed to Godwin towards the *end* of a discussion, not use it as an opening point.

  • Anonymous

    You know what? Fair ball.

    It’s incumbent on us to remind ourselves that the lack of religion doesn’t automatically make things more ‘good’. I think freeing ourselves from religious biases allows us freedom to make better policy decisions, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the right ones will be made. This billboard should remind us that we’re not selling panacea.

    On the other side, the sooner that they come out with the argument that being an atheist automatically makes you an immoral tyrant, the sooner we can debunk the myth. This kind of hamfisted campaign is a sign of desperation.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Not panacea, just reason, which is a helluva lot better.

  • irish wan

    S0meone should put “Citation needed” underneath “So did he”

  • SJH

    I think that what Hemant said is very true. The evil actions perpetrated by an individual are more closely related to the individual then they art to the religious beliefs of that individual. It should be mentioned however that religion (depending on its doctrine) sometimes has the ability to provide guidance and aid in the ability to maintain peace an justice even if at times it has failed. Obviously this is speculative and without proof but it is still worthy of discussion. I believe that one problem atheism will have is that there is no overarching “dogma” which dictates that we love one another so it can be argued that many people, without the guidance of “dogma” may create their own, as Stalin did. Obviously most atheist have some kind of notion that we must act in a moral way so that we can live in peace (which somehow transcends the individual) but I fear that without a set of rules (dogma) peace will be difficult to achieve. Basically we would be living in some kind of spiritual/moral anarchy. Again, this is obviously opinion and speculation.

  • Philbert

    This is the downside to being labeled as atheists, it permits sophistry like this. Ultimately atheism only tells people what you don’t believe, but what you do believe is really what separates an atheist like Carl Sagan from one like Josef Stalin.

    I think we’re stuck with the label but we do need to advocate for something (scientific progress, freedom of thought, equality  under the law) rather than just being against religion. 

  • BobtheRobot

    Religious people lying?! I don’t believe it!!!

    -BobtheRobot

    P.S

    How do I log in to this thing? Is it just not letting me because my forums login are different from the comments login?

  • Steve

    So what happens if we imagine religion with unlimited power… I guess nobody would recognize Torquemada on a billboard? 

  • http://conuly.livejournal.com/ Uly

    In other news, Hitler ate sugar.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Am I the only one that thinks that it’s not so much the despot’s atheism that is an issue but that they want to quash religion so that they have no competition in the total and utter control of the populace?

  • JimG

    One thing that gets consistently overlooked (certainly by Christians, and I haven’t seen it on here either) is that from Peter the Great to Nicholas II, the Russian Orthodox Church was indeed a “state” church in every sense of the word: Priests were government employees, obedience to the Czar was a religious duty, and a large proportion of monks and priests were actually informers for the Okhrana, the czarist secret police. Horrible as the Bolsheviks’ treatment of them was, it stemmed largely from the perversion of religion into an open tool of governmental repression. That’s why Stalin, who trained as a priest himself (and also may have been on the Okhrana payroll for a time), made sure the residual ROC was equally a puppet of the Soviet regime; and why the emigre church and the surviving indigenous church hierarchy eyed each other so warily in the post-Soviet era.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KenEFAT Ken E-fat

    Stalin had…issues.
    After his 1st wife died, he was quoted saying:
    “This creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity.”
    Using Atheism as a fail-safe is getting very boring…

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    Even IF we accept the blame for communism, it’s been killing people for some
    100 years, religion for 1000s, and with God’s blessing.

    • Troyboy

      That’s not a good argument. If you took the blame for communism then you would have to include other totalitarian dictatorships with ideologies inspired by an atheistic world view. You would be responsible for more deaths in a shorter amount of time than any and every holy war throughout history combined.

  • alphabetsoupofsomething

    ‘Wow… It takes cojones to do something that utterly ignorant.’

    Not really. If you’re ignorant, you don’t know you’re doing/saying something ignorant. He’d have ‘cojones’ to find out he’s wrong and admit it. And I doubt he’d admit it if he found out he’s wrong. Just another religious coward.

  • MariaO

    Have those that put up the billboard completely forgotten that during WWII Stalin’s SSSR and the USA were staunch allies against Hitler?

    I saw a poll once, were a majority of USAmericans now think SSSR and USA were on opposite sides during WWII…

    Not that that diminshes Stalin’s genicide of millions of his own people.

    • Anonymous

      Allies yes, but “staunch” is putting it a bit grande maybe. There was considerable friction behind the scenes. The western allies supported the Soviets with materiel, but they also felt used given their enormous losses, especially early on. There were also misgivings over the destruction of convoy PQ17. The Soviets exerted significant political pressure to get the allies to establish a second front in Europe to relieve the pressure on them.

      It was an alliance of convenience and the ideological and political differences became apparent as soon as the war was over

  • Xeon2000

    I think of Stalin a little bit like Caesar. That is, in regards to taking the role of God in society. Jim Kong II would be a similar example. I don’t see any difference from religion, except in these cases “God” is a real person.

  • Robert Freid

    This is one of those stupid double-standard atheist arguements. “Oh religion (all religion) should be held accountable for their atrocities. But not us atheists; because all those ‘supposed atrocities’ were either not ‘in the name of atheism,’ or they were ‘political,’ or the most favorite one: ‘it has nothing to do with atheism.’”

    Here is some quotes that prove otherwise:

    “Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism.”

    -Vladimir Lenin, In Religion

    “Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.”

    -Vladimir Lenin, In About the attitude of the working party toward the religion

    “Struggle against religion is a struggle for socialism.”

    -Main Slogan for the League of Militant Atheists, a Soviet anti-religious organization in the 1920s an 1930s

    “Struggle against religion is a struggle for the five year plan!”

    -Main slogan adopted at the 2nd Soviet Congress for the League of Militant Atheists

    “We Communists are Atheists.”
    -Chou-En Lai, 1955

    • rlwemm

      It is quite true that the doctrines of some forms of communism included a rant against religion.  They also  included rants against -anything- that they considered to be likely to oppose their political position.

      It is also true that countries where athiesm is voluntary and religion is an aberrant and  highly unusual stance are the most peaceful and socially healthy nations in the world.  The reverse is true of countries were religion is enforced or strongly encouraged by governments.  These are the most war-mongering and socially unhealthy in the world. 

      This significantly undermines your case.

      • Robert Freid

        HAHAHAHA, a simple “rant” c’mon, they killed priests, large numbers of the religious faithful (of ALL religions), detroyed some of the nations oldest religious sites, closed religious education, established atheist oganizations (most notably the Society of the Godless and the Tartar Union of Atheists before WW2, Zhaniye [Knowledge] Society after the war, Soviet Orientalist Studies in Islam, etc.) had antireligious propaganda plastered throughout the nation, shall I go on?

        No, this significantly undermines your case.
        By the way, I’ve got PLENTY more where that came from.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          If you do, please at least spell “Tatar” correctly.  It’s not a sauce you put on seafood.

          • Robert Freid

            YAHN: wow, how pathetic, a little “r” that I mistakenly added. Common, we all spell words wrong every once in a while. I find it funny out of all the wrongly spelled words on this site by its commentors you choose me to get on about spelling.

            By the way, how about in the place of “IT’S not a sauce you put on seafood.” You put “THEY’RE not a sauce you put on seafood.” Makes THEM into Human beings rather than a “it.” 

            P.S. Let me know if I mispell anything-not.

        • Rosemary

           Robert, the point is that violence was towards ANYTHING, including religion, that this regime felt to be a threat.  The same kind of complaints can be made (and backed up) about Christian regimes also.  Like Russian Communism and Nazi Germany, they killed their own if they did not toe the line.  Russians killed athiests as well as priests; Catholics and Protestants killed priests, saints and pastors that threatened whatever doctrines that the powerful faction stated were “orthodox” as well as atheists.  We are seeing this type of horror exercised by Muslim countries where the government is at the mercy, or run by, clerics.  We see it in African countries where Christian Bishops torture and kill “witches”.  We see it in the United States where science education has been set back about 50 years by groups trying to stifle the teaching of any objectively derived truth that does not fit the doctrinal beliefs of the religious group in community power.   We see it in the anti-gay hatred and that stems from church pulpits and the spreading of deliberate lies about the efficacy of condoms in countries where this results in millions of otherwise avoidable deaths. 

          In summary, totalitarian regimes and powerful authoritarian groups are ruthless in torturing, exterminating or demonizing ANYBODY who threatens them.  The danger comes from those who believe they have a unique hold on The Truth, and an unshakable belief that their ability to determine what is and it not Truth is infallible.   It makes no difference whether these groups are theist, athiest or apatheist. 

          • Troyboy

            I have to agree Rosemary. I think that any idea, event or worldview can be exploited to further ones own agenda. Adopting a dogmatic ideology around those views (from any perspective) can be dangerous in the right social political setting.

            However, I think the point Robert was getting at was that the “all so common” position that atheism could not possibly have played a role in the contributing platform that inspired these various atrocities yet maintain that faith and religion is responsible for all of the horror carried out in and around it’s name (as if these various kings, queens, knights, leaders or “so called” holy men couldn’t possibly have had there own individual ideologies)…I have to say is somewhat of a double standard.

  • quickshot

    People are alive today that almost DIED due to Stalin’s crackdown on
    religion. We expect them to sweep it under the rug because some slick
    arguments by some random bloggers???

    Also, Hemant, have you actually read the book? Are you OK with others criticizing YOUR books without reading them??

    The carousel keeps turning…..


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