Dinesh D’Souza responds to my article on atheism and 20th century atrocities

In my article debunking the link between atheism and the 20th century’s atrocites, I start by quoting one of Christianity’s increasingly visible media spokesmen, Dinesh D’Souza.  D’Souza acknowleges Christianity’s lurid and bloody past, but claims that atheism has produced worse horrors.  Despite the sheer oddity of the argument (presumably, Christianity is to be preferred because it’s not as bad as the alternatives), it’s nevertheless popular among Christian apologists who struggle to square their religion’s sometimes barbaric past with it’s putative message of love and forgiveness.

Since I quote D’Souza directly, and since he makes the argument frequently, I believed it only fair I point my article out to him and offer a chance to respond.  It took a few weeks, but he’s made due.  Below is his response, in full:

It seems to me that you make no real refutation of my statements that “atheistic tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.”

You simply strain to show that although Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot etc. were atheists, somehow atheism wasn’t central to their thought and didn’t motivate their murders.

But you can’t deny that it was one of the central goals of Nazism and Communism to create secular utopias free of traditional religion and traditional morality.

You can’t deny that Marx viewed religion as an opiate of the people.

You can’t deny that all these communist regimes actively persecuted religion.  So did Hitler’s regime, as documented by Richard Evans in his multi-volume history of the Third Reich.

So you’re reduced to a kind of sorry special pleading for atheism.  If Christians must bear some responsibility for the crimes perpetrated by Christian regimes, can’t atheism be held accountable to the same standard?

I believe D’Souza demonstrates once more how little he understands Nazism and Communism, and the tyrants who attempted to build regimes based on those ideologies.  I do in fact show that atheism wasn’t central to their thought (Hitler spoke out against atheism) and didn’t motivate their murders, as proved chiefly by the indiscriminate use of violence against virtually everyone, without regard to nationality, class, ideology or belief.  At the beginning of my article, I made the strong point that no expert–even fellow conservative scholars–supports his view and D’Souza still does not provide one.  For someone who makes his living amidst the world of academic institutions, this fact alone should give pause, but it’s clear D’Souza is not concerned so much with scholarly rigor as revisionist apologetics.

D’Souza is simply disingenuous in his claims–claims he says I “can’t deny”.   Isn’t it the central feature of most revolutionary movements, even religious ones, to re-build society free of “traditional religion and traditional morality” (whatever it happens to be)?  What again does that have to do with atheism?  Yes, some communist governments attempted to stamp out religion’s influence, but calling it a “central goal” belies how haphazard and inconsistent the efforts were, as I more than demonstrate in my article.

D’Souza’s comment on Marx’s view of religion as the opiate of the people more than amply reveals his ignorance on the topic.  Any amateur scholar of communism knows what Marx meant by the observation, which is reflected in what I wrote in the article,

For Marx, religion is the result of man’s conditions, not their source

In other words, religion is man’s attempt to relieve his painful existence, thus the “opiate” metaphor.  It is a negative by-product, a symptom, of the underlying unjust social institutions.  Since communism would fix that, religion would simply become unnecessary.  See here and here for more.

There’s no “special pleading” going on here, but a simple scholarly elucidation why no expert gives the alleged atheism-communism or -nazism connection the time of day.  Indeed, communism is so fungible an ideology that even Christians embrace it.  One such fusion, known as “liberation theology,” was even born in D’Souza’s own Roman Catholicism!  The reason Christianity must bear responsibility for its crimes is because they were extensively justified by Christian theology.  It is only by ignoring or re-interpreting its scripture that Christianity has cast off much of its barbarism.

27 thoughts on “Dinesh D’Souza responds to my article on atheism and 20th century atrocities

  1. On another note, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “entirely justified by Christian theology.” Exactly what theological component justified the killing or persecution of others?

  2. Jeremy,

    I’m not sure how an interview would work between two adversaries on a question, but D’Souza is certainly welcome to continue to try to puncture holes in my article 🙂

    On another note, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “entirely justified by Christian theology.” Exactly what theological component justified the killing or persecution of others?

    According to Edward Peters, in his book Inquisition,

    Theologians cited these texts frequently, since Causae XXIII and XXIV of Gratian’s Decretum contained a handy and systematic mine of relevant theological excerpts, largely from the Church Fathers. They also cited scripture, drawing heavily upon the wealth of scriptural commentary available to them, finding references to heretics in the lepers of Matthew 8.2 and 10.8, in the ravaging wolves of Matthew 7,15, in the turbulence of the Pharisee in Luke 12.1, in the parable of the wheat and the chaff in Matthew 13.29-30, and in the refusal by the angel of Ephesus to spare the wicked in Revelations 2.2, as well as in the epistles of St. Paul and many other scriptural texts. The weight of sophisticated theological scholarship by the time of St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274) provided an immense foundation for the theological definition of heresy and heretics and constituted one of the two major supports for inquisitional activity, its texts and authorities frequently cited at the beginning of handbooks of inquisitional procedure.

  3. I agree that the theology of the New Testament justifies excommunication because of heresy. I think it too far reaching to imagine that NT theology justifies any kind of violent action toward those heresies. If anything, the church is told to shun those who walk away from its truth, not to engage the heretic in any kind of physical way…that would include killing them.

