Don’t Vote for Atheists—They Like to Kill People!

Don’t Vote for Atheists—They Like to Kill People! May 4, 2015

Christian blogger John Mark Reynolds wrote a provocative post titled, “Hoping Atheists (Or at Least Anti-Theists) Do Not Kill Us This Time.” This apparently is what atheists do in his mind. Once they get power, they turn into Stalin.

I responded. Fellow atheist blogger Keith Parsons responded. And now Reynolds has come back with “Anti-Theists are Sure They Will Not Kill You This Time.”

Stalin genocide atheists anti-theists

First off, anti-theists are all from the same mold.

Reynolds states his central thesis over and over.

In all human history any anti-theists who have formed a mass political movement and gained power have been that horrific.

(This is probably a bad time to bring this up, but I’m running for dog catcher, and I’d sure appreciate your vote …)

Reynolds is determined to poison the well. Stalin, Richard Dawkins, Bob Seidensticker—anti-theists are all the same when they get power, so Christian voters must beware!

Second, atheists in America will never amount to anything.

Next, he undercuts his argument by assuring atheists that they might as well not bother trying to attain power.

There is no evidence that American anti-theists will ever develop a mass movement of anti-theists capable of exercising power….

Atheism worldwide is a shrinking community. In the United States it is growing, but from a tiny base.

Reynolds is surprisingly out of touch given that the unexpected and remarkable rise of the Nones (those unaffiliated with any church, which includes atheists) is one of the top religious news stories of the decade. Nones in America have risen from 6% in 1990 to 20% today. Europe is leading the way, where atheism is often uncontroversial.

As for worldwide trends, a recent Pew Research study projects that by 2050, the big worldview loser due to adherents switching out of that belief will be Christianity, with a net loss of 66 million worldwide. A nearly equal number will be switching into the Unaffiliated category (chart).

I have no fear of organized American atheists or anti-theists.

One wonders then why the inflammatory title of the initial piece, “Hoping [Anti-Theists] Do Not Kill Us This Time.”

There is no example of a state with atheists in power as atheists that did not persecute the religious.

There are zero atheists in Congress who are out, simply because people like you have made them unelectable. This proves only the Machiavellian success of your efforts, not that atheists are evil leaders.

Thank you for fighting the good fight to ensure that only people who believe like you can get elected, despite the clear guarantee in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust.”

What causes a Stalin?

Reynolds doubles down on his theory of how atheist dictatorships form.

At least some anti-theists picked their politics to match their anti-theistic worldview. Stalin became an atheist first and then picked a political view to match his anti-theistic atheism.

So first Stalin became an atheist (and—who knows?—maybe also a stamp collector and a knitter). Then he fell in with Communists. Finally, he became a brutal dictator who indirectly killed millions. Are you saying that it was the stamp collecting that triggered those deaths? Or maybe the knitting?

If not the stamp collecting or the knitting, why the atheism? By showing priority, he has done nothing to show cause and effect.

Some critics have responded that “yes anti-theism came first” but that anti-theism did not play a causal role in the selection of socialism and the persecution of the religious. This seems implausible. It is very hard to establish that anything causes anything else, but if developing an anti-religious view is not an important motivation in the persecution of religious people, I am not sure what a motive would be!

It’s implausible that you’re mistaken? Your theory is hard to establish? What kind of research is this? Did you click Publish when this article was only in draft form?

Yes, someone who persecutes Christians would have an anti-religious view, but would someone with an anti-religious view (like Stalin) necessarily persecute Christians? I have an anti-religious view, depending on your definition, and I don’t persecute Christians.

This theory fails because we have nothing to argue that Stalin’s atheism and not the needs of his government drove the persecution of Christians.

And what fraction of Stalin’s victims were Christian? Once the Communist government put pressure on the church, the number of citizens that could have been killed for being Christian dropped.

To show that religion and atheism were simply tools for Stalin, note that Stalin allowed churches to revive during World War II to encourage patriotism. He also supported a (Muslim) Uyghur revolt in China’s northwest to harass the anti-Communist Nationalist government.

But don’t worry about Christians with power!

Reynolds is kept up nights worrying about atheists, but “there is not a parallel worry about Christianity,” he assures us.

No nation on earth with a Christian state church that bans atheism or sends atheists to labor camps.

Make it a Christian dictatorship, then get back to me. Look at Muslim theocracies today—atheism is a capital crime in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and ten other countries. The lesson isn’t hard: religion or atheism in a democracy is peaceful, while in a dictatorship it’s not. It’s the dictatorship that’s the problem.

And Reynolds has no leg to stand when he frets about atheist genocide when his own Bible makes clear that God is delighted to use genocide when necessary.

Nobody has denied that every atheist regime in the world has been horrible.

Hmm. That’s a good point. And how many states are we talking about—two hundred? Three hundred?

Oh—so it’s only three states, you say? And every one of them a dictatorship. Your study suffers from too small a sample size. And from the lack of atheist states that are not dictatorships to see if (dare I say it?) the dictatorship is the problem.

Concluded in Part 2.

Hello, I’m Leonard Nimoy.
The following tale of alien encounters is true,
and by “true,” I mean false.
It’s all lies, but they’re entertaining lies,
and in the end, isn’t that the real truth?
The answer, is No.
— Leonard Nimoy on The Simpsons

Image credit: Otto Dix (artist), Wikipedia

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  • Snowflake

    First off, I’d elect you dog catcher, as long as you make sure the dogs are spayed and neutered:-D.

    I’m sorry I keep pestering you with questions. Does Dr Reynolds have a direction or goal with these statements? Three or more anti-theists can not gather in one place. Banish us to Canada? What is his point? BTW, he writes walls of text and is a bit dry.

    • MNb

      I’m not sure about direction, but his goal is clear: to show that christianity is morally superior to atheism.
      He should study the Parabel of the Good Samaritan closely.

    • You’re not alone in your uncertainty about Reynolds’ ultimate point.

