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« U.N. has elected 47 members to new Human Rights Council; let’s see who they are! | Main | Ian Buruma in The London Times: When democracy needs a hand, where is the Left? »

May 12, 2006


Christopher Taylor

Next time someone cries that religion has killed more people than anything else, remember this list. It's not religion or a lack of it that causes this. It's evil.

Frank Warner

Murders in the tens of millions usually are related to an ideology that makes all sorts of excuses for repression.

Sometimes a deadly ideology is related to religion. But the 20th century record links most of the world's murders to Communism and Nazism, two of the most anti-religious ideologies the world has ever seen.

jj mollo

I think you're wrong about that, Frank. Naziism was based to some extent on pagan ideas. The swastika is actually not a broken cross, but some pre-christian pagan symbol. It holds a racist/religious view of the genetic superiority of its favored people.

Communism may be technically a rational philosophy espoused by Marx and Engels, but it certainly appealed, and still appeals, to the same emotions in believers that religions appeal to. No amount of evidence for its failings will sway the true believer from demanding the quick arrival of the Revolution. They believe that if only we do it right this time, ruthlessly rooting out all opposition, then it is sure to bring Paradise on Earth. It is similar, in that way, to the millenialists that constantly reappear in the US, claiming that the end is nigh and the Lord is ready to call his favored people home. The reluctance of the World to end upon such expectations is seldom considered grounds for rethinking these ideas.

Frank Warner

Nazism had its pagan symbolism, no doubt. But it had no god but Hitler, and it adopted an exaggerated faith in one certain model of humans.

Communism outlawed religion. The fact that it adopted many of the rituals of religion -- even the preserved body of Lenin -- didn't make it religious.

All ideologies believe in something, and it's only that attention to faith that they have in common with religion. But religion is much more than believing in your country, your color, your culture or your economic system.

There was no spirituality in Nazism or Communism. Nazis and Communists didn't (and don't) take time out to pray or even to meditate in any meaningful way.

They had enforcers of ideology, but no clergy. They had their misguided philosophies, but neither ever reached the level of theology.

Christopher Taylor

But the 20th century record links most of the world's murders to Communism and Nazism, two of the most anti-religious ideologies the world has ever seen.

These two organizations were atheist by definition and open admission, they were incredibly hostile to organized religions.

But I'd argue they are religions in and of themselves - just atheist ones.

Frank Warner

They certainly are faiths. Each is a blind faith in repression.

The comparison to religion is valid. But to call them religions is to confirm the old, oversimplified case that religion is the cause of all strife, and that's just not so.

Imagine no religion, and you still can imagine all sorts of large-scale oppression, murder and war. Envy and pride probably are stronger motives for bloodshed than spirituality or the quest for unselfish virtue.

Christopher Taylor

I think the more appropriate analysis is to say that ideology is behind all conflict and slaughter on this scale. But you're right, blaming it on religion is just ignorant and silly.


Ridiculous. The clergy of communism are the members of the party. It is their interpretation of the holy texts of Marx and Lenin that they use to establish and maintain their preferred position in society. These members of the communist priesthood assert unchallengeably that they alone are the only correct interpreters of the text, as does the leadership group of every religious sect. The god of communism is the ultimate victory of the proletariat.


Hitler was actively building a German state religion based on Lutheranism, not paganism, although it likely would have included some of the north european mythic references such as those familiarized as Norse gods.

Nevertheless, the operation of the German state was a theocracy with the Fuerher as the central object of worship and his statements as the central tenets of belief.

Frank Warner

Hitler wanted to use the Lutheran Church to control the German people. The Lutherans said no because they knew he believed in nothing but racism and war.

Very rarely did Hitler mention God or Christ. The Fatherland and its quest for world domination were the center of his faux religion.

Frank Warner

But if you want to say something that is like a religion actually is a religion, you're free to make the argument.

Every major philosophy has its believers, highest virtures, noted thinkers and venerated heroes. Does that make every philosophy a religion? I don't think so, but that's just humble me.

Christopher Taylor

A couple of useful quotes for those who think Hitler was a Christian or Lutheran:

Hitler (December 13, 1941), quote:

"The war is going to be over. The last great task of our age will be to solve the church problem. It is only then that the nation will be wholly secure.

"I do not care about doctrine, but I won't tolerate it if some fat priest concerns himself with things of this earth. The way we must destroy organized mendacity is to make sure the state is absolute master. When I was young,
my position was: dynamite. It was only later that I understood
that this sort of thing cannot be rushed. It must rot away like a gangrened member. The point that must be reached is to have the pulpits filled with none but boobs, and the congregations with none but little old women. The healthy young people are with us..."
-"Hitlers Tischgesprache," Picker, p. 154 ["The Nazi Years:
A Documentary History," edited by Joachim Remak, p. 105]

"...Who is there among us who does not, deep in his heart -- provided he can still feel with his blood -- have a profound, a strangely haunting sense of shame when, walking through the German countryside, before the panorama perhaps of snow-covered alpine mountain tops or in the midst of the somber Westphalian heath, he comes across a picture of the crucified Jesus.

"The gods of our ancestors look different. They were men and had a weapon in their hand, symbolizing the attitude to life that is innate to our race -- that of action, that of a man's responsibility for himself. How different the pale crucified one, expressing, by his passive attitude and by his decided look of suffering, humility and an extreme of self-surrender, both qualities which contradict the basically heroic attitude of our race..."
-"Das Schwarze Korps", June 8, 1939, p.13 ["The Nazi Years:
A Documentary History," edited by Joachim Remak, p. 103]

Just ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer what Hitler thought of Christianity.


21 years of dictatorship (1964-1985) in my country, Brazil, has killed a total of 266 people (units!, not thousands nor millions). On the other hand, in our recent democracy, violence causes 50 thousand people to be murdered each year. Curious fact, isn't it? I'm not intending to show that dictatorship was any good, but acknowledging Brazil a violent country, I keep asking whether our dictatorship was lenient or not.

Frank Warner

That's an interesting example.

Brazil's experience was influenced by the Cold War, during which the choice sometimes was between a temporary weak dictatorship and a permanent totalitarian (Communist) dictatorship.

The Brazilian dictators of 1964-1985 appear to have been committed eventually to democracy, but they feared that the deceptive ideology of Communism could trap Brazil forever in a Soviet-style or Cuban-style police state, and Brazil then would never be free.

Freedom does have its challenges. A dictatorship can repress the population enough to reduce such crimes as murder and drug abuse. A democracy, by protecting the rights of suspects, gives people more opportunities to commit crime.

The answer is not to abolish freedom. The answer is to debate constantly how to improve the justice system and how to shape social conditions that are most likely to reduce the opportunity and motivation for crime.


I would say Islam as has killed more than Communism and Nazism. Islam was involved in the genocidal terror with Hitler after all Hitler looked up to Islam as an ideology. If say Islam is simply a religion it is not really but polical dictatorship in the guise of a cult under Sharia law. All these ideologies are evil and tolitarian at their core.

Frank Warner

It's interesting how so many people claim Hitler looked up to one religion or another. In fact, he despised religion.

What is true is that totalitarian ideologies take on elements of religion. There are articles of blind faith. There are the equivalent of saints and martyrs. There are practices that sound like prayers and look like holy rituals.

But in most totalitarian ideologies, the only god is the dictator.

Research the lives lost in the name of any religion, or in the name of any corruption of a religion. The numbers will never approach the lives lost to Communism and Nazism.

The common lesson is that people and nations must not follow any leader who claims he can never be questioned and who is accountable to no one. Religious or not, no human is a god.

jj mollo

I saw an interview with a human rights advocate who claims that 5 million have been murdered already this century in the Congo alone. He compared it to Haiti, which was ignored before the earthquake and will be ignored again after a couple of energetic months. The earthquake itself caused possibly 250,000 deaths, but Haitians have been living in dreadful conditions for decades. They eat dirt. Literally! They call it bonbon terre.

I don't want to even think about what has been happening in the Congo. Maybe that's why we don't do anything about it.


Brazil, of course, slaughtered a huge number of African slaves brought to South America by the colonists and the slave marketers. Brazil as a colony also refused to permit slaves to marry and did its best to import only male Africans to its cane plantations, where the slaves were systematically worked to death. How many millions of black slaves died in Brazil is not known to me, but I have read more than one account that states that Brazil was one of the foremost, if not THE foremost, slave-importing states, which leads me to the conclusion that the slave deaths were quite large. But of course that was prior to the 20th Century.


Come to think of it, didn't the colonists in Brazil import Africans to be their slaves in the plantations and mines because they had managed to kill off the indigenous peoples by working them to death and infecting them with diseases that were not known to the New World, leaving some Portugese who visited Brazil to remark in their books on the vacant villages and river shores for mile after empty mile?


271,301 died in German work camps. Most were communist enemy combatants and died from typhus, dysentaty and disease.
The Red Cross released this number and it is a fact.

Look it up.

"Not one Jew was gassed on German soil"
Simon weisanthal ( nazi hunter) Books and Bookmen pg.5

Mick Langstrum

how come the Clintons are not on that list?
Doing some research, the Clintons also participated in the dispatch of US Citizens but yet the democratic party prefers to ignore these facts.

Frank Warner

If the Clintons reached 100,000 dead in 'peacetime,' they'd be on the list. Not close, even if all the conspiracy theories are to be believed.

Frank Warner

Earle, Auschwitz was not on German soil.

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