because we know all the world’s bloodiest wars were waged by athiests

Not wanting to be outdone by Bill O’Reilly and his ridiculous campaign against the so-called war on Christmas, the Pope came out today announcing that atheism, not religious fanatacism, has been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in human history. Here’s a clip from the Reuters story:

Pope Benedict, in a new encyclical released on Friday, said atheism was responsible for some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” in history.

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  1. mark
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Remember that time all of those scientists crashed those planes into those buildings?

    Not to mention the Holy Wars and the Inquisition…

  2. mark
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    And it’s all moot anyway.

    If you haven’t heard yet, Evil is dead.

  3. Mark H.
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    And no doubt the Pope is also thinking of all those wars of conquest in North and South America, in which murderous atheistic invaders from Europe attacked the devout, God-fearing Native peoples, resulting in some of the largest loses of life in human history.

    Oh, I guess the invaders weren’t atheists and they gave thanks to their idea of a Christian god for having successfully slaughtered Native men, women and children.

  4. Kirk
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I’m not religious and agree it is not fair for the Pope to blame all evil on athiests, but you can’t blame it all on religion, either. Stalin and Mao, both good athiests, were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of their own people. Kim Jong Il is another athiest responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people. Give credit where credit is due!

  5. Mark H.
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Were the communist mass murders you name doing their killing in the name of atheism? Or for other more material reasons of state? Millions have been slaughtered in the name of God; that fact is beyond dispute. Whether the communist slaughters you mention Kirk were actually motivated by atheism in any way seems doubtful to me. Atheism is sterile philosophy in my view, but these communist dictators were that – dictators – more than they were atheist philosophers.

  6. Posted December 1, 2007 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Mark H – while I don’t know of any mass murders committed in the name of no-god (thought exercise: is it even possible to make human sacrifices as offerings to no-god?), the Reuters article linked suggests a more nuanced reading: that the Pope notes atheism as responsible for the belief that humans had to impose non-religious moralities on each other because there was no God to impose a morality for them. This imposition of, say, economic-based moralities was what led to Stalin’s gulags. In short, those “other material reasons of state” that you mention were, in the Pope’s view, an result/outgrowth of atheism.

    Not that I agree – for one thing, I’d say the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il, and company, were more directly cause by those leaders’ desire for power, rather than sincere applications of the underlying philosophies that they claimed to hold.

    And, for another, it’s awfully convenient for the Pope to start his horizon for “the worst atrocities in history” in the 19th century, after the Catholic church had largely completed its mass tortures and killings.

  7. Posted December 1, 2007 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Putting ideology above humanity puts us in the danger zone; whether that ideology is religious or political doesn’t seem to make much difference. We’ll probably keep slaughtering each other anyway, but belief does seems to give us a little push.

  8. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Many centuries ago, in its Wisdom alone, without the aid of scientific tools, carbon dating or other methodical processes, the Church decided which documents/version should be included in the new testament, and which others should be labelled heretical and/or apocryphal.

    Since then, the Church has made up a lot of stuff in order to protect their own political power within the Italian City States, EEurope, various Empires, etc. … more recently with silence during the Holocaust … and most recently concerning the Middle East confrontations and African genocides.

    The pope is not speaking here on faith and morals for which he claims infallibility … nonetheless, his argument is patently false.

    Beliefs and the use of beliefs by those is power to suade populations to violence is a hallmark of despotism. Luther’s complaints against the Church in this regard are numerous and telling, as are many others.

    I say, let the Church be.

    The Church is an institution that does NOT NECESSARILY & INFALLIBLY ALWAYS speak in conjunction with everyone’s personal beliefs.

    States, too, try and act with such authority as if to shut down personal freedom and will. They will use people’s beliefs, tribal customs, race, ethnicity, whatever “edge” they can to divide populations and cause chaos for their own ends.

    Murph is correct … it’s power lust.

    It is also OUR silence in each of these episodes that allows the atrocities to happen, continue, build and flourish. By breaking our silence, we may risk ridicule or even death. But by not speaking we risk losing our freedom, our culture, everything.

    Here comes the jump into the present …

    By NOT speaking out en masse against the deal-making and professional failures of city staff and city council over the last several years to properly prepare the city for these times, and rather to direct us into tremendous debt … we have failed ourselves and one another, terribly so.

    I get the emails. I get the phone calls. And I write and publish what I can. I yell and rant. I apologize when neeeeeded for being too personally cruel or in error. But while some in town decry the fact that Shop Ysp is not being promoted on the blogs … here I am decrying that the very fate of our city is being met with … silence. We voted NO against the tax … hurrah! But after that … silence. No swelling of the council meeting audiences. No pickets outside city hall. The deals go on. And no ideas come forth. No debate. Silence.

    We’re going to get some snow and sleeeet tonight. As I stand on my side porch having a cigarette around ten o’clock … aside from a passing car or two … I expect all I will hear is the soft patter of snow, the patter of sleet … and … silence.

