It seems to be a truism among Christians that the greatest atrocities in history were committed by atheists. And not only that, but they are a consequence of atheism. Many, if not most, Christians believe that atheism implies a lack of morality. Prominent Christians like David Marshall endlessly repeat the assertion that atheism and Soviet-style Communism are essentially equivalent. Even the crimes of the Nazis are blamed on atheistic beliefs. These tropes are echoed so often by Christians that most of them are convinced that they're true. It is interesting to note that they follow the the playbook of the Nazi Propagandists. As Joseph Goebbels is thought to have said, "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself."
A recent conversation in Victor's blog illustrates this dynamic.
Emanuel Goldstein: And of course atheits like [John] Moore say they don't advocate removal of religion. Do you think they would tell us now, before they gained power, if they did. ... EVERY atheist who has had the political power to do so has killed believers. Every damn time. Can this be conincidence?Or perhaps the real trouble is that Goldstein's theory is just plain wrong. Notice how the threat of atheism shifts from atheists in general to powerful dictators. The assertion is that if John Moore (an atheist commenter in Victor's blog) ever gets power, he would wield that power against theists. When it is pointed out that this has not been the case in Europe, Goldstein then asserts that prime ministers of countries like the UK don't have the real power of a dictator, so they can't get away with such things. But wait a minute. If that's true, then how could Goldstein claim that John Moore would be a threat? By Goldstein's logic, even if he became the elected president of the USA or prime minister of a European democracy, he would not be in the position of a dictator with the power of a Stalin or a Hitler. And therefore, he would not have the power to be the kind of threat that Goldstein asserts. But that just shows that by his own admission, Goldstein's initial assertion is nothing more than hot air, devoid of substantive truth.
David Brightly: ... The UK and some other European countries have progressed to the point where the percentage of believers is substantially less than in the US. Yet I'm not aware that Christians here, or other faiths, feel nervous let alone beseiged. Maybe I just don't read the right blogs. ...
Emanuel Goldstein: David, the trouble is that in the UK and other European countries the atheists do not have the political power to commit atrocities outright. But in countries where they have had such power, they have always murdered to get their way. No matter what they say before they actually get that power.
That conversation was echoed in my own blog by planks length.
planks length: But give an atheist political power, and the experience of the past century shows that everyone, believer and atheist alike, would have serious cause for fear. Sorry, but the record speaks for itself.This conversation is very much like the one in Victor's blog. The theist starts out by asserting that any atheist who gets into a position of power would be an existential threat to believers (and everyone else, too). When shown proof that this assertion is patently false, the goalpost is moved, and the initial assertion becomes nothing more than theistic hot air. But the historical facts never stop them from going on to the next conversation, where they just repeat the same tropes over and over again. In this case, planks length even refutes his own assertion by pointing out that despite having atheist leaders, these countries have kept an official state religion. That's right. It just goes to show that those atheist leaders did not have an agenda of destroying religion and killing believers.
im-skeptical: There is a huge difference between ideology-driven dictators (including religious ideology) and atheists. Stalin may have been an atheist, but he killed all those people for the sake of his communist ideology, not his atheism. ... The truth is that there have been many atheists in positions of power.
planks length: ... Not one of the people in your link (whatever their personal beliefs were) were the head of an atheist state. Denmark, of which your link lists 5, actually has an official state religion (Lutheranism), as does the UK (Anglicanism), which counts for 5 more on the list.
But who are these atheist rulers that have been in real positions of power that would allow them to proceed with their evil agenda? It is my assertion that the only ones who fit the description are Communists like Stalin or Pol Pot. And furthermore, it is their communist ideology, not atheism, that drives their agenda. But the theists insist that it's more than just Communists. Other atheists, they claim, like the leaders of the French Revolution and the Nazis are also guilty of horrific atrocities.
Let's take a closer look at these assertions. The leaders of the French Revolution wanted to establish a secular state, not an atheist state. For many theists, the two things are the same, but secular does not imply atheist. In fact the French revolutionary leaders during the time of the Reign of Terror were not atheists at all. They were deists who believed in a Supreme Being, otherwise known as God. Chief among them was Maximilien Robespierre, a deist who actually wanted to establish an official state religion in France, called the Cult of the Supreme Being. So the atrocities that occurred under his leadership cannot be attributed to atheists.
As for the Nazis, theists often point to their scientific endeavors, and Darwinist principles employed in the pursuit of establishing the master race, as evidence of their atheism. But this, too, is false. Nazi ideology was founded on Christianity, and it specifically rejected Darwinism. This article provides an excellent overview of Nazi ideology and its historical origins, and is well worth reading for those who are interested in understanding Nazi ideological motivations.
And that leaves just the Communist dictators in our list of evil atheist leaders. What is the common factor among every actual atheist who committed major atrocities? They were Communists, dedicated to their Communist ideologies. The existence of so many other atheists who, as heads of state, did not commit atrocities is proof that atheism is not the cause of those atrocities. Atheism, in its own right, doesn't have an ideology. It does not imply any particular political agenda or ideology, despite the ignorant assertions of people like David Marshall. It is simply the lack of theistic belief. That is not to say that an atheist can't have some ideology. Ayn Rand was certainly no Communist. Neither does her ideology agree with the liberal humanism of many modern atheists, including those who have served honorably as heads of state. Clearly, the Communist dictators had their own pernicious ideology, but it was not for the sake of their lack of theistic belief that they killed so many people. It was for the sake of their political agenda and their political ideologies.
Here's a prediction in which I am quite confident: in the tradition of Joseph Goebbels, planks length and many other Christians will continue to repeat the same old tropes and lies, no matter how much factual information is presented to them. Because they have an ideology and an agenda of their own.