In a recent letter to the editor to the editor in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a writer said that atheists are responsible for killing millions of people. He cited China and Russia as examples.
Of course, being religious, he’s completely wrong. That’s the guaranteed B-side of true faith.
He is right in one thing: Russia officially espoused atheism. China still does, along with other countries that were not included in the letter. However, the writer was wrong about that being the cause of deaths in their countries. They were simply rejecting the Western religions. They had their own gods.
In China, that deity was Mao Zedong, the long-time chairman of the Communist Party there. He didn’t hand out little red books to promote literacy. He didn’t post huge images of himself on walls to enhance the vista. He was trying and succeeding in creating a cult with himself as the central focus of devotion.
His Great Leap Forward and other dismal efforts to boost the country led to the deaths of millions, but not a single convert to atheism. The Chinese were forced to bow to Mao instead.
In Communist Russia, they had three gods: Karl Marx, the father; Vladimir Lenin, the son; and Stalin, the holy ghoul. All three were properly worshiped. Lenin was even embalmed and placed on display so the pious could reverently file by regularly. The Five-Year-Plan that led to the starvation of millions there did not contain a single word about religion or the need not to believe in a god.
Both countries definitely punished those who maintained the old faiths. They just wanted their new human gods substituted for Buddha and Jesus.
|Coins honoring the Divine Julius
They are not the only humans elevated to the heavens. Alexander the Great tried that trick. So did Julius Caesar, who was turned into a god by vote of the Roman Senate. Ramses the Great of Egypt didn't build all those statues of himself to give artisans something to do when the Nile was flooding the landscape.
More recently, Adolf Hitler got a memorable nickname, the Fuhrer, and set out on a murderous run. He didn’t kill anyone to make them atheist. He killed them because they weren’t Aryan.
|Mussolini as a deity
Benita Mussolini in Italy became “El Duce.” He, too, pretended to be a god, and thousands died while he maintained that false front.
Both Hitler and Mussolini were raised Catholic and reached accords with the Roman Catholic Church. They didn't espouse atheism either. Both evoked God regularly and insisted they were doing His work. They just wanted the devotion of millions instead of it being given to the Vatican.
There's no requirement a megalomaniac trying to join the divine pantheon has to be Christian. Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, both Muslim, did not hesitate to create cults around themselves, elevating their status far beyond those of mortal men. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is doing that right now.
These men didn’t plaster their cities with their images as a way to improve the eyesight of their residents.
The list could go on: Just pick a dictator from any country yesterday or day. None of them cared a whit about religion, regardless of the beliefs they learned as a child. They wanted (and still do) power and money, the two top ego-driven aspects of any religion.
None of them launched a war to promote atheism. Religion did: the 30 Years War killed until hundreds of thousands solely because of religious differences. Then there were the Crusades, which are continuing with ISIS these days in northern Iraq. There is virtually no end to the number of religion-fuel murderous binges.
Those folks, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, want to force their faith on others. No atheist ever tried that, but then, modern Muslims have plenty of history to draw on: the Muslim forces that swept across the Mediterranean world in the 7th century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad were trying to impose their religious beliefs.
No atheist army has ever existed or ever imitated that blood-thirsty approach to faith.
In fact, no atheist ever has killed anyone in the name of no god. On the other hand, virtually every major religion has killed on behalf of its deity.
Instead, atheists have been killed, harassed, prevented from holding office and, obviously maligned in print for simply refusing to accept the stories of an invisible deity who may or may not have a son, may or may not have sent prophetic messengers and may or may not have anything to do with humans.
The author of the letter preferred to perpetuate a fairy tale about atheists, an approach which, considering the stories told about his invisible deity, fits perfectly into his wheelhouse.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1