The butcher’s bill of atheism

Dr. Aikman on an urban legend pushed by the “new atheists,” and one of their major blind spots: 

Atheists who spend much of their time revisiting the crimes of religion ought to be quizzed again and again about what happens when governments adopt atheism as their official worldview.It is one of the most erroneous statements in popular culture in America, one of the most inaccurate but frequently repeated “urban legends,” that more people have been killed in wars of religion than any other kind of war.Wrong. If the entire list of victims of every religious war ever fought, from the Crusades, through the wars of religion in Europe after the Protestant Reformation, to the brutal attacks upon each other of Muslims and Hindus in the sub-continent of India is added up, that number is completely dwarfed by those murdered by Communist regimes in the twentieth century.According to some estimates, the number of people murdered under Communism, whether in wars started by Communist regimes, or as a result of internal repression against domestic adversaries, or in policies deliberately intended to produce starvation (Stalin’s holocaust in the Ukraine through starvation in 1933 murdered between seven and eleven million men, women, and children) approaches a total of 100 million.Then there is Hitler, who by general agreement deliberately murdered about twelve million people but started a war that took the lives of some 50 million. Hitler wasn’t technically an atheist – we’ll come to this in a moment –but there is no question that he acted as if there were no Divine personality or moral code above him to which he was going to be held accountable. In short, he certainly acted like someone in total rebellion against God.  

150 million dead!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • Samuel Skinner

    So communists murdered in the name of atheism? I could have sworn they killed in the name of the communist revolution- wasn’t that what the cold war was all about?

    Saying that atheism caused their atrocities is relying on the unstated assumption that only theists can be moral or that these deeds were done in the name of atheism. Unfortunately for you this isn’t true.

    Take a look here- it is a longer responce.
    http://forums.myspace.com/p/3731270/38578031.aspx?fuseaction=forums.viewpost#38578031

  • Samuel Skinner

    So communists murdered in the name of atheism? I could have sworn they killed in the name of the communist revolution- wasn’t that what the cold war was all about?

    Saying that atheism caused their atrocities is relying on the unstated assumption that only theists can be moral or that these deeds were done in the name of atheism. Unfortunately for you this isn’t true.

    Take a look here- it is a longer responce.
    http://forums.myspace.com/p/3731270/38578031.aspx?fuseaction=forums.viewpost#38578031

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Samuel, reality is that people also did not kill for killing’s sake in the Crusades or Inquisition, either. Sorry, but the charge sticks; official atheism does seem to have made the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, and the myriad other atrocities of Communism tenable.

    And Hitler?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism_and_religion

    Sorry, but it wasn’t an accident that one of the people who attempted to assassinate Schicklgruber was a Lutheran pastor.

    Again, the charge sticks. If atheists want to point to the Crusades and the Inquisition, I’ll be more than happy to compare their extent and kill rate with the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, the Killing Fields, Vietnamese collectivization, Lenin’s starvation of the Ukraine (extermination of landholding farmers), and Stalin’s gulags.

    As many philosophers have pointed out, without accountability, there is no morality that can stick for a very simple reason; one can simply ask “on what authority do you espouse the Golden Rule?”

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Samuel, reality is that people also did not kill for killing’s sake in the Crusades or Inquisition, either. Sorry, but the charge sticks; official atheism does seem to have made the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, and the myriad other atrocities of Communism tenable.

    And Hitler?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism_and_religion

    Sorry, but it wasn’t an accident that one of the people who attempted to assassinate Schicklgruber was a Lutheran pastor.

    Again, the charge sticks. If atheists want to point to the Crusades and the Inquisition, I’ll be more than happy to compare their extent and kill rate with the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, the Killing Fields, Vietnamese collectivization, Lenin’s starvation of the Ukraine (extermination of landholding farmers), and Stalin’s gulags.

    As many philosophers have pointed out, without accountability, there is no morality that can stick for a very simple reason; one can simply ask “on what authority do you espouse the Golden Rule?”

  • Samuel Skinner

    First of Hitler was a Christian. The furher repeatedly stated that he believed divine providence was working through him. Although he did make private statements belliting Christianity (comparing it to the pox) he always insisted that Jesus was not a Jew. Probably was a Christian heretic. The fact that a Lutheran pastor tried to assasinate him is news to me. Why did the man try to kill him? You live it out, but I’ll give you a hint- it wasn’t because he was an atheist.

    Lenin didn’t starve Ukraine. That was Stalin. Lenin, although brutal, was dead in 1924, while the mass starvation occuried in the 1930s. And the Kulaks were the landholders. The starving of Ukraine was to crush the Ukranian drive for independence. Minor details, but still…

    Interesting fact- all the examples you cite are commies. But all atheists aren’t communists. You seem to be unable to tell the difference, so I’ll give you a hint- one has 8 letters, the other has 10. One is a single statement, the other is a worldview.