      The title of his first post was “Hoping Atheists (Or At Least Anti-Theists) Don’t Kill Us This Time,” and he invokes the abysmal human rights records of communist regimes to justify why Christians “would be foolish” not “to worry” about “angry atheism” and “local Internet atheists troll[s]” whose “tone [is] not very promising.”

      But in the second article, he writes: “Anti-theists in the United States are positive they will not kill Christians if they ever get power and I believe them . . . . Anti-theists as individuals have had power in the United States and will have power, but there is no reason to think this dangerous. . . . Contrary to some critics, though I think atheism false, I do not fear atheism.” (Emphasis added.) So now not being worried isn’t foolish, it seems.

      Or is that just a bit of ostentatiously evenhanded kabuki? Reynolds closes by bringing back the anxiety: “I hope that my anti-theist colleagues are right and they will do better this time. I am not sure I want to find out . . . but I hope to God it is true.”

      I don’t quite know what to think. My sense is that Reynolds is just fearmongering, playing to the prejudices of his audience, with a bit of (questionable) historical analysis thrown in to lend an air of legitimacy. [Edited to add: In fairness, I would agree that communist regimes have a history of oppressing believers. But Reynolds makes some sweeping generalizations for which I would like to see much better support. To his credit, Reynolds’ second piece takes a few steps in the direction of citing specific sources about communist atheism. His first piece, though, linked only to a Wikipedia entry as a “neutral discussion” about Soviet persecution of theists. (Unfortunately, that entry includes this warning at the top: “The neutrality of this article is disputed.”)]

      He certainly hasn’t issued a call for respectful ecumenical dialogue with these pieces. It would never even occur to me to write a post titled “Hoping White Protestants (Or At Least White Southern Baptists) Don’t Bring Back Segregation,” or “Hoping Catholics (Or At Least Priests) Don’t Molest My Children This Time.” And if for some reason I did write titles like those, I’d understand them to be incendiary provocations.

      • Snowflake

        See, my problem is that I want/expect people to make sense, not just play on fears. Crap, I don’t know what to say. I just want America to be a good place, for all of us. Even tax paying, law abiding, atheists that want to see equal rights. But apparently I’m a possible threat.

        Sorry to whine. I get frustrated at times.

        • Pofarmer

          He doesn’t like all of us. He doesn’t want the best for all of us. I think that much is clear.

        • Charleigh Kimber

          Being optimistic about people is painful. 🙁

        • Snowflake

          Yeah, well, I’m an idiot.

        • Gehennah

          I wouldn’t say an idiot, a bit naive perhaps. But I’m there with you on that.

          I want to think the best of people so much, and usually people are good. But then you have the misguided ones that ruin it for everyone else.

        • Snowflake

          Although, I do have to admit, being this evil creature does sound kind of fun. I’m an itty, bitty old lady atheist.

          And like you, I will take naive every time and believe most people are good. Thanks for reminding me that most people are usually good.

      • Those hypothetical post titles are excellent rebuttals. Thanks.

      • Pofarmer

        “Hoping Catholics (Or At Least Priests) Don’t Molest My Children This Time.””

        To bad that’s probably a legitimate title.

        • Well, there’s a reason it sprang to mind. The local archdiocese recently announced bankruptcy plans to deal with the costs of abuse litigation.

          But even as merely hypothetical clickbait, my title struck me as unfair to the world’s innumerable decent Catholics and priests. I actually feel a little dishonorable having written it. How would my Catholic friends and family members feel if I seriously went to press with something like that? Without doubt, I’d be burning bridges, not building them.

        • And there’s the difference. Burning bridges concerns you. Apparently, it doesn’t for Dr. Reynolds.

      • wtfwjtd

        “Hoping White Protestants (Or At Least White Southern Baptists) Don’t Bring Back Segregation,”

        Yeah, I can totally see how that wouldn’t poison the well. Let’s apply a little “Reynolds logic” to this:
        “I know that in the 19th century that Baptists split because of their support of slavery. It took until the 1990’s for the Southern Baptist Convention to even acknowledge that slavery was wrong. They believed that slavery was a God-ordained institution, and had plenty of scriptural support for this.
        In spite of this, most Baptists today say they would not support a return of slavery, and I believe them, I think. But what if they are not being truthful? I hope to God that they really mean it. I don’t know though, how can we be sure?”

      • Charleigh Kimber

        But in the second article, he writes: “Anti-theists in the United States
        are positive they will not kill Christians if they ever get power and I believe them . . . . Anti-theists as individuals have had power in the United States and will have power, but there is no reason to think this dangerous. . . . Contrary to some critics, though I think atheism false, I do not fear atheism.” (Emphasis added.) Suddenly not being worried isn’t foolish, it seems.

        Lemme just paraphrase Fox Noise from last week for comparison:

        “I don’t know if FREDDIE GRAY WAS ON DRUGS, but I think we deserve to see the toxicology report that will tell us if HE WAS ON DRUGS. I hope it isn’t the case that GRAY WAS ON DRUGS.”

        (all afternoon one day): “Tonight, the protesters will be out IN FORCE, and the police will be there JUST IN CASE SOMETHING HAPPENS. Watch events unfold tonight as the POLICE PATROL THE peaceful PROTESTERS after a night of VIOLENCE!

    • Yay! Thanks for your support.

      Today, dog catcher. Tomorrow, second assistant to the mayor!!

      • Charleigh Kimber

        *holds hands up in “Stop!” motion* Whoa whoa WHOA here! Look who’s getting all high and mighty thinking, Mr. Atheist!

        • OK, OK. I’m getting ahead of myself. Thank you, friend, for reining me in.

          I’ll just focus on being the best atheist dog catcher ever.

        • wtfwjtd

          Did you hear about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac dogcatcher? He’d often lay awake nights, wondering if there really was a dog.

        • Greg G.

          How can a material dogcatcher catch an immaterial dog?

        • Charleigh Kimber

          As long as you’re only catching atheist dogs and not persecuting Christian dogs by treating them equally, it’s all good.

          Which reminds me: why do people like Reynolds seem to think that “atheist” is the antonym of “Christian”?

