A Great Myth about Atheism: Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot = Atheism = Atrocity

For Hitchens and co, religion does little good and secularism hardly any evil. Never mind that tyrants devoid of religion such as Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot perpetrated the worst atrocities in history. As H. Allen Orr, professor of biology at the University of Rochester, observed, the 20th century was an experiment in secularism that produced secular evil, responsible for the unprecedented murder of more than 100 million. (Abramovich, 2009)

Yes, here it is again, the ubiquitous claim that atheism = Stalin/Pol Pot = moral atrocities. This is a complex one, so hang around. It is commonly claimed by Christians, and I had a debate about this on the Unbelievable forum on facebook recently with many who did, that secular atheism was responsible for the atrocities of the twentieth century perpetrated by the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot (Mao Zedong is often thrown in for good measure). This raises several questions:

  1. Were these people atheists?
  2. If so, was their atheism causally instrumental in these people carrying out such atrocities?
  3. Are these atrocities different in any particular and important way to those carried out by religious predecessors?

I am going to look at all of these points and show that atheism is not the cause of such atrocities. It might be worth considering that, at the time of writing here in the UK, the Prime Minister is atheist, the Deputy is atheist and the shadow leader is most certainly an atheist and we have not yet committed any huge atrocities under their command! That said, the last religious leader we had (Tony Blair) went, at the behest of his US (Christian) counterpart, George W. Bush, on a Crusade into the Middle East in what many call an illegal war. Go figure.

Looking first at question number 1), were these people atheists? The Hitler question has been answered by many people more knowledgeable on the subject than me. Suffice it to say, in simple terms, no, he wasn’t. Yes, there was Gott mit uns on army belts, and Hitler cozied up to religious institutions, probably more for his own political ends. Importantly, atheists were persecuted. As wiki states:

In Germany during the Nazi era, a 1933 decree stated that “No National Socialist may suffer detriment… on the ground that he does not make any religious profession at all”.[15] However, the regime strongly opposed “godless communism”,[16][17] and most of Germany’s atheist and largely left-wing freethought organizations were banned the same year; some right-wing groups were tolerated by the Nazis until the mid-1930s.[18][19] During negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of April 26, 1933 Hitler stated that “Secular schools can never be tolerated” because of their irreligious tendencies.[20]

In one speech he stated:

“We were convinced that the people need and require 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.”

Hitler (a baptised Catholic who was never ex-communicated) flirted with assorted deistic paganistic ideas of Christianity and religion, all of which basically amounts to not being an atheist in any recognisable way.

In a speech in 1922, he stated:

“My feeling 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. 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 against the Jewish poison. Today, 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 myself 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. And when I look on my people I see them work and work and toil and labor, and at the end of the week they have only for their wages wretchedness and misery. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil, if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today this poor people are plundered and exploited.”

Now, we can argue about context and whatnot, but what is clear is that Hitler was far from being clearly an atheist who committed atrocities in the name of atheism, or because he was an atheist.  As Austin Cline writes in showing that the Nazi party itself was certainly not atheistic:

The NSDAP Party Program stated: “We demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or conflict with the customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the standpoint of a positive Christianity, without owing itself to a particular confession….”

Positive Christianity adhered to basic orthodox doctrines and asserted that Christianity must make a practical, positive difference in people’s lives. It’s difficult to maintain that Nazi ideology was atheistic when it explicitly endorsed and promoted Christianity in the party platform.

So despite what Hitler’s personal views were, Nazi Germany was never an atheistic nation, and it takes more than one man to enact all of those atrocities.

With regard to the Holocaust, whose causal roots re undoubtedly complex, one can be sure that Christian anti-Semitism played a part, as it had done throughout Europe for centuries in various Semitic discriminations. The discrimination against Jews and homosexuals has long been the pastime of conservative Christians rather than of left-leaning atheists – you only have to look at the notions espoused by Martin Luther in the time of the Reformation – see Von den Juden und iren Lugen (On the Jews and Their Lies).

As one commentator opines:

Hitler’s biographer John Toland explains Catholicism’s influence on the Holocaust. He says of Hitler: “Still a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of god. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of god. . ..”

Even after World War II, Catholic assistance to the Nazis continued. The Vatican aided the escape of more Nazis than any other governmental or private entity. Christopher Hitchens adds: “It was the Vatican itself, with its ability to provide passports, documents, money, and contacts, which organized the escape network and also the necessary shelter and succor at the other end.”

So I think we can safely put to bed this idea that the Nazis were, in any clear and causal manner, atheists; and we can conclude that Christians did not help matters in any institutional way.

Let us now look to whether Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists.

Russell Blackford, fellow SINner, sets out in his excellent 50 Great Myths About Atheism:

By contrast to all this, the Soviet Union was undeniably an atheist state, and the same applies to Maoist China and to Pol Pot’s fanatical Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970s. That does not, however, show that the atrocities committed by these totalitarian dictatorships were the result of atheist beliefs, carried out in the name of atheism, or caused primarily by the atheistic aspects of the relevant forms of communism. In all of these cases, the situation was more complex – as, to be fair, also applies to some of the persecutions and atrocities in which religious movements, organizations, and leaders have been deeply implicated over the centuries.

It is pretty clear that the two leaders were atheists. But Hitler and Stalin had moustaches. It does not follow that moustaches were an important causal factor in the atrocities committed by them or under their tenure. Commonality is not causation. As wiki states of Stalin:

Raised in the Georgian Orthodox faith, Stalin became an atheist. He followed the position that religion was an opiate that needed to be removed in order to construct the ideal communist society. His government promoted atheism through special atheistic education in schools, anti-religious propaganda, the antireligious work of public institutions (Society of the Godless), discriminatory laws, and a terror campaign against religious believers.

As for Pol Pot, things are a little less obvious. One oft-cited quote by Christians appears to be that Prince Norodom Sihanouk once said of Pol Pot:

“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.”

But I cannot find the source of this quote. Either way, it shows some pretty incongruous views, and shows that he seemed to have been mad qua irrational, and believed in forces outside of himself such as destiny and heaven. In A. Gregor’s Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History (p. 246), the author states of Pol Pot (Sar):

Ample evidence survives that throughout his life, Sar harbored hate, in equal measure, of both Colonialists and his Vietnamese neighbors, both of whom he forever saw as a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia. In the course of his political evolution–whatever his real or imputed ideological commitments–that never was to change. It can be argued that by the time he reached early maturity, Sar–whatever else he was–was a political and cultural nationalist. Before their disappearance into history, the Red Khmer, the revolutionaries led by Sar as Pol Pot, maintained that their purpose had always been to “defend and forever maintain their nation, people, and race. Whatever else they claimed to be, the Khmers Rouges gave ample testimony of being reactive nationalists–with all that the notion implies.

It is pretty clear from this that Pol Pot had a powerful political agenda at play, where politics is something which can replace religion. In fact, in the book just quoted from, there are chapter titles as follows: Leninism: Revolution as Religion; Fascism: The State as Religion; and National Socialism: Race as Religion. These chapters show there is far more to the matrix of causality at play here than a simple lack of belief in a deity.

When looking at texts which analyse the causality of genocides, in particular the atrocities of Pol Pot, I found the following to be the case (this is quoted from my facebook discussion):

It’s interesting that in Kiernan’s book “The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer” which looks in depth at Pol Pot’s murderous regime, the word atheism/t does not appear in the whole book, God only twice, insignificantly (one in a quote about Siva, another in a direct quote that is not relevant here). Fawthrop and Jarvis’ book “Getting Away with Genocide?: Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal” has no mention of the word atheism/t either. The same for Andeeopouloos’ “Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions”.

In answer to question 2), then, I challenge that atheism is at all properly the cause of such atrocities. Of Pol Pot, William Vollmann writes, in talking of a British journalist’s approach to the genocide of Cambodia (Vollmann is reviewing Philip Short’s biography of Pol Pot):

In other words, he seems to say, what Pol Pot did was hardly beyond the Cambodian ordinary. ”Every atrocity the Khmers Rouges ever committed, and many they did not, can be found depicted on the stone friezes of Angkor . . . or, in more recent times, in the conduct of the Issaraks,” the anti-French insurgents…

This is perhaps a little generous because there was no doubt an awful lot more politics going on, with a strong communist agenda. Vollmann continues:

Perhaps the problem is that Pol Pot was mediocre in almost every sphere: a failed technical student, an uninspired military leader who wasted the lives of his troops in badly planned offensives and ignored emergencies, a misguided ruler. In sum, Pol Pot would exert little claim on our attention were it not for the fact that millions died through his cruelty and incompetence. In ”Brother Number One,” Chandler admits defeat at the outset: ”I was able to build up a consistent, but rather two-dimensional picture. . . . As a person, he defies analysis.”

Vollmann’s analysis seems to point to the complexity of understanding such a man. In a paper looking at the psychological characteristics of a commandant of a torture and death camp in Cambodia, Paul Wilson observes:

This finding lends weight to the view that an individuals’ involvement in genocide and other related crimes is best understood as a complex interaction between the situation people find themselves in during times of war or civil conflict and their personality characteristics.

“It’s atheism wot did it” doesn’t really cut the mustard. That said, communism, an incredibly strong political drive and drive for power, and sustaining that power, is certainly integral to what went on. This simplistic attitude is summed up nicely in Renee Nabors’ piece (“Genocidal Triviality: An Analysis of the Perpetrators of the Holocaust and Cambodian Genocide”):

A common myth about the Holocaust and the Cambodian Genocide, authored for its convenience and political correctness, is that the perpetrators, aside from the high command, were either coerced or brainwashed. A grave but crucial reality of the genocides, however, lies in their origins. The common German citizen committed genocide; the ordinary Cambodian sustained the murder of 2 million. By choosing not to understand genocide, we compromise our ability to prevent it….

To understand how the tragedy of the Cambodian genocide came to be, it is important to note the ideology and political culture that defined the country at the time. Pol Pot believed wholeheartedly in Maoist thought, from which he derived his ideas about forced egalitarianism, cutting ties from the outside world, and destroying anciently rooted culture. He was at best, however, a mediocre student of Mao.… Furthermore, he failed to learn from Mao Zedong that the consequence of mass social experimentation was utter chaos. The fact that Cambodia’s “Brother Number One” understood only superficially the ideology on which he based his revolution is significant. It shows that the typical farmer’s boy Khmer Rouge soldier did not join because he thought highly of Marx, nor because he considered Pol Pot to be particularly brilliant, but because it was something to grasp on to. Pol Pot was not the end, but rather the means by which a desperate and fractionalized people sought a better life….

…The ability of Pol Pot, in four years, to create an obscure and unfounded deadly good versus evil fantasy and still maintain a strong cult-of-personality and international apathy is incomparably disturbing.

It is interesting to note that, again, Nabors’ fascinating piece makes no mention of God, or a lack thereof. Atheism is not on the table, it plays no defining role.

And much the same can be said of Stalin, where “enemies of the people” were killed or made to do forced labour. It was not because Stalin did not believe in God. And here I will answer question 3) fairly frankly. I am an atheist for all intents and purposes) and yet I stand starkly against such genocide. Why? Because a lack of belief in God (or a positive claim that God does not exist) does not define my politics, nor my morality. Atheists comprise a growing proportion of the world’s population, and yet they also adhere to the myriad of different politics and moralities that the world has to offer. Whilst one could say that, on balance, atheists are perhaps more liberal (socially) than religionists, one cannot claim that people’s atheism causes them to commit particular acts. I contend that people’s politics are more core to their beliefs, being based much on in-group / out-group psychology and intuitive  desires, such that atheism or theism take a second place in an internal hierarchy within most.

As Blackford claims:

Sorting out the roles played by religious or antireligious beliefs, as opposed to such things as worldly ambition and lust for glory, is often a nontrivial task, and we should be careful before adopting simplistic narratives. In the case of twentieth-century communist regimes, much of the death toll – perhaps most of it – arose from utterly ruthless attempts to effect economic transformations on a near-apocalyptic scale….

While all this is a horrible indictment of the Soviet leadership and perhaps the ideology that the leaders embraced, little of it relates to atheism as such. Indeed, the Soviet Union did not have a uniformly antagonistic relationship to religion, and the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church supported the regime’s military initiatives, such as suppression of the uprising in Hungary, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan (Baggini, 2003, p. 88).

Young Stalin
A young Stalin

Both Stalin and Pol Pot sought to create a utopia through social and economic reform and engineering on a gargantuan scale. Blackford’s chapter on this very myth is forceful, and he sums up the misguided approach with aplomb:

While we do not doubt that religious people were often targeted as enemies of all these regimes’ grandiose plans, this was usually because churches and other religious authorities (such as those related to Confucian tradition in China) were seen as actual or potential sources of resistance. Once again, the Soviet authorities were not always on bad terms with the Orthodox Church, and the aim of these communist regimes was to suppress any opposition, from whatever source, while carrying out massive transformations of their countries’ economic bases. There was plenty of fanaticism involved, but mainly about holding onto power and engaging in mass-scale forms of social engineering – whether agricultural collectivization, forced urbanization, or, as in the case of Pol Pot’s ‘‘Democratic Kampuchea,’’ forced deurbanization and abandonment of learning and technology.

None of this follows from mere atheism, and instead far more comprehensive political and economic ideologies were relied upon. These bear little resemblance to the views of most thinkers in the rationalist tradition that dates back to ancient Greece, and they are remote from anything found in the thinking of high-profile atheists involved in current debates – ‘‘celebrity atheists,’’ to use Abramovich’s trivializing expression – who tend to be political liberals and pluralists. Indeed, con- temporary atheists tend to oppose comprehensive, apocalyptic ideologies such as Nazism, Stalinism, and Pol Pot’s agrarian socialism, partly because these imitate so many of the features of monotheistic religion – aspects of religion that contributed historically to pogroms, witch hunts, and inquisitions.

So in conclusion, I think that theists who posit atheism as a necessary or defining causal factor in these atrocities is doing a disservice to history, politics and rational thought. It is evident that this prima facie approach to understanding what caused such genocide and atrocity is very naive, at best. That the experts in the relevant fields fail to see atheism as not even a, let alone the, driving factor is telling.

But what does this say about atheists’ claims of religious causality with regard to supposedly religiously driven atrocity, be it the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades, or even modern day Islamic extremism? Well, for a start, one must treat each historical event on a case by case basis, and one must be careful not to commit hypocrisy, for sure.

There is, though, a huge difference; that being that there is no defining ‘holy book’ or text which seeks to dictate what atheists should or shouldn’t do as some divine diktat. This is crucial. One can hardly call atheism into causal importance when all atheism states is that there is no god. Yet the Qu’ran states,

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” Qur’an 9:29


“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” Qur’an 4:34

Or perhaps it is worth considering some Yahwistic commands (from the Leviticus entry in the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible):

  1. If you refuse to kill someone who gives his seed to Molech, God set his face against you and your family.20:4-5
  2. “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” Couldn’t we try spanking first? 20:9
  3. Both parties in adultery shall be executed. 20:10
  4. If a man has sex with his father’s wife, kill them both. 20:11
  5. If a man “lies” with his daughter-in-law, then both must be killed. 20:12
  6. If a man has sex with another man, kill them both. 20:13
  7. If you “lie” with your wife and your mother-in-law (now that sounds fun!), then all three of you must be burned to death. 20:14
  8. If a man or woman “lie with a beast” both the person and the poor animal are to be killed. 20:15-16
  9. People with “familiar spirits” (witches, fortune tellers, etc.) are to be stoned to death. 20:27
  10. A priest’s daughter who “plays the whore” is to be burned to death. 21:9

Granted, we all know the horrible verses and commands in the Bible, so you get the point. Suffice it to say that there is some solid divine benchmarking for some seriously dubious behaviour. On the other hand, “There is no god” tells you nothing. It dictates, commands, decrees and countenances not.

