Russell Blackford speaks sense …

October 4, 2010

… about the old canard that atheism is responsible for Nazism and Stalinism.

“By contrast, Stalin really was an atheist, so if you want to attack atheism and claim that it leads to horrors, that might be a promising place to start. But here’s the thing: although I think that all sorts of god-belief are untrue, I don’t think that they are all terribly or similarly harmful, and nor do I think they are uniquely harmful. For example, pagan polytheism may have encoded some of the less savoury aspects of ancient societies, such as the frequent misogyny and male fears of women’s power, but by and large it was tolerant and certainly not apocalyptic or totalitarian. Whatever its faults, it did not have the same kinds of problems as the more modern sorts of monotheism such as Christianity and Islam.

By contrast the sorts of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary communism embraced by Stalin and Mao did have many of the same problems as those monotheisms, which they imitated in many ways. In particular, they had the same extreme authoritarian tendencies. The thing is, these were comprehensive and apocalyptic belief systems. Though not positing the traditional Abrahamic God, they tended to create their own God – history with a capital-H – and to tell their followers that History was on their side.

[P]olitical liberals like me are not solely concerned about the dangers of theistic dogmas. Any kind of comprehensive, apocalyptic dogma is a danger to our liberties and likely to be a source of atrocities if its adherents gain power. I get very impatient when my efforts to question the authority of religion receive the reply that terrible things were also done in the name of atheism. No they weren’t: by and large they were done in the name of a quasi-religion that had its own prophets, holy books, apocalyptic view of history, and comprehensive body of dogma. All such systems merit scrutiny, but since the Cold War ended about 20 years ago, the greatest threats come from theistic systems; those are the ones we should be focusing our criticism on for the moment.”

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