Hitler And Stalin Again

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.

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23 thoughts on “Hitler And Stalin Again

  1. In some respects I think it wrong to contrast Atheism with Christianity – like comparing oranges with Mandarins(the fruit not the Chinese)as opposed to apples and oranges. Both are to do with belief (they look similar)- see my post (http://nautblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/atheism-is-not-opposite-of-christianity.html).

    Your point on dogmatic ideologies is well put though. I can’t help but wonder to off the people in each of these countries who would have been religious as well.

    In a post I have coming I point out a piece by one of my favorite writers on the American/Australian use of torture. Did you know that The Spanish Inquisition used water boarding?

    here’s the article:


  2. Reason’s Greetings, S.I.

    Hitler and Stalin are universally (and correctly) decried as history’s greatest “monsters” which makes them sub-human. Making them paragons of atheism and all it has to offer suggests that atheists are somehow less human or in danger of losing their humanity.

    So the very argument itself is another example of the Inquisition strategy you’re describing.

    Nice post.

  3. You know what most Christians will say when you cite the Inquisition or the Crusades – you’re citing Catholic atrocities, and Catholics aren’t “real” Christians. This also allows them to ignore the genocide by Spanish Catholics in the Western Hemisphere, killing at least 60 million indigenous people (D.Stannard, American Holocaust, Oxford University Press 1992) in the name of the Christian god. But you know, Protestant hands aren’t clean, either.

    Puritans in New England first wiped out two thirds of the Indians by accidental infection alone, but this was hailed as divine Providence, and a sign of god’s approval to kill off the rest of them, and when they did, that too was seen as a sign of god’s approval and further divine Providence. After a single massacre of 600 Indians, Cotton Mather referred to the event as “a bbq”. Dogs were trained to hunt and kill Indian children and some religious leaders petitioned their governors for funds to hunt Indians like animals.

    The concentration camps of the Nazis were modeled after American concentration camps for Indians, making them suffer and of course reach the “final solution” stage, death. One of the most devious ways they achieved that was by giving them small pox infected blankets. Had they the technology, I’m sure they would have had gas chambers. How’s that for your “Christian Nation”? Quite the blueprint for Hitler, huh?

    And let’s not forget Rwanda, where Anglicans and Catholics participated either directly or indirectly by revealing to Hutu where the Tutsis were hiding. Praise Jesus!

  4. Hitler was a Christian believer and Stalin studied for the priesthood in a seminary. Way to go, god! They probably accounted for a hundred million dead between them. Poor little George Bush, a true believer who can only count less than a million dead on his account. So far.

  5. No. They’ve actually gone down, but I attribute that to the lack of content. I’m not as prolific as I was when I started this blog.

    Frankly, I still enjoy reading far more than I enjoy writing. 8)

  6. Have you ever noticed that the Byzantine emperor and their minions are very much unexamined or acknowledged by most xians? Or you get, “Yes, but, they had to…”

  7. In both cases, I think religion is an easy tool to use but not the main incentive for totalitarian regimes. I’m sure religion was a strong glue that kept the insane theocrats (and in some cases, autocrats) in place, but it wasn’t enough. Religion can be used for any purpose that’s already there. The only tragedy is that religion can also potentially be used for evil purposes even in people who would otherwise never dream of hurting a soul.

    To me, that is how religion is often an insult to humanity.

    Of course, I’ll second the opinion that atheism has nothing to do with Stalin and Hitler, it’s a preposterous claim and it being used it as tiresome as the use of the 2nd law of thermodynamics to disprove evolution. Hitler and Stalin wanted domination and power, they could care less for the “cause of atheism” or, for that matter, the cause of theism. They would spit on the bible if it helped promote their insane political cause.

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  10. Where to begin, so much bias that it is sad. So much for the open mindedness of the left, and the tolerance of all people, Christians included. I would first have to state that Stalin murdered Christians in the millions. If he was truly a Christian, he wouldn’t be doing his regime any justice by murdering his fellow countrymen and brothers, per se. Second, it is well documented that Communism had little tolerance for the church, and although the governent, under Stalin, allowed churches to congregate, speech and attendance were documented and monitored. It was often said jokingly, that the people still had free speech under Communist rule, but there would be a grave price to be paid for speaking out. Underground church were secretly created, so that people could pray and worship God freely, without political ramifications. It was illegal in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany to posses a Bible. After WWII, when Europe was divided between allies for rebuilding, Romania was handed to Communist Russia, and “change” began to take hold. The Monarchy was soon over thrown and a country was built in the likeness of Mother Russia.

    I agree with one of your commentators, that Atheism may not me responsible for the deaths of millions, but neither is Christianity. Atheist isn’t even a belief system, although it takes just as much faith to believe in it; rather it is a declaration of the non-existance of God, nothing more. It is the hatred and intolerance of God and the believers of God that lead to the destruction of so many good people.

    If you are truly open minded, for the purposes of balance, you should read “Tortured for Christ” by Richard Wurmbrand. It is a short novel based on his life, imprisonment and torture for his beliefs in Communist Romania. This is a chilling depiction of what truly happened under Communist rule.

  11. Interesting article here. I would think that if the Bible was banned in Germany, it would have been mentioned here. In fact, it looks like only JWs were banned, and even then only provisionally, subject to denouncing their faith, which the Nazis only had a problem with because they used it to refuse military service or pledge allegiance to the government. But they did that in America too.

  12. Just a reminder… Both Hitler and Stalin were crazy, narassacistic bastards who probably had a long laundry list of psychological issues to explain the crimes they committed. Neither being atheists nor Christians can account for their crimes. I know many people who are both and are perfectly peaceful and loving.
    While both men may have borrowed their torture tactics from some of Christianity’s torrid past, they both also persecuted Christians as well as Jews and other religious groups. Stalin shut down Russian Orthodox churches all over Europe and had priests killed in droves. Hitler repeatedly searched monasteries and nunneries for hidden Jews and insisted that priest and other church officials declare allegiance to him. Some did, some didn’t, and they were dealt with accordingly or they escaped.
    I grow tired of people blaming all of Christianity for the atrocities of the world. Many claim to be Christian but the Bible tells us that few really are. The world is made up of people and people are forever doing idiotic things for whatever trumped up reason is available to them at the time. Religion has been a huge one. Some of us though see Christianity for what it is…a religion of humility, of faith, of hope. A religion that believes that you are to convert others through your example and through your love, not through persecution and force. And you are never, never called to judge others…There is only One who is meant to judge and as humans on this Earth we don’t even know or understand how that judgment is to be carried out.
    So stop judging the rest of us for the mistakes so many others have made and are making in our name. Blame the insanity on self-righteousness, megalomania, God-complexes, mother-issues, whatever…but not Christianity because it is not this religion that creates monsters. It is its perversion by monsters that makes it seems that way.

  13. I grow tired of people blaming all of Christianity for the atrocities of the world.

    I grow tired of Christians accusing people of blaming them for all the atrocities of the world. (Especially without citing examples.)

    Many claim to be Christian but the Bible tells us that few really are.

    Yes, yes. No True Christian . . . , and all that.

  14. The arguement is mute. Firstly had humankind not seen through and got rid of the power of the Church when most civilised countries did then, trust me, the killing would have continued on a scale that would have made Hitler and Stalin look like beginers. Secondly Religeon is a belief system based of a hierarchical entity who punishes any who don’t believe. Atheism isn’t a belief system so you would need to compare Christianity with Communism or National Socialism not atheism.

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