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Atheist Wars are the Real Killers

Dinesh D’Souza writes a nice piece taking apart the oft repeated myth that religion is the culprit in all the most destructive wars of history.

This reminds me of a time sitting in one of the required (but not so interesting or rigorous) courses I took in graduate school. The professor, who was a nice man but not the most engaging teacher, made the point in passing that more people had died in the name of religion than anything else in the history of the world. It sort of woke up the room for one brief shining moment. The lefties in the class became engaged as they finally heard a claim being staked--something that was not milquetoast from their point of view. I looked around the room at some of my like-minded friends and we prepared to go to battle. But we overlooked one of our more quiet friends who usually sat in the back of the room and rarely made comments in class. To our amazement, he slowly raised his hand. When called upon he asked the following question, "What religion, exactly, were Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot working to advance?" And then he put his hand down, put his head down, and went back to reading whatever it was that he brought with him to pass the time. There was stunned silence in the room. Class was hurriedly dismissed.

Discussions - 17 Comments

The answer is that Stalin etc. were working to advance secular religions. One problem with this whole formulation is that the rise of atheism and the rise of lethal weaponry are coterminous. Would Richard or Saladin have used nukes had they had them? We know that ancient peoples tried to use biological warfare -- I just have my doubts about the whole formulation. People are people, and they can find good reasons to kill one another at need.

Why is this "myth" embedded in the liberal imagination, historically understood? Not because liberalism promoted or promotes atheism, but because liberalism opposed religious intolerance and coerced belief. For that program of toleration, the religious wars of the 17th century were Exhibit A.

That "religious wars" boilerplate is part of Atheism 101. Have you ever notice they all repeat the same dogma? Bill Maher says that. Penn and Teller say that. (Well one of them does.) George Carlan says it. Is it asking too much for them to have a somewhat original idea, instead of repeating already refuted dogma?


Nothing is sadder than the newly converted village atheist who thinks he has stumbled onto something new and is burdened to relieve the rest of use dupes of our childish superstition. And always so ugly about it.


Arguing with atheist has almost made a presupositionalist out of me. You can get nowhere with them by reason and persuasion alone. Quote Romans 1 to them about how it is obvious from nature that there is a God and the verse about "the fool hath said in his heart there is no God" and watch them go ballistic.

Dan Phillips - I don’t get your point. I mean, I really don’t understand. Toleration is not atheism.

The "more people have died in the name of religion" issue is just factually incorrect. Even if it were true, it is certainly not true that more people have died in the name of Christianity. So why do they all continue to mindlessly regurgitate it? Is it asking too much for them to come up with a new critique?


That is the point I was trying to make.


The Christianity/atheism debate (or theism/atheism if you prefer) is not generally about reason and persuasion. It is about heavily emotionally invested in presumptions. Since Christians believe that the mind that has not been opened by God is incapable of knowing the things of God, then this is not surprising. Now Christians disagree about the degree to which the mind is corrupted and the degree to which there is a general Revelation available to all, but that is an in-house debate. My dealings with trying to reason with atheists lead me more and more to a certain conclusion in that debate.

I see. I was making a different point. I mistakenly thought you were responding to my post. Sorry. Thanks for clarifying.

All right then... all wars are not necessarily about religion...especially not in any strict sense. In fact almost no war is about religion, albeit people who make war seek the support of some sort of justification beyond simple material gain and conquest. Religion is an animating and viable pillar of support/justification for war. I think Machiavelli would agree that religion is part of the arms a wise prince should take it upon himself to shape. The link between religion and law giving...and religion and war is essentially a link between belief that a cause(war) or laws are just. All princes require justifications for rule, justifications to shield and elevate the naked use of power. In the broadest sense then all wars are wars of religion. But I would prefer to say that all wars are justified by the mutual hate generated from competing ontological structures. As Dain points out Stalin et al were advancing secular religions(ideology/ontological structures).

A religion is/has an ontological structure...All wars require some sort of ontological grounding to produce the required hate and vitrol and sense of justification...necessary to overcome and sanctify the sacrifice of the fallen.

The above post presuposes that "political religion" is not only not an oxymoron...but its opposite... Not to discuss Lincoln or anything like that... but to futher clarify or muddy by a million casual comparisons, and bold assertions: the civil war was a war between competing "political religions/Ontological structures."

I do not really see the point. If some study said that gun wounds killed 1,000 people a year, and stabbings killed 500, one would not jump with glee and say "stabbings are not a worry" or "we can ignore them."

John, your statement about almost no wars in history have been caused by religion is absolutely correct. European historians have even shown that the "religious wars" of the 16th and 17th century were generally about politics, diplomacy, and the like as much as they were about religion. As for your statement that all wars are caused by religion, well that was an impenetrable philosophical musing but completely inaccurate in the plain language of the real world.

Dan, I take your point. I am an atheist, but the truth is I have no more concrete proof of my position than you do of yours. Literally speaking, I take it on faith that there is no God.

Going back to the original point, the examples cited by that inattentive student were all 20th century guys; surely in the history of warfare more people were killed than in the last century. Then again, it was a pretty good century for wars. Perhaps we did manage to annihilate each other at unprecedented levels. Don’t forget though that over half those people were killed by believers! I remain unconvinced but open to further evidence.