  4. If I recall, Robert, you also pointed out, as have others, that Fascism is by no means an “atheistic” philosophy. The National Socialists found many churchmen in both Protestant and catholic denominations who were more than happy to help ther regime (I am not claiming that there weren’t other churchmen who strenuously opposed Hitler, of course). Hitler himself used religious language and calls to faith to justify his actions. That’s not to ignore the vast amount of mystical/pagan religious “woo’ endemic to Nazi displays and iconography. Thus, to blame Hitler’s regime on “atheism” is ridiculous???

    Your discussion of the Leninist regime and the role of Atheism in said regime is quite interesting-I once kinda sorta grudgingly admitted to this kind of thinking.

  5. As for Mr. Killian’s arguments…a growing number in the radical side of Christianity would dismiss this as “passive” and “limp-wristed.” That Mars Hill stuff is hilarious (if scary). We are MEN. We do not TURN THE CHEEK. Calvinism rules. LOL. I imagine a service with a gigantic jumbotron and Village People’s Macho Man blasting to a punk rock beat with slam dancing in the pews. And, the rebels in chains punished for their sins against THE LEADER.

  6. Hi Robert!

    I’m no expert on communism or the Nazis, but having read your article, I’m really not convinced by your thesis. It strikes me that you have a better argument on the Nazis, but you’re spinning very hard to avoid recognizing that the abandonment of Christianity played a role in the evil of the nazis and communists.

    Regarding the Nazis, you show that many Christians supported the Nazis (at least at some times — the majority of the “mingling” pictures are from early in the Nazi reign — 1933-35), but you seriously understate the Nazis’ antipathy and active persecution of Christians and the Church, who were the Nazis’ primary (if imperfect) opposition. And the fact that Hitler criticized Bolshevik atheism may have just been a political ploy — it wouldn’t be the first time that a politician disingenuosly has tried to turn the enemy of his enemy into an ally. But let’s assume that it was sincere — that Hitler really didn’t like atheists and liked some form of religin — that would show that a strict atheism can’t be blamed for his actions, but it doesn’t answer whether an abandonment of Christianity was to blame. In other words, the fact that he didn’t go all the way to atheism doesn’t mean that his hatred of Christianity didn’t play a part in his evil. And he did hate Christianty. To quote Goebbels: “The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay.”

    Regarding communism, you say that Communism was just anti-Church, not atheist. But I don’t see that you offer ANY proof of that. If you want to take Hitler’s statement about atheism at face value when discussing the Nazis, let’s take it at face value when discussing the Communists. If Hitler could see that the communists were atheists, why can’t you? And if, as you say, Marx believed that religion would disappear because it was unnecessary, how is that not an atheist view? Don’t atheists believe precisely that religion is an unnecessary relic of the past? And the fact that the Communists may have co-opted certain religions may show political shrewdness on the Communists’ part or political necessity, but it hardly erases the pervasive atheism of the communist movement.

    And you attack a straw man when you say that there’s no proof that atheism was “the motivator of communist despots.” I don’t think that D’Souza is arguing (and I certainly wouldn’t argue) that atheism was THE primary motivation. But that doesn’t answer whether it was A motivation. And you have to spin really hard to say that atheism wasn’t an important part of the the communist ideology, both in theory and practice.

    It’s kind of funny. Christian apologists will usually take a reasonable approach, looking back at history and admitting that Christians have done many awful things in the past and that their Christian beliefs (though distorted from what Christ really taught) may have even contributed to those actions. Atheists, on the other hand, take a rigid, dogmatic approach, insisting that the communists and nazis NEVER could have been atheists and that, even if they were, their atheism had NOTHING to do with any of the bad stuff they did. I ask, who are the ideologous impervious to historical evidence?

  7. Again…in what way was Hitler and National Socialism “Atheistic”? I don’t understand this argument-it was heavily religious and full of supernatural woo. Myths of homeland and spiritualism, etc. Not atheism.

    Plus, anonymous, you overemphasize the role of “Christianity” in fighting the Nazis. (And no, organized Chirstianity was not the primary opponent to Naziism). Certainly, heroic individual churchmen and believers fought the Nazis. The organized church? Not so much. Certainly and irrefutably not in Italy, where the Papal See cooperated very closely with the Fascisti. “Kircher, Kinder, Kuchen” is not an “atheist” slogan in any way.

    Communism-the argument his argument is less convincing but still relevant. Atheism is not the motivating force of the Communist experiment. So, to blame “atheism” FOR communism makes no sense.

  8. Brian,

    With all respect, you don’t really respond to my arguments.

    I agreed that Robert had a better case that the Nazis weren’t atheists per se. But they clearly did repudiate Christianity, which allowed them to push aside any constraints imposed on them by Christian morality. What they would have been like if they had gone all the way to atheism, neither you nor I can say.

    (I don’t want to start a side debate on this issue but I strongly disagree that the Papal See cooperated “very closely” with the fascists. I think the Pope should have done more to resist the fascists, but he was not a cooperator. Just check out the New York Times on December 25, 1941, which said “The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas.” Pius, according to the Times, had “placed himself squarely against Hitlerism.”)

    As for the communists, again you don’t respond to my argument. Because something is not “the motivating force” for something doesn’t been it cannot have been a motivating force or at least a contributing force. Indeed, repudiating Christianity may have been a necessary precondition to what they did. You’re knocking down the same straw man that Robert did.

