Questionable Motives

October 5, 2011

Why is the ‘Atheist regimes have killed millions’ argument historically inaccurate?

Filed under: Atheism,Harris,History,Liars for Jesus,Religion,Steven Pinker — tildeb @ 9:27 am

The short answer is because it’s simply not true. This is not news to those of us who understand that such common and typical lies and deceptions and misrepresentations are promoted by liars for jesus who are determined to paint atheists as the cause for much suffering even when that is not historically true.

Steve Pinker offers us five fatal points to this absurd historical caricature in this pithy counterargument:

1. The premise that Nazism and Communism were “atheist” ideologies makes sense only within a religiocentric worldview that divides political systems into those that are based on Judaeo-Christian ideology and those that are not. In fact, 20th-century totalitarian movements were no more defined by a rejection of Judaeo-Christianity than they were defined by a rejection of astrology, alchemy, Confucianism, Scientology, or any of hundreds of other belief systems. They were based on the ideas of Hitler and Marx, not David Hume and Bertrand Russell, and the horrors they inflicted are no more a vindication of Judeao-Christianity than they are of astrology or alchemy or Scientology.

2. Nazism and Fascism were not atheistic in the first place. Hitler thought he was carrying out a divine plan. Nazism received extensive support from many German churches, and no opposition from the Vatican. Fascism happily coexisted with Catholicism in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Croatia.

3. According to the most recent compendium of history’s worst atrocities, Matthew White’s Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2011), religions have been responsible for 13 of the 100 worst mass killings in history, resulting in 47 million deaths. Communism has been responsible for 6 mass killings and 67 million deaths. If defenders of religion want to crow, “We were only responsible for 47 million murders—Communism was worse!”, they are welcome to do so, but it is not an impressive argument.

4. Many religious massacres took place in centuries in which the world’s population was far smaller. Crusaders, for example, killed 1 million people in world of 400 million, for a genocide rate that exceeds that of the Nazi Holocaust. The death toll from the Thirty Years War was proportionally double that of World War I and in the range of World War II in Europe.

5. When it comes to the history of violence, the significant distinction is not one between theistic and atheistic regimes. It’s the one between regimes that were based on demonizing, utopian ideologies (including Marxism, Nazism, and militant religions) and secular liberal democracies that are based on the ideal of human rights. I present data from the political scientist Rudolph Rummel showing that democracies are vastly less murderous than alternatives forms of government.

Enjoy the complete interview by Sam Harris with Steven Pinker.


  1. You obviously have not read Marx whose works was the catalysis for communism. Marx said that religion was the opiate of the people that set people free as it was a controlling mechanism from the upper class and therefore a basis of his premise was to remove all religion. Marx was one of the forefathers of societal atheism.

    Comment by Craig Benno — October 5, 2011 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  2. Oh Craig… The quote from Marx is:

    Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.

    In other words, religion’s role was to mitigate suffering by dulling people’s harsh reality with illusion. Marx preferred to alter the reality for workers by controlling the means of production.

    Do you for one second think that communism as a totalitarian form of government that murdered so many (and continues) was founded on respecting reason, respecting human rights and freedoms, respecting knowledge? Is that what you are actually proposing?

    Comment by tildeb — October 5, 2011 @ 7:42 pm | Reply

  3. Marx wrote more than one one sentence against and about religion. Have you ever wondered why there has never been a successful Marxist state? Just perhaps its because religion actually brings about much needed checks and balance within the fabric of society.

    Comment by Craig Benno — October 5, 2011 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

    • “religion actually brings about much needed checks and balance within the fabric of society.”

      Religion does not bring about much needed checks and balance within the fabric of society. Religion rips apart ( to borrow your metaphor) the fabric of society. Religion, most particularly the Catholic religion, has not provided the needed examination and punishment of the members of the clergy who committed sexual crimes against children or examined and punished those who aided and abetted the abusers . Religion, most particularly the Catholic religion, has not provided the needed checks and balances to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and overpopulation. Religion is not the opiate of the people; it is the scourge of the people.

      Comment by Veronica Abbass — October 5, 2011 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

      • You beat me to it, VA.

        Religion does indeed bring illusion to us and acts to rob each and every one of us of personal dignity and ownership of ourselves and the real world problems we encounter. From the assumption that we owe our lives to this illusion to being subject to its perverse authority in every manner of being, religion acts to poison even our best motives, our most compassionate dealings, our awe, our quest to know. Religion adds not one jot of authenticity to our world but steals everything it uses to represent the veracity of its claims. Faith-base beliefs reduce us in whole and its false certainty is a blight upon the human spirit and continues to warp and pervert reality to sustain its lie. Good people like Craig dedicate their lives to work on behalf of this illusion, not realizing that their heartfelt efforts to undo injustices and mitigate suffering in fact promote them in the name of building a faith-based community. Doing such service on behalf of an illusion is a betrayal of the worst kind: cashing in on a person’s desire to make a meaningful contribution and difference to the welfare of others by sacrificing intellectual integrity and honesty… and asking others to forfeit theirs.

        Comment by tildeb — October 5, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

    • Another common atheist misconception! It is laughable that this basic argumentative premise is so pervasive among the atheist evangelists. It goes as follows:

      Premise 1: A person commits an unscrupulous act.
      Premise 2: That person claims Christianity as a religious belief.

      Conclusion: Christianity produces unscrupulous people.

      This is wildly misinformed. If the scirptures explicitly forbid harming children then your logic should read as follows instead:

      Premise 1: Christianity forbids harming children.
      Premise 2: A Christian harms a child.

