Christian Atrocities vs Atheist Atrocities

“What’s more important is whether the atrocities were committed because of Christianity/atheism, either in an effort to specifically spread Christianity/atheism or because some tenet of Christianity/atheism commanded it.”

Question from Brian:
I’ve debated many christians in the past few weeks, and they all seem to think atheism creates evil. Can you name a few christians that have committed atrocities? (Besides Hitler, we all know that one)

My go-to guy is Sir Thomas More, pious 15th-to-16th-century Catholic who put people to death for the crime of owning Bibles in the English language. Incidentally, he was English. Here are some more. And a whole pile of awfulness went on during the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics.

Thing is, you’re not going to get far in an argument by comparing kill counts between Christians and atheists (though you might surprise some people when you have something to contribute). What’s more important is whether the atrocities were committed because of Christianity/atheism, either in an effort to specifically spread Christianity/atheism or because some tenet of Christianity/atheism commanded it.

Atheism comes out of such comparisons rather well, because
1. it was the Communists who forcibly spread atheism the most, and only because Communism declares itself ideologically incompatible with major religions, and
2. there are no tenets of atheism, besides statements of its actual position. Nowhere does it say, “There is no God, therefore do this.”


3 thoughts on “Christian Atrocities vs Atheist Atrocities”

    1. Not counting Richard Steigmann-Gall, who is mentioned in that Wikipedia article? No, I don’t think I can name a historian who would unreservedly say that Hitler was a Bible-believing Christian, but I don’t know the names of a lot of historians anyway. He was technically a Christian in at least one aspect because he was baptised and confirmed a Catholic and never renounced it, but you may not put much stock in that, especially if you’re not Catholic.

      There’s documentary evidence that points to him being religious – he talked about God and Providence as if they were real in Mein Kampf, for instance – but at other times he wrote very cynically about the aims and the methods of the Church.

      As I say in my piece, it’s not important for the purposes of religious/anti-religious debate what positions specific people held on the subject. The important thing is whether religion or lack thereof actually drove these people to commit their atrocities, or it was something else.

    2. Rather than judging from the opinions of historians writing after the fact, I’d suggest it’s more accurate to gauge whether Hitler could be considered a Christian from the judgements made by influential Christians at the time. When these people’s views are taken into account (along with Hitler’s lifelong strong animosity toward atheism), there appears to be no doubt that Hitler was widely considered to be Christian, or at the very least to be enthusiastically promoting Christian values. Some examples:

      Gerhard Kittel (1888-1948), was Professor of Evangelical Theology at the University of Tübingen. He was a passionate anti-Semite throughout his life, became a (prominent) member of the Nazi Party in 1933. He stated at the time that his choice to join was based on “a Christian moral foundation.” He was a member of the group of twelve leading German theologians and pastors who issued the 1939 ‘Godesberg Declaration’ in which they thanked God for Hitler, described Nazism as “a call of God” and pledged to transform their respective churches into “an instrument of racial policy”.

      Emanuel Hirsch (1888-1972), Professor of Theology at Göttingen University was a member of the Nazi Party and held a post within the SS. He described Hitler coming to power in 1933 as a “sunrise of divine goodness” and the Nazi Party “should be accepted and supported by Christians as a tool of God’s grace.” He gave enthusiastic public support to both the ‘Nuremburg Laws’ and the ‘Protection of German Blood and German Honour Act’ and was highly critical of theologians and clergy who did not show active support for the Nazi cause.

      Paul Althaus (1888-1966), Professor of Practical and Systematic Theology at the University of Göttingen viewed the waging of war as a perfectly Christian endeavour in order to resolve differences with other nations. He even went so far as to describe Hitler as “a new Christ”.

      Even Martin Neimöller (who wrote first they came for the communists etc…..) initially supported Hitler precisely because of his Christian values. He said:
      “I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932………I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler.”

      In the UK, William Temple, who served as both the Anglican Archbishop of York and Canterbury during the Reich (and met Hitler) wrote two books, ‘The Hope of a New World’ (1941) and the ‘The Church Looks Forward’ (1944) in which he discusses Hitler’s motivations at length. In both books he states that Hitler was “a misguided Christian”.

      In the USA there was William Bell Riley, founder of the World Christian Fundamentals Association and founder and long-time director of the Northwestern Bible School in 1902, which at the time of his death in 1947 was the second largest Christian college in the world. Riley famously praised Hitler’s Christian values throughout the 1930s on his national weekly radio show, sharing such gems as “There is no question in my mind that Hitler is an instrument of God with help from on high” and asserting that Hitler had “snatched Germany from the very jaws of atheistic Communism”.

      The US Catholic priest Charles Coughlin, who also had a national radio show in the 1930s used to sycophantically promote Hitler as a loyal Christian, even providing readings of his speeches (he was later banned from the airwaves by the federal authorities for plagiarising Hitler’s speeches – his church did nothing to stop him).

      There are many, many more examples. Hitler may not have been a mainstream Christian but he seems to have been a perfectly acceptable example of Christian morality according to many leading figures in the Christian hierarchy.

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