Stalin killed for political reasons
In parrying the accusation that Joseph Stalin is representative of what can be expected when we stop believing that a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead, my father once penned a beautiful response that I have used consistently for the last few years. Today I will pass it on for others to use, along with some of my other arguments against the guilt-by-association arguments of theists.
It is no mystery that Christianity’s history is saturated with Torquemadas and Urban IIs, people who forfeited compassion because they believed through faith that it was god’s will. In the spirit of Tu Quoque, religious people will often try to bring the atheist down to their level by pointing out that some of the prominent monsters of the 20th century were, in fact, atheists. However, they miss an important point: in the cases of people driven to malice by faith, religion was clearly the reason for which they killed. In the case of the Stalins of the world, was it atheism that drove them to evil?
I say not, for a few reasons. The first is very simple: people act based on what they do believe, not on what they don’t. Stalin also did not believe in fairies, but this lack of belief can hardly be assigned blame for any of his actions. The theist could argue that Stalin believed theists should be killed for XY and Z reasons, but then you’d have to show how a lack of belief in god led reasonably to that conclusion, and I have yet to encounter such an argument. That argument would have a lot of hurdles to get over, purely because the evidence indicates that Joseph Stalin killed for political gain rather than a hatred of religion.
Stalin was a paranoid who killed millions to consolidate his power. Totalitarianism, not atheism, was the driving force or causal link. Those who claim he was killing because of atheism conveniently ignore facts that show their claim to be bogus.
One of the facts they ignore is that he killed lots of different folks, not just Christians. This makes no sense if atheism is the causal link, but perfect sense if potential political foes is the reason. He killed factions within his own Communist party (anyone not unquestioningly loyal to him, and many hundreds of thousands who were, had to be “weeded out”). He killed Finns, Karelians, Ukrainians, 35,000 military officers shot or imprisoned, almost all of the Bolsheviks who had played prominent roles during the Russian Revolution of 1917, thousands of writers, intellectuals, and artists, 141 American Communists, at least 436,000 people were sentenced to death by NKVD troikas as part of the Kulak (relatively affluent peasants, regardless of religion) operation, and so on. The theists always include the 7 million Ukrainians who died in the famine, but the famine was engineered to break the will of the Ukrainians politically and as a source of revolt, not to wipe out whatever Christians happened to be Ukrainian.
Something those using ‘atheism’ as an excuse are typically unaware of is that the Orthodox Church in Russia was heavily involved in the politics of the time. Anyone who doesn’t recognize the power of the church in politics has only to glance at all of the anti-gay legislation in this country fomented from the pulpit. Quite simply, the Russian Orthodox Church backed the wrong horse politically, and suffered political consequences for it. In short, Stalin didn’t go after them because they were Christians, he went after them because they were a political player. Theists want to pretend that all the various elements of communist totalitarianism were irrelevant to what happened, which is utter nonsense.
Another conveniently ignored fact is that between 1945 and 1959 under Stalin’s leadership the official organization of the church was greatly expanded, although individual members of the clergy were occasionally arrested and exiled. The number of open churches went from about 500 to 25,000. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. How is this explicable if Stalin was motivated by some sort of perverted atheistic drive to eliminate religion?
After Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church. On September 4, 1943, Metropolitans Sergius, Alexy and Nikolay had a meeting with Stalin and received a permission to convene a council on September 8, 1943, which elected Sergius Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. This is considered by some violation of the XXX Apostolic canon, as no church hierarchy could be consecrated by secular authorities. A new patriarch was elected, theological schools were opened, and thousands of churches began to function. The Moscow Theological Academy Seminary, which had been closed since 1918, was re-opened.
What this shows is that religion was a political football for Stalin. If atheism, and not totalitarianism, were the driving force, why ever would he have revived the church from 500 units to 22,000 units?
Atheism itself isn’t a principle, cause, philosophy, or belief system which people fight, die, or kill for. Being killed by an atheist is no more being killed in the name of atheism than being killed by a person who doesn’t believe in unicorns in the name of a-unicornism. The simple fact of the matter is that people act upon what the believe: not what the do not believe. The nub is what motivates particular actions: otherwise you may as well blame Stalin’s appreciation for Impressionistic art for his actions. This is how even atheists can join you in saying that Joseph Stalin, even in not believing in god, was acting unreasonably.
Communism (or at least certain forms of it) can be blamed for communist violence; Christianity (or at least certain forms of it) can also be blamed for Christian violence. As a belief system with specific doctrines that were openly held up as justifying or sanctioning violence, religion must be held responsible for the violence committed in its name.