Thus far in this series, we’ve defined atheism, looked at the biblical data, examined the history and claims of atheism, and suggested ways Christians can respond to atheistic assertions. We’ve also examined how atheism uses science to buttress its claims and why atheism cannot explain morality. In this chapter, we’ll consider a couple of final issues that are related to the debate.
- Atheism and tyranny
- Atheists spend much time and effort attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular for its record of oppression, corruption, and violence. They boldly assert that atheism would improve the world, ridding it of violence, war, racism, oppression, abuse and corruption. Does the evidence back up such a claim? Now that atheism has been a significant worldview for over two centuries, we should be able to evaluate the achievements of atheism and see what happens when atheism becomes the dominant viewpoint in a culture.
- Events of the twentieth century prove that atheism as a worldview is far more violent, oppressive and corrupting than any religion ever was. The common opinion that atheists would never carry out crimes in the name of atheism is simply not true. The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension, or discrimination is naïve and false. Atheism as a philosophy of life (or of death, really) is directly linked to all manner of abuse.
- As noted earlier, Karl Marx famously asserted that religion was the “opium of the people” that kept the working class ignorant and powerless. Marx and his ilk are responsible for setting out the blueprint of atheistic communism,1 which swept over much of the world in the twentieth century. Untold millions were persecuted or were killed under Marxist communism. Marxism is an explicitly atheist ideology that advocates the annihilation of religion through violent means. History shows that societies that adopt Marxism are normally violent, oppressive, and intolerant.
- Atheism was a central component of the Soviet Union’s official ideology, and communists enforced atheist policies by destroying churches and murdering members of the clergy and professing believers. Most communist regimes have been strongly anti-religious, suggesting that their atheism is essential, not merely incidental, to their ideology.2
- Lenin regarded the elimination of religion as central to the socialist revolution in the USSR, and he put measures in place designed to eradicate religious beliefs through the “protracted use of violence.” Lenin held that religion made the middle and lower classes docile and easy to exploit economically. In order for his communist revolution to take place, such people would have to be stripped of their religious beliefs.
- Soviet authorities systematically destroyed and eliminated the vast majority of churches and priests during the period 1918-41. This violence and repression was undertaken in pursuit of an atheistic agenda—the elimination of religion. Joseph Stalin, an immodest, ruthless “despot of grotesque proportions”3 once said, “You know, they are fooling us, there is no God… all this talk about God is sheer nonsense.” Stalin’s atheism was an essential component of his violent, oppressive regime.
- Hitler hated Christianity and tolerated a weakened form of it in Germany only so he could use it for his own purposes. Hitler was rabidly anti-religious and considered Christianity to be a scourge and a disease. He wanted to destroy Christianity in Germany. He saw Christian values like equality and compassion as weaknesses. Hitler’s leading advisors—Goebbels, Himmler, and Bormann—were atheists who sought to eradicate religious influence in Germany. Hitler was a great admirer of Darwin and Nietzsche, both of whom provided him with the philosophical justification for his murderous schemes.
“I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…. We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence—imperious, relentless and cruel.” Adolph Hitler
- What is the outcome when people feel free to cast off the bonds of traditional religious prohibitions, sanctions, and fear of divine judgment? The Holocaust of WWII is a good example. Those who ran the gas chambers at Auschwitz and the other death camps had to rid themselves of traditional religious limitations in order to pursue their “final solution.”
- The Chinese leader Mao Zedong (Tse-Tong) maintained a hostile attitude toward religion, which was seen as backward and superstitious. Under Mao’s iron-fisted rule, houses of worship, including temples, mosques, and churches, were converted into non-religious buildings for secular use. Mao is personally responsible for the deaths of about 50 million people.
- Atheistic writers typically attempt to blame other factors than atheism for the abuses of these famous atheists. They claim that atheism as a worldview was not responsible for such bad behavior, it was communism or Marxism. But atheism is a central element in Marxist communism. It’s no accident or coincidence that guilt for the worst forms of abuse lays at the feet of atheists. Atheists are directly responsible for the deaths of perhaps 100 million people in the twentieth century. No religion has been responsible for nearly as much mayhem as atheists have been.4
Nietzsche argued that with the “death of God,” people would now put their faith in barbaric “brotherhoods with the aim of robbery and exploitation of the non-brothers.”5 He foresaw the rise of Nazism and other tyrannical groups. He also predicted that the 20th century would be the bloodiest in human history because western civilization had lost its moral moorings. He was right.
Christian writer Dinesh D’Souza states, “The crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated through [an arrogant] ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values. … Who can deny that Stalin and Mao, not to mention Pol Pot and a host of others, all committed atrocities in the name of a Communist ideology that was explicitly atheistic? Who can dispute that they did their bloody deeds by claiming to be establishing a ‘new man’ and a religion-free utopia? These were mass murders performed with atheism as a central part of their ideological inspiration, they were not mass murders done by people who simply happened to be atheist…. It’s time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the main source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the worst mass murders in history.”6
Atheism has rivers of blood on its hands. Religion must admit its own failures, but it is responsible for nowhere near the suffering brought on by atheism. Atheism and associated ideas (Marxism, Darwinism) has motivated the murder of millions.
- Atheism and the benefits of Christianity
- One of atheism’s primary claims is that religion in general and Christianity in particular is guilty of great crimes against humanity. Religion has been a blight on the human race, and the sooner it fades away the better.
- Atheists typically ignore all the beneficial things Christianity has produced or influenced. Examples:7
- Christianity dignified the ordinary person. Greek and Roman philosophy exalted the wealthy, the powerful, and the influential. In contrast, Christianity taught that common people can have rich, meaningful lives. Human dignity and equality is a Christian idea8 which was responsible for ending slavery and for fostering representative democracy. The sanctity of human life is firmly rooted in the Bible. The dignity and value of women is a biblical value absent from many societies. Christianity elevated the status of women, giving them moral equality with men. Most human rights so valued in western society are rooted in the Christian idea of human equality.
- Christianity dignified marriage and family. Many societies downplay the family. Plato proposed an abolition of marriage and suggested that the state take over the raising of children. Homosexuality was very common in Greek and Roman society, as was pedophilia. Christianity exalts heterosexual, monogamous, committed love and compassionate care of children and the elderly. Family life is central to satisfaction in life and strengthens society. Such values are essentially Christian, not secular.
- Christianity produced the “rule of law.” The idea of justice and uniform rules applying to all people is rooted in the Bible. “Lex Rex” – the law is king. Kings are not above the law; they, too, must obey it.
- Christianity brought forth the idea that a ruler is a servant of the people. The idea that the leader serves his people by attending to their needs is a Christian one.
- Christianity is responsible for the concept of separation of powers and checks and balances within a government. Limited, representative government and the separation of church and state are NT ideas.
- Christianity emphasizes freedom of religion. Although some professing Christian organizations have forced obedience and even conversions (e.g., RCC), the NT knows nothing of constraining faith. Tolerance and freedom of conscience are Christian ideas.
- Christianity set the stage for capitalism. The Bible teaches that men are inherently selfish and will do what is in their own best interests. Customers will flock to businesses that meet their needs or wants. Market competition produces abundance. Giving the customer what he wants is the key to success in business.
- Christianity gave rise to the Protestant work ethic. Hard work, cooperation, honesty, fairness—these are all biblical ideas without which America would never have become a world power.
- Christianity’s emphasis on compassionate care for the weak has changed society for the better. The Greeks and Romans often turned a blind eye to suffering, especially when those suffering were unknown or unrelated. Christianity demands that we love our neighbors, even those we don’t know, even those hostile toward us. Christians have long been known for their acts of charity supporting the poor, widows and orphans, and the sick. Christians built the first hospitals and established the first aid organizations (Red Cross, YMCA).
- Christianity influenced the great works of western art. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Titian, Handel, Mozart, Bach, Shakespeare—all either professed Christianity or worked within a Christian worldview.
1 It is true that communism as an ideal is not necessarily atheistic. Some Christians have advocated various forms of communism. But the form of communism advocated by Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others was clearly atheistic. Atheism was a necessary aspect of their political ambitions.
2 Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?
3 http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761572241_2____8/Communism.html#s8. Malcolm Muggeridge called Stalin “that murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin.” Zacharias, Real Face of Atheism.
4 The notorious Spanish Inquisition (1476 to 1834) was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 5000 people at most (although many more were arrested and persecuted; only about 1-2% of those arrested were killed). The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 sent only about twenty supposed witches to their deaths. Taken together, so-called Christians (mostly of the RCC) are responsible for the deaths of about 200,000 people over the last 500 years. This amounts to about 1% of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler, and Mao combined. Other religions, particularly Islam, are responsible for many more deaths, but nowhere near the number associated with atheistic regimes.
5 Quoted in McGrath, Twilight of Atheism, 262.
6 What’s So Great About Christianity?
7 Many of these ideas are brought out in D’Souza’s book What’s So Great About Christianity?
8 Nietzsche thought the concept of equality before God as a “crazy” idea. He invented the notion of the “over-man” and encouraged the strong to overpower the weak. Hitler used this idea to justify his murderous schemes.