I’ve written before about how ludicrous the argument is that Hitler and Stalin (among others) were atheists, and that as a result of being atheists, they are front and center examples of the worst of atheism. As the argument is usually thrown in our faces, Stalin killed millions of people in the name of atheism, while somehow Hitler, who professed to be a Christian, was also a good (or bad) example of atheism run amok.
There is another point I’ve recently come across, one I had never realized, that leads one to conclude that Hitler and Stalin (not to mention Joseph McCarthy and George W. Bush) actually emulated the worst excesses of Christianity. I’m reading The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual by Jonathan Kirsch, subtitled “A History of Terror in the Name of God”. A friend of mine gave me the book (Thanks, Sean), thinking I would enjoy it, given the name of my blog, and he was right. It’s a nice little history of the Inquisition that lasted for over 600 years, between about 1200 to 1800 C.E., primarily in Europe, though also in the colonies controlled by the same European countries in which it was prevalent. Though I’ve not finished it, one of the purposes of the book is to show a link between the Inquisition and more modern examples of terror.
The point of the Inquisition (there were actually three distinct Inquisitions, according to Kirsch – medieval, Roman and Spanish) was to root out heresy. Heresy, though, was loosely defined as anything that the Church didn’t teach or hold as true, which sort of left people scratching their heads. They had no real idea whether what they believed was against Church doctrine on not, as even the Church was still in the process of changing its doctrine. In the Middle Ages, given the great distances and relative autonomy of various regions, different sects or cults of Christianity would crop up declaring that they had the correct interpretation of scripture, and the correct way to worship God. The Church was not tolerant of these cults, and proceeded to try to squelch them, though often times the motivations were more political and financial, than theological, as anyone declared a heretic was prone to have their lands and holdings confiscated from them.
The point, however, is that people were tortured and killed merely for what they believed or thought, and in most cases, trumped up allegations of such belief. Heresy was a thought crime, and the Church was determined to root out all thinking contrary to Church doctrine.
The whole point of the Inquisition was to achieve a critical mass of terror by making examples of the men and women who dared to think for themselves, and thereby frightening the rest of the populace into abject compliance. Kirsch, p.8
One of the key attributes of the Inquisitorial process was to consider a confession of heresy unacceptable unless it was joined with a list of names of fellow heretics in one’s community. They had to name names. You can probably already see the link between the Inquisition and the HUAC hearings in the 1950s.
Accused heretics were dehumanized, just like the Jews in Nazi Germany were declared sub-human. It is easier to treat people harshly, to torture them, and burn them at a stake (or gas them in ovens) if you have convinced yourself that they are not human. In Spain in 1449, a law was passed called the Strictures of the Purity of the Blood, which declared Jews and Muslims, who had previously converted to Christianity, suspect as heretics simply because of the blood that ran through their veins. Nazi Germany’s formal war against Jews was proclaimed in the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor in 1935, a direct descendant of the Spanish law.
Stalinist Russia also has its links to the Inquisition, from the show trials of the thirties, to the anti-Semitic nature of the persecution and imprisonment of its citizens, to the looting (confiscation) of its victim’s property. The Inquisition always conducted itself in secret until a confession was obtained, and a sentence was about to be passed down after which it went public, at an auto da fé, the better to terrorize the populace into believing what it wanted them to believe. Communist Russia was so secretive about how it conducted itself vis à vis its people, that we only learned much of it after the end of the Cold War.
Of course, both the Nazis and the Russians used all forms of torture to extract confessions and spread terror among their respective states.
The point that struck me was that contrary to the usual Christian blather about how horrible atheists have been in the 20th century, it is the religion of Christianity, specifically that of the Inquisition, that compares more favorably to Nazism and Stalinism, than anything even remotely atheistic. The Inquisitorial Toolbox, as Kirsch refer to it, was left open and used repeatedly by the Nazis and the Stalinist Russians, and not because they were atheists, but because they were dogmatists whose primary directive was mind control of the population, not conversion to atheism.
It was not atheism that these murderous regimes looked to for guidance and justification of their atrocities, but to Christianity.