It has been often claimed that atheism leads to death of millions of people. Some argue that we need only look at the rule of Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot to see what happens when religion is removed from society. However, this is missing the point. They killed people because they were paranoid dictators. They lack of religious beliefs is irrelevant. In fact most of the victims died because their economic policies led to famines and mass starvations. This is an indictment of Communism, not atheism.
It is estimated that Stalin is responsible for the deaths of 43 million people and the Soviet Union as a whole for 63 million. If you break down these numbers, you see 8 million died in famines. This is because the policy of collectivisation was a complete failure. It would have failed just as much had Stalin gone to Mass every Sunday. It was a problem of economics not religion.
39 million died in camps. However, concentration camps are a feature of all dictatorships, not atheist ones in particular. There were camps run by the Tsar (who was religious) before Communism. Lenin and Mao’s opponents were just as brutal as they were in the Russian and Chinese Civil Wars. The Catholic dictatorships in Spain and Latin America also had brutal camps. 12 million were killed as part of the purges and deportations. Again this is because Stalin was a paranoid dictator, not his religious beliefs.
It is hard to see how a belief in a higher power would have changed things. After all, the history of Russia is filled with examples of religious people conducting brutal massacres. Stalin never killed anyone in the name of atheism, he justified all his actions in the name of communism.
It is true that Stalin killed and oppressed religion. But he oppressed almost everything. He banned trade unions; does that make him a fascist? He killed religious people, atheists, communists, capitalists, trade unionists, socialists, liberals, conservatives, democrats, monarchists . . . the list goes on and on. He killed members of every ethnic and religious group. Religion cannot claim to be Stalin’s only victim.
There is a fundamental confusion of correlation and causality. Dawkins ridiculed the religious claim by noting that both Hitler and Stalin had moustaches, do moustaches lead to genocide? The rule of Franco and Mussolini show that there is no contradiction between religion and dictatorship, that Church can support brutality when it suits its own purposes. Sam Harris has argued that Communism in fact could be described as a religion. It has a holy book, a saviour, moral stories, salvation by faith and a rigid dogma. All non believers are condemned to Hell, the only difference is that it is a Hell on Earth.
Stalin and Pol Pot’s regimes lead to the deaths of millions of people, not because they were atheist, but because they were paranoid dictators. They are an indictment of Communism not Atheism.