There exists a very popular theist argument. No matter how many times you explain it, it keeps coming back. It is almost akin to a game of whack-a-mole at times. It goes like this …
Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were atheists, they all were responsible for terrible mass murder; therefore, atheism is responsible for terrible mass murder.
Do serious christians really take this line?
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.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc
The way to really address this is to start by identifying the logical fallacy. Its called “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”, and that Latin phrase means “after this, therefore because of this,“. What does this really mean? Well it is a way of pointing out that sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that something is responsible for causing something else, when in reality there is no connection at all. For example, if I step out into my yard and cut the grass and it then starts to rain, “Ah ha, evidence … quite clearly cutting grass causes rain”. It is easy for any of us to make such a leap, here is another example:
Fanatical believer shoots his wife – “Ah”, say the non-believers, “Proof that religious people do bad things”. But in reality it might not have been belief or non-belief, just a couple who got into a shouting match, then in the heat of the moment he looses his rag, pulls a gun, … bang. No connection to the fact that he is a believer. You can reverse the roles if you like, what if he was a non-believer? If he had been, then the you can bet you would have believers citing it as an example of the wickedness of non-belief.
The key is to ask yourself what the driving force was; belief, non-belief, or something else. There are cases where fanatical belief is indeed the root cause, you don’t need to think too hard to cobble up a couple of examples:
- shooting a doctor for performing an abortion
- Apparent political assassination in Pakistan that are carried out by religious fanatics
- etc …
Let’s move on and tackle the big three.
The Truth about the Tyrants
Hitler – the atheist tyrant, as D’Souza called him, intent upon creating a religion-free utopia. Really!! … that claim has a couple of flaws. The most notable is that Hitler was not an Atheist, he was Catholic. Hitler frequently spoke positively about the Christian German culture, and his belief in the “Aryan” Christ. He also remained a formal member of the Catholic Church until his death. In Mein Kampf Hitler speaks of the “creator of the universe” and “eternal Providence.” And as for his supposed plans to create a religion-free utopia, utter bollocks – Hitler often associated atheism with Germany’s communist enemy, and not as a goal. In a speech delivered in Berlin, October 24, 1933, Hitler stated: “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“. During negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of April 26, 1933 Hitler argued that “Secular schools can never be tolerated”.
Atheist Tyrant? … er no, not one jot of evidence exists for that claim.
Stalin – Most definitely a tyrant, no doubt of that, and also one that openly opposed religion. Now this is where we come to our “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy … “Stalin was not a believer, Stalin killed millions, therefore atheism caused the death of millions”. The fundamental flaw here is that Stalin was in fact a believer, a fanatical Marxist believer – he personally led the Russian revolution in 1917 alongside Lenin and so he created his own myth. The cause of all that happened and all that followed was not non-belief, but rather was rooted within the combination of his fanatical Marxist idology, his unstable personality, and also his ambition and lust for total power. In fact by 1922 Lenin came to realise that Stalin was too unstable and wanted him removed, but due to his stroke was unable to do this. So what was the root cause, what really made him tick inside …non-belief? No quite clearly not, Stalin was in fact a psychopath, with a lust for power who rose high enough to be able to leverage total control and then proceeded to eliminate any and all opposition.
Mao Zedong -Yes, another fanatical Marxist and also a non-believer whose Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, are blamed for millions of deaths. He demonstrated an astonishing disregard for individual human lives and repeatedly affirmed his willingness to sacrifice up to a third of the Chinese population in a nuclear war, an utter fanatic devoted to grasping, then consolidating total power and imposing his ideology upon all, driven not by non-belief, but by a belief in himself and his personality cult.
So where does all this lead us?
It’s simple really, Atheism doesn’t kill people, Fanaticism kills people, be that religious or political.
So what really is the root cause behind all that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other similar tyrants did?
All of them have one common cause, in each instance they were psychopaths. Note that I’m not using that as a form of insult, I’m giving you a diagnosis. A psychopath is somebody who manifests superficial charm, Grandiose sense of self-worth, is cunning and manipulative, lacks remorse or guilt, is callous, has a lack of empathy, and fails to accept responsibility for their own actions.
Religion does indeed stand guilty of some truly hideous crimes and a direct root cause within a delusional belief can indeed be established (think 9/11 as an example), but the attempt to put a lack of belief in the dock on the basis that some fanatical psychopaths committed truly hideous crimes on an industrial scale is simply an instance of the “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, the root cause was their Psychopathy, not the lack of a specific belief.