Rather than criticise atheists in their own way, it might pay to make sure their own religious tracts are not telling them to do terrible things. After all, the Bible was used to countenance slavery for 2,000 years. There literally is no counterpart for the Bible to atheists. We cannot be told to do something in such terms. Yes, there are probably, undoubtedly, more complex reasons as to why the Aztecs died at the hands of the Spanish conquistadores, probably less complex reasons for the Crusades and the Inquisition. One must remember that if such events are to be compared with such heinous ‘atheistic’ crimes of genocide, then a fair comparison must be made, and this must be one of intention. In other words, you cannot compare such events in real terms. Atheistic Stalin killed millions because he had the instruments and infrastructure to do so. But was his intention any different to, say, a Christian Crusader king? If the Crusader had weapons of mass destruction and transportation devices at his fingertips, would he have caused much greater destruction? Of course. Populations were also much smaller, so given less ability and smaller numbers of people in real terms, of course earlier religious atrocities seemed less repugnant. And so the questions should be:

  • Were the intentions any different?
  • What proportion of the target were killed?
  • Was religion causally crucial?
  • If the context was changed to a more modern era, would there have been much more widespread destruction?

Yet I have shown, I hope, that atheism wasn’t a central causal factor in the genocides of the twentieth century anyway; moreover, one could argue that religion did play an important causal role in many atrocities throughout history.

However, it is easy to scapegoat humans on account of singular ideas and factors. Life ain’t that simple. Things are complex; why people do things is a complex thing to tease apart. And, essentially, humans can be right bastards. Quite often the most obvious thing can be the overriding cause: humanity. Lust and greed for power, resources, and a distorted idea of utopia. It’s bleak, but potentially accurate, and it might even get atheism and religion off the hook. I said might.

Category: AtheismFeaturedHistoryMoralityReligion and Society


5 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • Dave Murphy

    David Cameron claims to be a practising Christian



    Iain Duncan Smith also claims to be a christian and has presided over one of the most venomous attacks on the poor and disadvantaged the UK has seen :/

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Before he came to power he claimed his faith “comes and goes”. In other words, comes when it is electorally needed, but effectively goes on a day to day basis.

      No, he’s an atheist.

      • Adam Lewis

        I agree that going into a church no more makes a man a Christian than walking into a garage would make him a mechanic. Recent events and P.R. photos, P.R. being something David Cameron should get right do indicate that he is ready to “Do God”. No, he’s not an atheist, he’s a Deist at the very least and probably an Anglican like he says he is. Granted this is a big change on the picture he has been giving up until now. It’s a surprise to me and makes me think about his motives. Could it have anything to do with Scotland or maybe next years general election? For the moment I shall take him at his word.


      • Peter Riis Larsen

        Maybe you do not understand the nature of faith? Faith is by its nature something that is uncertain. Most believers have also a doubt, which is a part of the faith.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          No. I do. Cameron doe s not have it. He said that to appease right wing religious voters because they are a not insignificant voting block for his party.

          Think America, but way less. It’s why Obama goes to church.

          • Talis

            Except Obama always went to church.

          • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

            I like how you can determine another person’s faith. How do you do this? Do you weigh their heart against a feather? Or do you just pull it out of your ass?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            If you are talking about Cameron, obviously it is using conjecture, but since he has come to power, he has courted the church as right wingers are oft wont to do, such that his faith appears to have come to the forth where previously it did not exist. Rather like Obama, who has mentioned God more than any other President in his speeches, and yet appears not to really be religious. That’s politics.

            Cameron is a guy who has claimed (a la Boris) that “like reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. Any serious Christian would at best says he has doubts form time to time, but to say it literally comes and goes is someone who is not a serious and proper Christian, in my books. Maybe he has changed, or maybe, like with so many of his policies since he has taken power, it is playing to the electorate.

            He once claimed that they would be the greenest government ever. That’s now just patently bullshit. Why? Because he has had to pander to the core right wing electorate and party members.

            Enter stage right religion.

    • Random_acct

      Hey, I could claim to be a tomato. Doesn’t make me one (and I’m not arguing that David Cameron is not a Christian).

    • Random_acct

      Victim-hood rulez! Lol.

  • dadsa

    This was greatly appreciated! You do not know how many times people like William Lane Craig have said that without god everything is permissible, and then they proceed to point towards the communist revolutions as proof.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Cheers! It is a ubiquitous claim and so I thought I’d better commit something to writing for the sake of posterity.

  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ iamanatheistandthisiswhy

    Very nice post, its a question that comes up so often and I will surely use it as a resource.

    On a side note regarding the abrahamic laws the one that confounds me is this “If a man or woman “lie with a beast” both the person and the poor animal are to be killed.” What did the poor animal do?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks for the kudos.

      Well, you know, that nasty animal was, like, an … animal.

      Ooh, so evil!

  • Jonathan Davis

    This is a nice piece, and I’m glad you wrote it so that it is on the record and searchable. However, if I may be uncharitable to your intended audience for a moment, I feel that this piece that is too long and abstract in its arguments to land solidly on the audience who needs it most. I think that is mostly an issue with the facts themselves. The truth is subtle here, and it requires the reader to try to understand it. Most people who need to hear this are not interested in understanding such truths, especially when it might rob them of their favorite anti-atheist tropes.

    I don’t have a solution to suggest for that particular problem, except that it might be beneficial to create a short, short TL;DR version with bullet points referencing the larger piece.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks for the feedback, Jonathan. I take that on board – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. After all, without sources and references, one gets accused of assertion.

      That said, I think I’ll do a pared down version for easy digestion!

  • Peter

    It’s interesting that when Hitler was choir boy in the Catholic Church in Linz (I believe) the church was named for a saint whose name I also forget but I could get the details if necessary. Anyway, in that church was a statue of that Saint and he is standing on a bronze circle within which is a Swastika. The Catholics do indoctrinated them well. I have the photo taken by the US Third Army in my bulging files but you can probably find it online.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Mate, couldn’t find that image. Could you dig it out, possibly?

      • Peter

        Hi Jonathon:
        I couldn’t find the specific picture I talked about but it is very possible I was mistaken. (Oh, what a drag it is getting old). I’m a ww2 buff and I have a nasty habit of lending books to people which are never returned so I couldn’t find what I mentioned. However, a Google search did reveal that Hitler as a child did go to a monastery and it and the church were festooned with Swastikas. So, perhaps I’m a little mixed up. I blame it on this very harsh winter we’re having even by Canadian standards. That, and not enough beer. So the links below will give you an idea of where Hitler may have gotten his inspiration. Take care,

        scroll down to

        LAMBACH ABBEY BENEDICTINE AUSTRIA exposes the Third Reich swastika’s
        S-letter symbology

        There is much more out there.

        • Daniel Pose

          The site about LAMBACH ABBEY BENEDICTINE AUSTRIA exposes the Third Reich swastika’s S-letter symbology is fascinating in that it states that Hitler altered the swastika symbol (turning it 45 degrees from the horizontal and pointing it in the “S” letter direction) to symbolize his “socialism” (that is a discovery of the historian Dr. Rex Curry).

