Has Religion or Godlessness Killed More People?

February 10, 2015

by Ron F. Hale

Geraldo Rivera got away with “spin” in the No Spin Zone of Bill O’Reilly.[i]

They were discussing the media firestorm that President Obama created by his “crusades and inquisition” remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Most listeners knew these words were coming just days and hours away from the barbaric act of ISIS burning to death a Jordanian pilot in a metal cage and the president’s private meeting with a group of Muslim leaders at the White House.

Geraldo sets up his talking points by insinuating that more people have been killed in the name of religion than any other reason. Does history bear this out Mr. O’Reilly; did you catch the spin?

One of my favorite books is written by Michael Guillen and is entitled Can A Smart Person Believe in God? Dr. Guillen is a theoretical physicist, former Harvard professor, and once served as an ABC News Science Correspondent. At one point in his book, he answers the old cynical complaint that “the world would be better off without religion” and “look at all the violence and killing done in God’s name!”  Dr. Guillen points to a nine-hundred-page book by Stephane Courtois (and other writers) entitled The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression – it details the horrible violence that Marxism, Stalinism, Communism–and other “godless” political regimes of the twentieth century. By conservative estimates, from 1917 to 1991, atheist governments massacred close to 100 million people. The worst offenders are:

1. China: 65 million people killed
2. USSR: 20 million people killed
3. North Korea and Cambodia: 2 million people killed

Guillen’s main point is that these governments have killed in the name of their “godless” political philosophies and atheism was a fundamental part of their creeds. Add up all the atrocities committed by Marx, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin and their disciples — and you will quickly dispel the notion that they are smarter and govern more compassionately than “we” individuals who truly believe in a God who someday will hold all mankind morally accountable for their beliefs and behaviors.

Nevertheless, terrible things have been done in the name of God and religion. Investigate these horrible deeds and you will find that when any religion becomes a “state religion” – appalling things have happened. For this reason, early Baptists in America were persecuted in challenging the “state church” rule in each colony or state. Baptists did not wish to be “tolerated” they wanted to live with full “religious liberty” -– to worship, to ordain their own clergy, to baptize their own converts (while refusing the baptism of their babies), to evangelize in the marketplace of ideas, and pay their tithes to the local church, not the state-run church.

The last thing any good Baptist wants is a state-run religion—Christian or otherwise!

The “religious rub” happening in America today is that a theo-polictical state-sponsored religion is the only paradigm that most new Muslim immigrants have ever known. We fear this is what they will strive for through an ongoing community, city, state, and federal encroachment of Sharia laws passed in the name of accommodation. What fuels our fear is a sympathetic administration that is so frightened of being tagged “Islamophobic” they might pressure federal judges to speedily pass new laws that transform America into a safe haven for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Boko Haram.

Have no fear, for we will not be killed in the name of Islam, but in the name of “work place violence!”

 

[i] The show aired on February 6, 2015 (Friday) at 7pm CST.

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Chris Roberts

People are people. Unfortunately, people kill people regardless of belief system. The nefarious aspect of religion is that people are given an excuse to kill: go slaughter every man, woman, and child in that city in the name of God. Furthermore, religion trains otherwise decent people to defend such atrocities (I’m sure the good folks of SBC Today have several arguments up their sleeve to defend the atrocities of the Old Testament, just as I used to in my once and former Christian days). Many people have been killed in the name of God (whether his name be Allah, Yahweh, Krishna, whatever), many people have been killed in the name of political ideology (whether it be Communism, Democracy, whatever), no one has been killed in the name of atheism.

    volfan007

    Chris,

    Did you not read what Ron wrote in the OP? Atheistic Communists have killed millions of people…more than have been killed by “Religous” people. Have you forgotten about Cambodia and the killing fields?

    Also, God did tell the Hebrew people to wipe out the Canaanites, as part of His judgment on those people. They were extremely sinful, and God used the Hebrew people to bring judgment upon them. And, it was perfectly righteous and just for God to do this. He’s God.

    David

      Chris Roberts

      David,

      At risk of repeating myself, I’ll again note that while atheistic communists have killed people, they did so in order to impose their political ideology, not to impose their atheism. Once upon a time I spent a few weeks on a mission trip in Peru. I saw places where the Shining Path had slaughtered people in an attempt to take over control. Pastors and church leaders were regularly singled out. The pastor who was showing me these places and telling me the history explained the Shining Path justification: “They know the people follow their pastors and they think if they kill the pastors, the people will follow them instead.” They wanted to impose communism and thought Mao Zedong had the right idea on how to do it.

      As for God’s judgment, yes, I know that excuse: those people *deserved* to die. When other religions kill in the name of judgment rendered by their God, we call it atrocity. When *our* religion does (or did) it, it’s justified divine wrath. You demonstrate my point exactly – religion trains people to defend atrocity.

      There are still people in the world who defend violence to advance political ideology. North Korea may be the best example. But on the whole everyone – even in formerly Communist states (and to some degree in current Communist states like China) – recognizes that the atrocities in the name of Communism were inexcusable. Most people recognize ISIS attacks as atrocities (except ISIS supporters). Most people recognize the Jihads of the Koran as atrocities (except Muslims). Most people recognize the conquest of Canaan as atrocity (except Jews and Christians). Most people recognize Hell (at least in idea, since no such place exists) as an atrocity (except Christians). I could go on and include pretty much every religion the world over, with the atrocities they have committed, and the ones who nonetheless justify that atrocity. Christianity stands squarely in line with the others.

      To restate a point from my previous comment, it doesn’t really matter what belief system a person holds. People are people, and people are going to do terrible things. Atheists have raped and murdered, Muslims have raped and murdered, conservative Christians have raped and murdered (though Christians have a neat trick of saying, “Well that person was no true Christian”). People are people. The difference is whether or not your worldview allows you to justify atrocity when it is (or has been) committed by “your side”.

        volfan007

        Chris,

        I believe that many Communists leaders did talk about religion being bad. I believe they did have an agenda of “NO God” in our country. A lot of their political ideology was done with that in mind, because religion was an opiate of the people, and was a harmful thing, in their view. Thus, they wanted God put out of their country, and they persecuted Believers, who preached the Gospel. They’re still persecuting Believers in China.

        Right now, extreme Muslim groups are murdering and torturing people. We must stop them. They do not have the right to do this. And, they most definitely should be stopped. And, the Koran does teach them to murder people. As we read the NT, we don’t see such things. In fact, we’re told to love our enemies. We’re told to bless those, who curse us. The Koran teaches Muslims to kill all infidels.

        Surely you can see the difference?

        David

          Chris Roberts

          David,

          You are correct that many of them saw religion as inherently bad, but I think you misunderstand why: religious world views often challenge various political systems. This happened in ancient Rome – no one cared about another religion in the realm until that religion made claims and required practices that ran counter to the reigning system. Christians weren’t persecuted for not believing in the Roman pantheon, they were persecuted because their beliefs were seen as subversive. Communist leaders felt this way about all religions. Suppression of religion was to eliminate what they saw as a threat to political ideology.

          As for Islam today, I agree – Islam calls for some pretty violent actions against unbelievers. Some Muslims follow those parts, some don’t. We need to stop the ones who do. And yes, there is a difference between the NT and the Koran – many of which can be explained through different political circumstances when the religions originated. Compare the OT to the Koran and differences are rather difficult to spot. Christians claim the OT just as much as the NT, which means Christians inherit all the same sorts of atrocities one might find in the Koran and all the same sorts of tactics currently in use by ISIS.

    Ron F. Hale

    Chris …Are you saying that Christians, Jews, and other religious people can be held accountable for certain actions –but—atheists are not?

    Tim B

    Yea, right…how bout the guy who just killed 3 in chapel hill. Here’s a quote for you….“A review of the Facebook page of the man charged in these murders, Craig Hicks, shows a consistent theme of anti-religion and progressive causes. Included in his may Facebook ‘likes’ are the Huffington Post, Rachel Maddow, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy,’ Neil deGrasse Tyson, gay marriage groups, and a host of anti-conservative tea party pages.”

    The report included an image posted recently by Hicks that stated: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem. Not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.””

    By the way, you are espousing the same sort of thinking….get rid of religion and solve the world’s problems. You don’t get rid of religion without getting rid of religious people.

      Chris Roberts

      I wondered if there would be people trying to say that his atheism motivated his violence, setting aside the fact that every indication points to this being over a very petty parking dispute.

      Whenever a Christian commits a crime, we don’t jump to the assumption that they were motivated by religion. All too often, Christians are inclined to assume atheists who do bad things are motivated by their atheism, or Muslim crime is always due to Muslim extremism, etc, etc. But while bad things really do happen in the name of religion, most of our everyday crimes are much more mundane. People are people and people – atheist, Christian, Muslim, whatever – sometimes commit murder for reasons that have nothing to do with their particular beliefs about God, or lack thereof.

Daniel Wilcox

Actually the history of warfare is more complicated. While it is true that probably more humans were slaughtered by dialectical materialists in the 20th Century than by religion, one needs to be cautious. Millions of humans were killed by and for religion in the 20th century. Consider the religious slaughter in 1947 in India among Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs. Etc.

Also, in history before the 20th century, far more humans were slaughtered by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. than were by atheists. Check out the religious wars of France between Catholics and Reformed, the 30 Years War, the Lutheran/Reformed/Catholic religious wars of the 16th century and so forth.

Millions upon millions of humans have been slaughtered in the name of God. Allegedly, according to many historians, almost a 1/3 of all German died in the 30 Years War. One cause of the war was that Protestants threw 2 Catholic Regents out of a 3rd story window, 70 feet to the ground!

Don’t forget the words of famous Christian leaders like Martin Luther: “…these cardinals, these popes, and the whole swarm of the Roman Sodom, who corrupt youth and the Church of God? Why do we not rather assault them with arms and wash our hands in their blood?”
And against the peasants in the Peasants War,
“Thus, anyone who is killed fighting on the side of the rulers may be a true martyr in the eyes of God, if he fights with the kind of conscience I have just described, for he acts in obedience to God’s word. On the other hand, anyone who perishes on the peas­ants’ side is an eternal firebrand of hell, for he bears the sword against God’s word and is disobedient to him, and is a member of the devil.”

And this behavior of religious people in the name of God goes on all the way back into history. Consider the Hindu epic, the Mahabarata, which chronicles the slaughter of many humans about 2,500 years ago. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu god Krishna specifically orders Arjuna to kill even his relatives in war!

Then we have the whole Islamic history which starts with Muhammed ordering the beheading of hundreds of Jewish men and older boys:-(

Also check out historian Phillip Jenkins Jesus Wars (on Christians killing other Christians, Jews, and Pagans) and The Great and Holy War (which shows how WW1 was motivated by religions).

God’s Almost Chosen People by George C. Rable is one book among many histories which shows how Christianity both in the Union and in the Confederacy was the huge factor in the cause of so many deaths, injuries, and rapine in the American Civil War.

Millions upon millions….

    Chris Roberts

    On the number of those killed, a difference can also be seen based on simple logistics. There were fewer people “back in the day” as well as less efficient weapons. By the time global population exploded and weapons technology increased, religions had – for the most part – lost political dominance, at least in regions wielding significant military power. One wonders how some of the old religious conflicts would have gone with today’s military technology and population size.

      Ron F. Hale

      Chris,
      And one wonders what would have happened if Marx, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin had a “Big Red” button to push. Or, nukes with warheads filled with deadly poison gas or manmade plagues. God in His sovereignty protected and sparred His chosen people so that the Messiah would come into the world through them. And … His plan with work its way through to the very end of time and on the other side. Blessings!

Max

While “religion” has a lower death toll from its killing sprees than godless political regimes, I hope I live long enough to see religion’s funeral preached! Much of what we see in Christian religious structure across the planet has little to do with the Kingdom of God. We are drifting further from the Kingdom and the King with each passing generation under the banner of “religion.” Religion has done a fine job of dividing its members into tribes following teachings and traditions of men (and Jesus warned us not to do that!). Distinct protestant denominations number in the 100s, if not 1,000s, across the world. We even have subsets of that division within SBC ranks, evident by our current theological wrangling. Jesus came to redeem and work through individuals, not institutions! The institution that we call “religion” is OK only if it is equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry and mobilizing the giftings within the Body of Christ to be on mission. Anything else is just religious observance and it will end up killing you in one way or another – religion has done a fine job of snuffing out spiritual life, which is death in itself. In our efforts to force God into a religious box, we have ended up doing church without Him in far too many places. Thus, I put my trust in the Kingdom, not religion, unless I can find them coexisting somewhere.

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