What's your response to the unparalleled crimes of atheists?

Some atheists make the point that over the last two thousand years there have been many people who called themselves Christians who committed heinous crimes even though such acts were clearly contrary to the teachings of Christ. This sad fact is illogically used to claim that Christianity is inherently violent. The irony here is that the crimes of these Christians pale in comparison to the horrendously heinous crimes of proponents of atheism who just in the 20th Century alone committed unparalleled crimes; e.g., the followers of Stalin and Mao killed at least 100 million people in a 70 year time span and this was done directly at the direction of those atheist dictators in the name of Communist atheism and, of course, this doesn’t even count second rate atheist dictators such as Pol Pot who killed more than 2 million people in just a 3-year period. Which belief system would this suggest is the one that is truly inherently violent?

Posted: January 15th 2011

Paula Kirby www

All Stalin et al show is that religion is not the only dangerous ideology in the world. Becoming an atheist is normally the result of a decision to engage in rigorous critical thinking about the claims being placed before us, and to reject those based on emotion or wishful thinking or authority rather than on empirical evidence.

Would it be easier or harder, do you think, for a dangerous tyrant to come to power if more people based their views on critical thinking rather than dogma?

Posted: January 18th 2011

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

Philip www

I find this a little insulting, that due to my atheism I am, somehow, assumed to be more open to committing unspeakable acts of a horrific nature than a religious person.

Sam Harris was right a few years ago when he said that no matter how much this question was explained to believers, it would constantly appear, I find it baffling that atheists are accused of such things

You are an atheist in your own right, your lack of belief in pretty much every single deity created down the ages apart from one is evidence of this.

Does that now make you more inherently violent?

I think people have covered this well enough here for me not to have to add much more except a quote from Christoper Hitchens when asked about Stalin being an atheist, since you brought the subject up

For hundreds of years, millions of Russians had been told the head of state should be a man close to God, the czar, who was head of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as absolute despot. If you’re Stalin, you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t exploit the pool of servility and docility that’s ready-made for you. The task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and credulity. No society has gone the way of gulags or concentration camps by following the path of Spinoza and Einstein and Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

Stalin, brought up in the Russian Christian Orthodox Church though never really stuck to it chose Communism as and outlet for his evil, paranoid and power hungry desires – his lack of belief in Zeus, Jupiter, Oromasdes, Allah, Eos, Viri etc did not prompt him to do what he did.

I think what the problem is that you believe your God is real and live your life according to the doctrines of whatever denomination of Christian you are affiliated with, without that you see anarchy.

Remember, people accept Thor is not real, you know that and there is no world anarchy over it – so why should there be anarchy because people think your God is not real?

Posted: January 18th 2011

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Reed Braden www

Human beings sometimes do terrible things. Whether or not they are religious, people are capable of destruction that boggles the mind. We are the only species I know of that actively devotes much of their time and resources to discovering and implementing new methods of destroying its own kind. Throw a dart at a map, and I would place a wager that the largest budget item for the government of whatever nation you hit is devoted to some sort of military-industrial complex. We humans seem to friggin’ LOVE killing, maiming, enslaving, and terrorizing each other in large numbers.

With the fact that this bloodlust is universal among our species out of the way, when you want to add religion or the lack thereof to the statistics, you do find some interesting correlations: Those with unshakable religious convictions do so much more killing. If you’re familiar with the common logical fallacies, you’ll recognize that I’m fishing for the, “Correlation does not equal causation,” response. And you would be correct.

Some atheists have killed large numbers of people, and many more religious people have killed even larger numbers of people, but that correlation is not cause to blame religion for all of this violence. Much, if not most, of the mass-murdering in the past couple of centuries can be just as convincingly blamed on politics, geography, racism, fear, etc. (Expand the range backward a few centuries into the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the Witch Trials, and, unfortunately, religion takes more and more of the blame… but let’s focus on more recent history.)

What does hold true is the interesting observation that in all cases where people are slaughtered explicitly for a certain cause, that cause has never been atheism. Atheists like Pol Pot or Stalin have killed many people in the name of Communism, racial or ethnic purity, or political expedience, and often certain groups of believers were targeted… but they realized that religion was a useful tool for controlling the minds of their citizens and wouldn’t even consider severing ties with certain religious institutions, let alone drown them in their own blood.

However, religion has been and still is a cause that people explicitly kill for. The Muslims who suicide-bombed multiple targets on 9/11 were motivated exclusively by their religious beliefs, as interviews with failed and aspiring suicide bombers invariably show. Men (it’s always men, for some reason) who bomb abortion clinics and kill doctors are always driven to that deed by some unshakable biblical conviction. And while the whole of Nazism cannot be blamed entirely on religion, it was Hitler’s faith in a bastardized combination of Roman Catholicism, various Eastern religions, and ancient Germanic paganism that led him to vilify and seek the extermination of the Jews.

Tl;dr: People are basically shitty, and one doesn’t have to be religious to be shitty, but some people are shitty solely in the name of religion.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by Reed Braden


The problem is with belief systems that encourage/require people to get their moral guidance from somebody else – that leaves them open to be taken advantage of. To take the crusades as an example – the people who went on the crusades did so because they were told it was a godly quest and believed it, because you’re supposed to listen to the pope.

Stalinist Russia was very different. Stalin was a dictator, and a supremely repressive one at that. He didn’t kill people in the name of atheism, he killed people because he thought they were a threat to his power. It’s not like he was appealing to others to kill in the name of atheism (communism, perhaps, not atheism). When the Bolsheviks took over, they outlawed churches because the churches had a lot of material wealth, political power, and support of the people, and that made them a threat. It also got in the way of the rampant nationalism and worship that Stalin (and Mao) wanted.

Hitler is a different case – he managed to get the support of religious leaders and could use both religion and nationalism to forward his aims.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK


Christianity is just one of countless dogmas that result in a mindset that tolerates violence as long as the dogma can/will be spread. Christianity is way up there with all the other dogmas that has encouraged violence for its dominance. Christianity essentially is guru worship. Christ himself may have been OK, but once he got followers who believed every word and embraced his teachings as dogma, his 'wisdom’ stopped being okay.

At present, Communist dogma is not respected globally, and yet, equally dogmatic Christianity is, making Christianity very dangerous. Dogma is a closed system and will suck out the air in any endeavor to locate truth. Christianity is just another dime-a-dozen dogma except it demands and is granted uncritical respect and privilege.

The Enlightenment was not dogmatic and today’s atheism is derived partly from that period. There has not been a single predominately secular society which embraces Enlightenment values that has been responsible for the kind of horrors associated with Christianity.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by logicel

George Locke

For many atheists, including myself, atheism derives from a hunger for truth and a resistance to dogma. Skeptical inquiry, valuing evidence over hearsay, mistrust of authority, finding the truth for oneself, these are the principles which lead me to doubt the inherited claims of world religions. Just as I reject Christianity, so I must reject Stalin and Pol Pot.

Atheists point to witch hunts and inquisitions as examples of the harm of religion, but the reason religion is harmful is that it encourages a person to cast off these values. When you believe your priest rather than your own two eyes, only then are you capable of carrying out obviously immoral orders while believing you are doing the right thing.

Faith is the culprit in all the cases you mention. Dogma, pursued without rational consideration, is the only force capable of causing well-intentioned people to disregard their natural compassion for their fellow humans. Hunger for power is clearly at work among those who seize control, but the means by which autocrats assert their dominion is the demand for unquestioning assent. Punish the dissidents, punish those who question, punish the critics, the free spirits, the artists, the scientists. Anyone who recognizes their own authority, anyone who follows their own mind first, anyone who sticks their head up to see for themselves is taken and shot.

How could atheism lie at the root of this behavior? Systematic repression of dissent is exactly contrary to the atheist’s demand for truth irrespective of consequence. Doubt is the solution, not the problem.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by George Locke

Mike the Infidel www

Simple. These people did these things in the name of a Communist dogma. The fact that they were atheists is as incidental as the fact that they were all male. If you want to play “tally the body count” you get nothing near a real picture of what most atheists are like.

Not to mention that the degree of violence associated with a belief (or lack thereof) is irrelevant to whether or not atheists or Christians or anyone else are actually correct. It could very well be that the single most violent dogma in the world is right, no matter how repulsive that might be.

No, the problem I have with Christianity (and most other religions) is that it is false, not that it is violent.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by Mike the Infidel

Blaise www

I believe that you’ve misunderstood the complexities of the debate. The claim is never that only christianity is violent, but rather that all dogmatic belief systems lead to violence. A totalitarian “ism” is just another dogmatic belief system, like christianity, islam, et cetera. Dogma, by definition, cannot be questioned by the believer, it can only be interpreted by an elite. The danger comes from encouraging followers to do what they are told, without thinking about the moral implications of their actions.

Dogma is a tool of manipulation, and a powerful one. That power invariably corrupts those who wield it, sometimes to the point that they can excuse any act as being in service of their beliefs. Whether that excuse is “for the good of the state” or 'because my invisible friend in the sky said so”, the outcome is the same, and the ultimate cause is the same.

Additionally, I dispute that any crime ever committed by an atheist has been “unparalleled” by believers. Hitler was a Catholic, and used christian bigotry against Jews as the basis of his state dogma. He exterminated millions of people in giant mechanized slaughterhouses. I find it difficult to believe that Stalin, Mao, or PolPot, whose policies also resulted in millions of deaths, were any more or less heinous.

For that matter, the catholic church’s policy of fighting the use of prophylactics across Africa for over a quarter century has resulted in the deaths of tens of millions, and infection of hundreds of millions more with the AIDS virus. And that’s not a quick 'bullet to the head’ or 'five minutes in a gas chamber’ kind of death, either, it’s slow torture over months or years devoid of hope or comfort. Talk about 'unparalleled’!

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by Blaise

Steve Zara www

There is nothing inherently violent about Christianity. There is nothing inherently anything about atheism.

Atheism can’t be the basis of crime because it isn’t the basis of anything. It’s a no-belief, not a belief. It’s an absence, not a presence. There are no atheist scriptures, no holy books, no commandments.

Stalin and Mao were atheists. The reason why they committed their crimes was because they were tyrants who considered other humans to be lesser beings, pawns who could be used in their political games. There is nothing in atheism that supports that view, because there is nothing in atheism. It’s an absence of a particular belief.

If we want to prevent future crimes of that nature we need to support equality, and treat all other people with respect. The main forces resisting such equality in the world today are religious.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by Steve Zara

bitbutter www

I know of no large-scale killings who’s perpetrators have cited the lack of the existence of gods as a motivating factor.

It can be speculated that the missing belief in a final judge of earthly actions allowed certain people to be more murderous than they otherwise would have been, but the numerous examples of theistic murderers believing themselves to be doing “God’s work” suggests the possibility that god-belief may encourage violence in some as much as it discourages it in others.

Although there have been no shortage of mass-murders committed in the name of Christianity, I agree that the mythology of Christianity does not inherently lead to violence.

Atheism is not a belief system, it is the simple non-belief in magical, invisible beings. As such, atheism has no inherent push towards, or away from from, violence. It can be combined with a diverse set of ideologies, some more dangerous than others.

Posted: January 17th 2011

See all questions answered by bitbutter


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