Both religious and atheistic ideologies have motivated murder

In his Nov. 21 Opinion piece, "Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history," Dinesh D'Souza claims that the death toll from history's greatest religious wars and persecutions "are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century." But in making this claim, Mr. D'Souza mentions this fact only in passing: "[O]f course population levels were much lower" in earlier times. Yes, they were. The world population didn't reach a half billion until 1650. Today it is more than 6.5 billion. And modern mass murderers aren't limited to the swords and arrows of the past; the 20th century gave us weapons of mass destruction.

Also, D'Souza counts Adolf Hitler as an atheist. But raised a Roman Catholic, Hitler identified himself as Christian all his life and strongly maintained that Providence guided him in his cause. His followers felt likewise. Moreover, Hitler was able to recruit leading members of the German clergy as supporters. Thus traditional religion remains capable of mass murder – a fact of which 9/11 should serve as a reminder.
Fred Edwords
Director of Communications, American Humanist Association

Dinesh D'Souza's Nov. 21 Opinion piece about atheism being the real force behind history's mass murders does a disservice to people, in general, and atheists, specifically. I've been an atheist all of my adult life. I've heard the old saw that religion has been the driving force behind history's murderous procession, but I've never really bought it.

Mr. D'Souza says that most carnage connected with religious causes has really been more about power and territory. I think it is self-serving to say that death and destruction instigated by atheist or nonreligious leaders of the 20th century is any different. Leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Zedong persecuted religious groups, not in a bid to expand atheism, but as a way of focusing people's hatred on these groups to consolidate their own power.

Most atheists are probably like me. We think more about making a living and raising our families the best we can than about what the religious majority are up to. To lump us in with the vocal minority who blame the world's ills on religion is unfair.
John Stapleton
Oklahoma City

In his Nov. 21 Opinion piece on atheism and mass murder, Dinesh D'Souza, I think, misses the obvious point: Whether perpetrated in the name of religion or atheism, the mass slaughters were all the result of ideology. Ideology in toto, not religion or atheism as such, is the culprit here.
Michael Ryan

The Monitor received many letters questioning the claim that Adolf Hitler advanced a "self-proclaimed atheist ideology." Dinesh D'Souza responds: Adolf Hitler vehemently rejected the traditional Christian faith into which he was born. During his rise to power, to win the support of German Lutherans, Hitler sometimes used boilerplate rhetoric such as "...I am doing the Lord's work." He also invoked Christ's death at the hands of the Jews in order to build Christian support for his (secular and racial, not religious) anti-Semitism. Once in power, Hitler and the Nazis extolled an atheist ideology that sought to replace Christian values with the new Nietzschean concept of the "superman" and the "will to power."

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