The Dangerous Denialism of the Atheists

It’s a conventional wisdom of too many atheists, especially the group dubbed the “New Atheists” that there is no such thing as militant atheism, and that atheism is a peaceful ideology, in contrast to religions, which they characterise as bloodthirsty and violent. That atheism has historically been correlated with, let alone directly responsible for, some of the worst crimes in human history is indignantly denied.

But contrary to the smug, self-serving propaganda of the New Atheists, militant atheism has been a very real and very violent stain on history. Dawkins might piously insist that no-one has ever been killed in the name of atheism, but this is illiterate and dangerous historical revisionism.

Sam Harris argues that “atheism cannot be held accountable for the activities of atheists in the same way that religion can be judged by its doctrine because atheism has no doctrines”. But Harris is making a false comparison. The correct antonym for atheism is theism, not religion. Theism is, quite simply, the belief that God (or gods) exists. Atheism is the opposite proposition: that God does not exist.

When Harris talks of “rituals, tenets, creeds, code or authority”, he is going beyond theism, and talking about religion. Religion and theism are so closely interrelated that most people see them as synonymous. But Harris is not most people. Philosophers are supposed to be precise in their use of language.

Religion is “a communal, transmittable body of teachings and prescribed practices about an ultimate, sacred reality or state of being”. This may or not involve theism (Buddhism, for instance, is a non-theistic religion).

Harris is comparing apples and oranges. If atheism has no doctrines, neither does theism. What Harris is actually talking about is ideology, defined as “an action-oriented system of beliefs”. Ideology is to atheism as religion is to theism.

Ideologies most certainly can be held accountable for the activities of their adherents, every bit as much as religions. Atheist ideologies are responsible for the enormities of their adherents.

Atheist regimes must be demarcated from secular. Secular regimes – such as most modern democracies – simply remove religion or atheism from the sphere of governance. Citizens of a secular regime are free to privately pursue religion, or have no religion. Atheist regimes, on the other hand, explicitly forbid theism and religion. Atheist regimes have been far rarer than secular regimes – and almost always characterised by brutality and oppression.

The most notorious atheist regimes have been those of communism. Communism’s record of violence, oppression and bloodshed is almost unsurpassed. Historians estimate that communism murdered 80-100 million human beings. Other ideologies may possibly have killed more throughout history, but the speed and scale of communist bloodshed remains staggering.

What is the relationship between atheism and communism? The New Atheists like Harris vigorously deny any, but the communists themselves beg to differ. “Communism begins where atheism begins,” wrote Marx. Lenin also insisted that “atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism”. Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai also bluntly stated: “We Communists are atheists”. Even today, the Chinese Communist Party reiterates that its members must be atheists, and officials are adamant that China must promote atheism.

The Communists are absolutely clear: atheism is a prerequisite of communism. Obviously that does not mean that all atheists are communists. But it does mean that communism proceeds from atheism as much as religion proceeds from theism. Does it follow, then, that atheism must be held accountable for the crimes of communism?

Many of the horrors of communism proceeded directly from its atheism. Marx stated that “the first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion”, and his followers put that prescription into brutal action. Under communist regimes, religions were not just outlawed, but violently suppressed. The League of Militant Atheists was established by the Soviets with the express intention of stamping out religion, not just Christianity. The League massacred and tortured clergy and believers, sent many more to the gulags, and destroyed religious property.

Nor was such violent atheism unique to the Soviet Union. In Spain, the Red Terror, which historian Stanley G. Payne characterised as “a semi-organized activity…of nearly all the leftist groups”, murdered more people in just three years than the Inquisition did in three hundred.

Wherever atheism has become the explicit policy of the state, from the French Revolution with its Cult of Reason, to Revolutionary Mexico, mass-murder and destruction have followed. This is no mere coincidence. The tenets of state atheism – as explicated by the Marxists – insist not merely that theism is false, but that religion must be actively extinguished. Even today, such mild-mannered proponents of atheism as Harris – inadvertently or not – license violence, with such statements as that “some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”.

Atheist denialism is as mendacious as Holocaust denialism, and irrational as Flat Eartherism. It’s also dangerous. This doesn’t make atheism itself wrong, but it does mean that atheists have a duty, to themselves above all, to be rigorously honest about the bloody past of atheism.

27 thoughts on “The Dangerous Denialism of the Atheists

  1. one more Christian who wants to pretend that atheism responsible for communism etc. It’s unfortunate that they choose to repeat this lie.

    The common factor in all failed communist states is that their leadership were megalomaniacs, not just atheists (if they were indeed atheists). Megalomania, and incompetence, is what causes the horrors, not atheism. Christians like you find it necessary to lie to people in order to scare them into your religion.

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    1. Thanks for your response, but there’s several problems with your argument, starting with this: I’m not a Christian. The fact that your first resort is an ad hominem fallacy doesn’t speak highly of your argument.

      Secondly, I didn’t say that atheism was responsible for communism. I merely point out that, in Marx’s, Zhou’s and others’ own words, atheism is integral to communism.

      You also commit a false dichotomy fallacy: just because they were megalomaniacs (no dispute, there), doesn’t mean they weren’t atheists. If we were, in fact, to accept your fallacious argument, then that likewise lets religions off the hook for the crimes of their followers. You might want to re-think that.

      All in all, you’re rather illustrating my argument (the lengths that some atheists will go to deny the crimes of other atheists), don’t you think?

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      1. you are a theist, correct?

        Show how atheism is “integral” to communism. I find that a baseless claim.

        For someone who wants to claim I’ve used a fallacy, you are really poor at it. I never said that they weren’t atheists. I said that atheism wasn’t the cause you claimed.

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      2. Incorrect. I am not a theist. You need to stop making baseless assumptions and using them to construct ad hominem attacks.

        Hilariously, in claiming that you haven’t used a fallacy, you go right on and do it again. I never said atheism was the cause. In fact, I explicitly stated otherwise.

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      3. LOL, “the dangerous denialism of the atheists”, and your baseless claims about how atheism is a cause and somehow required by communism. just somehow magically don’t say what they do since you don’t like being caught in your nonsense.

        such a crank you are with your fears

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      4. Speaking of “baseless claims”, why do you repeat the claims that I say that “atheism is a cause”, when I have explicitly stated otherwise?

        Is it because you know you can’t tackle my actual argument?

        I say it is inherent in communism because the theorists of communism repeatedly said so.

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      5. Let’s quote you:

        “But contrary to the smug, self-serving propaganda of the New Atheists, militant atheism has been a very real and very violent stain on history. Dawkins might piously insist that no-one has ever been killed in the name of atheism, but this is illiterate and dangerous historical revisionism.”

        You trying to claim that religion isn’t theism, a classic argument from a christian, which you may or may not be: “When Harris talks of “rituals, tenets, creeds, code or authority”, he is going beyond theism, and talking about religion. Religion and theism are so closely interrelated that most people see them as synonymous. But Harris is not most people. Philosophers are supposed to be precise in their use of language.”

        Christians want to pretend that they don’t have a religion. They don’t like that they are held responsible for what Christianity/Christians have done.

        “Harris is comparing apples and oranges. If atheism has no doctrines, neither does theism. What Harris is actually talking about is ideology, defined as “an action-oriented system of beliefs”. Ideology is to atheism as religion is to theism.”

        LOL. Again, a very Christian argument. Alas, religion and theism do have doctrines: “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief” – merriam webster

        Your claims of cause and effect “Atheist regimes, on the other hand, explicitly forbid theism and religion. Atheist regimes have been far rarer than secular regimes – and almost always characterised by brutality and oppression.”

        more claims of cause and effect “Obviously that does not mean that all atheists are communists. But it does mean that communism proceeds from atheism as much as religion proceeds from theism. ”

        Again, quite the Christian argument to try to claim that religion is bad but their “theism” is perfectly fine.

        “Many of the horrors of communism proceeded directly from its atheism. ”

        etc etc.

        such a poor person who is so afraid of atheists that he finds he must like, so very much like a Christian.

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      6. Once again, you construct a farrago of straw-men – principally: insisting that I really must be a Christian, because, well, you say so. Added to the rest of your soup of ridiculously poor arguments, which get worse by the comment.

        “You trying to claim that religion isn’t theism” – because it isn’t. No more than atheism is communism.

        “Alas, religion and theism do have doctrines” – you’re arguing backwards, and trying to have exactly the each-way bet that Harris does. If you insist that theism has doctrines, well, then so does atheism. You can’t have it both ways. At least, not without being extraordinarily dishonest, or obtuse, or both.

        “quite the Christian argument to try to claim that religion is bad but their “theism” is perfectly fine” – I never said that. Stop making up rubbish claims to try and falsely bolster your lame arguments.

        By now, you’re just reduced to flailing around the most ridiculous straw-men, red herrings and ad hominems that you’re the poster-boy for exactly the kind of ignorant denialism I described. Thanks for proving my point, I guess.

