Atheist Atrocities fallacy

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Original short description: "Logical fallacy about atheism"

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Template:Too few opinions The atheist atrocities fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy where, religious apologists diminish secular or opposing religious values through the association of these values with the atrocities that occurred in the 20th century. The atheist atrocities fallacy arose following the end of World War II when the true atrocities of what Adolf Hitler did became better known to the world. Religious apologists, as a reaction and psychological defence mechanism, placed the blame of Adolf Hitler’s actions on atheism. The atheist atrocities fallacy has continued to be employed following the end of the regimes of major controversial political figures: Joseph Stalin (ruled from 1927 – 1953), Mao Zedong (implemented China’s five year plan 1953 – 1957, the Great Leap Forward 1958 – 1960 and The Cultural Revolution 1966 – 1967) and Pol Pot (ruled from 1976 – 1979). This logical fallacy has commonly been used by religious apologists as an explanation as to why these prominent figures committed such extensive atrocities.

What is the fallacy?

The atheist atrocities fallacy is the means by which individuals of non-secular belief systems create explanations as to why individuals like Adolf Hitler have the capacity to commit such atrocities against humanity by undermining secular beliefs. The fallacy is an example of non-secular individual’s interactions with conflicts between faith, non-faith and reason.

There are many philosophers who discuss the relationship or conflict between faith and reason. Soren Kirkegaard prioritises faith to the point of irrationality, he asserted “to have faith is precisely to lose one’s mind so as to win God”[1]. Kirkegaard believed in a clear distinction between faith and reason (or belief), belief was something that needs to be supported by evidence. Faith however, can cover topics that lack evidence. John Locke on the other hand argued that faith and reason co-existed to the point where if a religious doctrine presented any extent of irrationality, conflict within itself or conflict with known facts that it must be unsound. Locke speaks about his belief in the reasonableness of faith (Christianity) in his work The Reasonableness of Christianity “when I had gone through the whole, and saw what a plain, simple, reasonable thing Christianity was... I was flattered to think it might be of some use in the world"[2], this same understanding of the relationship between faith and reason is discussed in Locke’s work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in “faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind: which, if it be regulates, as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but upon good reason”[3]. John Cardinal Newman argued that faith was entirely related to rational experience and principles, he argued the way the human mind works is to draw reason from informal evidence.

While many philosophers discuss the relationship between reason and faith, many non-secular individuals of the 20th century observed the same attitudes towards reason and faith as Locke and Newman.

Non-secular individuals relied upon faith through education (and reasoning) as a means by which to develop moral compasses. The conclusion drawn by these individuals created the atheist atrocities fallacy: due to these individuals believing in secular ideas, the lack of faith and reason stunted moral developmental growth.

What are the fallacy’s origins?

The atheist atrocities fallacy arose following the end of World War II and was used as a method for religious individuals to cope with the atrocities that occurred. The atheist atrocities fallacy is a combination of the following fallacies: Ad Hominem, The False Analogy, Poisoning of the Well, False Cause and Slippery Slope.

Types of fallacies involved:

Ad Hominem (or Tu quoque) Fallacy

This fallacy dismisses criticism by means of deflection, a person will provide an example of their accuser’s hypocrisy in regards to the accusation instead of addressing it

The False Analogy Fallacy

This fallacy is an informal fallacy as it implies to inductive arguments. An analogy proposes that two concepts are similar because of one shared characteristic, a false analogy fallacy presents two concepts with similarities but do not share the single characteristic.

Poisoning of the Well Fallacy

This fallacy occurs when someone presents associates adverse characteristics or qualities with an individual, object or concept with the intention of undermining it.

False Cause Fallacy

This fallacy occurs when the link between premise and conclusion depends on some imagined causal connection, this is an informal fallacy the error is about what the argument is about not the argument itself.

Slippery Slope Fallacy

This fallacy presents a culmination of events followed by an unlikely conclusion (usually negative). This fallacy is commonly used in fear mongering practices.

The atheist atrocities fallacy was formed by the use of the Ad Hominem Fallacy; when non-secular individuals were criticised for their respective religious driven atrocities the response was that the major controversial political figures of the 20th century were atheist, The False Analogy Fallacy; the commonality between individuals who have the capability to engage in such atrocities regarding the human race is atheism, The Poisoning of the Well Fallacy; these controversial figures of the 20th century were atheist therefore atheism is bad, The False Cause Fallacy; these controversial leaders were atheism, therefore atheism is the cause of mass genocide, and finally the Slippery Slope Fallacy; the more the world becomes secularised, the more atheism is able to spread which leads to a great chance of horrendous acts, such as the ones caused by Adolf Hitler, to occur again.

Examples of the fallacy

Adolf Hitler

Nazi belt buckle "Gott mit uns"

The atheist atrocities fallacy was first presented when the world was exposed to the true atrocities of the concentration camps that were prevalent during World War II. Julian Baggini’s book Atheism: A very short introduction argues that one of the worst accusations laid against atheism is that it is responsible for some of the worst horrors of the 20th century, including Nazi concentration camps[4], Cardinal George Pell argues similarly that “Adolf Hitler’s Nazism was one of the two great atheist movements of the last century”[2].

Adolf Hitler was a baptised Catholic and much of his propaganda circulated around concepts within Christianity including his anti-Semitism which is a point of contention within the Christian faith: Antisemitism in Christianity. One example of Adolf Hitler’s support of Christianity is the Nazi Uniform belt buckle stating “Gott mit Uns”, God with us.

Cardinal George Pell and Richard Dawkins came to the conclusion that Adolf Hitler, while not an atheist, represented the extreme personification of social-Darwinism.

Joseph Stalin

Portrait of Joseph Stalin

The atheist atrocities fallacy resurfaced following the fall of Joseph Stalin in 1953 to account for the governmental control Stalin exercised surrounding his totalitarian regime. Joseph Stalin murdered millions of famers following the government seizure of Soviet farms and used secret police and encouraged citizens to spy on one another to remove anyone who may have opposed him. Joseph Stalin’s communist Russia was an atheist state. Julian Baginni discusses this in his book Atheism: A very short introduction, the Soviet Union was “avowedly and officially an atheist state”[4]. Stalin’s regime focused on control and this was achieved through expelling religion, without a uniform faith for individuals to follow they had no choice but to follow Stalin. Stalin built a personality around himself creating a ‘God like presence’, Soviet history books were rewritten to paint him as having a larger role in the revolution and to dramatize other aspects of his life. Stalin controlled the Soviet media and was flattered as the subject of many channels of expression including literature, art and music. While the Soviet State under Joseph Stalin was atheist and Joseph Stalin was an atheist, Stalin used atheism as a means by which to build his presence as a personality not as reasoning as to why he committed so many atrocities. Julian Baginni concludes in his book Atheism: A short introduction “there is I believe a salutary lesson to be learned from the way in which atheism formed an essential part of soviet communism, even though communism does not form an essential part of atheism”[4].

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

The atheist atrocities fallacy made a reappearance during the regime of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong implemented China’s five year plan 1953 – 1957, the Great Leap Forward 1958 – 1960 and The Cultural Revolution 1966 – 1967 all of which were part of his attempts to create a new “socialist” China. The outcome of this pursuit for “socialist” reform resulted in the deaths of an estimated 65 million[5] Chinese by execution, imprisonment or forced famine. For Mao the intellectual was the enemy, Mao stated “What’s so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chine Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46 000 scholars” (on The Great Cultural Revolution). Mao Zedong ruled under the Maoism doctrine which was a particular strand of revolutionary theory taken from Marxist, Leninist and Stalinist traditions but with cultural tailoring for the Chinese nation. Like the communist ideologies’ Maoism was derived from Maoism was an atheist practicing tradition.

The atrocities committed by Mao Zedong were used to support the concept of the atheist atrocities fallacy. For religious apologists, Mao’s apparent hatred of intellectuals reinforced the idea that with reason and faith went hand in hand.

However, like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin there was no direct connection between Mao Zedong being an atheist and atheism being the cause of these atrocities.

Pol Pot

Khmer Rouge fighters

After the Vietnamese army overthrew the Khmer Rouge, the truth of ‘The Killing Fields’ came to the forefront of world news and ensured the renewal of the atheist atrocities fallacy. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime claimed the lives of up to two million people[6]. Following a Marxist ideology, the Khmer Rouge forced millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside, people died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork. Pol Pot was of the belief that heaven or destiny was guiding him to improve the state of affairs for all those who could be forced to share his utopian ideologies. While the Khmer Rouge was following a Marxist tradition, which is atheistic, Pol Pot spent a lot of his time when the Khmer Rouge was first founded in the mountains practicing Buddhism.

Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot all ruled under communist regimes which practiced atheism. While the individuals were professed atheists, atheism does not rely upon the communist tradition, communism relies upon the atheist tradition to exercise its control.

Why is it a fallacy?

The definition of a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid[7]. The atheist atrocities fallacy has its origins within other fallacies to begin with and is a combination of several formal and informal logical fallacies.

The error in reasoning surrounding the connection between atheism and the atrocities of the 20th century committed by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot were the result of actions of individuals. While Adolf Hitler practiced Catholicism and his atrocities can be blamed on himself as an individual, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot all ruled under communist regimes which, in theory is positive however in practice can lead to and has lead to megalomaniacal regimes by individuals who have engaged in the greatest atrocities of the 20th century.


  1. Kierkegaard, Søren. Kierkegaard's Writings, XIX, Volume 19 : Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening. ISBN 9781400847020. OCLC 1100454045. 
  2. Locke, John (1695-01-01), "The Reasonableness of Christianity", The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke: The Reasonableness of Christianity: As delivered in the Scriptures (Oxford University Press), ISBN 9780198245254,, retrieved 2019-05-28 
  3. Locke, John (1690-01-01), "An Essay concerning Human Understanding", The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford University Press): p. 1, ISBN 9780198243861,, retrieved 2019-05-28 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Baggini, Julian (2003-08-28), "1. What is atheism?", Atheism (Oxford University Press): pp. 1–11, ISBN 9780192804242,, retrieved 2019-05-28 
  5. Edwards, Lee. "The Legacy of Mao Zedong is Mass Murder" (in en). 
  6. "Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime" (in en-GB). 2018-11-16. 
  7. "Fallacy" (in en), Wikipedia, 2019-05-24,, retrieved 2019-05-28 Template:Circular-inline