        • They always make that mistake when they trot out Pascal’s Wager. They imagine that there are two choices, their flavor of Christianity and atheism. They don’t consider that there are a thousand other religions that, if true, will make eternity suck for both of us as we burn in Buddhist hell or whatever.

        • Charleigh Kimber

          And when they create that false dichotomy in order to insult all atheists, they end up accidentally claiming other religions for their team. For example, if “atheism” is responsible for Stalin, Pol Pot, et al, then “theism”, including Christianity, is responsible for 9/11 and ISIL/Daesh.

        • Snowflake

          Do atheist dog catchers go after ebil cats?

      • Snowflake

        What about wine taster to mayor?

        • Greg G.

          There’s a worthy career path.

    • You know the line, “I’m sorry this letter is so long–I didn’t have time to make it short.” I see his articles as that in practice.

      My own view is that he wants to see atheists remain at the bottom of the ladder, both in status and in electability. I don’t know if that’s his deliberate goal or he’s simply writing inflammatory pieces to get hits.

      • Snowflake

        Well, as a Professor, I would think he would know better. If I were trying to save people, or make a point, I’d make it short and sweet. I get through half his stuff-I did check out some of his posts-half way through, I got bored. Also not very coherent, kind of word salad like.

        Bottom of the ladder? Well, I’ve always rooted for the underdogs. We rock.

  • wtfwjtd

    “There is no example of a state with atheists in power as atheists that did not persecute the religious.”

    Uh, California elected Pete Stark as a representative, and I sure don’t recall any persecution of the religious on his part. In fact, I don’t recall him ever even mentioning the subject. Does Reynolds have access to information that’s not generally known or something?

    • 500+ legislators in Washington DC, and not a single one is an atheist? Even if we assume that legislators are stupid (and atheism is proportional to intelligence), it’s pretty startling that the 10-30% of them that are atheists are cowed into silence.

    • Charleigh Kimber

      Were he to allow discussion, experience suggests that any example he’s given would be met with new, arbitrary qualifiers on his part to make him “right anyway.” You know, like how the anti-science crowd demands “missing links”, and, when provided with one, claim it creates two more missing links.

      • MNb

        He pulled that one off already. Europe is doing well because it’s political system/culture/whatever is build on christian tradition.

  • MNb

    “There is no example of a state with atheists in power as atheists that did not persecute the religious.”
    I’m not going to try to comment at Reynolds’ blog anymore after I once spend half an hour composing a comment and he subsequently disabled the function. Reynolds is lying here, period.

    Clement Attlee was an atheist in power as an atheist from 1945 to 1951 in the UK. Francois Hollande has been since 2012. That’s two examples.

    “What kind of research is this?”
    We Dutch call it thumb sucking.

    “No nation on earth with a Christian state church that bans atheism.”
    Wow. You know this probably better than I do, BobS, but haven’t American politicians tried to ban atheists from government?

    • Snowflake

      I did try to post. There seems to no way to post, or even ask questions. I really do want to understand where he is coming from.

      • Pofarmer

        Ignorance and hatred.

      • Charleigh Kimber

        From the comment disabling, he is coming from a place where he knows perfectly well that he is lying.

        • In Reynolds’ defense, I believe his comment section has been disabled for months. Dunno why.

        • wtfwjtd

          Does he post inflammatory stuff on a regular basis? That would explain it.

        • Beats me. I haven’t looked at his other stuff. He may not like conflict or dissent, or he may just be too busy to moderate the way he’d like to.

        • Charleigh Kimber

          That’s possible, but people who want to make public statements without response almost invariably turn out to be have less savory motivations.

        • What I find a bit chuckleworthy is that Reynolds has defended his work in comment sections here and at The Secular Outpost. His critics are happy to host public discussions of his columns, but that’s not a service he provides.

        • MNb

          That time I tried to post was less than three weeks ago. Plus he calls for communication.

        • Yeah, it’s peculiar. The most recent item in his “Recent Comments” section appears to be a comment explaining why he disables comments, but I can’t get it to come up in full under the relevant article. The item just before that dates from several months ago.

        • Yes, good point. His initial post ends this way:

          The twentieth and twenty-first century victims of state atheism cannot read “angry atheism” without a shudder and this is reasonable. Let’s start any dialog with this in mind.

          What dialogue? I got some dialogue, but that’s only because I have a blog. Too bad for everyone else.

        • Snowflake

          Well he did tell me I was wrong, and misunderstood him. That’s dialogue:/.

        • wtfwjtd

          That sounds more like a lecture to me. I think maybe the good Doctor got his venues mixed up :-).

        • Snowflake

          I’m thinking if I took a grad level class with him, I’d be asking for my money back.

        • Snowflake

          There is a woman posting on the Pathos Evangelical area, Rebecca Florence Miller. I may not agree whatsoever with her beliefs, but she seems to engage in discussion in a respectful manner. She does not appear to be condescending, like Dr. Reynolds.

        • Yes, I’ve engaged with some Christians who are thoughtful and kind. It is a little off-putting to be told that I can’t be trusted with political power because I’ll just go all Stalin on everyone.

        • MNb

          Seidensticker is a German name, but here you’re displaying an English feel for understatement.

        • Charleigh Kimber

          She’s come by here before, and is a vast improvement, if still extremely wrong.

        • Snowflake

          I’m sure she thinks we are extremely wrong also;-).

          But that is how I’d like to see a dialogue.

    • Regarding your last question: Yes. In fact, several states (including Reynolds’ home state of Texas) still have local constitutional restrictions that purport to exclude nonbelievers from public office. These restrictions are unenforced and unenforceable thanks to the federal Supreme Court’s application of certain language in the U.S. Constitution.

      To date, efforts to repeal the bans haven’t gotten far. As one recalcitrant Maryland senator claims, removing illegal, dead-letter restrictions on atheists serving in government is somehow “an affirmation that the people of the state of Maryland don’t care about the Christian faith, and that is a little offensive.” Fortunately, we atheists have no sensibilities to offend, I suppose.

      I’d genuinely like to hear Reynolds’ opinion on this. Would he vote in favor of an amendment to align the Texas constitution with binding Supreme Court jurisprudence by removing the unlawful language requiring that state personnel “acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being[?]”

