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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.

Was atheism the cause of 20th century atrocities?

A printer-friendly PDF version of this document is available here.

Introduction

It is a frequent rejoinder and polemic hurled about by religious apologists.  Yes, certain murderous excesses like crusades, inquisitions, and witch hunts may have been committed by the religious, but they pale in comparison to those done in the cause of atheism.  Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot-strident atheists all whose famines, wars, genocides, and purges created magnitudes more dead.  Consider, for example, these words from militant Christian cheerleader, Dinesh D’Souza:

These figures are tragic, and of course population levels were much lower at the time. But even so, they are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century. In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.

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