  9. Anonymous: And you are ignoring the basic thesis, that Naziism is not an “Atheist” movement. Naziism, not Atheism, is the reason for the crimes of the German State. ATHEISM means-A-Theism, not mereley or specifically anti-Christianity. The argument that “Atheism” enabled the crimes of Naziism is incoherent in that the Nazi movement was in no way “Atheist” but a confused hodgepodge of mythologies and cultural traditions and strange rantings. ATHEISM is being blamed by Mr. Dinesh for the atrocities of the German State, not lack of Christianity.

    You are also making the absolutely insulting claim that only Christianity provides any moral structure for a society. Balderdash. The societies in which organized Christianity was the dominant ethos had problems, as do all human societies. You admit this yourself.

    Finally, there is no such thing as a unified, coherent “Atheism” which can be blamed for anything. Atheism only means lack of belief in Theism. There can be atheist monsters and great humanitarians.

    There are many religions, and you are a non-believer in every single one of them EXCEPT for your own mythology. Are you bereft of morality, anonymous, because you do not believe in the moral precepts of Smoking Mirror, the Aztec Sun God?

    “As for the communists, again you don’t respond to my argument. Because something is not “the motivating force” for something doesn’t been it cannot have been a motivating force or at least a contributing force”

    Coulda shoulda mighta. “Because something is not doesn’t mean it could not be” Yes means no. Up means down. Wow. Logic reigns supreme in the apologetics world. What does this even mean? It “might be” the cause of the crimes? Why can you claim this, again, unless you hold the insulting view that only Christianity provides a moral framework. Get over yourself-humanity existed for tens of thousands of years without your religion’s specific mythology. Maybe the crimes of the Inquisition are the result of neglecting the true doctrines of Ugbak-the Shaman of the Lake Tanganyika Mu!Kung1 Tribe? So..we should demand that you return to the truths of the Paleolithic Era,anonymous!

  10. Brian,

    This discussion is disgressing. Let’s focus back on how it started. This discussion started with the atheist proposition (by Hitchens et al.) that Christianity has caused all sorts of harm. D’Souza reponds and says, you know, atheists have done some bad things too, including killing far more people than Christians ever did. Robert responds and says, no, the communists weren’t atheists, and atheism had nothing to do with their bad deeds.

    That the communists were atheists seems, to me, absolutely beyond doubt. Robert’s only reasonable argument is that that atheism wasn’t “THE” motivator behind their bad deeds, but that assumes there is only one motivation or cause for actions. I said that if atheism was not “THE” cause, it certainly was “A” cause. (You seriously distort what I said when you say I said “because something is not doesn’t mean it could not be.”) To say that communists were just anti-Church or that atheism was only incidental to their beliefs is simply contrary to the record.

    I don’t believe that someone truly following Jesus’s teachings (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) could have done what the communists did. I think, however, that their atheism did make what they did possible, because there is no inherent reason for an atheist to accept and respect the inherent dignity of individual humans. If you believe that there absolutely is no God and we are simply accidental blobs of galactic material, there is no reason you should care if you kill some other accidental blobs of galactic material if it suits your desires. I’m NOT saying all atheists will do this; just that atheism makes that type of thinking possible. It is A cause, if not THE cause. You might not do it, Brian, but an atheist has a hard time saying why he shouldn’t. The philosphical issue comes down to how you derive an “ought” from an “is.” A pure materialist has a hard time with that one (I’m going to reprint at the end a post from blogger Mark Shea that makes the point better than I can.)

    So, to sum up, it’s just fallacious for atheists to condemn Chrisitianity and praise atheism on the basis of who’s killed more people. Atheists have killed far more people. That doesn’t prove Christianity is correct, but efforts to deny that the communists were atheists or that atheism played ANY role in their actions is egregious apologetic spinning.

    Mark Shea:

    Trying to Wring “Ought” from “Is”

    A reader replies to my remarks on atheism’s inability to account for the strong sense of moralism that undergirds many atheists:

    “I don’t get why antitheists always diss Mark’s line of argument as “the fallacy of composition”

    Well, it seems to me to be not only that, but circular reasoning as well. Mark’s assuming (with most theists) that a moral sense is necessarily something transcendent, external to the physical universe.

    That’s all it is, an assumption.

    He (again with most theists) really hasn’t provided any evidence for this. Moreover, there exist axiomatic systems like logic and mathematics, discovered by humans, not by revelation from some supernatural logican or mathematician. Saying that moral axioms are necessarily different than logic or mathematics strikes me as special pleading.

    It’s really no better than an argument like “If there is no God (or transcendent morality), why obey traffic lights ?

    Well, perhaps there is no transcendent reason to do so. Maybe there is, but I don’t find the evidence compelling.

    Nonetheless, that doesn’t rule out that their may be non transcendent reasons for moral axioms that are perfectly rational and will simply have to do.

    E.g for traffic lights, avoidance of traffic citations, avoidance of accidents, a respect for the fact that the physics of traffic flow require that it be regulated for optimal outcomes for all motorists, etc.

    Actually, the question is not “why do I demand atheists assume that morality and reason are something transcendant to the physical universe?” (as a theist, of course I make that assumption). Rather, the problem is that they happily do so of their own accord and without my insistence, while pretending or imagining they do not.

    Most atheists, as much as theists, talk as though both morality and reason are transcendent to Nature. Most of the atheist rhetoric you hear, after all, consists of bafflegab like this: “Religion is a natural result of forces acting on the human organism in the course of it’s evolution. Perhaps it had some sort of survival value once. But it has long ago become a meme which acts as a sort of cancer on human civilization and productivity. [Assumptions: both survival and productivity are not mere conditioned preferences but Real Transcendent Goods that *ought* [there’s that word!] to be cultivated.] We have now reached the point where Brights can point the way to the liberating power of reason which alone can free us from the shackles of the prison of religion. [Assumption: Religion is a mere product of irrational nature, reason can *liberate* us from Nature, not simply conduct us into another cell in the same prison. And, of course, humans *ought* [that word again] to be free.]