      Edited to add: Fair’s fair. So I unequivocally state that I oppose belief-based mistreatment, discrimination, and persecution in China and elsewhere.

    • Wikipedia’s list of atheists in politics.

      haven’t American politicians tried to ban atheists from government?

      To add to Lex Lata’s comment, there was a guy who won the job of notary public in North Carolina, if I remember correctly (a rather trivial job in the big picture, if notary publics will pardon my impertinence), who was challenged because he was an atheist.

      • You may be fusing the facts from a couple of different cases together. Back in 2005, a few theists unsuccessfully invoked the North Carolina constitution’s ban on atheists in public office after an atheist won a city council seat in Asheville.

        Going back further, in the 1990s, an atheist activist tried to become a notary public in South Carolina and was rejected. He duked it out in state court and won.

        The 1961 Supreme Court opinion (Tocaso v. Watkins) that invalidated state religious tests for office also concerned a notary public, in that case from Maryland.

        • Yes, I did confuse a few cases. I think I must’ve heard about the notary public case in the last few years and thought that the case was recent as well. Thanks.

        • MNb

          So the USA have a tradition of christians persecuting atheists ….. yeah, no torture involved, but it’s discrimination all the same.

        • It’s not bad now, but the further back you go, the worse it gets. Many early post-independence states had enforceable religious tests for office, for instance. And the Puritans of the 17th and 18th century Massachusetts Bay Colony had laws against blasphemy (which could include vocal atheism–exceedingly rare at the time, of course). Potential punishments included imprisonment, having a hot iron driven through one’s tongue, execution, and other unpleasantries.

        • In Britain, blasphemy (including denying God’s existence) was a crime. Only in 1838 was the definition narrowed so that it was blasphemy against the Church of England god that was protected–you could diss those other guys, just not the real god.

        • And now that you mention it, there are a couple of states with blasphemy laws technically still on the books. Thank Crom for the First and Fourteenth Amendments!

  • Pofarmer

    How does he account for European nations that are very high percentage Atheist? Austraulia just had an atheist Prime Minister.

  • Pofarmer

    “Small religious groups, like the Quakers, develop cohesive beliefs and establish communities. Some of these have been mostly good and some have been mostly bad. Atheism has not managed to do so.”

    What a coward. Surely it isn’t because the religious have largely prevented it from happening?

  • Pofarmer

    I wonder if he would consider the anti-theism of marxists and some communists to be backlash against overreach? Nah.

  • Pofarmer

    If John Mark Reynolds is going to write this kind of inflamatory idiocy, then he needs to enable comments. Gah. “Atheists never formed strong communities.” No shit, it’s because for most of history, at least the history if Christianity, they would be completely ostracized from public life. Excommunication wasn’t just the church. If that didn’t work. Or often times just in case, they would be tortured, found to he witches, agents of Satan, burned at the stake. Whata fucking no good douchebag to write this kind if Garbage and then hide. Reynolds, you are a coward, plain and simple. Own up to your own history, your religions own acts. The main reason you are covilized now is that society forced it on you. You can’t kill unbelievers because you don’t think it’s the right thing to do, it’s because secular society said “ENOUGH!” Man up and own your words. Don’t hide. If you have time to write thousands of words of this tripe, you should have ample time to defend them.

    • wtfwjtd

      When has the purveyors of Christianity ever been honest and straightforward about anything? Those ethical guidelines only apply to other people, not them.

    • John Mark Reynolds. Let’s leave poor Matt Reynolds to play baseball in peace. 😉

      • Pofarmer


    • Kodie

      He’s got that new dialectic thingie coming up.

      • Pofarmer

        Whatever the fuck that is.

        • Snowflake

          In my little world, dialectic means open communications, connecting thoughts, feelings and behavior. His, I don’t know.

    • Snowflake

      He did come here last week to explain, “sigh”, why I was wrong. It saddens me that he is teaching college kids.

  • Pofarmer

    And, by pushing congregations in places like North Korea and China, aren’t they asking for persecution?

    • He enjoys talking about how persecuted Christians are in China, but other Christians will brag about how China is on track to surpass the U.S. to become the #1 Christian country in 15 years.

  • You said, “Oh—so it’s only three states, you say…And from the lack of atheist states that are not dictatorships to see if (dare I say it?) the dictatorship is the problem.”

    What officially atheist state do you have in mind? Honestly I can’t think of an officially atheist state which hasn’t practiced persecution and killing.
    China, Albania, U.S.S.R., North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, probably for a time Mexico in the 1920’s, though maybe only anti-religious, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungry, East Germany, Bulgaria, etc, were atheistic and practiced persecution and slaughter.

    That doesn’t mean that atheism necessarily causes slaughter. Maybe it was side-car factors which led to the slaughter.

    But as I said at the start, I can’t think of a single officially atheistic government which was humanistic, practiced human rights, and didn’t persecute and kill.

    • He’s focused on states that (1) are atheist and (2) committed genocide. His list was the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. He also listed North Korea, though that doesn’t count since it’s not really an atheist state. He also listed Albania, but I don’t know if they’ve committed genocide. So, from his list, I find 3 states.

      He seems focused on big numbers rather than penny-ante human rights abuses (kidding, of course), and that would differentiate those examples from the inevitable skeletons in the closet of any country.

      • Okay, sorry I thought it was about governments who slaughtered. Genocide is a much more narrow gun slot.

        That’s the problem of someone like me showing up late to the party. I misunderstood.

        Of course, North Korea is an atheist state from its own point of view (but not ours).

        Thanks for the clarification. Next time I will be sure and read all posts before I insert my own commercial;-)

        • No problem. I often reply to a comment and only later realize that I’ve overlapped with what someone else already wrote or (worse) they said it much better than me.

    • Pofarmer

      Uhm, the Cristeros rebellion in Mexico was caused by the Catholic Church not wanting to hand over the reigns if education to,the secular State. They pretty much started it. They tried to install an Emperor. Fer Pete’s sake. If you are talking Yugoslavia in the 90’s, that was most certainly religious in nature.

