A common refrain of the New Atheists is that atheists have not been responsible for any great atrocities throughout history. They point to various massacres, injustices, and wars and lay the blame for these historical events squarely at the feet of religion, claiming that it would be impossible for a group of atheists to commit anything so heinous. They would like us to believe if the world were a godless place, the world would be peaceful and tranquil.
Christians provide counter-examples by pointing to various communist regimes with their massacres and genocides. The atheists respond, “Those aren’t real atheists.”
There are different ways to approach this topic (many of which have been discussed elsewhere, such as how debatable it is to blame religion rather than, say, greed for various historical injustices and how limited church-linked cruelty has been throughout history), but a more often overlooked approach involves the question of where evil comes from. Evil is not an external thing forced on a heart that would otherwise be pure. It is not forced on someone by their upbringing or circumstances or religion. Those things are not insignificant, of course, but ultimately evil comes from the human heart. A pure heart would not be able to conceive of evil.
Atheists like to think that religion turns people against each other. The often unspoken implication from this is that atheists have no reason to quarrel with each other. I think the reason it is often left unspoken is because it is self-evidently absurd and thus would ruin the atheist’s sense of innate superiority.
One need only point out the deep animosities that exist between certain YouTube atheists. Of course, none of these animosities run into the level of murderous rage (to my knowledge), but this is immaterial. The number of “High Church” atheists (those who would not be better described as agnostics) is vanishingly tiny. The fact that none of them have gone to war with each other proves nothing except there are not enough of them to form an army.
I can think of any number of reasons why atheists might, for example, persecute homosexuals or imprison dissidents or engage in activity virtually identical to any historical atrocity laid at the feet of the Church. Being an atheist does not magically make you immune to irrationality, greed, petty quarrels, or the desire to violently enforce conformity.
It doesn’t take a science-fiction writer to speculate on how one atheistic regime could declare total war on another atheistic regime. War is an inevitable consequence of human nature.
If, in the very far-fetched scenario that there were enough militant atheists to go to war with each other and they decided to violently quarrel, I’m sure that in later years atheist apologists would say that it wasn’t their atheism that made them quarrel, it was their greed, or nationalism, or economic imbalances---in fact, all of the points that Christians bring up when defending the Church.
The plain fact is that people will fight even when there’s nothing to fight about. They’ll fight just for looking at each other the wrong way. Removing religion from the equation will not change any of that.
One topic that regularly comes up when debating this issue is whether the German National Socialist party was atheist or not. The Christians point at the godless evolutionary rhetoric of Mein Kampf, which alludes to Jews and other groups of people as “less evolved”. The Atheists point to the words “God with Us” stamped on German belt buckles.
I think this is a rather silly argument that can be very quickly settled.
Although the Nazis could not be described as “High Church” atheists or “New Atheists”, the fact is that they were trying to replace the worship of God with the worship of the State. Like other collectivists, they attributed God-like qualities to the governing body. This can only be described as an atheist endeavour regardless of the impression any of their other rhetoric might give. Nazi rituals, though modelled after Christian ceremonies, were meant to glorify the State, not the Christian God. Only an idiot would suggest that Hitler was trying to Christianize the world. Only an idiot would try to argue that a majority of Nazis thought of themselves firstly as ‘Good Christians’ rather than a superior race destined for earthly glory.