    What philophers said that? Socrates was the first who pointed out the existance of gods were irrelevant to mortality. Remember the famous phrase “are things good because the gods love them or do the gods love them because they are good?”.

    Well, there are four reasons for being moral- desire to be good, greater good, empathy, and your favorite “or else”. You seem to like the last one. But you know what they say (they refering to every single person on the planet) “you aren’t moral if you are doing something from fear of punishment”.

    Or perhaps you are refering to “if there is no standard handed down from on high, how do you cope?” Same way we do now. We’ve stopped holding slaves, we treat women equally as well as those with different skin color (well, mostly) and we have stopped commiting genocide! Pretty impressive, ehh? Notice the bible hasn’t changed during the intervening years, so something else must have made us more moral- you find what it is if you are so darn curious.

  • Samuel Skinner

    First of Hitler was a Christian. The furher repeatedly stated that he believed divine providence was working through him. Although he did make private statements belliting Christianity (comparing it to the pox) he always insisted that Jesus was not a Jew. Probably was a Christian heretic. The fact that a Lutheran pastor tried to assasinate him is news to me. Why did the man try to kill him? You live it out, but I’ll give you a hint- it wasn’t because he was an atheist.

    Lenin didn’t starve Ukraine. That was Stalin. Lenin, although brutal, was dead in 1924, while the mass starvation occuried in the 1930s. And the Kulaks were the landholders. The starving of Ukraine was to crush the Ukranian drive for independence. Minor details, but still…

    Interesting fact- all the examples you cite are commies. But all atheists aren’t communists. You seem to be unable to tell the difference, so I’ll give you a hint- one has 8 letters, the other has 10. One is a single statement, the other is a worldview.

    What philophers said that? Socrates was the first who pointed out the existance of gods were irrelevant to mortality. Remember the famous phrase “are things good because the gods love them or do the gods love them because they are good?”.

    Well, there are four reasons for being moral- desire to be good, greater good, empathy, and your favorite “or else”. You seem to like the last one. But you know what they say (they refering to every single person on the planet) “you aren’t moral if you are doing something from fear of punishment”.

    Or perhaps you are refering to “if there is no standard handed down from on high, how do you cope?” Same way we do now. We’ve stopped holding slaves, we treat women equally as well as those with different skin color (well, mostly) and we have stopped commiting genocide! Pretty impressive, ehh? Notice the bible hasn’t changed during the intervening years, so something else must have made us more moral- you find what it is if you are so darn curious.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Samuel, these statistics were offered against the atheist claim that religion is such a major source of war and human destruction. They demonstrate that war and human destruction, of a particularly massive scale, occur independently of religion. As for Hitler’s religion, I urge you to read my book on the subject, “Modern Fascism.” Hitler was a sort of neo-pagan–not a Christian by any definition–but what motivated him and made him kill on a level more than any actual pagan was his Nietzschean ethic. Nietzsche takes atheism to its highest and most consistent level, don’t you think?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Samuel, these statistics were offered against the atheist claim that religion is such a major source of war and human destruction. They demonstrate that war and human destruction, of a particularly massive scale, occur independently of religion. As for Hitler’s religion, I urge you to read my book on the subject, “Modern Fascism.” Hitler was a sort of neo-pagan–not a Christian by any definition–but what motivated him and made him kill on a level more than any actual pagan was his Nietzschean ethic. Nietzsche takes atheism to its highest and most consistent level, don’t you think?

  • S Bauer

    Did religious wars really start with the Crusades? Was the divinely commanded elimination of the Canaanites by the Israelites a religious war? Since victory in war was a demonstration of the superiority of a nation’s gods in the ancient world (not to mention the fact that the rulers themselves were semi-divine), one could argue that many of the dead from these wars should be counted as victims of religious wars. But there is no way of determining (historically) how small or large that number is.

  • S Bauer

    Did religious wars really start with the Crusades? Was the divinely commanded elimination of the Canaanites by the Israelites a religious war? Since victory in war was a demonstration of the superiority of a nation’s gods in the ancient world (not to mention the fact that the rulers themselves were semi-divine), one could argue that many of the dead from these wars should be counted as victims of religious wars. But there is no way of determining (historically) how small or large that number is.

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  • Samuel Skinner

    Funny didn’t the furher believe he was chosen by Divine Providence? And didn’t he never say he was a pagan. The man may have knocked Christianity, but he believed Jesus was the Son of God (he did insist Jesus wasn’t Jewish) which is all it takes.

    Nietche went insane. Worse than that his books are incomprehensible. You can’t say “to its inevitable conclusion” if no one can agree on what he is saying.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Funny didn’t the furher believe he was chosen by Divine Providence? And didn’t he never say he was a pagan. The man may have knocked Christianity, but he believed Jesus was the Son of God (he did insist Jesus wasn’t Jewish) which is all it takes.

    Nietche went insane. Worse than that his books are incomprehensible. You can’t say “to its inevitable conclusion” if no one can agree on what he is saying.


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