Tony how is that impenetrable? Also religion isn’t the cause...unless by cause you mean that were it not for the foundationally/systematically unresovable disputes over the nature of the Truth(or the greatest good) people wouldn’t be moved(interested in) fighting each other to the degree that qualifies as a war. In short religion is the cause of war only in so far as philosophical/cultural differences concerning truth/goodness/justice and morality differ and rise to a tension point. If you want a petty and simple example look at (anything) college football for example...Ohio State vs. Michigan. It may be a stretch to call it a religion but there are those who idolize OSU or Michigan Football. When these competing factions meet at a bar and alcohol is added it is the belief or desire to be existentially connected to the team which sparks fights and dammage to property(I suppose you could just blame alcohol but this would be too materialistic.)

In short almost all conflicts are at root the result of differences of opinions concerning what is good true or beautiful. In so far as a religion actually has a moral teaching...that moral teaching will breed tensions and either be exploited by opportunistic trouble makers or stir people by its very nature to pray for war. When I use the term Ontological structure I mean the body of evidence or belief, or philosophical underpinnings used to justify what counts as an argument concerning what is the good the true or the beautiful. A religion then is a more or less coherent body of evidence/thinking/belief that informs us as to what is right and what is wrong.

It is man’s ontological nature that is the culprit in all the most destructive wars in history. Only when we are all last men with hollow chests freed from the limiting horizons of ontological structures will we be free from war, but this will not happen because we will simply live in a different horizon, and this different horizon no matter how tolerant will have aspects (falsehoods with reference to its moral strictures) that it cannot tolerate or ignore.

In any case...political religion may in some sense be an oxymoron. If Religion is always seen as a particular ontological structure and politics is simply diplomacy/finding the ballance between competing ontological structures. If this is the case then all wars are still ontologically based and it is not contradictory to say that all Wars are the fault of Diplomacy, or the fault of Politics, or the fault of Religion...because in essence it is one and the same. If aspects of the parts had been different then the whole would also change. All antecedent conditions being the same it could not have been otherwise. On the other hand materialism should not be overly discounted or have the negative connotations it does, and if we leave room for alcohol then we should also leave room for chance/Fortune. Some wars are just the result of a tragedy of errors/imperfect knowledge...ext... In any case wars rarely have a single cause...and men do not fall in love with a single feature.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the claim that Hitler was waging war on behalf of atheism. Hitler’s own religious views are difficult to determine. The more radical Nazis talked about creating a new religion rooted in pagan Germanic myth. I’d wager that a majority of those who actually fought for Hitler were Christians of one variety or another. I haven’t encountered any sources that suggest atheism was a serious motivation for Hitler’s policies.

Deaths in the killing fields of Pol Pot mostly employed such sophisticated modern-day weapons as plastic bags, drownings, the garrote and pistols. Many millions in Russia were killed simply by a policy of starvation.
While it is quite true that the Nazis employed a technology sophisticated at the time to carry out their final solution, the bulk of modern murder and mayhem is much more personal, brutal and crude.
Driven by anti-social political theses gone mad.

I think Harvey Mansfield says something like this: Machiavelli waged war against the soul torturing or pious cruelty of Christianity. But the truth is that it was nothing compared to the "manliness run amok" of the 20th century atheistic ideologies. Those who opposed such ideology most resolutely and effectively--such as Havdl and Solzhenitsyn--always returned to the idea of conscience or inward point of view or Christian anthropology--as the antidote to "the lie." It turned out that tolerance--although surely a real virtue--is not THE solution to the problem of soul-based tyranny, because it morphs too readily into indifference in the face of evil.

Peter, I believe, puts us back on the right track. The modern liberal principle or virtue of toleration proves to have another face: religious indifference or even hostility to religion. Complicated, no doubt.

In other words Dr. Lawler is saying that without the idea of an all knowing God who has revealed himself, the ontological structure is just what Moses took it upon himself to carve into stone...it is just what Hobbes said, or Machiavelli, or what expert X or philosopher Y says is good from some admixture of philosophical starting points. And essentially when one cannot agree on starting points one must be willing to simply say that one party is playing chess and the other one checkers. And this is what AJ Ayer says...So the liberal solution is essentially toleration... A classical liberal/libertarian state that avoids at all costs (via seperation of church and state) the imposition of a particular moral horizon. The problem is that this position has divested itself of the capability to oppose evil...since at root evil is just checkers, when you think you are playing chess! But if you look at this philosophically you have to return to the debates between David Hume and Reed, and Scottish moral/common sense. Or to put it another way...reason must remain free...we must have a way of determining what the appropriate game is, we must have an inward voice that cries out even when the dominant game in society opposes us.

So Ultimately I think there is a sort of lie in what Dr. Lawler says... I don’t think Solzhenitsyn had to return to the idea of conscience or inward point of view or Christian Anthropology...he didn’t have to return...he didn’t have to ground...he already had the truth concerning the brutal attrocities and supression of the gulag...and he knew with certainty that all men could know by reading the descriptive accounts of the Archipalego that this was wrong.(In other words it is not just evil from perspective X...but it is evil by nature, or as we say today wrong any way you look at it..And we don’t need to analyze or spin into a framework why it is wrong...and to do so is to exploit a certainty for analogical gain(eventually political) in reference to an uncertainty.

We create abstractions with reference to evils or goods that we have experienced(mostly second hand at best), and using loose/weak analogies morph them into ontological structures/arguments which we eventually come to preference in determinations over "actual" experience of Good and Evil.

In other words the problem isn’t that man has a fallen nature... the problem is that he has a justification nature...and this justification nature makes man a political animal...the quest for justification/truth in turn devolves into rationalization of good and evil, for political purposes.

The question is always: have our justifications made us indifferent in the face of evil...is there something beyond our justifications..is there a common moral sense that cannot be subverted by argument, consensus? How strong are our ontological structures, are they open to falsification?

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