One of the first things you might want to say while on a first date with an atheist is “but weren't Stalin, Mao and Hitler atheists?” It may be an attempt to direct his or her attention to a seemingly significant quandary, or it may be that atheism is a turn-off and you just don't want to spend the remaining twenty minutes until the meal is served learning more about the person or that branch of philosophy. Knowing that this question is not just for casual conversations but also raised in major debates, this particular individual will choose to eat a cold meal rather than let you score a debate point.
Atheism is an acknowledgment that there is no evidence for the existence of any god, deity or theistic being of any kind. While this is used mainly to apply to men who claimed to be gods several thousand years ago, it is not a static observation. Atheism is as much against the “cults of personality” that men like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and scores of others created. If you call yourself an “atheist,” that does not mean that you have the freedom to replace Jesus and Muhammad with your own good self.
Hitler the Deliverer
Adolf Hitler was not an atheist. He often criticized Christianity as being too “weak” for his taste, but that doesn't make him an atheist, because that is not what atheism is about, is it? By the same token, he spoke of Islam as the only religion he truly admired, and mused about how the German people would have been the natural leaders of the “Ummah” (Muslim world) had they adopted the religion of Muhammad. Hitler hated Hinduism because of the polytheism, idol worship and "inferior" race of its adherents, and rejected suggestions about bringing back the old pagan Germanic gods, as they had been clearly “defeated” by the religion of Christ. Notice that none of the reasons included the words “There is no evidence...”
Hitler believed in God, but in varying degrees throughout his life. When Hitler narrowly escaped death in the trenches during the First World War, he believed he had been saved by God in order to fulfill a greater purpose. From the 1920s, Hitler's speeches often included clear references to doing “God's work.” The Nazi SS took an oath to Hitler and God. Hitler's first political pact was made with the Roman Catholic Church, which agreed not to stand in the way of Hitler's dismantling of the Catholic Center Party (one of the key conservative parties in Germany) and permitted Catholic priests to lead a weekly prayer for the Fuhrer directly from the pew, in turn for Catholic Church monopoly over schooling in Germany. Hitler had revealed his secret plan for the destruction of the Jewish people to the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haji Amin al-Husseini, before he did to other senior Nazi party confidantes. He enlisted the Mufti's help to recruit thousands of Bosnian Muslim soldiers into the German army and even the Waffen SS. No atheist worth his or her name would ever contemplate making any pacts, let alone indulge in such sinister scheming as Hitler allowed himself to make with the leaders of multiple religions.
Hitler was not a follower, he was a leader—of a cult of personality. He wanted the German people and sympathizers of his cause everywhere to believe in him as a “godlike” figure. That would be his only failing if he were trying to qualify as a sincere believer in Christ or Muhammad—he wanted their spot. He had no quarrel with organized religions that agreed to serve his purpose. He sought to inspire the kind of loyalty that ultimately led us to witness young German boys and girls manning artillery in the roads of Berlin against the vicious Red Army. Defeats were never his fault—he could not be wrong. When it was clear that he could not win, he refused to allow the Germans to surrender and save their lives—he was prepared to sacrifice the entire German nation before himself or his ideology. They were too “sinful” and weak to deserve to live, if they could not defeat the forces of international Jewry...
Decades after the Holocaust, so many eccentric and bigoted pseudo-historians and politicians try to argue that Hitler “didn't know” about the Holocaust, and that he didn't really want to start a global war. Today, men and women of reason have the same problem with the believers of Muhammad, who argue their Prophet was a man of peace even though the Qur'an, like Mein Kampf, directly and repeatedly contradicts any such claim.
Stalin and The Holy Trinity
The Communists came to power in Russia with a searing vengeance, killing millions for ridiculous reasons. However, their opposition to organized religion was from the perspective of it helping keep the royal family and nobility in power for centuries at the expense of Russia's impoverished masses. It is true that under Stalin, many thousands of churches were ransacked, icons and Bibles destroyed, but that was the same fate that native religions suffered at the hands of Christianity and Islam when they came into town. Vladimir of the Kievan Rus ordered his pagan people to convert to the creed of the “Prince of Peace,” or risk being killed. Already, the Communists were merely following the footsteps of the faithful.
Josef Stalin had a difficult situation to handle when he came to power. With Lenin dead, the next most charismatic politician in the party was Leon Trotsky, and Stalin had only come to power by forging an “alliance” against Trotsky. After dispatching his political opponents, Stalin still had to overcome his lack of charisma and popularity in comparison to Lenin and Trotsky. To cement his power, he created a cult that you will find sounds very familiar…
First, he made Lenin the creator of this invincible State and party—Lenin's wisdom and leadership were unparalleled, and he insisted that he was right about everything. His body was preserved in a mausoleum and on display forever, allowing the masses to visit their Lord, to feel his “eternal presence” for generations in as mystical a sense as possible. Stalin was humble enough never to challenge Lenin directly, and settled for merely being his successor (historians have revealed that Lenin did not, in fact, trust Stalin at all and did not anoint him the successor). Lenin was dead, so his aura was effectively “ethereal.” As his chosen successor, Comrade Stalin was the righteous leader. To be loyal to Stalin was to honor Lenin, and to question him was treason with Lenin. The Party, certainly “omnipresent” and under totalitarian decrees, “omniscient” as well, was the spirit of Lenin's ideals and of the nation. It was all across Russia, and every patriotic Russian should aspire to be a part of it. The party controlled everything—from personal life to the economy to war and revolution. It was both the establishment and the revolutionary force all at once.
Thus, Stalin effectively replaced “The Father, The Son & The Holy Spirit” with “Lenin, Stalin & The Communist Party.” This system did not fail him during his lifetime, and allowed him to send millions of his own people—the Russians and Georgians and the other enslaved nationalities—to horrible slavery-until-death. The world outside Communism was already explained as inherently decadent and corrupt, but Stalin would decide when the time was right to take the righteous cause abroad with all the power of the State. The Communists had their own eschatology—when the whole world would be surrendered unto the one, true ideology and state of being—and their organs of international collusion to spread their effective “holy war” abroad. In the meantime, non-existent production surpluses and bumper crop yields were announced in miraculous terms to the overwhelmed public as irrefutable evidence of the correctness of the leader's way. A “counter-revolutionary” enemy was created, of course, to explain those cases of Russians rebelling against these absurd lies.
When lay Catholics publicly state their belief that Pope John Paul II “did not know” about the Catholic clergy abusing children, it reminds us of the many Russians who survived the Gulags and testified that when the police came for them, in the dead of night or even broad daylight, they genuinely believed that Stalin “did not know” what the State's police was doing. Stalin was still "right," even if you were being sent to your death, for how could anyone, in the Soviet mind, imagine replacing the scion of Lenin? “Stalin still loves you”—oh yes, and large numbers of young Russians are still convinced Stalin was a great leader, even though no single individual in history has been responsible for killing as many Russian people.
Perhaps it's forgivable—one of the key traits of religion is that the prevalence of reality (or if you like, “evil”) rarely disturbs the description of “all powerful and all-knowing” that is bestowed upon their God or Allah or whatever. Did you defeat your addiction to alcohol or drugs? God or Allah helped you do that. Why are children still starving to death in Somalia and Sudan? Its God's or Allah's plan to “test the faith” of their parents. Jesus or the Mahdi is going to come to put an end to all of that because Satan and disbelief is responsible for all of that. A perpetual, irrational hope via the suspension of reality is offered for the lack of answers. In most cases, human beings have taken it. Nobody asks why beating the addiction woes of a handful of people was deemed more important for the deity or savior or leader than the life-and-death struggle of millions of emaciated children. So—a bumper crop or high industrial yield achieved by farmers or workers? Credit to Stalin! Police picks me up in the middle of the night to be taken to be starved and worked to death—Stalin can't have known. Stalin still loves me.
Mao and the Emperor's Cult
China is one of the rare nations to be spared the scourge of Abrahamic religion, so perhaps the atheist argument is finally dented in the case of Mao? Yes, there was no deep-rooted superstition about a “Holy Trinity” to take advantage of. In fact, it was much simpler—Mao could have it all, with the Cult of the Emperor.
Since the days of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, the monarch has been considered the “Son of Heaven.” The Forbidden City of the Imperial Palace is more than just a palace or city. It was planned and placed in such a way as to serve as the portal connecting the Emperor on Earth to Heaven. A totalitarian system of governance has been in place in China since Qin Shi Huangdi's chief advisor, Li Si devised “Legalism,” which made laws about everything, including the personal lives of individual Chinese. Li Si presided over a bonfire where thousands of books and manuscripts were thrown into the fire, and only the creed of the Emperor and his achievements were left. People were made expendable to the Emperor, and it was their duty just to serve him; millions are believed to have died working on the Emperor's “Great Wall,” the construction of Beijing and the Forbidden City and the various Emperor's mausoleums, so the experience of dying in process of the “Great Leap Forward” or the Cultural Revolution or any other disastrous Maoist schemes was not a new experience. The stars and signs were consulted when choosing the concubine the Emperor slept with that night, for it was not merely “sex” but a “holy act” that would have consequences for the health of the empire.
As if that wasn't enough, the serving clergy of this particular faith could not simply vow celibacy. They were castrated and made into eunuchs, for no male could live in the Forbidden City or stay beyond the hours of daylight. Concubines were murdered en masse if there was suspicion of sexual indiscretion, even with eunuchs, for they were not allowed to have relations with any man except and after the Emperor. Sound familiar, Muslims? Perhaps you have read the special Qur'anic verse warning you to stay away from Muhammad's widows, as they are not “ordinary” women… No problems with having four wives and sex slaves, but just not Muhammad's “possessions.”
Bumper crops and victories in war were directly ascribed to the Emperor's greatness. Defeats and depression were not reported. The “sinful” generals, eunuchs and other officials were immediately put to death, as they had failed the Emperor, not that the Emperor's orders were conceivably wrong. So what was it that Mao did differently—using the term “Chairman?”
The Kims and the 21st Century
Ultimately, neither Hitler nor Stalin or Mao were able to get past death. That is, until Kim Il-Sung. When the founder of the North Korean State died in 1994, his “death” was explained as a state of “sleep.” The Korean Communists had no difficulty invoking Korean religious mythology by telling the public of how “heavenly cranes,” who had descended to earth to collect Kim Il-Sung to take him to Heaven, were forced into a conference when confronted by the wailing Korean people, who could not stand losing their Great Leader. After long deliberations, they decided to leave the Great Leader in a state of “sleep” in his mausoleum on earth. The Korean Worker's Party immediately declared him the “Eternal President” of the state. Take your time to realize that North Korea's official equivalent to President Barack Obama is a corpse that ceased to live 19 years ago, but will continue in that post long after Mr. Obama has departed from the White House...
If Kim Il-Sung was not supposed to be “divine,” how else could one claim that he decided the measurements of the benches that were constructed for college students to use? Or that he personally wrote not mere “Little Red Books,” but entire textbooks about engineering, mathematics and other deeply technical subjects?
No Moral Dilemma Here
I wonder what will be the response of the theists to being informed that one of their core retorts (its not an “argument,” which implies that some thought has gone into it) against atheism has fallen apart. Clearly, none of these apples ever fell far from the tree. The Hitler cult used the creeds of Christ and Muhammad as well as the pagan Germanic belief systems, and Stalin designed his expressly on the Christian Trinity. Chairman Mao used China's oldest religious order that had never really died, and Korean mythology came swiftly to deify the Marxist-Leninist patriarch of North Korea. How any sane man or woman could ever imagine that any of these individuals were ever “atheists” can never be explained unless you are willing to admit that many people cannot identify hypocrisy even when it is taking place right before their very eyes.
Atheism is an arm of reason—it is not possible for it to co-exist with any ideology, organization or individual that suppresses free speech and thought, the very instruments that led to the inception of atheism. It is perhaps the refusal of atheism to become a political ideology that seeks to wed itself to the institutions of power, to “baptize” despots and mass murderers into its pantheon of heroes, that makes it difficult for large segments of the human population to take it seriously. After all, the Spanish Conquistadors were heroes of the Catholic Church, as were the “Ghazis” (Holy Warriors) that were Timur, Mahmud of Ghazni, Nadir Shah, to Islam, despite the fact that their cumulative kill total exceeds fifty million. Even though the Churches and Muslim Ulama have been consecrating the “divine right to rule” of single families over millions of people for several millennia, it is supposed to be a “Christian ethos” that has sustained American democracy for two hundred years. Let's even take it down the ladder – the Democratic and Republican parties enjoy massive loyalty and followings, despite the repeated cases of corruption, incompetence and bigotry that have prevailed in their activities and leaders for generations. Not for the believer in Camelot are John F. Kennedy's marital infidelities, the Bay of Pigs invasion or his mob connections; nor for the Reagan loyalist any mention of Iran-Contra...
Perhaps the cold reason of atheism is just too dull for these adventurous souls that find greater “peace” in lying down in unquestioning obedience for their Christ, their Allah and their respective rulers. Maybe it's easier than bothering to raise their voice to ask an odd question now and again. Too appealing to the human mind is the journey to “eternal happiness” and “peace,” which has inexplicably led us through repeated wars and holocausts; only when reason triumphs will the peace be deposited, but there is a lot for the forces of reason to overcome first. In the end, atheism just isn't hypocritical enough to entice the unquestioning masses...