    This sort of rhetoric is endemic in atheist circles and depends for its power on the faith that both reason (and the shard of liberationist moralism preserved by atheists) are not simply one more artifact of the mindless processes of nature, but are Realio-Trulio Ultimate Goods by which the human race can transcend nature. It’s all sleight-of-hand, of course. And the atheist can really only be forgiven because even he himself does not realize that, at the end of the day, he is–like all heretics–simply borrowing a mystical doctrine or two from the Judeo-Christian tradition (in this case, the doctrine that man is a rational animal made in the image and likeness of God who cannot be explained in purely materialist terms) and using that doctrine–like all heretics–to attack the parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition he dislikes.

    Some atheists (postmodern ones) have come to recognize this and have been making an effort to *really* reduce all claims to morality and reason to the mere material. These (if they are consistent) invariably tend to become wonderful apologists for evil and irrationality, making naked obeisance to raw power and abandoning all pretence of trying to better the human condition. After all, why *should* we? If it’s all about power, if language is a mere mask on power discourse can be deconstructed by Derrida, if all “morality” is simply a mask on race, class, and gender power struggles as abyss-gazers like Richard Rorty will tell you, then why not simply play conceptual games, maintain oneself in a measure of comfort until life grows wearisome and you make your quietus with a pistol and a bottle of whiskey? Why even bother arguing with theists? Language is meaningless anyway, yours as much as theirs.

    Most people are still human enough to reject this utter nihlism. But some deconstructionists are on the way to Hell. I had a friend once who talked for a couple of hours with postmodern deconstructionists (former Evangelicals, as a matter of fact) who had really drunk the Kool-Aid. They could see no moral significance in the Holocaust. When my friend, in an effort to awaken their dead minds and hearts, described looking at a house-sized mound of human ash at Mauthausen, they replied that “it’s just molecules”. No meaning there at all. They had really internalized the Postmodern Creed, that you *cannot* derive a moral “ought” from a purely materialist “is.” God have mercy on their wretched souls. If they are lucky, God will send them some real suffering and guilt to sting them back to life.

    Now: They are right, as far as it goes. You *can’t* derive an ought from an is. And “is” is all materialism has to offer. They are wrong, however, in forcibly dehumanizing themselves to the point of moral and intellectual idiocy to fit their tiny ideology. They are living laboratory examples of Chesterton’s point that the mark of madness is logical completeness and extreme spiritual contraction. Their ideology is a complete circle, but a very very small one. They have nothing left but their reason.

    However, back in the world of normal humans (including most atheists) we continue to get our “oughts” from God–either by free and open gift or by theft and smuggling–because we are made in his image and likeness. True, the fall has muddled our “oughts” just as it has muddled our reason. But nonetheless, our oughts, like our reason, are real. Atheist attempts to construct moral systems that account for our behavior are one long smuggling project by which the atheist borrows from God and pretends he’s not doing it.

  11. Hi Anon, welcome again 🙂

    I’m sorry you didn’t find my article convincing, but I don’t think your criticisms are substantial. Allow me to elaborate.

    It strikes me that you have a better argument on the Nazis, but you’re spinning very hard to avoid recognizing that the abandonment of Christianity played a role in the evil of the nazis and communists.

    The charge I was responding to was not that the “abandonment of Christianity played a role in the evil of the nazis and communists,” but that atheism was responsible for this evil. Christianity has not shown to be a decisive factor in whether a nation behaves atrociously or civily in the first place, so to claim that its abandonment leads to violence is to assume an unsubstantiated premise.

    With regards to Hitler and the Nazis, I too do not wish to debate to what extent Christianity may or may not have influenced them. I need only point out that atheism played absolutely no role in their ideology, contrary to claims from people like D’Souza and other Christian apologists.

    Regarding communism, you say that Communism was just anti-Church, not atheist. But I don’t see that you offer ANY proof of that.

    Anon, you’re criticising a strawman here. I never said that atheism played no role in communism. Rather, my claim is that “atheism is a peripheral…component of communist ideology.” If atheism is so central to communism as theists assert, then they must explain away explicit Christian variants of communism, such as liberation theology.

    My article makes clear what communists really hate: private property. Their antipathy comes by way of the works of Joseph Proudhon, who cites the Bible as the number one source of his ideas. It’s curious to me that Christians who claim to read my article never respond or even acknowledge this fact.

    And if, as you say, Marx believed that religion would disappear because it was unnecessary, how is that not an atheist view? Don’t atheists believe precisely that religion is an unnecessary relic of the past?

    Some atheists may hold these views, but so what? Theists believe atheism is unnecessary too.

    And you attack a straw man when you say that there’s no proof that atheism was “the motivator of communist despots.” I don’t think that D’Souza is arguing (and I certainly wouldn’t argue) that atheism was THE primary motivation.

    Of course D’Souza and others do! Why do they explicitly label the tyrants as atheist? If I was to say “the Christian emperors and kings of the middle ages killed millions of people,” it’s obvious I’m asserting that Christianity had a primary role in the murders. Why else would I include the word “Christian”?

