is the real force behind the mass murders of history
In recent months, a spate of atheist books have argued that religion
represents, as End of Faith author Sam Harris puts it, "the
most potent source of human conflict, past and present."
Columnist Robert Kuttner gives the familiar litany.
"The Crusades slaughtered millions in the name of Jesus. The Inquisition brought the torture and murder of
millions more. After Martin Luther, Christians did bloody battle with other Christians for another three centuries."
In his bestseller The
God Delusion, Richard Dawkins contends that most of the world's recent
conflicts in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Northern Ireland, in Kashmir, and in Sri Lanka show the vitality
of religion's murderous impulse.
The problem with this critique is that it exaggerates
the crimes attributed to religion, while ignoring the greater crimes of secular fanaticism. The best example of
religious persecution in America is the Salem witch trials. How many people were killed in those trials? Thousands?
Hundreds? Actually, fewer than 25. Yet the event still haunts the liberal imagination.
It is strange to witness the passion with which some
secular figures rail against the misdeeds of the Crusaders and Inquisitors more than 500 years ago. The number
of people sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition which was active over a period of 350 years is estimated
This figure is tragic, and of course population levels
were much lower at the time. But even so, it is minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist
despotisms of the 20th century. In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler,
Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively
these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.
Moreover, many of the conflicts that are counted
as "religious wars" were not fought over religion. They were mainly fought over rival claims to territory
and power. Can the wars between England and France be called religious wars because the English were Protestants
and the French were Catholics? Hardly.
The same is true today. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
is not, at its core, a religious one. It arises out of a dispute over self-determination and land. Hamas and the
extreme orthodox parties in Israel may advance theological claims "God gave us this land" and so forth
but the conflict would remain essentially the same even without these religious motives. Ethnic rivalry, not
religion, is the source of the tension in Northern Ireland and the Balkans.
Blindly blaming religion for conflict
Yet today's atheists insist on making religion the
culprit. Consider Mr. Harris's analysis of the conflict in Sri Lanka. "While the motivations of the Tamil
Tigers are not explicitly religious," he informs us, "they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable
things about the nature of life and death." In other words, while the Tigers see themselves as combatants
in a secular political struggle, Harris detects a religious motive because these people happen to be Hindu and
surely there must be some underlying religious craziness that explains their fanaticism.
Harris can go on forever in this vein. Seeking to
exonerate secularism and atheism from the horrors perpetrated in their name, he argues that Stalinism and Maoism
were in reality "little more than a political religion." As for Nazism, "while the hatred of Jews
in Germany expressed itself in a predominantly secular way, it was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity."
"The holocaust marked the culmination of ... two thousand years of Christian fulminating against the Jews."
One finds the same inanities in Mr. Dawkins's work.
Don't be fooled by this rhetorical legerdemain. Dawkins and Harris cannot explain why, if Nazism was directly descended
from medieval Christianity, medieval Christianity did not produce a Hitler. How can a self-proclaimed atheist ideology,
advanced by Hitler as a repudiation of Christianity, be a "culmination" of 2,000 years of Christianity?
Dawkins and Harris are employing a transparent sleight of hand that holds Christianity responsible for the crimes
committed in its name, while exonerating secularism and atheism for the greater crimes committed in their name.
Religious fanatics have done things that are impossible
to defend, and some of them, mostly in the Muslim world, are still performing horrors in the name of their creed.
But if religion sometimes disposes people to self-righteousness
and absolutism, it also provides a moral code that condemns the slaughter of innocents. In particular, the moral
teachings of Jesus provide no support for - indeed they stand as a stern rebuke to the historical injustices
perpetrated in the name of Christianity.
The crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated
through a hubristic ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values.
Using the latest techniques of science and technology,
man seeks to displace God and create a secular utopia here on earth. Of course if some people the Jews, the landowners,
the unfit, or the handicapped have to be eliminated in order to achieve this utopia, this is a price the atheist
tyrants and their apologists have shown themselves quite willing to pay. Thus they confirm the truth of Fyodor
Dostoyevsky's dictum, "If God is not, everything is permitted."
Whatever the motives for atheist bloodthirstiness,
the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in 2,000 years not managed to kill
as many people as have been killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades.
It's time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra
that religious belief has been the greatest source of human conflict and violence.
Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the
mass murders of history.
Dinesh D'Souza. "Atheism, not religion, is the
real force behind the mass murders of history." Christian Science
Monitor (November 21, 2006).
VISIT THE AUTHORS WEB SITE: www.dineshdsouza.com
Version: 22nd November 2010