Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were not atheists, nor were their actions attributable to atheism.
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter" – Adolph Hitler
It is a common talking point among fundamental Christians to attribute the horrors committed by infamous world leaders to atheism, and many times we are ill-equipped to refute those erroneous claims. In fact, in 2010, an Anglican Archbishop named Peter Jensen told his Australian congregation that atheism is not the rational philosophy that it claims to be. He stated,
"Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating: Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot-ery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships – all promoted by state-imposed atheism…the illusion that we can build a better life without God." He further stated, "It's about our determination as human beings to have our own way, to make our own rules, to live our own lives, unfettered by the rule of God and the right of God to rule over us…What we're really seeing, once more [is] an example of the contest between human beings and God over who rules the world."
Atheist Foundation president David Nicholls says the comments are an act of desperation by the church. Personally, I think "desperation" is an understatement of epic proportions. There are so many things wrong with Jensen's statements that I had to sit here and stare at my screen for quite a while before I even found a starting point. I gave considerable thought to expounding on the sheer arrogance that a god rules the world regardless of whether or not anyone actually believes in one, the utterly ridiculous notion of a struggle between god and man, or their dogma about not being able to achieve peace, happiness and harmony in our society without their god. However, space being at a premium, I decided to a different route.
First of all, there is no such thing as state-imposed atheism. A state can ban religion, but it cannot ban atheism because it is not a belief, a faith, a set of doctrines or dogmas and cannot be imposed on anybody. Atheism is an absence of belief, and you cannot ban something that does not exist. I have heard the argument so many times from believers who think that atheism is a belief. They compare it to a religion. They say it takes faith. They accuse us of hating god. Believers really need to find another line of fire, as all of these arguments only serve to make them look like complete idiots, which is unnecessary, as many believers are otherwise intelligent individuals.
This chapter, however, will deal with the claims about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mass Murder and Broken Relationships. We'll start with the people mentioned, and, as far as I'm aware, none of them said "I don't believe in god, therefore I will slaughter lots of innocent people". Let's start with Adolf Hitler…
On Adolf Hitler…
Christians have been trying to discredit Hitler's faith for decades, turning their eyes away from history books. From the earliest formation of the Nazi party he expressed his Christian support to the German citizenry and soldiers. He was baptized as Roman Catholic in Austria, attended a monastery school and was a communicant and an altar boy in the Catholic Church. He was confirmed as a "soldier of Christ" and his goal was to become a priest. He was never excommunicated or condemned and the church had stated that he was "Avenging for God" in attacking the Jews. It was only as recent as March of 2011 that the Catholic Church finally made it official that they no longer deemed the Semites the killers of Jesus.
Hitler was given veto power over whom the Pope could appoint as a bishop in Germany and forged a treaty whereas the National Socialist State was officially recognized by the Catholic Church. In a letter to the Nazi party, he wrote
"…this treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism is hostile to religion is a lie."
He allied with Pope Pius in converting German society and made a deal with the church whereas the church absorbed Nazi ideals and preached them as part of their sermons, and in turn, Hitler placed Catholic teachings in public education. This lead to Hitler enacting doctrines of the Church as law. He outlawed all abortion, raged a death war on all homosexuals, and demanded corporal punishment in schools and home.
He was quoted as stating,
"The National Socialist State professes its allegiance to positive Christianity. It will be its honest endeavor to protect both the great Christian Confessions in their rights, to secure them from interference with their doctrines, and in their duties to constitute a harmony with the views and the exigencies of the State of today…Providence has caused me to be Catholic, and I know therefore how to handle this Church."
In fact, the Holocaust grew out of Hitler's Christian education due mainly to Jews having an inferior status in Christian Austria and Germany. The Christians there also blamed the Jews for the killing of Jesus and the hatred that Hitler fostered against Jewish people began from the preaching of Catholic priests and Protestant ministers throughout Germany. It is well known that Martin Luther held a livid hatred for Jews and their religion. Luther wrote a book titled "On the Jews and their Lies" which set the standard for Jewish hatred all the way up to World War II. Hitler, of course, expressed a great admiration for Luther.
The Nazis began to control schools insisting Christianity was taught. They included anti-Semitic Christian writings in textbooks that were not removed from doctrine until 1961. Nazi soldiers wore religious symbols and placed religious sayings on military gear. The official Nazi army belt buckle read "God With Us" in German. They got sprinkled with holy water and listened to Catholic sermons before maneuvers. The Nazis had a secret service called the "SS Reich" that would spy on citizens and if anyone was suspected of heresy they would be prosecuted.