    And you have to spin really hard to say that atheism wasn’t an important part of the the communist ideology, both in theory and practice.

    Incorrect. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, experts on communism do not support the notion that atheism was an important part of communist ideology, both in theory and practice. Please read again my article, particularly the part where I state,

    In fact, I know of no reputable historian of the communist experience who believes atheism plays any meaningful role, much less the actual basis. Arendt’s Totalitarianism, which stands as “the definitive account of the philosophical origins of the totalitarian mind,” never once mentions atheism. I have frequently challenged believers to produce a single professional historian who agrees with their thesis, but not one has been able.

    Therefore, it is up to theists to make the case if they wish to revise the consensus of the experts.

    In any case, the charge is nothing more than a spurious attempt by theists to divert attention from their own crimes. If I was a theist, frankly I’d be embarrased by it. Is it really a point in favor of theism that it’s allegedly produced fewer murders than atheism? Is this an argument you really wish to make?

  12. OK. I will quote directly, rather than paraphrase.

    “I don’t believe that someone truly following Jesus’s teachings (”Love your neighbor as yourself”) could have done what the communists did.”

    1. These are not really “Jesus’ teachings” per se but a fairly common moral maxim. As Robert’s post above made clear, one cannot use the current Bible, cobbled together via centruies of church councils with often nefarious purposes to even know definitively what said “teachings” are.

    But…that is a peripheral issue, of course. As you yourself acknowledge, the Bible is repeatedly used to justify horrific actions throuhgout history. So, given this history, why is it ok for you to blame “Atheism” (if there really was such a definitive thing) for the horrors of Stalinism while giving a pass to God’s word and God’s Holy Church for centuries of death and destruction and oppression? Sure, we burned witches, but see here where Jesus says love your neighbor (at least until said heathen neighbor is thrown by the oh so kind Jesus into the firy pit for eternity)so just continue to defer to us and listen to us and most importantly of all…OBEY us.

    This atheist does not really belive “morality’ is transcendent to nature. Even if we did and we thus have to “turn to God” for morality…which God? Which moral teachings? Even within the hundreds of Christian denominations who emphasize different things at different times there is no singular, clear, definitive moral code. Thus…reason, which you dismiss so handily, is used to winnow what you feel like following. Do you stone your children? The Bible clearly indicates you should. Do you work in the yard or shop or even drive a car on Saturday? Orthodox Jews would claim that you are violating the Sabbath. Are you unhappy that the Israelis have not simply dropped a nuclear bomb on Gaza? Why, the Bible clearly shows the oh so moral Jehovah directing genocide against the enemies of the chosen people?

    So, to claim as some theists do that the morality of the Bible is clearly laid out is utterly ridiculous…and that ignores the problem of other religions. Why do you not obey the dictates of Odin? Or worship at a fire altar a la Zoroastrianism? Given the plethora of moral codes and religious doctrines, how can you be so sure that your’s (even your specific denomination, which I assume is fundamentalist Protestant (considered a sadly mistaken theology by many Catholic thinkers and liberal Protestants)is so clearly in the right? So…you use moral REASON along with your upbringing, emotionalism, and groupthink, to define THE ANSWER for you

    Anyway…this IS Robert’s blog, so I should stop hogging the comments. Peace! And this comes 100% from a flawed, reasoning animal who is fully of this physical world. Now, excuse me as I go forth and rape and pillage and create fascist states, as we “Atheists” are so want to do!

  13. Robert,

    For the proposition that atheism and communism aren’t connected you cite one book by Hannah Arendt and simply note that it doesn’t mention atheism. It’s a good book, and I’ll take your word that it doesn’t mention atheism, but the fact that one scholar didn’t mention atheism as a factor is all you’ve got? Let’s see what’s on the other side: How about Lenin’s statement that “Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism.” Or Marx’s statement that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.”

    You say that “If atheism is so central to communism as theists assert, then they must explain away explicit Christian variants of communism, such as liberation theology.” But the issue isn’t whether a person might be able to take elements of communism and combine them with religion. The issue is whether communists who hated religion did bad deeds. It wasn’t liberation theologists who killed millions of people. It was atheistical communists who did.

    It’s unbelievable to me that, in the face of obvious facts, atheists insist on making the most ridiculous categorical statements about atheism having, at most, a peripheral role in the atrocities committed by communists. That atheists feel the need to spin so hard on this issue reassures me that they’re on weak ground.

  14. “The issue is whether communists who hated religion did bad deeds. It wasn’t liberation theologists who killed millions of people. It was atheistical communists who did.”

    Nonsense. Utter nonsense. This is not in any way the issue at all. You just don’t get it.

    The issue is ATHEISM, i.e. non belief in a deity, is not “responsible” for the communist atrocities. There is no such thing as “Atheism” as a coherent philosophy, governing ideology, or system of government. It is only nonbelief in a god.

    If “Atheism” is responsible for the horrors of the Soviet Union during Stalin, than “Christianity” is far more responsible for every single atrocity in Christian history. Because, you know, the leaders have universally been Christians and religious blather has been used to justify every single European war in history. Heck…Christianity is responsible for the atrocities in Chechnya right now. Putin certainly plays lip service to Russian Orthodoxy.

    And…one can easily historically expand this argument, because ealier states were almost universally theocracies-and they most certainly warred in the name of their gods. On a percentage of the population basis, with techological factors considered, explain to us again how much “worse” the Atheistic Soviets were than the theocrats trhoughout history? The Soviets did not kill in the name of “Atheism” they killed in the name of State socialism. YOUR leaders most certainly DID kill in the name of YOUR God.

