Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Dinesh D'Souza is an Indian-born conservative in the US who has written best-selling books. Last night, he appeared on Fox news for an interview about his new book "What's so great about Christianity". This book promises to be entertaining as it purportedly provides "scientific" explanations for Christian theology and faith.

However, as D'Souza himself claims, the book is also supposed to be a rejoinder against what he sees as bestselling "atheist literature" by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris and most recently Christopher Hitchens.

I have not read D'Souza's book and don't think I want to read it (although I would love to read some critical reviews of it). But there is one criticism he heaped on atheists about which he is quite wrong. He quotes atheists' frequent assertions that while the worst murderers of history including Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and Mao were atheists, they did not kill in the name of atheism, while religious bigots such as those participating in the crusades or more infamously the Inquisition killed in the name of religion. D'Souza seeks to demolish this viewpoint and calls it "ludicrous", particularly referring to Dawkins's book. He said that of course, it was the godlessness of the Communists that led them to these unspeakable crimes.

But D'Souza is clearly distorting the picture here. Consider the fact that most of the tens of millions of people killed by Stalin were simply not targeted because of their religious faith. What about the greater than one million people who Stalin's secret police (NKVD) targeted under the supervision of the human monster Lavrenti Beria? These included intellectuals such as scientists and teachers who were not religious. What about those millions whose farms were taken away and then collectivised, leaving them to starve to death? Most of these arrests and brutalities had nothing to do with religion, but were fuelled by deluded communist ideas of people working for the state. The same principle applies to the gigantic famine orchestrated by Mao.

On the other hand, while the Spanish Inquisition did not kill as many people as Hitler or Stalin (a point which D'Souza emphatically and constantly makes), there is no doubt that every single one of the Inquisition's victims was killed directly because of his differring faith, or who at least was labeled as such. The Inquisitors clearly classified their victims as Catholics and non-Catholics, just as fundamentalist Muslims classify all non-Muslims as infidels. They targeted these victims expressly because of their non-Catholicism. But Hitler and Mao, while they may have targeted some people because of their religion, did not target everybody only because of their "lack of atheism". There were myriad other factors responsible for their excesses.

Finally, and I am always amused by this, the cults of personality that these bigots established around themselves were no different from those around religious leaders, and social anthropologists may not find it too difficult to classify the two in the same tradition of blind faith. This, the "religion-like" ideology of Hitler and Mao if anything makes the case against religion even more pervasive.

D'Souza is not only on frail territory, but on non-existent one here.

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Blogger Dale McGowan said...

Hitler was not just "religion-like" in his ideology -- he was a theistic religious believer.

D’Souza is caught in the common confusion that anyone who is not a Christian must be an atheist. An atheist by definition does not believe in the existence of a supernatural deity. Stalin was indeed an atheist, but Hitler – though born and raised Catholic -- was neither quite Christian nor remotely atheist at the end of his life.

Toward the end of his life he was critical of the organized Christian church (“The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity”) but also specifically denounced atheism (“We do not want to educate anyone in atheism”) and repeatedly affirmed his personal belief in God (“Whoever sees God only in an oak or in a tabernacle, instead of seeing Him everywhere, is not truly pious”) and even in certain elements of Judeo-Christian religion (“The Ten Commandments are a code of living to which there's no refutation”).

By the end, he had merged Catholic ideas with a strange blend of Teutonic religious ideas and pantheism, referring to God as “The Lawmaker” and continuing to use the New Testament to justify his actions. These are things that are extraordinarily well-documented — yet the bizarre myth of “Hitler the atheist” persists. Be careful not to cede that point. Stalin was an atheist; Hitler never was for a moment.

Dale McGowan (also in Atlanta)
Editor/author, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion

6:25 AM  

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