  • Void L. Walker

    Great article, Jon. This myth has been promulgated for so long that I cannot even remember a time when Christians didn’t try to play this worn out card. Very informative.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks so much for your feedback on both accounts!

      If possible, could you put a review on amazon? Thanks sooo much if you could!

      • Void L. Walker

        God fucking dammit (sorry Luke!), Amazon is being a poop and isn’t letting me submit my review. I’m gonna try again in a bit, here’s hoping it works. One of the “reviews” I read was ill-informed and clearly written by someone who you offended :-p I really wanna give it the praise it deserves; a 5 star for sure.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Thanks mate – never saw this comment. Yes, that review is by an ordained priest stalker who is banned from this and other blogs. He has posted bad reviews for all my books without having read them. He is SERIOUSLY unhinged.

          • Void L. Walker

            What did I get the sense that A: his critique was unwarranted and uninformed, and B: religiously motivated? ;-)

  • http://skepticalprobe.blogspot.co.uk Paul Thompson

    Stalin was brought up in the Christian Orthodox Church.

    At 16, he won a scholarship to attend The Orthodox Seminary School at Tbilisi where he trained for the priesthood.

    At 21, he failed to sit his final exam. It’s unclear why, it seems it was a dispute over his ability to pay for the exams.

    But the damage had been done. His formal Christian education had taught him that Genocide was an acceptable method to eliminate undesirables and dissenters.

    If Stalin had been brought up as a Secular Humanist the world could have been a much better place, however his education was based on the principles of obedience, punishment, killing and sacrifice as a means to bring about some Utopian restitution. He learned that the guy with the biggest stick gets to decide what is right.

    Stalin demanded absolute loyalty and obedience to the state. Dissent or loyalty to any other authority was ruthlessly suppressed. (Just like it is in the Bible).

    Stalin was a product of his formal Christian upbringing and education. His ideology regarding “Enemies of the State” have stark parallels in the Judeo/Christian beliefs regarding “Enemies of God”.

    • Karl Noel

      Must have missed the day of Sunday school where they taught genocide.

      Put less delicately, who the f@#$ are you people? We get that you’re filled with irrational, unrestrained contempt, if not all-out hatred, with regard to all things religious. Sad and scary, but ok, free country, little pink houses, etc.

      But how can you be so obtuse and insecure that you feel the need to attempt something so inane as blaming Stalin’s rampage on Greek Orthodoxy?

      • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        Whilst my article is nuanced in blaming more complex scenarios, most Christians blame such things on a lack of belief in a deity. I don’t see you denigrating such simplistic inanity.

        • phil

          Interesting article, and I agree that situations are invariably not simplistic. The fact that the vast majority of atheists, Christians, Muslims, etc, are decent people who do not go around committing genocide suggests that there must always be something else in the motives of those that do. Many twelfth century crusaders, for example, took up the cross because it was a politically useful stance to take. And often, throughout history, the issue is about power and control, at least as much as religion. A lack of belief in a deity would not, on its own, make you want to kill, just as being a Christian does not make me want to kill.

          Yes, there are some verses in the Bible that have no relevance outside of the primitive culture in which they were written, but there also whole chapters and books which have raised and motivated individuals to the highest peaks of service and altruism. Your representation of the Christian God as a god who merely spews out petty rules about killing individuals is, itself, another example of simplistic inanity.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Yes, the motivations for atrocious human behaviour are multifaceted indeed.

            I should have qualified ‘most Christians’ with ‘most Christians I argue with (on the internet)’. It is so prevalent a belief that Blackford included it as one of his great myths of atheism.

            However, the problem with your holy book is that, as you admit, there are passages glorifying genocide. You claim these are contextualisable, but this means, even if one CAN contextualise genocide into acceptability, that genocide, in certain contexts, can be acceptable.

            But this is a morally reprehensible position.

          • phil

            I am not seeking to suggest that genocide is ever acceptable. But to condemn every ancient tribe and civilisation as morally reprehensible doesn’t add much to the debate. Slaughtering people.outside of their group was something that happened in every culture, regardless of their religion.

            As you say, you and I, debating on the internet, are not typical of the wider population. A belief that is widespread in a highly atypical sample is not necessarily prevalent in the population, which is presumably why so many atheists end up arguing against a brand of Christianity that few churchgoers would recognise. In reality, Christians don’t pay much attention to Leviticus, except as history!

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            HI there

            I think that there is a crucial debate to be had abut that: dropping some uncomfortable areas of the bible because they don’t fit with some aspect of life renders questionable on what (historical) basis you accept those which DO happen to correlate ok with one’s social outlook. Interpretation and cherry picking is certainly the weakness of liberal Christianity.

    • phil

      Seriously, Paul, you’re arguing that Stalin was a Christian whose religion caused him to commit genocide?

  • http://skepticalprobe.blogspot.co.uk Paul Thompson

    Incidentally, Pol Pot attended École Miche, a French Colonial Catholic School in Phnom Penh for 8 years.

    Are you noticing a pattern yet?

    • notfookingtaken

      yea people who turned away form God.

  • Skillet Rawks

    I am not an atheist, but an atheist friend steered me toward this article, and I wanted to comment a bit, particularly on the Hitler section, which I found a little suspect.

    I’m going to post a long bit here, and if you feel that my facts are mistaken, then please point them out. And, to be clear, I’m not here to argue that Hitler “was an atheist” or that atheism “caused” any of those atrocities. But perhaps a little more light can be shed on Hitler’s beliefs. I’ll present three problems that I found in the coverage of Hitler, as well as a other comments at the end.

    First, there is a timeline issue with Hitler’s religious beliefs. Generally speaking, in his younger years it seems like Hitler had some sort of spiritual belief system, likely based on some personal interpretation of Christianity. However, in his later years, it seems like he grew increasingly atheistic in his views. There is some evidence for both of these claims, so it is entirely possible to both claim that Hitler was religious and perhaps later, an atheist. As you said, issues are sometimes complex.

    The second issue regards the sources of what we know about Hitler’s political beliefs. Most of Hitler’s speeches were political propaganda, and at the time, the German public was something like 90% to 95% Christian. Hitler was a politician, and he had to run the “God and Country” line if he wanted to be popular. To do otherwise would be political suicide. To your credit, you allude to his need to “cozy up” to religious institutions for political needs, but I want to expand on this a little more. Hitler was also a cultural Christian, so he probably found using religious speech very easy. Also, for similar reasons, in Nazi Party propaganda, in speeches, in books, etc, there was little choice but to embrace Christianity. Even Hitler’s biography, in which he discusses Christianity, was written as a partial propaganda piece, designed to make him popular during a time when he was banned from making speeches. But, if you read the Table Talk tapes, you find a quote attributed directly to Hitler:

    “Science cannot lie, for it’s always striving, according to the momentary state of knowledge, to deduce what is true. When it makes a mistake, it does so in good faith. It’s Christianity that’s the liar. It’s in perpetual conflict with itself.” The transcript continues: “The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death… The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble. (This is from the several Wiki articles on Hitler and his religious beliefs). Religious_views_of_Adoph_Hitler wiki article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Adolf_Hitler

    These words don’t sound like someone who was “hardly an atheist” – but, as I said, the timeline is an issue. The evidence that we have indicates that young Hitler was probably more religious than old Hitler.

    Moving on, if you read the Goebbels Diaries, and the memoirs of Speer, you find stuff like this: (Again, this is from the wiki article.)

