Religion is imperfect, to be sure, but 20th-century history has shown us that abandoning religion can be absolutely devastating. Murderous regimes like those of Hitler, Stalin and Mao are examples of what can happen when people no longer believe in god, and think they can do anything they want.
How to Debunk It
- Stalin and Mao were indeed atheists but Hitler wasn’t. He talked and wrote at length about god, providence, Catholicism, Jesus and his regime’s eradication of atheism in Germany. Christianity was quite established in Germany, and at least a quarter of SS members were practicing Catholics. Hitler himself talked about how much he hated the Russians’ godlessness. Atheism isn’t a common denominator here, since both theists and atheists are capable of extreme evil. The argument is false.
- The vast majority of wars, genocides and other atrocities, even just in the 20th century, have been committed by non-atheists. The Armenian genocide was perpetrated by Muslim Turks. The atrocities committed by the Japanese during the 1930s and 1940s were carried out in the name of imperial Buddhism, led by an emperor who was considered to be a demigod. The atrocities in the former Yugoslavia were mostly carried out by Orthodox Christians and Catholics. The majority of Poles, Germans, Ukrainians and other Europeans who committed atrocities during World War II were Christians. As Nazi Germany invaded all of Poland, and then large parts of the Soviet Union, many of the churches that were closed by the Soviets were reopened by the Nazis, just in time for the Holocaust to shift into high-gear. Hitler actually installed a Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso, as president of the New Slovak Republic, who then went on to aid with the effort of exterminating the Jewish population there (he was executed after the war in the newly formed Czechoslovakia for war crimes and crimes against humanity). The genocide in Rwanda—one of the most Christian nations in Africa—was carried out by Christians, aided and facilitated by ordained religious leaders (mostly Catholics). The bloody partition of India and its ongoing fighting and ethnic cleansings were perpetrated by Muslims and Hindus, having just been liberated from two centuries of Christian British rule. From East Timor to Iraq, from Mongolia to Sudan, from Afghanistan to El Salvador, most genocides and crimes against humanity have no connection to atheism.
- Since the time of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, levels of religiosity in most developed nations have only dropped. There are more atheists in Germany and China now than there were during the times at which the worst atrocities were committed. German leaders, though largely secular, have been loosely affiliated to various forms of Christianity, but many Russian and most Chinese leaders are just as irreligious now as Stalin and Mao were back then. And yet, even though they are far from perfect, the situation today is nowhere nearly as bad as it was during the 20th century.
- Once you realize that all religions are irrational human ideas that have been turned into ideologies, you’ll notice that it doesn’t make much difference whether the irrational ideology has a made-up supernatural deity at its core. You find the same kinds of leader-worship, “thought crime,” witch hunts, heresy trials, demonization of “others,” strict dogmatic ideology, propaganda, superstition and fear-mongering among all deadly regimes. Since it’s all fabricated by human beings, the dichotomy isn’t between religious and non-religious, it’s between rational and irrational. Show me a single deadly regime that has supported political and social diversity, free thought, skepticism, debate, free media, and the idea that policies must be supported by reason and evidence.
- There’s no reason to theorize about the idea that atheism doesn’t produce genocides and war. There are, and have long been, many atheistic heads of state who, far from leading their people down the path of war and genocide, have promoted peace and freedom. Mikhail Gorbachev—a Nobel peace laureate—is a good example, along with India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the UK prime ministers Clement Attlee and James Callaghan, Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard, Uruguay’s president José Mujica and many more heads of state from Scandinavia, Italy, Ireland, Russia, Poland, Romania and elsewhere. The fact that Stalin and Mao were atheists is overwhelmed by the number of other atheistic heads of state who didn’t commit any atrocities.
- Some of the least religious nations today (Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Norway) are among the most peaceful and prosperous nations in the world. There isn’t even a slight correlation to be found between atheism and genocide, let alone a causal relationship.
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