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      7. You use the exact same arguments, ACD, as theists do when trying to misrepresent atheists.

        You have claimed that atheism is required by communism. And hilariously trying to claim that religion isnt’ theism. Sorry, they are the same. religion: the service and worship of God or the supernatural; theism: belief in the existence of a god or gods Can’t have one without the other if you are a believer.

        Great to see an entirely baseless claim that if theism has doctrines “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief” ; then atheism must. So, ACD, tell me the “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief” based on the lack of belief in a god.

        Surely you can, right? Why there must be scads of them! But of course you can’t since you can’t base a doctrine on something you dont’ believe in, just like you can’t style hair you don’t have.

        keep going, ACD. make up more things about the atheists are are so afraid of.

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      8. “You also commit a false dichotomy fallacy: just because they were megalomaniacs (no dispute, there), doesn’t mean they weren’t atheists. If we were, in fact, to accept your fallacious argument, then that likewise lets religions off the hook for the crimes of their followers. You might want to re-think that.”

        No need to rethink that at all. As I indicated above, no false dichotomy fallacy since I never said that they weren’t atheists. You claimed that the miseries from communism came from atheism “But it does mean that communism proceeds from atheism as much as religion proceeds from theism.”, not anything else. You have yet to show this is the case. You for some reason have decided to lie about atheists. How unsurprising. And how unsurprising that you fail to actually have the whole quote: “”Communism begins where atheism begins, but atheism is at the outset still far from being Communism; indeed it is still for the most part an abstraction”” – Marx It is a common things for people to true to quote mine to mislead others.

        You also might want to read all of Lenin’s work, Religion”. Here’s a part “That is the reason why we do not and should not set forth our atheism in our Programme; that is why we do not and should not prohibit proletarians who still retain vestiges of their old prejudices from associating themselves with our Party. We shall alway spreach the scientific world-outlook, and it is essential for us to combat the inconsistency of various “Christians”. But that does not mean in the least that the religious question ought to be advanced to first place, where it does not belong at all; nor does it mean that we should allow the forces of the really revolutionary economic and political struggle to be split up on account of third-rate opinions or senseless ideas, rapidly losing all political importance, rapidly being swept out as rubbish by the very course of economic development.

        Everywhere the reactionary bourgeoisie has concerned itself,and is now beginning to concern itself in Russia, with the fomenting of religious strife – in order thereby to divert the attention of
        the masses from the really important and fundamental economic and political problems, now being solved in practice by the all-Russian proletariat uniting in revolutionary struggle. This reactionary policy of splitting up the proletarian forces, which today manifests itself mainly in Black-Hundred7 pogroms, may tomorrow conceive some more subtle forms. We, at any rate, shall oppose it by calmly, consistently and patiently preaching proletarian solidarity and the scientific world-outlook – a preaching alien to any stirring up of secondary differences. The revolutionary proletariat will succeed in making religion a really private affair, so far as the state is concerned. And in this political system, cleansed of medieval mildew, the proletariat will wage a broad and open struggle for the elimination of economic slavery, the true source of the religious humbugging of mankind”

        The Chinese do want control and again desire for control not atheism is the source for wanting no other “master” to be had.

        Now, if I point out that a pope, for instance, is in power because of religion, and he says it is necessary to free the holy land from the infidel. All of these intrinsically religious words and positions show that the intent of the crusades was religious.

        Can you show that anything that happened in, say, the corrupt soviet system, that was said to need to happen because there is no god?

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      9. ” You claimed that the miseries from communism came from atheism ”

        No. What I said was that, if atheists are going to blame the crimes of religion on theism (which I also said was false), then they must likewise shoulder the crimes of communism on atheism. You can’t have it both ways.

        The Marx quote in no way detracts from my argument. Atheism is not synonymous with communism, but atheism, per Marx and others, is necessary to communism.

        This is a distinction you seem either unable to grasp, or are deliberately avoiding.

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      10. Unfortunately for you, your declaration that the quote from Marx doesn’t detract from your argument doesn’t make reality change. Again, your invention of what they supposedly said to support your attack against atheism fails.

        The crimes of religion are directly from the religion. It commands certain actions. Please do tell me what actions that atheism commands.

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      11. You’re making exactly the category error I identified in my article. It seems that your indignation is because you have simply failed to understand the argument.

        In fact, you’re the poster-boy for the very denialism I write about.

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      12. my dear crank, read what I post.

        “ah, claims of “category” errors. the same nonsense every theist claims when their lies about atheists are caught. ”

        you use the same arguments. You may or may not be a theist. You are as incompetent as they are.

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