Here are a few quotes from Hitler:
"We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow my self to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows . For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people." -Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922
"Christianity could not content itself with building up its own altar; it was absolutely forced to undertake the destruction of the heathen altars. Only from this fanatical intolerance could its apodictic faith take form; this intolerance is, in fact, its absolute presupposition." -Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." -Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)
On Joseph Stalin:
Joseph Stalin was raised to be a Catholic Priest and I remain curious as to why his Christianity is shoved aside in all these arguments. Yes, there is no way to get around the fact that in his early career, Stalin made a vast effort to rid Russia of religion, but that had nothing to do with atheism. It was the only way he knew to seize power of the country.
For generations the entire populace of Russia had been taught that the head of state was supposed to be close to god. At the time in question, the head of the church in Russia was a tyrant. The Russians were already disposed to servility and all Stalin did was exploit these two facts, and place himself in the position of god. Once Stalin was firmly seated in office, he revived the Russian Orthodox Church in order to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. Stalin was part of a council convened to elected a new church Patriarch. Then the Russian theological schools were opened, and thousands of churches began to function. Even the Moscow Theological Academy Seminary was re-opened, after being closed since 1918.
So, while Stalin was no peach, he was not exactly what you would call a died-in-the-wool atheist. He was more a secular minded religious opportunist, which is a personal character trait. He did not use atheism to gain control, but religious principles that were modified to fit his own, sick and twisted method of revolution.
What about Pol Pot?
Truly a monster, having killed some twenty-five percent of the entire population of Cambodia. Pol Pot targeted not just different religions, but education, science and medicine in his quest for total domination. Now, let's take a head count of atheists who are against education, science and medicine. Thought so…
Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge were composed of Buddhists and Pol Pot was a Theravada Buddhist. He studied at a Buddhist monastery and then at a Catholic school for 8 years. Cambodia's communism was influenced by Theravada Buddhism.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk said,
"Pol Pot does not believe in God but he thinks that heaven, destiny, wants him to guide Cambodia in the way he thinks it the best for Cambodia, that is to say, the worst. Pol Pot is mad, you know, like Hitler."
So, while Pol Pot was definitely not a Christian, he was also not an Atheist.
Let's get on with some Mass Murder, shall we?
Add up the deaths that were attributed to Hitler, Stalin and Pot. Then round up for good measure. You can safely say that the number is staggering. Probably upwards of fifteen million. However, consider the following conflicts where the main differences between the opposing factions were and are religion. Granted, some of these conflicts were heavy laden with politics, but those politics had religious beginnings and underpinnings.
In alphabetical order, with later add-ons:
- Albigensian Crusade, 1208-49
- Algeria, 1992-
- Baha’i, 1848-54
- Bosnia, 1992-95
- Boxer Rebellion, 1899-1901
- Christian Romans, 30-313 CE
- Croatia, 1991-92
- English Civil War, 1642-46
- Holocaust, 1938-45
- Huguenot Wars, 1562-1598
- India, 1992-2002
- India: Suttee & Thugs
- Indo-Pakistani Partition, 1947
- Iran, Islamic Republic, 1979-
- Iraq, Shiites, 1991-92
- Jews, 1348
- Jonestown, 1978
- Lebanon 1860 / 1975-92
- Molucca Is., 1999-
- Mongolia, 1937-39
- Northern Ireland, 1974-98
- Russian pogroms 1905-06 / 1917-22
- St. Bartholemew Massacre, 1572
- Shang China, ca. 1300-1050 BCE
- Shimabara Revolt, Japan 1637-38
- Sikh uprising, India, 1984-91
- Spanish Inquisition, 1478-1834
- Taiping Rebellion, 1850-64
- Thirty Years War, 1618-48
- Tudor England
- Vietnam, 1800s
- Witch Hunts, 1400-1800
- Xhosa, 1857
- Arab Outbreak, 7th Century CE
- Arab-Israeli Wars, 1948-
- Al Qaeda, 1993-
- Crusades, 1095-1291
- Dutch Revolt, 1566-1609
- Nigeria, 1990s, 2000s
If you add up all of the lives that were lost in the name of one religion or another, you come up with a staggering figure that is in excess of eight-hundred-million. That's eight-hundred-million. An eight, followed by eight zeros. 800,000,000.
So, even if the believers who are uneducated enough to think that Hitler, Stalin and Pot were psychotic mass murderers because they believed these men were atheists, it is horrifically clear that religious murder wins out.
Excerpted from my book, "A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World – The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth."