Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao were all atheists, and look what they did!

This is a frequent and tiresome ad hominem frequently resorted to by religious fundamentalists fast approaching total cognitive surrender, and I'd like to include a complete rebuttal here before I forget it.

To begin with I'm going to leave Hitler to one side and examine our other three lumninaries. What did Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung all have in common apart from their atheism? Anyone? They all had a fanatical devotion to collectivism.

In short all three subscribed to a dogmatic ideology that considered the wellbeing of the collective to be of greater import than the wellbeing of the individuals that made up the collective. Individuals percieved as threats to or targets of the collective were eliminated by exile, starvation or good old fashioned killing.

The problem with ideologies is that they inevitably centre around the notion that ideas are more important than people. Accepting that ideas are more important than people inevitably leads to tragedy and atrocity.

Atheism has no ideology. The central idea of atheism is a lack of belief in gods. In fact the only idea of atheism is a lack of belief in gods. Atheism can form a part of an ideology but it can never ben an ideology in itself because there's not enough to it.

Now as for our friend Adolf, first an aside:

Hitler was not an atheist. It takes some spectacular mental contortions to come to the conclusion that Hitler was motivated by or even entertained the notion of atheism. A self declared "Christian...fighter for Truth and Justics" who declared himself an agent of "the Almighty Creator" makes for a lousy atheist. It's entirely understandable why you would want to distance yourself from Hitler, but attempting to use his name to sully your opponents is simply dishonest.

So what did motivate Hitler? Well it wasn't collectivism. It was however a fanatical devotion to an ideology which valued ideas more than it valued people! Hitler's ideology of Nazism, largely of his own invention, was a mish-mash of misunderstanding the works of Neitzsche and Heidegger who in turn were busy misunderstanding the works of Charles Darwin.

Hitler's ideology was based on germanic and aryan supremacy and slavic and jewish inferiority rather than on political collectivism and focused on race war rather than class struggle, but it was still at heart an ideology which crushed its targets and opponents under foot.

Yet again we see that when ideas are considered to be more valuable than people it is inevitably followed by tragedy and atrocity.

These four great apparently secular tyrants all had the same thing in common. Where else do we see this phenomenon? Every time an alleged witch is burned, every time a homosexual is murdered, every time a woman is beaten or raped for not covering herself up, every time a person is convicted or persecuted for unislamic or unchristian behaviour, every time an apostate is executed or a blasphemer is censured or threatened we are seeing a demonstration of ideas being held as more important than people.

I believe that personal liberty and freedom of speech are ideas worth fighting for and worth defending precisely because these ideas put people first. They protect the individual from the scourge of ideology.

If we celebrate the ideology of liberty and free speech you can be sure that you are putting people ahead of ideas. Isn't that the way it should be?

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Comment by Anthony Moss on January 30, 2010 at 9:09am
I think that theists, or at least any theist who takes their religion seriously to any degree, would strongly fight against the notion that their beliefs are just an idea. But there again isn't that the issue with any sort of extremist? I'm sure Mao Tse Tung would have taken umbrage at the suggestion that his revolution was the result of "an idea" even though that's precisely what it was.
Comment by Nick in Tacoma on January 29, 2010 at 9:36pm
Collectivism doesn't lead surely to genocide. Neither does Atheism, Communism Socialism, Democracy or any of the major ideologies that affect the world we live in. What does always lead us to perdition is believing the end justifies the means. Or to put it as the originator of this thread does, putting ideas before people.

On the other hand, Theism comes close to being a straight path to violence and destruction. The theistic religions believe they have a private channel to a perfect good and therefore, it doesn't matter how many people suffer or die on the way to a theocracy here on earth. They literally believe that evil is good if it is initiated as part of god's plan.
Comment by Anthony Moss on January 29, 2010 at 12:07pm
It's used as an ad hominem by people who attempt to use logic to back up an illogical position and start to lose the argument. The argument goes like this:

'The greatest crimes in the history of the planet were committed by atheists ergo atheists are genocidal criminals'

It typically accompanies the bizarre assertion that 'atheists don't believe in post-corporeal punishment and are therefore immoral'. It's a combination I have seen often. First they assert that atheists have no morals because they don't have a Santa who will deny them sugar plums in heaven, then they attempt to back up that assertion by pointing to Joe Stalin.

I don't think you're being a snooty ass by the way, and if you were I'd just be glad that someone read my blog!
Comment by Anthony Moss on January 29, 2010 at 11:33am
No collectivism doesn't necessarily condone genocide. I think that the important factor isn't the content of a specific ideology, it is the import afforded to it. A relatively benign ideology can become horrific and destructive if its practitioners consider the value of the idea greater than the value of other people.

A relatively benign ideology can very easily result in abuse. For example if a nation lived by the golden rule that would be a benign ideology under which you can live. If it was enforced as "Do to others as you would have done ro you... on pain of death!" then it would very swiftly devolve into atrocity.



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