    The biographer John Toland noted Hitler’s anticlericalism, but considered him still in “good standing” with that Church by 1941, while historians such as Ian Kershaw, Joachim Fest and Alan Bullock agree that Hitler was anti-Christian – a view evidenced by sources such as the Goebbels Diaries, the memoirs of Speer, and the transcripts edited by Martin Bormann contained within Hitler’s Table Talk.[8] Goebbels wrote in 1941 that Hitler “hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.”[9] Hitler repeatedly
    stated that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on science.[10]

    It’s easily possible that Hitler was privately an atheist (especially in the few years before his death) while he publicly embraced the church. Much the same way, he signed peace treaties with numerous nations, but later broke those treaties. His public word was worthless. He had a long-term plan to eradicate the Christian church in Germany (per the U.S. Office of Strategic Services).

    Overall, the choice is between speeches, books, etc (stuff designed for public consumption, often times, this material is literally Nazi propaganda), or quotes attributed directly to Hitler (the Table Talk tapes) or his friends (Goebbels and Speer). There is other evidence that I could discuss as well, but I think my point has been made. I would caution against citing Nazi propaganda as a reliable source regarding Hitler’s actual religious beliefs. Hitler even convinced the Catholic church that he was a religious guy, and then turned around and tried to shut the Chruch down, which I will discuss more in a moment.

    Overall, using pieces of speeches and Nazi propaganda or even inscriptions on equipment to show that Hitler was not an atheist, probably isn’t the best strategy. Culturally, he and the party HAD to embrace Christianity to be successful.

    Third, you cite Hitler as saying “‘Secular schools can never be tolerated’ because of their irreligious tendencies,” as evidence, but you ignore that this was a complete lie. He lied during the negotiations. Within six years (in 1939), the Nazi’s had closed all Catholic schools in Germany!

    Despite all the religious language in the party platform, in reality, the Nazi’s tried to shut down the church. The Hitler Youth weren’t even allowed to join religious organizations (or any organization for that matter) outside of the Hitler Youth because such organizations were seen as secondary and a threat to party loyalty. This is the Nazi Party’s actual behavior, regardless of the party’s official platform.

    To top that off, the only reason Hitler ever decided to persecute atheists was because this promise is what allowed him to get a treaty from the Catholic church promising that German clergymen would not be as vocal in their criticism of Nazism. This persecution of atheism is one of the things the Catholic church cited in its reasoning for signing a a treaty with Germany. But, once he wrestled control away from Rome, he immediately started persecuting the Catholic church. The Nazi’s “persecution of atheists” (about 1.5% of the population, per the wiki article you cite above), was a decision made for propaganda purposes. That persecution was designed to appease the Catholic church and convince them to sign a treaty. Hitler was able to go to the church and say “Hey, you see, I’m out here being super-religious and fighting the good fight, you guys should sign a treaty with me.” To suggest that Hitler led his party to persecute atheists because he was anti-atheist doesn’t seem true in light of the personal things we know he said (the Table Talk tapes), the quotes from Speer and Goebbels (who knew Hitler personally), and the fact that he immediately started persecuting the church (a much greater threat to his power than atheism), immediately after the treaty was signed.

    There’s also the implication that Hitler was taught to hate Jews due to his youth as a Catholic. This isn’t the generally accepted theory on this. See here: Historian Richard J. Evans states that “historians now generally agree that his notorious, murderous anti-Semitism emerged well after Germany’s defeat [in World War I], as a product of the paranoid ‘stab-in-the-back’ explanation for the catastrophe”.[49] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler#Early_adulthood_in_Vienna_and_Munich

    But, anyway, in my opinion, Hitler probably had some spiritual beliefs when he was younger, but seemed to embrace atheism as he aged. It’s probably possible to build a strong case either way, and depending on what time period you focus on, either could easily be true. I’m not saying that “Hitler was an atheist,” but there is evidence to support such a claim, especially the Table Talk tapes in which he refers to religion as a “myth”. If I remember correctly, a well-respected biography of Stalin also backs up this claim on a separate occasion, that Hitler told Stalin in private that he agreed that religion as a “myth”, despite his criticism of communism.

    Either way, I agree with the sentiment that atheism was not necessarily the “cause” of these atrocities, but there is a strong association there. One of the results of these dictatorships was (or would have been) the destruction of organized religion. That is, state-sponsored atheism would have been the result, or was the result, of these dictatorships. Hence, the association exists, and I think it was rightfully earned. Now, perhaps this is seen as an unfair association by atheists, but I would suggest that many of the negative associations that religious people deal with are unfair as well. It’s part of the territory when entering into these sort of talks.

    In the end, your last paragraph seems to sum things up more clearly, humans often have tendencies to be barbaric, regardless of their religious faith (or lack thereof).

    I apologize if any of my language comes off as overly strong – my intention is not to offend – but there does seem to be evidence that Hitler dabbled in atheism (at the very least, in his later years) and that the Nazi’s, despite their party platform, had no problem persecuting religious institutions.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Hi there,
      Thanks for this interesting comment. Lost to talk about so I might make a new post of it. There is definitely some agreement here, though also some questions raised. Russell Blackford gives a really good chapter on this in 50 Great Myths of Atheism (separate from his one on atrocities which I referenced in the article above).

      I do take the point of making conclusions of people’s lives, lives which change, based largely on one moment. I will get round to editing the above to reflect that.


  • Adam Lewis

    Hi Johno, I cannot disagree or query anything in your post. Actually I really like this statement ‘Things are complex; why people do things is a complex thing to tease apart’ I am not an apologist for either Christianity or Catholicism. I buried my hatchet for Catholicism many years ago. I’m asking the question of ‘did Pope Pius not do the best he possibly could or was he given a Poison Chalice of which he made the best. Here is some more information via a quote from ‘The Last Pope’ by John Hogue:

    Pius is the
    compassionate holy man who gave all the Church could spare to war relief
    through the Pontifical Aid Commission. One saw him in dusty and bloodstained
    robes, administering last rites to dying civilians after an Allied bombing raid
    on Rome in 1944. He is also the Holy Father
    who publicly praised the soldiers of the Third Reich for their invasion of Russia. He is the pontiff who managed to
    save an estimated 400,000 Jews from the gas chambers, but never officially or
    publicly condemned the slaughter of six million Jews. He is fondly remembered
    by the Jewish community of Rome for harbouring hundreds of its citizens
    within the walls of the Vatican. This is the same man who after the
    war would use the Vatican’s properties to hide hundreds of
    Nazi war criminals from judgement at Nuremberg for their crimes against

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks for the comment, though I would disagree vehemently with the notion that he gave all the Church could spare. That is not even remotely believable or true.

      • Adam Lewis


  • Eric Breaux
    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      You obviously didn’t get this article or its implications.

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  • Jonas Oblouk

    Religion or not, the greatest evil is usually exercised by men with great charisma, intelligence and a very warped sense of morality. The Bible states that the law (understanding of right and wrong) is born into us. Clearly, for those whom it is not “born into”, they have used the Bible and other religions to give excuse and influence to get others to commit great acts of evil along with them.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Well said.

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  • Guest

    Atheism is just not being a theist. It doesn’t matter what you or anyone else says, it’s JUST not being a theist.

  • Matty Boom Batty Simpson

    If someone turns atheism into a system or genocide, it’s nonsense, like turning not believing the Earth is square into a belief system. But when one turns Christianity, or Islam, or Nazism or some political religion like thing onto a system or genocide they are MERELY believing the very clear, but sometimes self contradictory, messages of the books or holy books. Whereas, atheism isn’t a belief system and it as a word isn’t representing one in any way, Hitler, Stalin, Christianity, Muhammad, all are.

    • Al

      Yes, because “thou shalt not kill” can be taken so many different ways right?

  • redrabbit

    “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” Adolph Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936

    Hitler was doing what christians had been doing for many centuries – persecuting the jews. He just industrialized it. Christian leaders and their followers, both catholic and protestant, were happy to go along with him.

  • Daniel Pose

    Hitler’s symbol was a type of cross, a “Hakenkreuz” (hooked cross); he did not call it a “swastika.” The misnomer “swastika” was used (and continues to be used) to cover up Nazism’s origin in American Christian Socialism, via Francis Bellamy (the origin of the Nazi salute) and his cousin Edward Bellamy (author of “Looking Backward” -the origin of the National Socialist movement).

    Hitler’s German National Socialists used the swastika symbol to represent crossed “S” letters for the dogma in the name of his group: Socialism. The Third Reich swastika’s S-letter symbology is fascinating in that it reveals that Hitler altered the swastika symbol (turning it 45 degrees from the horizontal and pointing it in the “S” letter direction) to symbolize his “socialism” (that is a discovery of the historian Dr. Rex Curry).

    Aside from his religion or lack thereof, Hitler was a self-identified socialist. Hitler and Stalin were both part of the socialist Wholecaust (of which the Holocaust was a part): Stalin, Mao and Hitler (see the work of the historian Dr. Rex Curry). Stalin and Hitler were allies in a pact to divide up Europe, invading Poland together in 1939, spreading WWII.

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  • Jackninja5

    It is known that Mao, Stalin and Lenin are definite atheists but Hitler and Pol Pot are debatable but very likely.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    My take is that the majority of humans are ape-like in following alpha male leaders and idealistic movements in politics and religion into all sorts of muddy ditches, and that the movement known as Christianity does not provide evidence of being supernaturally enabled to avoid falling into similar dirty ditches as other idealogies lead by alpha males. That was Hoffer’s view too. Christianity also had the help of the state’s backing in order to attain and maintain its supremacy, but even that led to perpetual divisions and schisms throughout Christian history. So even with the help of the world’s holiest most divine writings, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance only a prayer away, and a new heart and spirit inside believers, the same old dirty ditches were fallen into. At best, humans seems to be able to get along via separation of church and state and a public policy of universal toleration and free speech. Let people throw e-comments at one another rather than stones, and rather than try to take over the government for Christ or Allah or Marx (with his utopian promise of a worker’s paradise).

    Does no one read and quote Hoffer any more?


  • https://www.blogger.com/profile/15066118377953263302 Tinny Ray

    The German symbols under Hitler were called “Hakenkreuz” (hooked cross); They did not call them “swastikas.” “swastika” was used (and is used) to cover up Nazism’s development from Christian Socialism in the USA from Francis Bellamy (the origin of the Nazi salute) and his cousin Edward Bellamy (author of “Looking Backward” -the origin of the National Socialist movement). Hitler altered the swastika symbol (turning it 45 degrees from the horizontal and pointing it in the “S” letter direction) to symbolize the group’s “socialism” (that is a discovery of the investigative journalist Dr. Rex Curry).

  • Peter Riis Larsen

    I would argue that you have misunderstood why someone who has come to equate atheism with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. If an alleged religious person is causing harm, you often hear atheists claim that it is because of the religion. I would think that someone has tried to draw attention to this nonsense by showing the same comparison in relation to atheists.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Did you read to the end?

      “However, it is easy to scapegoat humans on account of singular ideas and factors. Life ain’t that simple. Things are complex; why people do things is a complex thing to tease apart. And, essentially, humans can be right bastards. Quite often the most obvious thing can be the overriding cause: humanity. Lust and greed for power, resources, and a distorted idea of utopia. It’s bleak, but potentially accurate, and it might even get atheism and religion off the hook. I said might.”

      I actually gave a public talk last night on 5 arguments against God. On the night I explicitly said to a Catholic who was there that in the same way that atheism is not responsible for Pol Pot/Stalin etc (it takes far more than a lack of belief in God to get round to doing that otherwise you would find lot more atheists attempting genocide), it is also correct to say that many religious atrocities were not committed because of religion, but because of horrible people who were religious.

      The same can be said of Christianity being responsible for the onset of science. No. That is people who happen to be Christians.

      Otherwise Christianity is causally responsible for the development of torture devices. Obviously it isn’t – that’s horrible humans who happened to be Christian.

  • Richard Warren

    If Catholic woman has an abortion, is the death of her child caused by Christianity?

    • notfookingtaken

      no it is caused by not practising her alleged faith.

  • Huskystar

    Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists and killed millions..that can not be disputed and trying to makes the writer sound desperate.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      They had moustaches too.

      Did that make them kill those people?

      Christians developed and used torture devices during the Spanish Inquisition.

      Does that mean Christianity is the necessary component in torture device design and torture?


      Please read the piece more carefully.

      • notfookingtaken

        but millions others had moustaches and did not kill. However all atheist regimes are associated with a huge genocide. You analogy is deeply flawed.
        Atheist regimes were the most evil, and still are, they do not value human life.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Tell me how many humanist groups have committed atrocities. Go on, tell me. Do atheist leaders or atheistic states commit atrocities? Scandinavia?

          Go look at the Global Peace Index and you will see the correlation of religiosity with violence.

          What a simplistic and unsophisticated view you have.

          • Tim Tian

            I think religiosity may be correlated with simplistic and unsophisticated views too. I wonder which correlation is better (i.e., stronger).

        • Fish

          You are in over your head commenting here.

          • notfookingtaken

            You are like a fish out of water, flapping about waiting for the inevitable.

          • Fish

            ROTFL…a little sensitive are we!

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            @notfookingtaken:disqus is indeed over his head. He cannot understand that perhaps he has committed the correlation fallacy.

        • Al

          I think what many fail to see is that its religious intolerance that is most often the main cause.Lenin blamed his starvation campaign in Russia on a “famine”~ like it was a bad year for crops.Truthfully he killed anyone religious by systematic starvation. Officially Russia claimed about 5 million died, but the people in Russia think it was much higher.Funny you dont hear about this in school! I had grandparents who lived through it, and the stories are horrific.Like Hitler, it was an atheist attempting to purge religious people with the utmost hatred.
          Having said that, there have been some atrocities done between “fellow Christians” too. Both the Catholic and some protestant churches systematically drowned the Anabaptists because they “falsely” believed that a person must be baptised upon accepting Jesus as lord and saviour.John Calvin claimed “divine interpretation” of the bible, and those questioning his authority were burned at the stake.The bible says Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, wishing that none shall perish, etc… Calvin claims this isnt true, and that Jesus died only for a handful that God decided to save for Gods own personal reasons.If you disagreed with Calvin , you got burned.
          Have you heard of prople who were also burned at the stake for reading the bible written in english? Yes that happened too!Even children werent spared.
          IN closing I will say these people have one thing in common, and thats NONE are FOLLOWERS of Christ.Do you see a trend?

  • http://www.facebook.com/controversialfreethought Ryan McDuck

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been looking into these claims of
    atheistic regimes and the notion that atheism is the predominant causal
    factor of such atrocities. You really cleared up some confusing
    arguments that I’ve seen laid out in popular debates. Keep up the solid

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks so much for dropping by! Join in the conversations by all means!


      • http://www.facebook.com/controversialfreethought Ryan McDuck

        I’ve had this same conversation maybe a dozen times with friends who happen to be Christian. It is often frustrating when debating this issue because people are set on seeking and finding a distinct causal factor for some atrocity. That cognitive process is actually why I’m so interested in psychology and what drove me to start graduate school in experimental psychology. It is so easy to give the answer, “atheism,” when one hears the “traditional” view of atheism without investigating any of what I would assume you and I believe is true about the concept.

        The need for closure that is affirmed by having an answer readily available is troubling and it should be talked about. I recently wrote a blog discussing the psychology behind being offended and the cognitive dissonance that is engendered by one’s views being challenged. People hear this notion of atheism, which is (at least in the United States) viewed as some misanthropic take on the world, and then connect travesties with this view because of the misunderstandings of the concept of atheism itself, as well as misunderstanding of the causes of whatever atrocity it may be. Not having the necessary information or the desire to seek that information is what allows people to rationalize those views without much honest inquiry. This happens because of the way we form our beliefs about the world and our desire to have answers as quickly as possible (as we cannot in practice gather all available information regarding everything even though that would be ideal in principle). You saw this a few times with people’s responses to this exact blog post that I’m commenting on. People were quick to say things like, “They were obviously atheists. No one can deny that.” But as you point out, “they also had mustaches, so did that cause them to act in such a way?” Learning philosophy of logic (and obviously science), is to me, almost a kind of moral and ethical imperative so that we are able to make justifiable claims. It is necessary to talk about these things and spread knowledge for sake of justified arguments that have an impact on reality.

        It is nice to realize that there are many people and communities now embracing our kind of thought. I am now very adamant about pursuing a career to bring the psychology behind our culmination of belief systems to the public square, as I see that more and more people are starting to speak out. I will continue to follow your blogs. I’ve read through many of them, and they are fantastic. Forgive me if I discredit or undermine your thinking (because I mean this to be a compliment), but your argumentative style reminds me very much of Sam Harris (I’m a huge fan). Keep up the good work! Maybe I’ll be able to chime in with more supportive credentials in a few years.

  • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

    Here’s a list of some of the relationship Hitler and the Nazis had with the Church for your reference. It is compiled in part from some of the works of Sam Harris, Hitchens and other New Atheists:

    -Nearly every German soldier during World War II wore a belt buckle that had inscribed on it, “GOTT MIT UNS” (God with us)

    -Ever member of the German armed forces took an oath that started with: “I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”

    -Hitler’s birthday (April 20th) was celebrated from the Catholic Church every year from 1939 to the very end of the Nazi regime in 1945

    -The first diplomatic accord by Hitler once he rose to power in 1933 was with the Vatican

    -The Catholic Church opened its genealogical records to the Nazis so that they could trace a person’s Jewish ancestry, aiding in the holocaust

    -Antisemitism existed in Europe for hundreds of years before Darwin, and one of the primary influences on Hitler was the German Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who wrote the treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543), in which he argued among other things, that European Jews should be forbidden to practice their religion, that they should have their synagogues burned and razed, and that they should be forced into servitude

    -Nearly half of the Nazis were members of the Catholic Church, as was Hitler

    -The only Nazi ever to be formally excommunicated by the Catholic Church was Joseph Goebbels – not for war crimes, but for marrying a divorced Protestant

  • Steve

    “Now, we can argue about context and whatnot” ya think?

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  • Random_acct

    You quoted Hilter’s words on being a Christian from 1922? LOL.

    But let’s cut to the chase…
    One is known to be a Christian not only by proclaiming it, but also by living it every day. By that measure, it is impossible (by definition) for Hitler to claim he was a Christian.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Cutting to the chase, though, would be a No True Scotsman fallacy, of course. Perhaps there is no such thing as a true Christian, because everyone has sinned, right?

      • Random_acct

        I think you need to understand Christianity before you can discuss it. Just a suggestion.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          I’m sorry?

          • Random_acct

            No need to apologize. It’s just you don’t understand Christianity. That is crystal clear to me.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Explain how this is so, if you will (I have studied it for some time, given public talks on it and written books about it, so….).

            That’s really a rather silly and annoying thing to say.

            Although it made me make the follow up comment which you ignored. Can anyone be a true Christian? Further to that, can anyone know what true Christianity is? How do they know they know that?

            A Protestant will have a different definition of true Christianity as a Catholic, as a Mormon, as an Anabaptist and so on.

            But I am sure you are sure you know the real one, and everyone else is deluded and does not understand Christianity.

            Which is even more amusing, since the most prevalent modern Christian interpretation of the Holy Trinity is mysterianism, a position which states we simply do not and possibly cannot truly understand the Holy Trinity and relevant philosophy. It’s just taken on faith, without a requisite understanding.

  • Random_acct

    The book Hitler’s Secret Conversations 1941-1944 published by Farrar, Straus and Young, Inc.first edition, 1953, contains definitive proof of Hitler’s real views. The book was published in Britain under the title, _Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944, which title was used for the Oxford University Press paperback edition in the United States.
    All of these are quotes from Adolf Hitler:

    Night of 11th-12th July, 1941:

    National Socialism and religion cannot exist together…. The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity…. Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things. (p 6 & 7)

    10th October, 1941, midday:

    Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure. (p 43)

    14th October, 1941, midday:

    The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death…. When understanding of the universe has become widespread… Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity…. Christianity has reached the peak of absurdity…. And that’s why someday its structure will collapse…. …the only way to get rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little…. Christianity the liar…. We’ll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State. (p 49-52)

    19th October, 1941, night:

    The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.

    21st October, 1941, midday:

    Originally, Christianity was merely an incarnation of Bolshevism, the destroyer…. The decisive falsification of Jesus’ doctrine was the work of St.Paul. He gave himself to this work… for the purposes of personal exploitation…. Didn’t the world see, carried on right into the Middle Ages, the same old system of martyrs, tortures, faggots? Of old, it was in the name of Christianity. Today, it’s in the name of Bolshevism. Yesterday the instigator was Saul: the instigator today, Mardochai. Saul was changed into St.Paul, and Mardochai into Karl Marx. By exterminating this pest, we shall do humanity a service of which our soldiers can have no idea. (p 63-65)

    13th December, 1941, midnight:

    Christianity is an invention of sick brains: one could imagine nothing more senseless, nor any more indecent way of turning the idea of the Godhead into a mockery…. …. When all is said, we have no reason to wish that the Italians and Spaniards should free themselves from the drug of Christianity. Let’s be the only people who are immunised against the disease. (p 118 & 119)

    14th December, 1941, midday:

    Kerrl, with noblest of intentions, wanted to attempt a synthesis between National Socialism and Christianity. I don’t believe the thing’s possible, and I see the obstacle in Christianity itself…. Pure Christianity– the Christianity of the catacombs– is concerned with translating Christian doctrine into facts. It leads quite simply to the annihilation of mankind. It is merely whole-hearted Bolshevism, under a tinsel of metaphysics. (p 119 & 120)

    9th April, 1942, dinner:

    There is something very unhealthy about Christianity (p 339)

    27th February, 1942, midday:

    It would always be disagreeable for me to go down to posterity as a man who made concessions in this field. I realize that man, in his imperfection, can commit innumerable errors– but to devote myself deliberately to errors, that is something I cannot do. I shall never come personally to terms with the Christian lie. Our epoch Uin the next 200 yearse will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity…. My regret will have been that I couldn’t… behold .” (p 278)

    A reader asks,”Where did the quotes from Hitler’s Secret Conversations come from? How do we know that they are accurate?”
    Hitler’s Secret Conversations is a translation of a document called the “Bormann-Vermerke” or Borrman endorsements. They are a collection of hand written notes made by Martin Bormann who was Hitler’s personal secretary during the war. Bormann is known to have been an extraordinarily powerful figure in Nazi Germany and a notorious opponent of Christianity.
    There is no real dispute regarding the authenticity of these notes. They are what Borrman wrote. They are published in the original German in Adolf Hitler, Monologe im Führerhauptquartier 1941-1944. published by Orbis Verlag, Hamburg, Approved Special Edition in 2000.

    But hey, the narrative that Hitler was a Christian (quoting him from 1922, lol) is convenient for the atheists who don’t understand history and also don’t understand Christianity.

    Believe what you want to believe…if it makes you feel better.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Actually Richard Steigmann-Gall and Richard Carrier have both written theses criticising those claims. Ian Kershaw also recognises the problems with omissions in the English translation.