  15. Anon, you wrote,

    For the proposition that atheism and communism aren’t connected you cite one book by Hannah Arendt and simply note that it doesn’t mention atheism.

    Actually, I did more than that. Please re-read the introductory part of my article, in which I noted that 2 years of graduate study at a Catholic run university never introduced me to what theists are now claiming. And Arendt’s book is not merely any book, but one that stands as among the definitive accounts of totalitarianism.

    How about Lenin’s statement that “Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism.”

    Look more carefully at your citation. Those are not Lenin’s words, but the words of the author who wrote the introduction to Lenin’s work.

    Or Marx’s statement that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.”

    Anon, sorry, but you’re being a bit disingenuous here. First, citation etiquette requires that you faithfully reproduce a quote from the original, including italicized words. Second, if you emphasize words or phrases not found in the original, you should state that you’ve done so. Unfortunately, you failed to do both of these things, which gives a misleading impression. Here are Marx’s words as accurately cited:

    The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.

    Marx emphasized the words “illusory” and “real”. Why? Couldn’t he have just stated “The abolition of religion is required for their happiness.”?

    The next sentence claries what he meant and puts the quote in context:

    The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.

    For Marx, religion is the salve which masks man’s distress. It offers him an illusion of happiness when he is in fact unhappy, a condition which the capitalists are more than eager to encourage and exploit. As Lenin wrote,

    Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organisation, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class.

    Marx is not saying that religion must be destroyed, but the illusion that it brings happiness.

    To impress the point upon you leave no doubt, read the citation above even further, which is taken from his work The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion. Here is Lenin agreeing with Engels,

    Commenting in 1874 on the famous manifesto of the Blanquist fugitive Communards who were living in exile in London, Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out.

    Anon wrote,

    But the issue isn’t whether a person might be able to take elements of communism and combine them with religion. The issue is whether communists who hated religion did bad deeds.

    Anon, I made the point I think crystal clear that the communists hated opposition to their revolutionary program, which some churches, like the Russian Orthodox Church, played an active part in. If the communists merely “hated religion,” they’d have restricted their violence to believers. But violence was indiscriminate, impacting even former founders of the regimes.

    It’s unbelievable to me that, in the face of obvious facts, atheists insist on making the most ridiculous categorical statements about atheism having, at most, a peripheral role in the atrocities committed by communists. That atheists feel the need to spin so hard on this issue reassures me that they’re on weak ground.

    It’s “unbelievable” to you because your education on the topic comes from your fellow theists who have an agenda to drive. They’ve fed you a distorted picture of history. Your misquotes and taking other quotes out of context demonstrates how truly little you know of the subject. If the facts are so “obvious” then why is it impossible to find support for your view among experts on communism?

  16. Robert: My mistake for quoting the author of the intro as Lenin. But (a) the parts of the book by Lenin aren’t better for your point (“Our programme thus necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.”), and (b) why doesn’t the author of intro to this communist tract count as a legitimate expression of communist belief? He quotes, for example, the Communist International World Congress: “The fight against religion, the opium of the people, occupies an important position among the tasks of the cultural revolution.”

    To be sure, Lenin and the intro author do say that, out of political necessity prior to the revolution, communists should avoid entirely alienating theists, and that the complete emancipation from religion will come only after the revolution, but atheism is clearly not, as you say, “peripheral” to their agenda. They talk about it all the time. And the fact that they may have had other goals does not mean that atheism was not one of their primary motivating beliefs. And it’s an entire non-sequitur for you to say that “If the communists merely ‘hated religion,’ they’d have restricted their violence to believers.” No one said that they hated only religion. They hated a lot of things, but religion was one of them, and their atheism motivated them to persecute religious believers, and their atheism made it possible for them to perpetrate evil acts that a Christian who believes in the divine creation of human beings could not perpetrate.

    I’m absolutely NOT saying no Christian ever violated those humane principles. I am saying that such evil acts are inconsistent, as a matter of principle, with Christianity; such acts are not inconsistent, as a matter of principle, with atheism. And let’s remember that what started this discussion is the ATHEISTS’ argument that people should be atheists because all of the bad things that Christians have done. Even if you don’t buy that the greater number of killings by atheists makes Christianity superior to atheism, the atheists’ proposition that Christianity (or religion generally) is somehow the most important cause of evil in the world (“Religion ruins everything”) is clearly bunk.

    Brian: I said it was atheistical communists who killed millions of people. You say “nonsense. utter nonsense.” Were Lenin and Stalin atheists? Were they communists? Did they kill millions of people? The answer to all 3 is yes, so my statement is true, not “utter nonsense.”

    Now you may argue that atheism didn’t play any role in their actions, but that’s just spin. The leading communists were avowedly atheists, and they attacked theists viciously (not only theists, but they were definitely a primary target). At best for your side, this contradicts the claim of atheists (such as Hitchens and Dawkins) that a world without Christianity would necessarily be better. At worst, it shows that atheism can cause unmitigated evil, because atheism takes away any logical basis for assuming the inherent dignity of other human beings.

  17. “To the Illustrious Herr Adolph Hitler, Fuhrer and chancellor of the German Reich! Here at the beginning of Our Poontificate We wish to assure you that We remain devoted to the spiritual welfare of the German people entrusted to your leadership…During the many years We spent in Germany, We did all in Our power to establish harmonious relations between Church and State. Now that the responsibilities of Our pastroal functions have increased Our opportunities, how much more ardently do We pray to reach that goal”

    Pope Pius XII, in letter of 1939.

    Yep, anonymous. The Catholic hierarchy was UTTERLY OPPOSED to the Nazi regime. (And, of course, utterly opposed to the latin form of Fascism, which it facilitated/encouraged in Italy, Spain, Slovakia, etc. etc. etc.

  18. Sorry for finally getting around to some responses guys! This week has been absolutely atrocious work-wise.

    Anon, you wrote,

    My mistake for quoting the author of the intro as Lenin. But (a) the parts of the book by Lenin aren’t better for your point (”Our programme thus necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.”)

    Propagandizing on behalf of atheism and killing in the name of atheism are not exactly the same, no?

    (b) why doesn’t the author of intro to this communist tract count as a legitimate expression of communist belief?

    The author is merely stating that Marxism is incompatible with belief. He does not state that atheism is the animating or foundational basis of communism. You take a part of a quote from the Communist International World Congress–the one that seems to suggest that Marxists must violently oppose religion–but then ignore a few lines down where it also says, “The proletarian power acknowledges freedom of conscience…” You similarly ignore this quote from Lenin, whom the author also cites, “At the same time it is necessary carefully to avoid giving such offence to the religious sentiments of believers, as only leads to the strengthening of religious fanaticism.”

    but atheism is clearly not, as you say, “peripheral” to their agenda. They talk about it all the time.

    Odd, then, that the author you approvingly cite states, “This also explains why atheism has played such a small part in the labour movement generally.”

    I reject your claim that “they talk about [atheism] all the time.” Please provide a source of some kind. As I’ve provided abundant evidence for, they didn’t see religion as the source of evil, nor atheism as the means to correct the flaws in society.

    And the fact that they may have had other goals does not mean that atheism was not one of their primary motivating beliefs.

    Sorry, this notion has no evidence to support it, nor endorsement by experts. If you wish to revise their verdict, feel free to do the necessary research and present your findings.

    They hated a lot of things, but religion was one of them, and their atheism motivated them to persecute religious believers

    Ditto of my response above. I’m curious, on what basis do you make these historical claims?

    I’m absolutely NOT saying no Christian ever violated those humane principles. I am saying that such evil acts are inconsistent, as a matter of principle, with Christianity;

    It’s hard to take your word for it when Christianity has acted for centuries precisely in the manner you say is inconsistent with it. Your claim rings even more hollow when we read the justifications for violence by its most celebrated theologians, as my response to Jeremy above makes clear.

    such acts are not inconsistent, as a matter of principle, with atheism.

    Perhaps because atheism, no more than a-unicornism, is not about ethics? Brian has more than adequately responded to this charge.

    Now you may argue that atheism didn’t play any role in their actions, but that’s just spin.

    What’s spin is the notion that atheism motivated their actions. No expert supports your view, and I’ve thoroughly debunked it.

    The leading communists were avowedly atheists, and they attacked theists viciously (not only theists, but they were definitely a primary target).

    What’s to say other than the view that theists “were definitely a primary target” is a gross distortion of history?

  19. Robert: “What’s to say other than the view that theists ‘were definitely a primary target’ is a gross distortion of history?”

    Me: You just lose credibility when you deny that the Soviets even targeted Christians. I don’t know what books you read, but it doesn’t take long to find evidence from reputable sources on the Internet. See p. 379 of this book on Google. http://books.google.com/books?id=lpcW0c3_uywC&pg=PA379&dq=lenin+persecute+church+history+soviet+union&lr=#PPA379,M1 To quote: Lenin stated in a letter that “the situation was favourable for a general punitive operation against the Church ‘of such ferocity that it will not forget it for decades to come.'” The number of Churches was reduced by over 80%; 14-20,000 clergy and active laymen were shot.

    Brian: “Yep, anonymous. The Catholic hierarchy was UTTERLY OPPOSED to the Nazi regime.”

    Where did I say that? I actually think that the Catholic hierarchy didn’t do enough to oppose the Nazi regime. But just read Cornwell’s book and the context for this letter. Cornwell notes that Pius XII’s predecessor had been preparing harsh words for Naziism, and that Pius XII’s strategy was to instead make a peaceful overture hoping to bring change to Germany (which had not yet initiated WWII). I don’t think that was a wise approach, but the evidence that he was affirmatively pro-Nazi isn’t there. And in fact, the evidence is clear that, for whatever deficiencies we see now in the Vatican’s response to Naziism, people at the time thought the Church was at the forefront of the opposition to Hitler. To quote Albert Einstein in 1940:

    “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign
    for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.” (Time Magazine, December 23, 1940). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,765103,00.html

  20. One more thing: Even if one accepts your argument that Christians weren’t targets of the Communists (which I don’t), that still doesn’t respond to the core of my argument — that atheism *permitted* the Soviet atrocities to occur — that it was a necessary, even if not sufficient, cause for Soviet atrocities. To deny any transcendent values and rely on materialism alone is to allow one to view other human beings as just globs of accidental material, disposable at will if they get in my way.

  21. Anon wrote,

    Me: You just lose credibility when you deny that the Soviets even targeted Christians.

    I would lose credibility if I said that, but I don’t. Never did I even claim that, and in fact, I acknowledge it in my article.

    I deny that the Soviets only targeted believers, as theists like to imply. You’ll search high and low for acknowledgment that even fellow communists were eliminated.

    I actually think that the Catholic hierarchy didn’t do enough to oppose the Nazi regime.

    Why didn’t they do enough? Not being “pro-Nazi” is insufficient. The Catholic Church should have actively opposed Hitler from the start, instead of the policy of gradual complicity it actually followed.

    And with all due respect to Einstein, he did not have a full knowledge of history that later illuminated the Church’s role.

    One more thing: Even if one accepts your argument that Christians weren’t targets of the Communists (which I don’t), that still doesn’t respond to the core of my argument — that atheism *permitted* the Soviet atrocities to occur — that it was a necessary, even if not sufficient, cause for Soviet atrocities. To deny any transcendent values and rely on materialism alone is to allow one to view other human beings as just globs of accidental material, disposable at will if they get in my way.

    Anon, you’ve failed to respond to the fact, frequently pointed out to you, that atheism is not a system of ethics. Thus, your criticism on this score is invalid. Communist theory had its own system of ethics, some of which I spelled out in my article. If materialism is true, then it doesn’t follow that people may embark on a murderous rampage, nor more than evolution permits us to kill the weakest. Besides, the Catholic Church’s most celebrated theologians fully justified the wanton murder and destruction of humans based on the transcendent values you say they prohibit. Whose word should we believe? Yours, or Augustine’s?

  22. Hi Robert.

    Robert: “Whose word should we believe? Yours, or Augustine’s?” I would ask you to take the word of (a) Jesus’s teachings in the New Testament, and/or (b) the definitive teaching of the Catholic Church on the issue — the Declaration of Religious Freedom from Vatican II. No one has ever said that “the Catholic Church’s most celebrated theologians” are free from error, or that members of the Church (including popes and bishops) will not sin (and, in fact, they have often sinned grievously). The highest teaching authority in the Church is a declaration of a council, like Vatican II, which unambiguously defines Church teaching. And what happened at Vatican II was that the Church struggled with the tension between (a) Jesus’s teaching, and (b) purported justifications for violence against unbelievers. And the Church opted for Jesus’s teaching, holding that, so long as it is consistent with public order, non-Catholics have a natural right to immunity from coercion in the public manifestation of their religion.

    If, however, you adopt an atheistic and materialistic worldview, there is no necessary tension between that worldview and acts of violence. Decent people like yourself may be repulsed by acts of violence, but what, as a matter of principle, makes them wrong? You say “if materialism is true, then it doesn’t follow that people may embark on a murderous rampage, nor more than evolution permits us to kill the weakest.” But please, tell me, if you have an atheistical and materialistic worldview, and evolution is merely the survival of the fittest, why, as a matter of logic, shouldn’t we kill the weakest (assuming, of course, that it would benefit us, in a materialistic or survivalistic sense, to do so)?

  23. Anon, some clarifications:

    1) Are you implying that Augustine’s theology did not take into consideration Jesus’s teachings in the New Testament?

    2) Doesn’t the Old Testament include Jesus’s teachings?

    A worldview includes many assumptions and beliefs about the nature of the universe and our role in it. Atheism and materialism may be parts of this worldview, but that doesn’t make them its exclusive province; the worldview may include an ethical system like Humanism, Confucionism, Taoism, etc.

    This is why your argument ultimately fails. The proper contrast is not between Christianity and atheim, but between Christianity and another worldview that includes the same things Christianity has.

    please, tell me, if you have an atheistical and materialistic worldview, and evolution is merely the survival of the fittest, why, as a matter of logic, shouldn’t we kill the weakest (assuming, of course, that it would benefit us, in a materialistic or survivalistic sense, to do so)?

    Because evolution describes what is, not what ought to be. I think your own Catholic church would agree.

  24. “atheistic tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.”
    I will now use his logic, and dishonesty to make this statement:
    All those who have killed, raped, and stolen, all those who have done these things, they DISBELIEVED IN THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER AND DENIED THE INVISIBLE PINK UNICORN. You see, when you don’t believe in FSM almighty, or the IPU, these are the things we do.

    Another thing Mr Dinesh seems to forget is that, atheism is not a religion just as theism is not a religion. You can’t go from “I don’t believe in god” to “therefore all inferior races must die”, for the same reason you can’t go from “I believe in god” to “therefore all inferior races must die”. In order to make that jump, you need another belief in there to make it so. Atheism and theism are positions on a belief in a deity, if Dinesh wants to count “atheist” tyrant kills vs Christian tyrant kills, he should be more honest and make it “atheist” vs “THEIST” tyrants. But honesty is not Dinesh’s fortei, let alone any other apologist. I find it disheartening that most priests I have met, are FAR more honest than the apologists.

    I agree with this comment 100% from another user:
    “Because evolution describes what is, not what ought to be. I think your own Catholic church would agree.”
    Exactly! Observing insects eating their mates after mating, does not mean we should run society as such. Observing parasites that take their hosts, leech off them and sometimes kill them, does not mean we should run society in the same manner.

    “If Christians must bear some responsibility for the crimes perpetrated by Christian regimes, can’t atheism be held accountable to the same standard?”
    Atheism is not a religion. Atheism claims no divinity. Atheism is a position on a belief in a deity, everything else is a plus or minus. Atheism does not mean you are bright or smart. Atheism does not mean you won’t believe in crazy things like unicorns, Peter Pan, reptilians. Atheism is NOT a religion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *