Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part II of III

Let us now consider the next segment of Mr. Hitchens’ challenges (find part I here):

To read/Or not to read

“if I was to ask you can you think of a wicked action that could only have been performed by someone who believed they were on an errand from God, there isn't one of you who would take 10 seconds to give an example.”
This segment appears to be premised upon the ubiquitous New-Atheist concept that since atheism is mere a lack of belief in god(s) then atheism is perfectly pure and nothing evil has ever been done in its name. I personally find the challenge difficult to understand: you see, the term “only” is very restrictive and I suspect that if I were to state, “Consider the following actions which were committed by atheists…” Mr. Hitchens may very well respond that since he knows of the same, or similar, actions taken by theists then it does not count.
Therefore, I will offer some examples of wicked actions performed by atheist (regardless of whether it was in the name of atheism or not) and let the cards fall where they may.

Eugen Turcanu of the Communist Romanian Secret Police “devised especially diabolical measures to force seminarians to renounce their faith…Some had their heads repeatedly plunged into a bucket of urine and fecal matter while the guards intoned a parody of the baptismal rite”[1]

In Communist Russia “prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings…”
“human being would be lowered into an acid bath…”
“they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs…”
“a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the ‘secret brand’)…”
“a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot.”[2]

Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer (interviewed by Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, 11/29/1994), “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then…what is the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought…I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime.”

Kevin Underwood (who was found guilty in Oklahoma cannibalistic plot case), “Pretty much the only time I believe in God is when I want to blame Him forsomething.”

Jerry Seinfeld, “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”
George Costanza, “I do for the bad things.” (Episode 63, Season 4)

These are a mere drop in the bucket of such wicked action that had nothing to do with theism. But again, the challenge is so generic that surely any example would be excluded. Perhaps the answer to the challenge is all too simple and here it is: no one can come up with even one single wicked action that could only have been performed by someone who believed they were on an errand from God since any such examples could be discredited by claiming that atheists have also committed the same, if not similar, actions.
But what about the very concept of being on a errand from God? Surely, no one who lacked a god(s) belief would do any such thing. Not necessarily, Professor of Philosophy Daniel Dennett claims that Joseph Stalin was not an atheist (even though he was) because Stalin believed in a god and that god was Stalin. Apparently, it is philosophically sound to claim that atheists are theists (see here for Prof. Dennett’s statement).

[1] Daniel J. Flynn providing an example from the book: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression
[2] Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Thomas P. Whitney, trans., The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 – An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 93-94


  1. I don't understand how an educated man like Dennett can make the claim about Stalin with a straight face and still believe that he is being intellectually honest.

  2. I know off topic a bit, but hey, what do you guys think of the primaries? I'm really really fiscally, and governmentally conservative(smaller gov' and such) I'm so diggin' McCain and Palin. I think Obama is a creep.

    This might actually be a subject we could have some issues in common.

  3. Going by the premise that Stalin thought he was a god, if he was an atheist then so is God. Does God not think he's a god?

  4. I think that Hitchens is on shakey ground trying to argue such things. As you pointed out, all the hideously barbaric things done by religious cranks throughout the ages could certainly have been done by atheistic crack pots too.

    The difference i suppose might be in doing them because of religion and because of atheism.

    The Inquisition and the witch hunters (of whom the inquisistion were actually amongst the mildest) did unspeakable evil things to people. So did the Russian secret police under monsters like Stalin. Whats the difference?

    One could argue that the witch hunters did what they did because of religion but i don't think thats right. I think they did it because they were greedy, ammoral psychopaths. But it was religious belief that allowed them to get away with it. Brutes like Matthew Hopkins indulged their sadistic urges and the normal folk around them let them get away with it due to religious fervour and fear.

    The Russian secret police were equally messed up sociopaths. They got away with it because no one could stop them. Fear of them kept the people in line. Atheism did not allow the secret police to flourish. Atheism was a necessary aim of the state that the secret police worked for. In commmunism the state is totalitarian. Religious persecution is necessary as it offers an alternate world view, offering the hope of choice. Totalitaria states must eliminate hope of choice or change if they wish to maintain themselves.

    Intellectual communists hated religion for philosophical reasons and would have hated the Russian secret police just as much. In their eyes the church created a false panacea that allowed the peasants to get by in the hope of eternal reward. They needed to strip away that false comfort to show the peasants that their lives were terrible and that they did have the power to change them.

    Evil people like the Russian secret police, Jeffery Dahmer or the witch hunters will do evil in all ages. But for good people to do terrible things you need a cause that outweighs their normal moral sentiments. Atheism cannot provide that (although communism can) and religion can.

    After all, if you truly believed in eternal damnation or reward, whats a few hours of torture if it can save an eternal soul?

    Let me ask a question of the christians here.

    If you KNEW, for a fact, that you could convert someone to christ by punching them in the face repeatably. Would you do it? Its not much to do to save someone from the fires of hell forever. And God will certainly reward you for saving so many souls. If you really believed that, you'd be punching people all day long.

    Thats what drove the crusades into pagan regions. Slaughter 1000 pagans and force christianity on them and you might not save them, but you'll save some of their children, and even more of their grand children.

    And so good people can be convinced into wicked acts.

  5. Also off topic a bit: you are kidding, aren't you, scary jesus? All signs indicate that McCain would be for a "smaller government" in the same sense that Bush is for a "smaller government": cutting back on education and environmental protection, sure, but spending so much on defense that our grandchildren will still be paying off the debts. It is a mystery to me how the Republicans, especially since Reagan, have been able to sell the myth that they are for "smaller government", and still put through record budgets that basically serve to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

    As far as Obama being a "creep" goes- all politicians are creeps as far as I'm concerned: they have to be to get their jobs, given the abysmal education of most voters. But Obama is certainly the lesser of two evils. And if McCain, who used to be a conservative I could respect, but has since sold out, dies in office (not unlikely, given his age), then Sarah Palin could give Bush a run for his standing as the worst president in American history.