      Hmmm, an officially atheistic govt. Ya know, the United States of America is genuinely founded on a secular constitutuion, with the idea that government derives it’s power from, amd secures the liberties of, those it governs. There ya go.

      • Yes, I know the history of the Cristeros rebellion and of Calles’ secular anti-religious views. (I am not on the side of of the Roman Catholics or of Calles but only pointing out it seems the conflict was a case of killing between atheism and religion).

        The U.S.A. has a secular constitution, but it isn’t grounded in atheism by any stretch of the imagination. All but maybe one of the founders of the nation were devoted theists, especially Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence even cites Nature’s God as the source of human rights and equality.

        • Pofarmer

          “The Declaration of Independence even cites Nature’s God as the source of human rights and equality..”

          Yeah, the Declaration of Independence was written nearly 100 years before “Origin of Species”, in the infancy of the Scientific Revolution. It was a pretty radical document for it’s time.

        • MNb

          What I fail to imagine is how to ground a constitution on atheism. Do you mean “it’s forbidden to believe in god” or something? Well, then the SU during Stalin’s reign was not grounded on atheism either. It provided freedom of religion nominally.
          At the other hand, if you say that western consitutions are secular, then I’m quick to point out that many believers in the west are secularists as well, as they totally support separation of state and religion. States like the Soviet-Union, China and North-Korea typically don’t separate state and political ideology. That’s exactly why Reynolds’ analysis fails. The question is not atheism or theism. The question is state ideology or not. Historically speaking you’ll find believers and unbelievers in both the yes and no camp. Reynolds would have a reason to be afraid if in any democracy there were a movement that advocates atheism becoming state doctrine. There isn’t any.

        • Barry Lynn is head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and he’s a pastor.

          You’re right–millions of Christians appreciate the importance of this separation.

        • I’m not a professional historian. I’ve read most of a biography on Young Stalin, one on Mao, on Ho Chi Minh, Che Cuevara, etc. All of them hated and persecuted religious people, but I haven’t read intensively on this topic.

          You might want to check out “State atheism” on Wikepedia (though I know it isn’t necessarily reliable).

        • I can see how they might’ve persecuted religious people, but you’re not saying that that was their primary agenda (as Reynolds does), are you?

        • Sorry, it took a while to answer.

          #1 I don’t agree with Reynolds on many points.

          His knowledge of history seems uneven, even appalling at times such as his statements about Christianity, persecution, slaughter, etc. and state churches.

          Furthermore, I disagree strongly with his statement, “I know of no mainstream Christian group that does not
          assert “love” is the central attribute of God.” I could write hundreds of pages showing that is fallacious.

          #3 I don’t even agree with his central thesis–that anti-theists somehow will be more oppressive than Muslims or Christians if they come to power.
          It seems power corrupts, no matter who gets in power.

          #4 I do think that some atheists such as Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin intentionally set the destruction and end of religion as one of their primary goals. However, even Stalin sometimes varied if it suited his purposes.

          Most of my own experiences with atheists (in Europe, the Middle East, the U.S.) have varied as they have with other worldviews.

          Thanks for bringing Reynolds’ article to our attention. I hadn’t heard of it.

        • 1. I’m amazed at his frank and casual admission that he doesn’t have much to back up his central thesis, that anti-theism (in the form of religious persecution) was the primary goal of the dictators.

          2. Yeah, the whole “aren’t we fabulous? We celebrate luv!!” thing seemed to be a meaningless tangent for my already-too-long response.

          4. Given a policy fork in the road, either hassle religion but weaken the dictatorship or ignore religion and strengthen the dictatorship, I can’t imagine Stalin taking the former road–that is, sacrificing the health of his project so he could hurt Christianity.

        • Oh, I’m not sure I would agree with that. Stalin sacrificed the health of his projects often. Remember during the 30’s purges when he almost devastated his officer class because of his paranoia and sadism.
          At least one historian as I recall emphasized it’s rather amazing Russia wasn’t overrun by the Nazis. Only it’s vast size and vast population probably saved it. Not Stalin.

        • adam

          “All of them hated and persecuted religious people,”


          or Professionally through another bastion of power?

        • Both, and more some. Based on the biographies I’ve read, there were many factors.

        • adam

          I would like to see references of ‘personal’

        • As I recall, Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore showed how much Stalin as a young man, after he deconverted, absolutely hated religion personally.

          This was long before he came to power.

          But, I don’t know if historians can separate out various motivational factors in such sociopaths.

          Reading about Stalin when he was a thug and a young revolutionary was creepy.

          It’s been too long since I’ve read about Mao to remember what his views on religion were before he came to power.

          Ho Chi Minh had a personal hatred against all things French including religion as recall because of how he was treated.

          Che, also, hated religion. He stated Jesus was wrong to oppose killing. He wrote this before he came to power, back when he was still living in Mexico.
          But I don’t remember how this hatred for religion came about when he was in college or earlier.

          Sorry, I don’t have any references in my old brain, or on my computer backup to help with that. My specialty is American literature and history. I’ve only read about famous leaders out of personal interest.

          Maybe check with a few professional historians of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and the others.

        • Greg G.

          The president of South Vietnam was Catholic. I would suppose that Catholics would tend to support him. Did Ho Chi Minh oppose Catholics because he opposed their religion or did he oppose them because they opposed him?

        • Check out a good biography on Ho Chi Minh. As I recall, he gravitated to atheism (Marxism) because of how the French treated his country, his people, and himself. Ho Chi Minh lived, studied and worked in France for a number of years.

          Fascinating biography. I wish I could remember more.

          So, briefly, I think it was both. He hated religion because it was oppressive and because he became a Marxist. I doubt that one can separate such factors. But I’ve only read one book about Ho Chi Minh. Maybe someone with more knowledge of Vietnam can add to my few words.

        • Greg G.

          AIUI, Ho also quoted Thomas Jefferson, I think it may have been the Declaration of Independence. He wanted independence first and the reunification later. I think he tried to get the US to help with the independence but France was a long time ally so that didn’t work. The cost of getting help from the Communists was Communism. What I know is from bits and pieces I’ve seen that doesn’t fit the usual narrative.

        • Yes, these points were written about in the biography that I read. Ho Chi Minh could be a ruthless killer but probably wasn’t like Stalin or Pol Pot. (I wish I could remember the name of the historian who wrote the book.)

          Also, it is so disconcerting that the U.S.government supported France in its efforts to recolonize Vietnam after the Viet Minh helped us defeat the Japanese.

        • I’m not familiar with the US role in this. By contrast, the US was not helpful in helping Britain to reassert its control over its colonies after WW2.

        • Pofarmer

          This Jefferson?

          “history, I believe, records no instance a Priest ridden people keeping a free and civil government.”

        • Yep. Jefferson hated creedal Christianity, especially in its control of governments and cruelty, persecution, and slaughter, etc.
          Jefferson was a devout theist according to his own words. He even said he was a “Christian” in the sense of following the words and actions of Jesus the man.

          I used to teach Jefferson to students every year. He was a very complex, sometimes contradictory individual.

          Check out a few scholarly biographies on him such as Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by by Fawn Brodie or American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis, etc.

        • wtfwjtd

          “Jefferson was a devout theist according to his own words. ”

          This is a very debatable point. There have been plenty of people claim that Jefferson was a deist, and many others saying he was a theist. His writings don’t fit the modern common usage of either of those words; he mixed and matched his religious philosophy as he saw fit.
          One of the few definitive things that can be said about Jefferson’s religious beliefs is that he was not a Christian, at least as most people understand the usage of that word.

        • Sorry, I must disagree. Please read his own words.

          You say, “One of the few definitive things that can be said about Jefferson’s religious beliefs is that he was not a Christian…” Well, then for most of 51 years I wasn’t a Christian either!

          Here are a few quotes from Jefferson (but I recommend reading biographies):

          #1 1816 January 9. (Jefferson to Charles Thomson). “I too have made a wee little book, from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. a more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel…”

          (This is from the Monticello site on the Internet. I visited Monticello not to long ago.)

          “The Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which
          they [the clergy] have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and
          simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most
          friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind.”

          — Thomas Jefferson, to Moses Robinson, 1801, ME 10:237

          “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which
          have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. He
          who follows this steadily need not, I think, be uneasy, although he cannot
          comprehend the subtleties and mysteries erected on his doctrines by those who,
          calling themselves his special followers and favorites, would make him come
          into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs. These metaphysical
          heads, usurping the judgment seat of God, denounce as his enemies all who
          cannot perceive the Geometrical logic of Euclid in the demonstrations of St
          Athanasius, that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not
          three nor the three one.

          — Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Canby (September 18,

          “I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the Unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.”
          Jefferson to Timothy Pickering

          “The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.
          1. That there is one only God, and he all perfect.

          2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
          3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.

          To Dr. Waterhouse from Thomas Jefferson

        • adam

          And yet, Jefferson not believing in the divinity of Jesus or his MAGIC powers was more like a Jew or a Muslim in that aspect. Yeah, Jesus has some good words…like Buddha…

        • Jefferson certainly didn’t believe in the “divinity of Jesus.” But for over 51 years when I was a Christian neither did I. Heck, our college minister at the University of Nebraska who was a leader in our Baptist church didn’t either. The latter even told me, that he, as a Baptist minister, leaned toward deism.

          Yes, Jesus, not only was like a Jew, he was a Jew!:-)

          Yes, even though Jesus and Buddha grew up in extremely different cultures and societies, they had many good words and ideas in common. Right here on my book case is a book about both comparing how similar their views were, considering they grew up in very different places.

        • adam

          ” Right here on my book case is a book about both comparing how similar
          their views were, considering they grew up in very different places.”

          Although there is little doubt that Jesus could have easily been exposed to Buddhism.

        • wtfwjtd

          I don’t quite follow you here Dan. Are you disagreeing that it’s debatable whether or not Jefferson was a deist or theist, or are you disagreeing with my statement the Jefferson was not a Christian as most people understand the usage of that word?

        • Well, wtfwjtd, I disagree on all three to varying degrees. Historians take various views on famous individuals such as Jefferson (just now remembering a few biographies I’ve read on him). However, generally, I think all historians agree based on Jefferson’s own words that he was a dedicated theist.
          Keep in mind that a deist is a type of theist. Also, as far as I aware, Jefferson never explicitly stated he was a deist. Furthermore, actual deists weren’t like the image many people have today of deists. Deists such as Thomas Paine, and Jefferson, (if he somewhere did say he was a deist) strongly thought the God of Nature was active and supportive of the pursuit of justice. Just take another look at the Declaration. For Paine, check out some of his writings. I used to teach both of these leaders to students.

          Secondly, Jefferson identified informally, not only as a Christian (follower of the teachings of Jesus, he also said that he identified with Unitarianism. There were millions of Unitarians as well as other Christians like Jefferson, such as Issac Newton, etc.
          Jefferson was also a Christian like many other Christians–Quakers, liberals, some Anabaptist leaders, some Baptists, all Socinians, and so forth.

          What, maybe, you meant was that Jefferson was not a creedal Christian, was not a Roman Catholic.
          With that I agree with you. He hated R.C.

          Jefferson was at some point a leader in the Episcopal church as well, but he did not believe in the creeds.

          If you get a chance, visit Monticello.

          Thanks for asking about all of this. I am retired now, but miss discussing Jefferson and the boys, sons of liberty, etc.:-)

        • wtfwjtd

          To be honest, I am not comfortable flatly stating that Jefferson was a deist, theist, or even a Christian or not. Heck, by Jefferson’s definition, I guess that *I’m* still a Christian, if I get to pick and choose among the Biblical teachings of Jesus, pitch the turds, and only keep and try and follow the good stuff.
          I still stand by my original statement that he was not a Christian as most people define that word. However, it’s really difficult to say anything definitive about Jefferson’s personal religious beliefs. Jefferson was first and foremost a politician, and a great one at that. But as such, he was very good at playing both sides of many issues, including religion. “A wall of separation between church and state” seems to indicate, as did a lot of his other writings, that he was clearly in favor of church/state separation. Beyond that, it gets pretty dicey. He seemed to indicate a fondness for “nature’s god”, a reference that could include anything from Christianity to Islam to Pantheism. He also said that he did not want the job of President, although of course no one took this seriously. He spoke of all men being created equal, while at the same time owning slaves. He was a genius in some ways,and a complete buffoon in others. A complicated man, and difficult to pin down in many ways. I’m content to leave it at that.

        • As I understand it, a theist is a type of deist.

        • –theism: late 17th century: from Greek theos ‘god’ + -ism.

          deism: 1675-85; < French déisme < Latin de (us) god +French -isme -ism

          The words basically mean the same denotatively.

          Conotatively, there are all kinds of variations.

          For instance,

          theism: the belief in one God as the creator and rule of the universe, without rejection of revelation

          deism: belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation

          It would seem that theism is the larger of the categories, that theism includes not only deism but also polytheism, pantheism, panentheism, etc.

          But I think it's mostly semantics.

          Besides, given the take on deism in the present (God isn't involved in the world), Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson fit more into the theism category.

        • I don’t have much interest in dictionary arguments, but I’ll pass on my understanding of the words.

          Deism argues for a creator, and that’s it. The transcendental, ontological, design, and other arguments are deist arguments because a simple clockmaker god who winds up the universe and walks away could explain those.

          Theism goes further. This is a god who actually cares about what develops on earth and checks up on them. He also interact with them. These are particular kinds of deities–not only do they wind up the clock, but they interact.

        • I agree. Those are the explanations I used for years in teaching.

          And I see now why you think deism is larger than theism. I don’t agree, but thanks for giving me a different perspective.

  • A few points here:

    1. Notice that Reynolds is careful to state that there are no Christian states persecuting non-Christians today. His argument consists of “hey, we’re not doing much persecuting right now! Christianity seems pretty good if you just forget about the previous couple of millennia!” Fuck that. I’m not going to pretend the entire dark age of Christian domination didn’t happen just so his argument looks slightly less laughable.

    2. What exactly does it mean for a state to be anti-theistic? The idea of an anti-theistic state implies state enforcement of atheism. An “anti-theistic” state that doesn’t do this is just a secular state, and there are plenty of examples of those working out (in fact it’s hard to think of an example of nation working well without being at least de facto secular). Reynolds’ argument looks like a special case of the general principle that it’s a bad idea for a government to try to enforce a particular opinion on religion.

    3. It seems to have escaped Reynolds’ attention that quite a lot of anti-theists are not communists. Reynolds seems to be putting in a lot of effort to ignore the elephant in the room; which is the fact that all the countries he lists have a very particular political system in common*, one that most Western anti-theists do not agree with. The obvious question, which he has not addressed, is whether the problems he refers to might be related to that particular system, rather than to atheism or anti-theism in general.

    *(Well, apart from North Korea maybe; I wouldn’t really class it as communist any more. But I wouldn’t class it as atheist any more either, so it should probably be excluded from his list.)

    4. “There is no example of a state with atheists in power as atheists that did not persecute the religious.” Doesn’t this look like the sort of thing someone should check before they publish? Just a quick Google search or something.

    5. We really don’t know how many anti-theists there have been in democratic governments. Maybe all the atheists in political offices in democratic countries all had a deep respect for theistic religion. Maybe some of them thought religion was crazy, and wished people would stop believing it, and couldn’t understand why anyone would believe in something so crazy. If it’s the latter, do you really expect them to say it openly, when so many voters are religious? Practically, how do you differentiate an anti-theistic politician from any other atheist, if that anti-theist isn’t interested in forcing his/her views on everyone else?

  • MNb

    Something very different: it’s rather inconvenient and annoying that they have dropped his blog from

    Edit: I meant to write “dropped this blog – ie BobS’ one.

    • Which blog are you looking for? On the atheist page, they only show a selection.

      • MNb

        For a while they showed all atheist blogs. It was handy, because I could check very quickly if someone wrote an article I hadn’t read yet. Now I have to click through to check if you have written a new one.

        • I’m guessing that once the number of atheist blogs reached a certain number (they’ve been expanding lately), they’re no longer all displayed on the Atheist Blog page.

    • Greg G.

      If you mean Reynold’s blog, it is on the Evangelical page under EIDOS.

  • XTheist

    I just discovered this guy recently through following patheos on Facebook. They linked to an article he did about prayer. Apparently he prayed to God to save his infant son (really heartbreaking) and God said no. His rationalization for this is that God has the whole cosmos to look after and he’s going to do what’s best for all creation, not just humans. There’s another blog post of his that I skimmed about how he’s glad that his mom taught him about hell. Yuck.

  • Chuck Farley

    I’ve got the atheism and the stamp collecting already. I just need to master knitting and I will be able to rule with an iron fist!

    • rule with an iron fist!

      And justifiably so, brother!

    • katiehippie

      At least knitting involves pokey things.

      • Chuck Farley

        The pokey things are what will inspire fear in my enemies, and help to keep the populace submissive.

  • avalon

    “No nation on earth with a Christian state church that bans atheism or sends atheists to labor camps.” ?????

    “During the Inquisition, several of those accused of atheism or blasphemy, or both, were tortured or executed.”
    This occurred in Italy, France, and Poland under Christian governments.

    England has a Christian state church, the Church of England:

    “”From the 16th century to the mid-19th century, blasphemy against Christianity was held as an offence against common law. Blasphemy was also used as a legal instrument to persecute atheists, Unitarians, and others.”
    “All blasphemies against God, including denying his being or providence, all contumelious reproaches of Jesus Christ, all profane scoffing at the Holy Scriptures, and exposing any part thereof to contempt or ridicule, were punishable by the temporal courts with death, imprisonment, corporal punishment and fine.”
    “…that such kind of wicked blasphemous words were not only an offence to God and religion, but a crime against the laws, State and Government, and therefore punishable in this Court. For to say, religion is a cheat, is to dissolve all those obligations whereby the civil societies are preserved, and that Christianity is parcel of the laws of England; and therefore to reproach the Christian religion is to speak in subversion of the law.”

  • Mick

    Even the Christians who read that blog will notice that comments are not allowed and, in the back of their minds, they will know the reason why: the blogger is loose with the truth. They won’t make that admission publicly, but they will know.

  • There is a big difference between anti-theism and atheism. Once one understands that, the difference between Marxist anti-theists of the past who actively attacked religion and persecuted religious people compared to those of today, whose sole “weapon” is words, having never advocated violence, becomes obvious. It makes any comparison between them quite ridiculous.

    • MNb

      I don’t understand it, because I have seen way too many definitions of both anti-theism and atheism. According to some I already was an atheist when I still called myself an agnost.

      • I think anti-theism is defined as “opposed to the belief in gods”. That’s how I’d define it anyway. As to atheism versus agnostic, that is probably because they’re viewed as compatible. Atheism relates to belief, agnosticism to knowledge. So I would call myself an agnostic atheist as I don’t know whether any gods exist, and thus don’t believe in them. Perhaps they felt you were the same?

        • He defines anti-theism as atheists who “actively dislike and work against religion”

        • That would qualify as well. I’m offering a more bare-bones definition.

        • MNb

          Like I already wrote elsewhere on this blog then I’m a part time anti-theist. I dislike some forms of religion and even that doesn’t necessarily imply that I work against them, let alone always and everywhere. I’m totally willing to cooperate with religion when it suits me. In several cases I’ve stimulated people to go to church, mosque, whatever.
          This is what I mean with “I’ve seen too many definitions”; so I’ve decided that I don’t care.

        • Okay, that makes sense. I’m certainly not just an anti-theist uniformly either. There are definitely forms of belief I dislike more than most.

        • MNb

          The relevant point here regarding Reynolds is that this probably applies to most atheists. Jerry Coyne – not the most friendly atheist around – has written something similar. If this is correct Reynolds’ analysis totally falls apart, because there hardly are uniform anti-theists to fear.

        • Definitely, it’s an overly broad generalization for sure.

        • Greg G.

          That’d be me. But I attack theism by planting ideas into the minds of theism ‘ victims and potential victims.

        • MNb

          Then I’m an atheist. I’m not opposed to the belief in gods.

          “Perhaps they felt you were the same?”
          They didn’t feel anything, because nobody cared about this kind of semantics. We were what we called ourself. In our view (but it’s 35 years ago and we were teens) agnosticism meant “there might be god or there might not be a god, you can’t prove either of them” and atheism “I’m convinced there is no god”.

        • I don’t think it’s semantics, but no matter. Those definitions also make sense.

        • MNb

          The key was “don’t care”, not “semantics”. I used the latter because I couldn’t think of a better word.

        • Ah, okay.

        • The takeaway for me is that we should be wary that we’re not using the same definitions when engaging with Christians. The words atheist, agnostic, objective, and even Christian have various meanings. Though it slows the conversation, I stop and define what I mean when necessary.

        • That’s true, you find yourself talking past each other too much in these debates.

  • RichardSRussell

    There is no example of a state with atheists in power as atheists that did not persecute the religious.

    Well, that’ll certainly come as news to a lot of these guys! Also former Australian PM Julia Gillard. Plus Japan’s Shinzo Abe (who’s listed as a Shintoist/Buddhist, neither of which formally espouses deities). These are not exactly tiny, insignificant Pacific island republics.

  • Playonwords

    Why is he using Stalin as an example? Stalin was not particularly anti-theist. Firstly he was educated at an Orthodox Seminary and secondly he re-established the Russian Orthodox Church.

    • He used the church to build patriotism during WW2 and helped Uyghur separatists from China.

      He was anti-theist when it suited him and pro-theist when that suited him.

  • Bruce Gorton

    What causes a Stalin, or more accurately a Lenin (as Stalin was a continuation of Lenin’s revolution)? The funny thing is because Christians are basically using history for propaganda rather than, you know, actually learning anything from it they never quite figure this one out.

    What causes a Lenin is the economics of a violent revolution coming off of a feudalist socio-economic base.

    Basically, Christian religious groups over the centuries accumulated large tracts of land by hovering vulture-like around nobles who were dying and didn’t have kids to leave their stuff to.

    They would promise these nobles a place in heaven, in exchange for their holdings (which would otherwise either go to the state, or some distant relative somewhere).

    This meant that in, for example, just prior to the French revolution the major land owner in France was the Catholic Church. The revolutionaries needed cash, and they couldn’t very well leave all of that money in the hands of an institution that didn’t pay tax, so the church got a thorough squashing.

    It didn’t hurt that the church were generally known for being pricks to their peasants, and maintaining a strong relationship with the state thus identifying itself with the wrongs of the past regime.

    Similarly with the Russian revolution – the Bolsheviks came into power with the Russian Orthodox Church holding massive amounts of land, and the USSR needed the income from it. Further the Tsar’s government strongly identified with Christianity, meaning when it fell that there would be strong resentments for its role in that government.

    Essentially what caused Lenin was not atheism, Lenin and his like were a natural consequence of churches enjoying a privileged position regarding taxation, and a powerful position in politics – a position they constantly seek to expand right now.

    To a large extent current day atheist activism regarding the separation of church and state works to prevent another Lenin, while the same Christians who scaremonger about atheists in government seek to reproduce the exact conditions that led to the last one.

    • Pofarmer

      The same situation tried to play out in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century but the U.S. Stopped it. I think eventually many kand reforms did occur.m it was estimated that by the end of the 19th Century the church owned as much as 50% of the land in Mexico. The also had a stranglehold on the education and political system.

  • Kitsune Inari

    I see there’s a point you surely know but I haven’t seen mentioned (at least not on part 1). So here I go, just in case:

    Nobody has denied that every atheist regime in the world has been horrible.

    Sure, just check Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Those countries are chock-full of atheists and their governments are secular, that’s why they are all hellholes full of crime, suffering and depravity. Oh wait, they’re not.