Recently, my fellow Christian blogger Kreitsauce wrote an interesting post entitled “When Faith Justifies Mass Murder” in his blog Kreitsauce’s Musings. In the post he(she?) compared the total number of lives lost due to mass murders/genocide committed by Christians and Atheists and based on the comparison concluded
“Atheism, not Christianity or even Islam, is responsible for the greatest massacres found in history.”
Kreitsauce is definitely not alone in putting forward such arguments and arriving at such conclusions nor is he the first Christian to remind us of this “cruel” fact about atheists/agnostics. I have observed this type of finger-pointing and accusation from a lot of Christians and heard this argument in favor of Christianity numerous times from Christians of all denominations.
Christians often use such arguments to show that atheism is immoral and atheists are some sort of a despicable, inhuman creed who are bent upon destroying humanity and humanatarian values. The implicit point here is that feelings of compassion and morality ONLY comes from a belief in religion(specifically, belief in a Christian god) and humans are incapable of being compassionate and moral without belief in god or religion.
I initially thought of just replying Kreitsuace but since this argument has often been made by other Christians and discussed in a lot of forums, I decided to post my own thoughts here.
First let me start off by looking at the logic behind such a claim and pointing out the logical fallacy and the large stretch of imagination needed by Christians to arrive at the above conclusion based on the facts presented. The logic goes somewhat like this
- X is a person who believes in A (e.g Stalin is an atheist who believes in the absence of God)
- X is involved in an activity or commits a crime ( Stalin orders mass murder/genocide)
- Therefore A is the cause for X to be involved in the activity.(Therefore atheism is the cause for those mass murders Stalin committed)
This type of logical fallacy is called Non sequitur or Fallacy of False Cause.
Lets look at a few more examples to see if this logic holds
- Y strongly believes in democracy
- Y is a heroine addict
- Belief in democracy is the cause of heroine addiction
- X is a white american in pre-civil war Mississippi who believes in Christianity
- X supports slavery and has a large number of black slaves
- Christianity is responsible for slavery and slave trade
Does the logic sound familiar ? Do we agree that there is a cause and effect relationship here? It’s very clear from the examples above that there is no logical path that can lead us from the facts presented to the conclusion drawn and the conclusions are either invalid or grossly misleading. Most white American Christians would vociferously disagree with my second example and yet they never hesitate to use such logic to prove that atheism leads to genocide.
Most Christians/believers who use this sort of logic either try to find correlation between two disparate objects or ignore the other possibilities or evidence at their disposal to arrive at the cause-and-effect thesis. They often confuse correlation with cause (not that I am saying there is any correlation between atheism and morality) . With a little imagination, correlations can be found in a lot of things but that cannot in any definitive way point to a cause and effect. For example, some people may claim that since all polar bears are white and all types of natural milk is also white, there is some correlation between the two. But can we meaningfully correlate the two to arrive at a cause-and-effect thesis? For us to arrive at a definitive conclusion we have to eliminate all other possibilities such that there is ONLY ONE possibility left to arrive at a cause and effect relationship. For Christians and believers to engage in such fallacious logic and specious argument is intellectually dishonest and an attempt to distort the truth to fit their agenda.
The correct question to ask in this case is – can we eliminate every other possible cause for the genocide other than atheism (however, to ask would they have acted differently had they believed in God would be pure speculation.)? Did Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot commit these mass murders ONLY in the name of atheism and did they kill these people ONLY because the victims believed in God. That would still be a valid question to ask and point to atheism as the only or primary cause. But if we look closely at the numbers and consider the other reasons behind such heinous crimes we can see that this was hardly the case. These dictators committed these mass murders because of political reasons and to gain political power or to further a demented and false ideology which were not influenced by their belief (or lack thereof) in God. In fact many of those killed by these evil dictators were atheists themselves (members of their own communist parties). A lot of these people were also killed by idiotic and deliberate governmental policy like Stalin’s and Mao’s lunatic agricultural policy which resulted in huge famines.
Whenever it comes to genocide and mass murders, Christians only point to the Spanish Inquisition, the crusades and witch hunts to arrive at a number (the reliability of which is seriously in doubt due to unreliable sources used to arrive at those numbers).
Here is another list of crimes also committed by Christians. But, what about the Christian kings/queens and heads of state who have ordered the killing of huge populations (including a lot of American presidents). The Kings/Queens of most of European monarchies were practising Christians and were either heads of their church or had the full support of the church. What about the Christian kings or czars of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Prussia who have ordered the killing of hundreds of innocent people or have led wars resulting in millions of deaths. What about the US presidents who have ordered the bombings of hundreds of innocent men,women and children in Japan, Vietnam and Korea etc . Weren’t they all Christians/believers? (Here’s a site which lists countries Americans have bombed since WW2 ). Isn’t it too convenient on the part of Christians to claim that these weren’t Christian crimes? Shouldn’t the same logic which apply to atheists when they commit genocide apply to Christians and Muslims as well?
Also, since the question here is number of crimes committed by theists and non-theists, can we ignore the millions massacred by Muslim rulers during their conquests or rule? Have we accounted for the people killed during Jewish pogroms by Christians and Muslims, the lives lost in the American, French or British civil wars or recent genocides in Africa all of which saw Christians killing Christians and Muslims killing Muslims or both of these killing Jews in massive numbers. What about the Chinese, Indian and Japanese rulers who killed huge numbers of people without remorse in spite of their religious beliefs? I am sure if we add up all those numbers we will see that in number of crimes committed, believers are not very far behind than Agnostics or Atheists. If we use the same logic used by Christians to point at atheism, wouldn’t it be fair to say that Christianity/Islam is also responsible for the worst mass murders, genocides and wars?
Now we also have to consider that Christians claim that Christianity teaches compassion towards each and every soul. So, even if one person is killed by a Christian, examples of which I have provided in my post earlier, doesn’t it mean that believing in Christ does not engender morality or compassion. When numbers go against theists they seem to ignore it but they do not hesitate to bring numbers when it suits or supports their argument. So shouldn’t a murder of 2 people be the same as the massacre of 200 or 2 million? To use terms like “greatest massacre” to discriminate between deaths caused by Christians and atheists may seem like belittling the lives lost at the hands of Christians and in fact tacitly approving those deaths just because they were committed by Christians and are small (?) compared to the ones committed by Atheists.
Also, can someone show how Atheism preaches genocide or how that is a logical conclusion derived from a disbelief or sceptical view of God? If atheism truly leads to a belief that there is no yardstick for right or wrong behavior and a person is free to do whatever he/she wants since he/she is not answerable to anyone, why aren’t other atheists committing similar crimes? Why are there so many atheists/agnostics working voluntarily in thousands of charities worldwide( I personally know quite a few of these volunteers and can vouch for their selfless dedication). Why is it that I have never heard Christians commending two of the richest agnostics Warren Buffet and Bill Gates for donating almost their entire life’s wealth to charity? Ah, I know why. That would seriously invalidate their reasoning for the claim – that only Christianity or belief in God leads to morality and compassion.
Most believers think, that just because he/she needs a belief in God, heaven or karma to guide him/her about morality another person X also needs the same set of “carrots” to encourage him/her to behave morally. But, I will also admit that just as there are bad Christians there are also bad atheists who commit terrible crimes against humanity and belief and non-belief in god doesn’t influence much of what these people do. That does not mean that atheism leads to genocide. So in conclusion I will only say that believers who believe that religion is the basis of all moral behavior need to look more closely and keep their minds open to other possibilities. Just as there are moral theists there are also moral agnostics/atheists who believe in humanitarian values.