    Rise up Ypsilanti. Take your city back. Get on the phones. Get down to city hall. Demand the keys to the kingdom. Demand reform. We have so little time left, and such a great opportunity ahead. Will I hear silence? Or will I hear the drumming and the demand of feet on the pavement? Change, NOW! Reform, NOW!

    Let the pope eat cake!

  9. Ol' E Cross
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with much has been said. I’ll just add to what Murph mentioned about it being convenient for Pope to draw the line at the 19th century. It’s equally convenient for non-godders to draw the line prior, when (virtually?) no one was in power who didn’t at least claim to be a theist/polytheist.

    Given that before some fairly recent date, everyone in power in human history at least professed some belief in some deity, it’s convenient to blame ills on said deities. In the last hundred years or so, folk who profess belief in no deity have risen to power. Their record record isn’t any better. It seems painfully simplistic to blame everything that went on in the USSR as derived from atheism. It seems equally simplistic to blame everything that went on prior to atheism on theisms.

    I agree with Mark H that atheism, as a philosophy, didn’t propel the wrongs of atheist states. I’d also suggest that dictators who espoused religious beliefs were just that, dictators, more than they were … whatever they claimed to be.

    I’m not suggesting that underlying philosophies aren’t important, but any useful and/or seemingly sterile philosophy can be sharpened into a shiv.

  10. Kirk
    Posted December 2, 2007 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Mark H. –
    I never said athiesm causes evil, or that people commit atrocities in the name of athiesm. I only said it is simplistic to point to terrible things committed in the name of God and conclude that belief in God is the cause. People do terrible things (usually in pursuit of wealth or power) and unfortunately we probably always will.

  11. Mark H.
    Posted December 2, 2007 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Kirk, sorry that my comment seemed too pointed in your direction; i meant it to be aimed at an old man in Rome. I quite agree with you Kirk that belief in god does not cause mass murder. I don’t think anyone on this tread suggested that).

    I agree with Murph’s always thoughtful comments, and applaud him for taking the time to summarize Benedict’s position, which I skipped over doing….but still old Benedict is quite wrong in thinking that atheism itself motivated massive violence.

    As for the earlier periods of history — in Europe, there were many religious wars, in which people were killed for not holding the same religious beliefs as Church leaders. People of religious faith were murdered by others of other religious faiths, and the human toil of these religious wars was massive. It’s not quite true that religious violence is a constant of human experience – some centuries are notably worse than others, as is true for other forms of violence, like the genocidal wars of the 20th century.

    I suspect that Benedict, as the theologian straight out of the Middle Ages that he is, in his heart of hearts thinks that there was little wrong with the Church’s practices in those religious wars of a few centuries ago, except that the Church was not ultimately victorious and thus failed to retain dominance of Europe.

    But i have no quarrel with people of faith, few of who would ever dream of using violence against people of faiths different than their own. Popes are more like heads of state and generals than they are like ordinary people of faith.

  12. Bonnie
    Posted December 3, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Of course atheism and non-Christian religions are the source of all suffering and evil! If they didn’t exist, Christians wouldn’t have to destroy them!*

    *The above does not represent the viewpoint of this blog, this commenter, or anything outside of a gross caricature (hopefully), and is to be taken as humour, not as a statement of anything of import. Please.

  13. mike d
    Posted December 5, 2007 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    “Atheism is sterile philosophy in my view, but these communist dictators were that – dictators – more than they were atheist philosophers.”

    You should share this bit of insight with the philosophical community. I gather that what you mean by atheism being sterile is that nothing much follows from it. But that can’t be right; is it really the case that nothing follows from atheism that affects ethics, politics, aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics, sociology, psychology and so on and so on. I don’t know of any atheistic thinkers that take that view. The view they usually take is vaguely something like:

    – If atheism then probably naturalism (which is a bit stronger)
    – If naturalism then material causes can and should explain all facets of existence
    – It follows that material causes are the correct explanation of all facets of existence (with implications for ethics, politics, aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics, sociology, psychology and so on and so on)

    This, so far as I can tell, was Marx’s view anyway. He was attempting to account for all facets of social life in materialist ways and to restructure social life to coincide with the way he thought things were. Those dictators were putting in practice philosophical beliefs that found their genesis in atheism as a negation of a theistic way of viewing social life and materialism as a positive account of all facets of existence. Whether or not atheism necessarily descends into the political system espoused by those dictators is another matter but to say that atheism was somehow neutral to the theory and practice of communist politics in the twentieth century is just not tenable.

  14. James Player
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Some of those who reject the Christian message of kindness and forgiveness plummet into a moral abyss. They imagine that they are God and anything is permitted. How naive to think that atheism and evil-doing are not connected! Marxists killed over 90 million! (See The Black Book of Communism) Secularists among the Young Turks, the French Revolutionaries, and the Fascists killed millions more. Mussolini was an atheist and Hitler hated Christianity. (See Hitler’s Table Talk, Hitler’s anti-Christianity is corroborated by the diaries of his associates.)

    Most Native Americans died of disease, Europeans were not culpable. The Catholics saved countless Jews and others during the Holocaust. (See The Myth of Hitler’s Pope) But let’s not allow facts get in the way of bigoted rants directed against Christians.

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