Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mass Murder, Religion, and Atheism

"Atheism, Not Religion, Is the Real Force Behind the Mass Murders of History" - so argues Dinesh D'Souza in his her article in the Nov. 21 Christian Science Monitor. Definitely worth a read (hat tip to Mere Comments). I would also refer you to Wikipedia's article on democide, which discusses the thought-provoking work of R.J. Rummel at the University of Hawaii. Rummel shows that government, not religion, has been the greatest source of death and destruction. And the quest for absolute power by non-democratic governments is usually the source of the greatest carnage.

Those who seek world peace by eliminating religion and putting faith in ever-more-powerful government are the fanatics that we need to fear most, for the slaughter of millions to achieve "peace" will ultimately be justified in their ideology and perhaps even necessary to achieve their ends.


Jeff G said...

How in the world can one responsibly link fascism and atheism? If anything, fascism is far closer to theism which is always telling exactly how to live your life. Atheism, at least in the present context, is more closely associated with liberalism.

Besides, the point is not whether more people have been killed by atheists or theists. The point is that far more people have been killed in the name of religion than have been killed in the name of atheism.

Yes, Stalin tried to force atheism on everybody. But he didn't do it in the name of atheism. Besides, are we really going to suggest that no ruler has ever tried to force their religion of everybody? Give me a break.

What I find most interesting is how in one post you condemn those who want to force one lifestyle on people, calling them atheists, and in the very next post you start criticizing those who would choose a different lifestyle than the one you believe to be right.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff g:
Who cares what "name" Stalin did it in? He was a brutal dictator who in addition to actively murdering large populations, he also spent his loyal subjects' lives with abandon. And those "carelessly spent" lives are not included in the democide figures.

He could "say" anything he wanted to. With people like that, you don't go by what they say, you go by what they do.

And what he did was murder tens of millions. He was an atheist. He was an athiest who killed tens of milssions.

What "name" he invoked as he did it is irelevant.

Your last paragraph also draws an illogical parallel. Verbally criticizing a lifestyle is not the same as forcing it on someone.

Freedom to choose a lifestyle does not include freedom from criticism.

Jeff G said...


Exactly! Who cares who "name" we get baptized in, or pray in, etc. Right?

C'mon man. Exercise a little bit of charity in your reading to other people. Nobody is as stupid as you try to make me sound.

When you do something in "somebody's" name it means that person, or movement is somehow causing, influencing or inspiring what it is you are doing. Lust for power inspired Stalin, not the inexistence of God. The "one true God" inspired the genocide committed by Moses. To say that there is no significant or relevant difference between the two cases is more than a little naive.

Following your logic, however, it should be noted that incarcerated prisoners are overwhelmingly theists. They commit crimes, they believe in god, end of discussion. Right?

As to your final paragraph, Jeff is not simply criticizing other lifestyles and you know it. He activiely votes against the legalization of alternative lifestyles which IS legal force, and no less so than when one dictator making up laws is legal force.

Barry Groesser said...

Dinesh D'Souza is a male.


Great author.

Anonymous said...


If you bothered to read the article, D'Souza is arguing just that, that Hitler and Stalin did commit their atrocities in the name of non-religion. More accurately, they did it in the name of secular values devoid of religion.

Jeff G said...

Well, for starters, I'm not commenting on the article. I'm commenting on the post.

Second, of course they did what they did out of values which were native to their worldviews which happened to be atheistic. Nevertheless, you cannot do something in some God's name if you do not believe that God to exist at all. It is not at all unheard of to hear somebody say "I'm invading this country or persecuting these people for the glory of God." Stalin never said "I'm doing this for the glory of atheism."

Theists commit crimes, just like atheists and in each case the person is influenced by their worldview. Just as it would be absurd to implicate theism for every crime a theist commits, so too we should not attribute every crime an atheist commits against atheism. Stalin (the Hitler case is ambiguous at best since he DID believe in god) was simply a dictator. He is not the paradigm of what atheism can do to a person. Rather, he is the paradigm of what happens when people become intolerant.

Bishop Rick said...

I'm not sure I agree that Hitler's mass murder was not religiously motivated. He did not go after all religions (which he would if he were trying to push an atheistic society) he only went after Jews. Stalin and Mao are different story, but if you look at the number of dictators that killed in the name of religion, vs those like Stalin and Mao, the number is overwhelming. Just because Stalin and Mao were more powerful and successful in their endeavor, does not mean that more wars/murder/etc. have been committed in the name of "non religion".

If 100 people kill in the name of religion vs 2 that kill in the name of "non religion" does it matter that the 2 were more successful?

Sure when you think of the poor victoms, but you still have an overwhelming number of people influenced by religion, than not.

I also disagree with the CSMonitor's asessment that the Isreal/Palestinian conflict is over land, not religion. when Isreal gives them land, the fighting still continues. Don't kid yourself. Most of the current conflicts around the world are due to religion. It is just a matter of time before a few well placed nukes will make the Stalin/Mao activities pale by comparison. And odds are they will be dropped in the name of religion.

Anonymous said...

Of course an atheist doesn't do something in the name of atheism. That would be illogical. Instead they have some other value that serves as their cover - a completely secular value that replaces God. Hitler did his in the name of nationalism and the glory of the Germanic people. Stalin did his in the name of the proletariat. To Hitler's followers at least, the Jews were dedicated to holding back the German people from their birthright - any association with Christianity was merely incidental because most Germans happened to be Christian. Stalin's followers conducted the purges and repression because absolute worker solidarity was demanded by Marxist-Leninist thought. Both these non-religious, secularist paradigms have inflicted far more trauma on humanity than religiously motivated conflict has.

Jeff G said...


First of all, I noticed that you didn't address the fact that Hitler was a theist. This should at least disqualify him as some kind of representation of atheism.

Second of all, even if I did agree with you about Stalin (which I don't) the following is probably the most absurd thing I have heard in quite some time:

"Both these non-religious, secularist paradigms have inflicted far more trauma on humanity than religiously motivated conflict has."

Let's not trivialize the mass conflicts between christians and muslims, protestants and catholics, jews and pretty much everybody, Mormons vs. protestants, and so on. Furthermore, lets start counting all the families whcih come to be divided by religious differences. Those fundamentalists which belittle women and children. And so on.

Anonymous said...

This historical discussion on HItler and Stalin has reached the absurd--on all sides. Nobody has cited the relevant literature or evidence on Hitler's/Stalin's religious beliefs (granted they had any). It's a fried froth discussion.

In any case, Hitler's attack on the Jews was not a religious attack. The Enlightenment had essentially nationalized Judaism into an "imagined [political] community"--a historical essence--hence pulling it away from its religious traditions.

Theodor Herzl was Hitler's contmeporary--when he founded modern Zionism, he did not see Judaism as a religion nor Palestine as being a religious state. Quite the contrary, Herzl wanted an athiestic state. He viewed Judaism as an entity that had existed throughout time in a metaphysical essence, not any set of quantifiable or tangible practices (such as attending synagogue, celebrating Yom Kippur as a religious holiday, etc.) Indeed, when he attempted to call the World Zionist conference in Munich, Germany, the orthodox rabbis refused him audience--after all, God was supposed to bring the Jews back, not Theodor Herzl.

Hence,when Hitler was killing the Jews, it was not for their religion. It was based on the same premise that Herzl himself was using for the colonization of Palestine--that the Jews were an entity that existed throughout time and space.

Should you express sceptisim as to these conclusions, unfortunately, I cannot take credit for them. See James Gelvin (a professor of the modern Middle East at UCLA) The Palestine-Israel Conflict and Benedict ANderson's (an endowed professor of international studies at Cornell University) Imagined Communities.

Jeff G said...


I agree about your comment regarding Hitler not being religiously motivated. But he was still a theist, and should not be used as an example of atheism in practice.

Anonymous said...

I think you are forgetting an important thing here. The reason why people turn to atheism is because they don't really see the use in worshipping an invisible, all-knowing, imaginary man. They don't like to run screaming around a fire to beg for rain, and (let's be fair) praying doesn't do anything.
Concerning a godless society: I don't see a problem in a society where people choose a representative rationally, according to their capacities, not because he's the face of stupid conservative organisations ("I believe God gave me this task").
Worshipping a god is useless, people should take responsibility for their actions. You don't need religion to know killing and stealing are wrong, education and common sense are enough.

Anonymous said...

"They don't like to run screaming around a fire to beg for rain, and (let's be fair) praying doesn't do anything."

I'm afraid we have no evidence to believe this assessment save YOUR WORD ONLY.

"Because he's the face of stupid conservative organisations ("I believe God gave me this task")."

I agree with this sentiment (though not its tone :)

"People should take responsibility for their actions."


"You don't need religion to know killing and stealing are wrong, education and common sense are enough."

Excellent case in point of self-reinforcing paradigms. You are accusing us of precisely the same thing (you just know the gospel true because it's true).

BTW, killing hasn't always been considered wrong, even in the past half-century (see Franz Fanon's teachings on the redemption of land--in his case, Algeria--by blood, and incidentally, early fascist thought which saw violence as a moral cleansing agent).

Who said it was wrong? Nuremberg--a group of men who said it was wrong. Was killing considered wrong in WWI? Even though it was in the name of "nationalism" (a slipshod rationale if you ask me)? No--all the horrors of war, they said.

Without some kind of independent variable (like God), we have no way of considering ANYTHING right or wrong other than that "the man" or the victor says so

Anonymous said...

This is a major theme of the Book of Mormon. Read about Nehor and Amlici, Amulonites, Amalakites etc and then about the anti-nephi-lehi's. One group will kill others for their belief while the other will die for them.

Religious and secular power were more associated in the Book of Mormon. Both are power and can be corrupted and corrupting.

1. Posses the truth (Rom. 2: 12).
2. Perverting the ways of the Lord: e.g. excusing yourself in your sins, hiding your sins (Alma 42: 30)(2 Ne. 28: 9).
3. Individual Apostasy: come to believe in your own lies (Alma 30: 53)(Isa. 3: 9).
4. Priestcraft: preach popular doctrine for gain (1 Ne. 22: 23)(Alma 1: 3).
5. Religious Extremism or Political Fascism: To force your beliefs on others (Alma 1: 12)(Alma 30: 11).
6. Secret Combinations: Conspiracy and terrorism to murder for power and wealth (Hel. 2: 4, 8)(Hel. 6: 29-30)(2 Ne. 9: 9)(2 Ne. 26: 22)(Moses 5: 31)(Ether 8: 25).
7. Unpardonable Sin: Denying the Holy Ghost and shedding innocent blood (Jacob 7: 19)(Alma 39: 6)(Mosiah 17: 10)(D&C 132: 19, 26-27).

Anonymous said...

praying: although I must say it can increase your self-confidence allot if you pray to someone you really believe in, it doesn't satisfy me.

The law can also be the independent variable right? It doesn't really seem independent, but actually religion isn't either, it was invented by people to help people, just like laws. The difference is that laws change and evolve, probably a good idea for some religious beliefs (for example in Catholicism: abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, condom use). I live in a non-religious environment(although I was baptised , and people still marry in the church..., but this is because of the beautiful large pillars and nice ornaments) and we are very nice to each other... Religion just seems so far fetched.

Anonymous said...

"The law can also be the independent variable right? It doesn't really seem independent, but actually religion isn't either, it was invented by people to help people, just like laws."

Again, as far as millions of people are concerned, it's one man (you) against the ages on this one. Sounds like someone, as Neal Maxwell put it, who isn't willing to accept even the slightest of spiritual stirrings within them.

We're told by many to accept who we are (gay, Jew, whatever), unless of course we believe we are spirit sons and daughters. Yet, when taken in the context you lay out (that religion is just a construct), then these things ought to similarly be viewed as constructs.

Yet when we attempt to hold the same standard to this postmodern thought as the secularists hold to us, then we become backward idiots.

Double standards and hypcorisy.

Bishop Rick said...


"Again, as far as millions of people are concerned, it's one man (you) against the ages on this one."

Really not a valid argument. Has no bearing on the validity of didierg's statement.

"We're told by many to accept who we are (gay, Jew, whatever), unless of course we believe we are spirit sons and daughters..."

We can know if we are Jew or Gay. We cannot know if we are spirit sons and daughters. Can't really draw a parallel here.

"...Double standards and hypcorisy."

Don't see the double standard or hypocrisy here either.

Anonymous said...

"Really not a valid argument. Has no bearing on the validity of didierg's statement."

Quite the contrary. Didierg is telling me and millions of others that prayer has no efficacy whatsoever. He has a lot of counterexamples to fight. The best he can do is say that all of the supposed visionaries (see Craig Harline's excellent work on Miracles at Jesus Oak) were either corrupt, stupid, backwards, or fanatics. Yet I am supposed to believe HIM, an anonymous blogger to individuals who fought and died for their belief in Diety.

In order for us to believe that, I would need to believe that he has control over every aspect of the universe, that he knows all the ways prayers can and cannot be answered. In order for THAT to be true, Diderg would have to be God. Not exactly inclined to believe that.

"We can know if we are Jew or Gay. We cannot know if we are spirit sons and daughters. Can't really draw a parallel here."

I'm sorry that you have not learned that. While my knowledge is certainly is confined to my experience(as is much, though obviously not all, knowledge confined to an individual's experience), I can (and do) know I am a spirit son of God. God's very modus operandi works on a personal level (otherwise, he wouldn't be much of a Father, would he?). Consequently, my knowledge is a personal one. I don't expect you to buy into it because at the end of the day, whether I know that or not is my business. So when I'm told by anyone that I "can't" know something, they're simply wrong. They have not experienced what I have experienced and hence cannot know what I know. Of course, I believe they can know the same things, but if they're unwilling to ask, that's a pretty effective conversation-stopper.

Therefore, they are in ABSOLUTELY no position to tell me that prayer does not work or that I am talking to an imaginary man. Of course, they can express their personal opinion, but let's remember that is all it's worth.

Bishop Rick said...

Your experiences aside, what about the average person, who has prayed with no answer, has never seen God, does not know anyone that has seen God?

This person may as well be talking to a tree or a rock. The outcome is the same.

Why is the standard answer that it is their fault for not being able to experience the unfailing knowledge that you speak of? It is their fault because they are not trying hard enough or are not sincere enough. How could anyone know that?

I'm sorry but I don't get why God would make this level of understanding and experience so difficult, that only a fraction of his Sons / Daughters could truly experience it.

Not knowing what your personal experiences are, I find it hard to believe that the average person can know that God exists, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true.

Unless God appears to you in the flesh and tells you that Joseph Smith is a prophet and translated the BOM (which BTW is true), how can you know this?

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that you can't know this, you can only believe it and hope that it is true.

I guess only Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery can know if these things are true or not. The rest of us (you excluded) can only hope and believe.

Anonymous said...

Fair questions, Rick.

I'm not saying I've always received immediate and direct answers to every prayer. Indeed, the vast majority of the time I have not. Much of the time, the answer to the prayer has been the gift of having a state of mind that can accept the unknown, a state of mind that can "see" my own lack of understanding in God's plan. I do not suggest blind obedience (that is the devil's counterfeit for faith).

"Why is the standard answer that it is their fault for not being able to experience the unfailing knowledge that you speak of? It is their fault because they are not trying hard enough or are not sincere enough."

It's not my standard answer, though it is ONE answer. Another is that if God immediately gave blessings for every inquiry and immediate punishments for every offense, this life would be a hellish one. Walter Bagehot wrote:

"If the universe were to be incessantly expressive and incessantly communicative, morality would be impossible: we should live under the unceasing pressure of a supernatural interference, which would give us selfish motives for doing everything, which would menace us with supernatural punishment if we left anything undone; we should be living in a chastising machine... "

That, I think, is an answer far superior to the "you're not sincere enough" line.

Anonymous said...

Genocide and mass murder seems to be the topic of the season with the book "Left to Tell" about the Rwandan genocide and the movies "Apocalypto" and "Blood Diamond" I am reading the book but don't plan on seeing the movies.

Rich said...

I don't think that athiest or thiest worldviews promote or foster mass murders. That some individuals belonging to such groups commit mass murders doesn't really mean they are following their belief system. The lust for power is what turned Lucifer against God in the first place. This type of behavior is just that, evil, begun by the father of evil himself.

Anonymous said...

Attributing fault for mass murder to religion but declining fault to atheism for the same actions is a logical fallacy. It is obvious that no one in this conversation that has blamed mass murder on religion has ever done any studies in the geo-political and economic motivations for the crusades. It was a land, power, and money grab. Religion was a tool utilized by self-interested men to mobilize the masses into doing their will, not God’s. The same is true for the atheist movements by Stalin, Mau, and many others. The level of a tragedy must be measured in its output. With in the last one hundred years, the mass murders committed by people embracing an atheist philosophy, have eclipsed the atrocities conducted from a theist perspective throughout the whole of human history. The fact that less than twenty atheist dictators have caused an overwhelming amount of deaths, versus thousands of religious dictators causing far fewer deaths has no bearing on the result. The principle argument is can you stand on the side of atheism and conclude that religion is bad because people not motivated by religion have used it to commit atrocities and still claim that the exact same situations from your side of the argument don’t count, even though they have been even more egregious? Either the rule is absolute and applies to both sides, in which case atheism is responsible for far more damage to human lives, or the blame rests in the individuals that performed the action and cannot be blamed on philosophical perspective. It is not reasonable or logical to require that religion, as a perspective, be blamed for every thing done by religious people, or done by the motivation of religion. The only way the argument supporting this atheistic claim can become logical is if atheist apply the same rule and definition to themselves, but I have never seen that done. It is obvious to anyone that is capable of rational thought, that the philosophy is not to blame if either perspective can be used to obtain the same results. Either the description applies to both, or it applies to none. The problems of genocide and mass murder stem from a desire for greed and power. We need to step outside our arrogance and admit that one unprovable, untestable idea is no more valid than any other. If we were unable to escape our blind, arrogant, fanaticism we will be manipulated from our own philosophies to commit actions we would not approve of in others.

Anonymous said...

The Unpardonable Sin is committed by the uncle of William Patrick Stuart-Houston.