      Conclusion: That person is not a Christian.

      How does this escape the attention of atheists? It doesn’t matter if the person in question is a clergyman in a structured, organized institution; if the person violates basic religious principles, than it is questionable that he is actually a Christian. It is said in the scriptures that a person who harms a child would be better off drowned by hanging a stone around his neck and thrown in the water. So you tell me, if the person has been convicted of child abuse, is he really a Christian? To clarify, the scriptures are also explicit that faith should produce fruit. Do you smell what I’m cooking? Believe it or not, you could learn quite a bit from actually studying the religion which you criticize…it’s hard to make a legitimate argument when you do not understand the bsic principles of the faith!

      The atheist evangelists love to decry Christianity, when what they really need to decry are the institutions and individuals who claim Christianity but do not follow the basic tennets of that faith. These are hypocrites, and the ones whom should be the target of your protests and rants.

      You would do well to study basic philosophy and intro to old/new testament 🙂

      Comment by jason — January 13, 2015 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

      • Ah. You’re one of those. You assume that you present an argument used by atheists accurately. You don’t. Everything that follows (again) comes from you and not the object of your imposed imaginings. This is a flaw in your reasoning. And no amount of additional study of philosophy by me or Steve Pinker will affect the very low quality of your incorrect assumptions. Do you see now why comprehending what the author means before criticizing it is rather important? When you insert your incorrect imaginings as a stand in and then criticize atheists for for this stand in, you are criticizing your own ability to comprehend. And to then recommend additional basic instruction for those you fail to comprehend – and demonstrate your failure to comprehend – invites contempt for your arrogance..

        Comment by tildeb — January 13, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

  4. In order to be a good person and a Christian/Muslim at the same time, it is necessary to ignore an awful lot of what is commanded in the bible/koran.

    Believing a Lie – The Atheist Experience #642

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — October 10, 2011 @ 2:27 am | Reply

    • It really does boil down to a matter of either respecting what’s true or respecting what is believed to be true (I like the drunk analogy).

      Comment by tildeb — October 10, 2011 @ 11:31 am | Reply

  5. Ha, ha, ha…how funny.

    No intelligent person believes this idiotic (morally relative) rant. Their killings are in the name of atheism simply because those where godless regimes, no matter if they believe in one or another of it’s apostles.

    If this poor excuse is valid then you can say the same of Christianity, because some people killed in the name of God name but the Christian God doesn’t condone killings (no matter how much you quote verses from the Old Testament, because any sign of violence is condemned in the New Testament).

    Comment by godless savages — October 11, 2013 @ 2:29 am | Reply

  6. Wow. The biggest thing you get wrong in this article is to say that the regimes of Hitler came from the ideas of Hitler, and presumably what you mean by that is the idologies therein do not originate in atheism but rather within Hitler’s own mind.

    That’s semi-clever wordplay – by transposing the statement of the “jesus liars” you have created an argument to use. Unfortunately, it falls flat, and really doesn’t even make any sense. Here is why – the ideologies of Hitler are not original to him, therefore they could not have originated in his mind. He only carried out the philisophical principals of others before him in a situation that was ripe for the picking. This idea is fundamentally flawed, and shows that you do not understand the argument that the “jesus liars” are making. It also shows that you do not understand what atheism is.

    Atheism is supposedly a lack of belief in God/Allah/whatever; however, there is no such thing as a non-position, if you’ve ever listended to Rush you should know this! Please refer to basic principles of philosophy – a non-position is itself a position; . There is no such thing as agnosticism, in the sense of choosing to not believe or stating that “I just don’t know.” Atheism is a paradigm, and thusly it influences one’s behavior. Where do you think postmodern relativism comes from? The point here is that, Hitler didn’t take que from himself, that doesn’t even make any sense. He took que from his worldview, his own paradigm…and since Hitler did not follow Judeo-Christian principles, he was therefore atheist. Atheism informed his worldview, from how he learned to how he implemented it. It’s not possible for it to be any other way…it just does not make any sense to say that a person’s paradigm didn’t influence their decisions in life, but instead it was actually the person in whom those ideas originated.

    Atheism informed Hitler, Mao, Stalin, blah blah blah I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. Is atheism out to wreck havoc on the world? No. Is an atheist by definition or by necessity an immoral or unscrupulous person? No, because it’s possible to follow the moral teachings of another worldview while maintaining an atheistic belief. However, we see that, with Hitler, he did not do such a thing as there are no moral teachings which promote ethnic cleansing, human experimentation, etc.

    I really can’y explain that any more clearly. There are no new ideologies in this world, they are all ancient; despite that Oprah would have you believe Deepak Chopra has some kind of new, modern spiritualism, it’s just a rehash of far eastern mantra and meditative practices. If Deepak were to claim that this idea originated with him, he would be a flat liar…he is only perpetuating something that has already existed. Same with Hitler; atheism informed Hitler’s paradigm, which drove him genocide and medical torture.

    Comment by jason — January 13, 2015 @ 4:13 pm | Reply

    • Not a very careful reader, are you? Those points are by Steve Pinker. May I be so bold as to suggest you try to extract the meaning from each paragraph rather than just isolated small chunks of text. This should help you understand what is actually meant rather than what you believe is meant (the former relies on the author, the latter the reader you see).

      Comment by tildeb — January 13, 2015 @ 7:44 pm | Reply

  7. Secular constitutions and majority atheist societies are currently responsible for the best places to live on the planet. Coincidence?

    Comment by Paul MacGillivray — May 24, 2015 @ 9:18 am | Reply

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