      But aside from that, because Hitler did use Christianity and its organisations to his advantage, and no human is immutable through their history, it is worth noting that the German public, the army and the SS were very strongly Christian. Hitler was never ex-communicated and won wide support from the Vatican. The SS pledge was: “I pledge to you, Adolf Hitler, my obedience unto death, so help me God.” etc etc

      And you do realise that Hitler persecuted atheists?


      the regime strongly opposed “godless communism”[161][162] and most of Germany’s freethinking (freigeist), atheist, and largely left-wing organizations were banned the same year.[163][164]

      In a speech made during the negotiations for the Nazi-Vatican Concordant of 1933, Hitler argued against secular schools, stating: “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”[165] One of the groups closed down by the Nazi regime was the German Freethinkers League. Christians appealed to Hitler to end anti-religious and anti-Church propaganda promulgated by Free Thinkers,[166] and within Hitler’s Nazi Party some atheists were quite vocal in their anti-Christian views, especially Martin Bormann.[167] Heinrich Himmler, who himself was fascinated with Germanic paganism,[citation needed] was a strong promoter of the gottgläubigmovement and didn’t allow atheists into the SS, arguing that their “refusal to acknowledge higher powers” would be a “potential source of indiscipline”.[22])

      Ultimately, Hitler became a neo-Christian paganist, for want of a better term.

      Whatever he was, he was anti-atheist.

  • Johnni Kock Sørensen

    I didn’t bother reading it all, because you seem to believe that Hitler is an atheist and that the Nazis were atheists too? If so; then you’re an idiot. For your sake; I hope this is (poor) satire of some sort.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Wow. Um, I think you might have got perhaps 100% the wrong end of the stick there! Maybe you should read it!! I am an atheist philosopher sick of dealing with exactly those claims. So this precisely seeks to debunk them…

  • notfookingtaken

    Well the first glaring error was that “Prime Minister is atheist”, which sets the tone for an article which is by and large, utter bollocks.

    Typical atheist fodder, when ever you go to check one of their “facts” it turns out to be wrong.
    Shameless lies at best.

    • Tim Tian

      The term denial springs to mind.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Please see the other comments on Cameron. That someone now courts his right-wing electorate and backbenchers and suddenly sings the praises of Christianity and the church where before he said his faith comes and goes like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns. People have skeptical doubts from time to time, but their faith does not come and go seemingly on a whim whilst also being strongly Christian. This is a politician’s answer informed by spin doctors and advisors. Admitting Christianity would not lose him many right wing votes. Admitting atheism or agnosticism would. Which is why there is a correlation: as the right wing of the party members and MPs got restless, he dropped more and more liberal policies (greenest party in history etc) whilst gaining in easy religiosity which is easy to claim.

      He has, however, remained strong on gay marriage, to his credit, which puts him at odds with many of the Christians with which he claims fraternity, and perhaps revals his true socially liberal tendencies.

      You are quick to spout of facile claims. I suggest a little more nuance.

      Please pinpoint the actual facts or claim of the article which are bollocks as this is just an assertion which has no foundation.

      I hate it when people just comment-bomb with undefended assertions and expect that to be remotely persuasive.

  • Augustine25

    Of course, you are entirely forgetting the French Revolution where atheists murdered their fellow citizens in a misguided effort to get rid of Catholicism. It is perfectly obvious — to normal people — that atheists in power have proven themselves to be extremely dangerous to others. FYI: An atheist liberal just shot up three of his Muslim neighbors in Chapel Hill.

  • Fish

    Isn’t it enough to say all three were despicable, horrible madmen. It is good that they are dead. Christians send them to hell which is a good use of hell. For atheists it’s good that they are dead and gone. Does christianity send people to hell for adultery? If so that’s not nice as the adulterer would be burning beside these three!

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  • http://www.surroundedbyidiots.org/ traumaturgist

    I’ll take this argument more seriously when it ISN’T so vociferously tilted against “religion” (whatever that is) from the outset….and when it has more disinterested, peer-reviewed opinion instead of including inbred quotes from other atheists (which is perilously, and ironically, close to quoting Scripture). And I say this as a non-theist.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      I think the conclusion makes the obvious enough point that causality cannot and should not so easily be hijacked, and that this works both ways.

      • Travelman

        Interesting post that I hadn’t previously read. Lots of comments, and a few of the true ‘crazies’.

        Christopher Hitchens was the person I first heard articulate an argument (and, boy, could he articulate) that dealt with the issue of atheism being some sort of driving force for Stalin et al. I haven’t recently reviewed what he had to say but he likened the actions and methods of the big dictators to those of how religions take hold. He referred to gifted speakers who could understand and manipulate crowds, a credulous population, and convincing people to act in ways they never normally would (eg killing Jews) as a subtle method of control.

        Although religious apologists don’t realise it, it’s ridiculous to say anyone did anything in the name of ‘atheism’. Atheism is arguably a totally unnecessary word, signifying a lack of belief, and we all have many lacks of belief. So people doing things in the name of their religion must be taken at face value, but people who happen to be atheists, like the Chapel Hill guy, can’t be doing it in the name of their lack of religion, by definition. They could be doing it for reasons of religious hate of course, but that’s not the same as doing it because of atheism. Rather like your moustache analogy.

        So if religious apologists want to use people’s atheism as the motivation for their actions then they must find a deeper reason than simply because they are atheists. That means that they must find some sort of advantage that their religion confers, denied therefore to the atheist. As any such advantages have been totally discredited in recent philosophy (morality, free will, original sin, hell, redemption, punishment, etc) then, whether or not the big dictators were atheists, is irrelevant.

        Incidentally, one last point. Why does Franco never figure in these discussions? He was a monster of the highest order, though he did survive to become a little more politically acceptable. Could it possibly be that the religious find him a little inconvenient to their arguments, having been so staunchly catholic?

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Interesting point about Franco – I never realised he was deeply Catholic. I lived in Gibraltar for several years so saw first hand how Spain had evolved out of the Franco era.

          Thanks, as ever, for your insightful comments.

          Again, if theists want to lay causal blame for atrocities at the feet of atheists ,then this works both ways. The easy example is torture and torture devices in the Inquisition. etc

          • Travelman

            I was born in Spain, am half Spanish, and was brought up by a mother who had the utmost contempt for Franco, though without ever properly explaining why.

            Franco is a very interesting person for study in the context of your post. He wasn’t perhaps responsible for the sheer numbers of deaths of the other dictators, and there’s a reluctance to call them genocidal, but several hundred thousand is a big number in anyone’s book.

            He was devoted to the catholic church at a personal level, absolutely, but he also used it as a political tool.

            “When Franco took power he converted Spain into the past. He outlawed anything that did not agree with catholic beliefs; this included contraceptives, homosexuality, practice of any other religion, prostitution, and divorce(all are presently legal). Franco even went as far has outlawing any other language than Spanish and took away all rights given to the autonomous regions of Spain. At this time church and state of Spain were one body and it was the responsibility of both to enforce the change towards unity. All forms of education and censorship were directed by the church. Franco was given the power from the Vatican to elect church officials, a rare privilege given by the Vatican.” (taken from an internet site)

            At the risk of overly labouring the point I would mention Santa Cruz del valle de Los Caidos (the valley of the fallen) – not sure if you’ve heard of this. It is a monstrous cathedral in the Segovia area, that has been literally carved out of a mountain, the interior basilica even bigger than that of St Peters in Rome, topped with a giant (500 foot) cross, adorned with monstrous statues, that can be seen from many miles away. It was commissioned by Franco and built in a large part using convict labour. Although Franco tried to pretend it was a memorial to all those who fell in the Civil War, it is viewed in a very ambivalent light by Spaniards, especially as it is where Franco was buried.

Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce