Writing for the Hartford Courant, an Episcopal priest named Borden Painter accuses Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris of Ignoring Centurys [sic] Godless Atrocities.
Dawkins offers an answer to the query “What about Hitler and Stalin? Werent they atheists?” He dodges the issue by maintaining that Hitler was in some sense religious and that Stalins atheism never motivated his brutality or the policies of his regime.
That assertion ignores the historical record. Stalin conducted savage persecutions of believers in the name of scientific atheism, frequently setting up museums of atheism in churches.
This is a typical Christian response to the problem of Christianity’s bloody history. “Oh yeah? Well so-and-so was just as bad, and he was an atheist, so there!” The only trouble is, atheism isn’t a something, it’s a lack of something, namely a lack of belief in God. Pointing out that Stalin did not believe in God is like pointing out that he didn’t eat Jello. Stalin did what he did because he was Stalin, not because he was an atheist. He was a political power, trying to rule over a land that had a long history of church-sponsored political intrigues, and he treated the church the same way he treated any other political threat.
Not to say that Stalin was theologically neutral towards the church, of course. Naturally, as an atheistic despot, he probably enjoyed wreaking havoc in the sanctuary. But here’s the difference between Stalin’s reign of terror, and the Inquisition’s reign of terror: Atheism isn’t supposed to fill you with an almighty, supernatural Holy Spirit that guides you in the ways of truth and righteousness. Christianity is.
Comparing state-sponsored persecution under atheists like Stalin and similar persecutions under the church, we see two things really. One, people are people, and some people are going to abuse power when they get it. But the second and more important point is that such abuses are going to happen whether the person is religious or not. Religion makes no difference whatsoever. It’s not that atheists are necessarily better than Christians, but that Christians, who allegedly have the uplifting influence of God, are no better than atheists.
Just one more way in which reality documents the absence of God from the real world.