Atheism: Peaceful and Tolerant?

Some people blame religion (specifically Christianity) for wars, killings, and other such atrocities.  While Christian have not always followed Christ’s commands of love and peace, atheism and secularism are just as much to blame for wars, killings, and other atrocities.  Here’s how this point is stated by Don Carson in The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), p. 72-3.

“…The twentieth century, the bloodiest in human history, exhibited spectacular instances of intolerance – and the most violent exemplars had very little to do with religion.  Of course, there was at least a religious component in the strife in the Balkans and again in the bloody violence between Tutsis and Hutus.  Yet most observers recognized that even here the more important factors were tribalism, racism, perceived economic injustice, very different interpretations of history, and ‘honor’ and vengeance killings that escalated to the scale of genocide.”

“Few religious factors played much part in the largest of the slaughters of the twentieth century, the violence espoused by Fascism and Communism.  Perhaps fifty million Chinese died under Mao, about twenty million Ukrainians under Stalin, and then we come to World War II and the Holocaust.  In both its Russian and its Chinese forms, Fascism was nominally Christian but only in the sense that it was happy to appeal to God and religion in pursuit of its own social and political agendas, never so as to be reformed by Scripture or Christian truth or morality, never in any sense to belong to the great tradition of historic creeds.”

“Despite the best efforts of Jonathan I. Israel not only to ground the Enlightenment in the thought of Spinoza but also to demonstrate that only atheism provides adequate resources to generate toleration – in his analysis, theism and religious belief in all their forms are intrinsically intolerant – the outcome in the twentieth century is scarcely reassuring.  Atheism, whether theoretical (as in Communism) or practical (as in Fascism), far from being tolerant, spilled oceans of blood.”

Don Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance, p. 72-3.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

14 thoughts on “Atheism: Peaceful and Tolerant?”

  1. But here, atheism itself did not CAUSE the violence. Violence happened *with* atheism, but it wasn’t the atheism that CAUSED it.

    That’s the difference.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Larry, though I’m not sure I follow your logic.

    Of course atheism itself didn’t write the death decrees, pull the triggers, or brandish the swords. But in the above cases, the leaders/rulers’ atheistic presuppositions and beliefs led them to write the death decrees which resulted in all the bloodshed.

    Feel free to explain your “caused” and “with” language.



    1. There is nothing about atheism that says ‘kill people’.

      There are several parts of the Bible (and other holy books) that says ‘kill people’.

      That is the difference.


      1. Actually, one of the ten commandments (found in the Bible) is, “You shall not murder.” Furthermore, though Christians do not always live Jesus’ words out consistently, if/when they do, they are called to love others, serve others, and pray for even their enemies. The logical outcome of the Christian faith is to preserve life, not take it. In Christianity, murder is sin against God and neighbor.

        On the other hand, there is no fundamental principle in a secular/atheist philosophy that prohibits killing, genocide, and death camps.

        Thanks for the comments, even if we disagree!



  3. “Actually, one of the ten commandments (found in the Bible) is, “You shall not murder.””

    I know.

    The Bible also has God drowning everyone in the world and telling his followers not to suffer a witch to live.

    A conflicting message, to say the least.

    “On the other hand, there is no fundamental principle in a secular/atheist philosophy that prohibits killing, genocide, and death camps.”

    Sure there are.

    Because there are plenty of secular/atheist philosophies to choose from. Secular humanism, for example, has fundamental principles that prohibit killing, genocide and death camps.

    ‘Atheism’ is not a philosophy. It’s included in many different philosophies.

    You argument seems to be that, because ‘washing your hands after you eat’ doesn’t prohibit genocide, those who follow that one guideline are responsible for genocide. When, in fact, that guideline (like atheism) has nothing to do with killing.


  4. The Bible has verses including: “Every homosexual should be put to death”, “Anybody who does not honour their father or mother should be put to death”, “All who worship false idols should be put to death”, “Kill all those who do not believe” and “Working on the Sabbath is worthy of capital offence”.

    Stop being stupid saying the holy book does not advocate murder. God killed tons of people and he clearly outlined many people should be killed. Just because he also said not to kill anyone (because the bible contradicts itself like hell) doesn’t mean you can cherry pick the parts you like and ignore the hateful verses.

    Don’t drag atheism down to your level.


  5. Essentially, atheism is a description, and a very general one at that. It describes people who do not happen to believe in any gods. Period.

    Blaming atheism for wars is like placing the blame on having a mustache. After all, didn’t Hitler and Stalin both sport mustaches? With this kind of specious, superficial reasoning, one might very well write a book on that, too.


  6. If there was ever a christian icon in the bible, it would have to be Moses. Now you can believe “the story” of Moses and believe he was a man of god(which I did at one time), or you can find out the truth about Moses and realize that he was more of a military general than he was man of god. Moses wiped out an entire race of people off the face of the planet. Therefore, the basis for your perceived moral high ground is a sham!


    1. Well, that’s the story, at least.

      Much of the Tanak (“Old Testament” to Christians) consists of hyperbolic exaggeration, mythological fabrication, and heavily biased history from a provincial viewpoint. Interestingly, the latter is often doubled, where you see somewhat different biases where the stories are duplicated due to the amalgamation of both Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Southern Kingdom (Judah) histories and religious propaganda thrown together into a messily unified document. That explains much of the curious duplication of stories that readers will find there.

      It seems likely to me that Moses did not even exist as a historical figure, as the legends surrounding this character parallel a lot of common non-historical religious myths prevalent to the time and region. Looks more like borrowing with alterations (like the flood story nicked from the Epic of Gilgamesh) designed to create a unifying national/religious myth.

      But sure, if you take it literally, then the god described as communicating with Moses is surely among one of the more genocidal ever imagined or written about.


  7. “Atheism, whether theoretical (as in Communism) or practical (as in Fascism), far from being tolerant, spilled oceans of blood.” Best false dichotomy ever.

    Atheism == Disbelief in supernaturalism.
    Atheism != Communism
    Atheism != Fascism
    Humanism, the moral philosophy of most modern Atheists is vehemently against Communism and Fascism.

    Stop being silly with the Strawman festival.


  8. Thanks for all the constructive discussion, everyone. Looks like we’ve got a lot of agreement here about a whole host of issues. Oh wait … my bad. We’ve got next to nothing in common here …

    All the comments made about biblical contradictions are wonderfully ignorant of how religious people (whether Jewish or Christian) have interpreted/wrestled with these texts over the millennia. Your perceived moral high ground, looking down and condemning the Bible from your self-made/self-declared perch, is very telling of your narcissistic hermeneutic. Not that you’d agree with every religious interpretation, but I find the general approach of the comment thread delightfully fundamentalistic! (And we thought Christians were the only fundies!)

    It’s been amusing, thanks for stopping by our little blog!


    1. I don’t see anyone who has commented thus far “condemning the Bible.” Perhaps there is some misunderstanding behind that rather sweeping conclusion.

      Most Christians, of course, are not “fundies.” Thank goodness. Nor does it really mean that atheists are “fundamentalistic” (delightfully or otherwise) when some take a moment to speak up to correct inaccurate accusations or to express their opinions on a topic.

      In fact, the first person to mention “biblical contradictions” was Andrew Compton. Is he arguing with an opponent who exists in his own head?


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