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The Problem of Hitler/Stalin

By Wertbag ~ 

Apologists will often point to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia as examples of atheistic societies, showing what will become if atheists take control and apply their terrible morals and lack of God to running a country. This of course is a ridiculous claim, one that many believers will pick up and repeat having never looked into such claims. Firstly, let's look at Hitler, a strong candidate for the worst person to have ever lived, having caused both the holocaust and World War 2, his actions lead to the greatest loss of human life ever. But was he an atheist?

Hitler was raised in a Catholic family and throughout his rise to power repeatedly said Christianity was the basis of the Nazi party "Today Christians ... stand at the head of [this country]... I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity .. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit" or "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so" or "We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity... in fact our movement is Christian". With statements like that would you really jump to the conclusion that he was an atheist?

It is actually more complex than that, as he did indeed talk negatively of Christianity elsewhere and at other times. He appears to have changed beliefs at various times through his life and was clearly mentally unstable and an adept liar when it could lead to more power. It is possible he flip-flopped between belief and unbelief, it is possible he lied to get different groups on his side and its possible he was psychotic and believed nothing like what he said. At best we can say he openly claimed to be Christian and Germany was a majority Christian country, so the majority of the army and Nazi party were Christians. A census in May 1939, six years into the Nazi era, indicates that 54% of the population considered itself Protestant, 41% considered itself Catholic, 3.5% self-identified as "believing in God", and 1.5% as "atheist". Hard to point to atheism as the cause of any of the problems with a self-professed Christian leader and 98% of the population being Christian, and yet many of the high-ranking Nazi party members were clear in their hatred of the church and its Jewish based holy book.

In addition, we have the Nazi's playing on long held anti-sematic views that were Christian based. That is why the propaganda used Christian imagery to get the majority Christian population onboard. The Jews were the ones who killed Jesus, they were the ones who rejected Jesus's divinity or that he was the Messiah. They had been cursed by God and demon possessed. It was Satan's plan that they enacted to cause WW1 and the great depression. The political cartoons of the day often used the classic devil image of horns, bat wings and cloven hooves to point out the Jews. Do you know they don't even celebrate Christmas? All this kind of rhetoric used to "other" the out group, dehumanize them and reduce the populations care for that group.

Our second famous fascist dictator, Joseph Stalin, also has a death toll in the tens of millions but large amounts of those losses are from famine and disease, more from harsh environments, harsh laws, mass corruption and terrible governance. At least in this case the Russian Communist government was based on strong anti-church and atheistic claims. "The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labour camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. More than 85,000 Orthodox priests were shot in 1937 alone. Only a twelfth of the Russian Orthodox Church's priests were left functioning in their parishes by 1941.

In the period between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox Churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to less than 500 (1.7%) due to systematic demolitions of the churches and cathedrals."

A lot of this Communist hatred of the church came from the churches support of the opposition during the revolution. "Many sections of the Russian Orthodox Church supported the anti-Soviet regimes during the civil war. In 1918, the Bishop of Ufa made xenophobic and anti-Bolshevik speeches and rallied the people to the White cause in 1918. The Archbishop of Ekaterinburg organized protest demonstrations when he learned of the Romanov family's execution in July 1918, and he held a victory celebration when Admiral Kolchak took the city in February 1919. In both the Siberian and Ukrainian fronts, "Jesus Christ Regiments", organized by Orthodox hierarchs on the scene, aided White Armies. The church had expressed its support to General Kornilov's counter-revolutionary coup attempt, assisted the rebellions of Kerensky and Krasnov, and had called on believers to fight against the new state, and even to shed blood in fighting against it." These direct actions against the red uprising were used as justification of the attacks against the church.

This was not the only reason that the Orthodox church was hated by some groups in Russia, for one "In the mid-17th century the Russian Orthodox patriarch Nikon came into violent conflict with the Russian tsar Alexis. Nikon, pursuing the ideal of a theocratic state, attempted to establish the primacy of the Orthodox church over the state in Russia." but also from a wealth perspective many Russians saw the church as corrupt and greedy, and when famine hit and the church refused to spend its wealth to feed the population, many were left hating the church. The church had also famously sold indulgences, an idea made famous by the Catholic church throughout Europe, in that a priest could pre-forgive sin for a cost. This idea appears to have been little more than a money-making scheme, with many clergy living extravagant lifestyles from the sales of these indulgences. When you are starving and struggling to survive, while the priests are living in opulent palaces, you can see why there was a strong ground swell of hatred to the church.

So yes, the Russian Communist government was strong in its pushing of atheistic ideas and the destruction of the church. However, these ideas were not because atheism led to those conclusions, but a fascist dictator wanted power and struck out against the institutions that he hated and that had levels of control that he couldn't stand. In every case it is fascist dictators and the violence inherent in their power plays, and not the specific group being targeted.

There are also horrific Christian leaders, something apologists will avoid mentioning or at best label as "not true Christians". One of the most famous ones tainted Russian history from 1533-1584, Ivan the Terrible. "Ivan was a devoted follower of Christian Orthodoxy but in his own specific manner. He placed the most emphasis on defending the divine right of the ruler to unlimited power under God. Some scholars explain the sadistic and brutal deeds of Ivan the Terrible with the religious concepts of the 16th century, which included drowning and roasting people alive or torturing victims with boiling or freezing water, corresponding to the torments of hell. That was consistent with Ivan's view of being God's representative on Earth with a sacred right and duty to punish."

The clear reason that we know governments that are secular, with strong separation of church and state, are the most prosperous and happy, is that is now the norm throughout the western world. Famously the countries with the least religion, Scandinavian countries for example, are constantly rated as the most prosperous. This is also true with the founding of America, where the founding fathers were fleeing from the centuries of religious warfare in Europe, so made sure to enshrine secular laws in the founding documents, with the first amendment being the freedom of religion.

There have been atheistic leaders that did not result in terrible outcomes, usually when they are raised in western society with a democratic government and no hatred of "others" driving their ideals. Absolute power corrupts, and this is true regardless of a person's religion or lack thereof. Apologists wish to reduce this massive complexity to a simple black and white, atheism = evil, which if delved into just goes to show the dishonesty and "othering" of the group they dislike.

Originally posted in the Reasons for Disbelief thread on Ex-Christian.Net