It is often claimed by atheists, misotheists and Christophobes that religion is the world’s biggest killer. There are two major problems with this. First, by lumping all religions together, we get a very distorted picture of religious killing. The truth is, not all religions are the same.
Some religions indeed thrive and advance by killing. Islam is the most obvious example of this. For 1400 years it has spread by the edge of the sword – or today, by means of airplanes or murder/suicide belts. But most of these critics really have something like Christianity in mind.
They tend to be silent when it comes to Muslim atrocities and mass murder, but spend all their time on supposed Christian crimes and misdemeanours. It is certainly true that much mischief has been done in the name of Christianity, and many have died at the hands of those claiming to be followers of Christ.
But the number are often grossly exaggerated. Take for example the witchcraft trials. Critics claim that the church burned five million women as witches over the centuries. But some of the most recent estimates put the number of people killed for witchcraft at about 150 to 300 per year throughout all of Europe and North America, three-quarters of whom were women.
Over a period of about 300 years, this comes to 30-100,000 people. That is a lot of deaths, and they should not have taken place. But compare deaths in the name of atheism. That in fact is my second point. The number of people killed in the name of Christianity pales into insignificance when held up against the number killed by godless, atheistic regimes.
Atheism is the world’s greatest killer, bar none. Plenty of research has gone into this. Consider just one piece of scholarship. R.J. Rummel is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, and has spent his career collecting data on all this. Indeed, he coined a term, “democide” to describe murder by governments.
In 1994 his important book Death By Government was released (Transaction Publishers). In it he argues that over 169 million people were murdered by governments in the 20th century. Of those most were atheistic regimes. For example, the Soviets murdered some 62 million, the Chinese communists, 35 million, and the Nazis, 21 million.
In an article written a year earlier, he defines democide: “It means for governments what murder means for an individual under municipal law. It is the premeditated killing of a person in cold blood, or causing the death of a person through reckless and wanton disregard for their life. Thus, a government incarcerating people in a prison under such deadly conditions that they die in a few years is murder by the state – democide – as would parents letting a child die from malnutrition and exposure be murder.
“So would government forced labor that kills a person within months or a couple of years be murder. So would government created famines that then are ignored or knowingly aggravated by government action be murder of those who starve to death. And obviously, extrajudicial executions, death by torture, government massacres, and all genocidal killing be murder.
“However, judicial executions for crimes that internationally would be considered capital offenses, such as for murder or treason (as long as it is clear that these are not fabricated for the purpose of executing the accused, as in communist show trials), are not democide. Nor is democide the killing of enemy soldiers in combat or of armed rebels, nor of noncombatants as a result of military action against military targets.
He also said this: “With the passing of communism into history as an ideological alternative to democracy it is time to do some accounting of its human costs. Few would deny any longer that communism – Marxism-Leninism and its variants – meant in practice bloody terrorism, deadly purges, lethal gulags and forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions and show trials, and genocide.”
He concludes his article as follows: “As a government’s power is more unrestrained, as its power reaches into all the corners of culture and society, and as it is less democratic, then the more likely it is to kill its own citizens. There is more than a correlation here. As totalitarian power increases, democide multiplies until it curves sharply upward when totalitarianism is near absolute. As a governing elite has the power to do whatever it wants, whether to satisfy its most personal desires, to pursue what it believes is right and true, it may do so whatever the cost in lives. In this case power is the necessary condition for mass murder. Once an elite have it, other causes and conditions can operated to bring about the immediate genocide, terrorism, massacres, or whatever killing an elite feels is warranted.
“Finally, at the extreme of totalitarian power we have the greatest extreme of democide. Communist governments have almost without exception wielded the most absolute power and their greatest killing (such as during Stalin’s reign or the height of Mao’s power) has taken place when they have been in their own history most totalitarian. As most communist governments underwent increasing liberalization and a loosening of centralized power in the 1960s through the 1980s, the pace of killing dropped off sharply.
“Communism has been the greatest social engineering experiment we have ever seen. It failed utterly and in doing so it killed over 100,000,000 men, women, and children, not to mention the near 30,000,000 of its subjects that died in its often aggressive wars and the rebellions it provoked. But there is a larger lesson to be learned from this horrendous sacrifice to one ideology. That is that no one can be trusted with power. The more power the center has to impose the beliefs of an ideological or religious elite or impose the whims of a dictator, the more likely human lives are to be sacrificed. This is but one reason, but perhaps the most important one, for fostering liberal democracy.”
The figures speak for themselves. The state is the world’s greatest killer, but primarily atheistic communist states. When it comes to killing people, all religions combined over two millennia do not compare with what godless government has done in just one century.
Yet I keep getting the God-haters coming out with foolish remarks such as the one I noticed just the other day: “Atheists don’t commit as much crime as the religious do”. Um, duh! That is really helpful. Guess what bud? Atheists don’t sleep as much as the religious do.
Atheists don’t eat as much as the religious do. Atheists don’t talk as much as the religious do. Atheists don’t walk as much as the religious do. All that for the simple reason that there are far more religious folks in the world than atheists – always have been. So of course atheists do less of everything, whether good or evil.
The simple facts on all this are quite clear: the greatest killing machine in history comes in the form of godless governments, chief of which has been atheistic communism. When Christians have murdered innocent people in the name of Christ, they have been quite wrong to do so, and betray their Christian faith.
But when godless communist regimes murder millions of people, they are doing it fully in accord with their own political ideology, and feel fully justified in doing so. As Greg Koukl once said, “It is true that it’s possible that religion can produce evil, and generally when we look closer at the detail it produces evil because the individual people are actually living in a rejection of the tenets of Christianity and a rejection of the God that they are supposed to be following. So it can produce it, but the historical fact is that outright rejection of God and institutionalizing of atheism actually does produce evil on incredible levels. We’re talking about tens of millions of people as a result of the rejection of God.”
For the Rummel article, plus more detailed reading on all this, see the following links: