A few weeks ago, I posted The Hitler Canard, wherein I replied to theists who point to Hitler as an example of godless morality at its most extreme. I showed that Hitler was actually a devout Christian who explicitly stated he was acting on the behalf of God and Christ.
A few theists replied to that post by bringing up Stalin. “What about Stalin? He was a genocidal dictator who really was an atheist, wasn’t he?”
Yes. As far as historians can tell, Stalin was indeed an atheist.
However, equating Hitler and Stalin this way is a false equivalence, because there’s a critical difference between the two: Hitler committed his actions in the name of his religion. By his own words, he committed atrocities for religious purposes. Stalin, on the other hand, may have been an atheist, but he was not slaughtering people in the name of atheism. He wasn’t committing atrocities to further atheism. He may have considered atheism expedient to his other goals, but it was not the goal on its own. This doesn’t make Stalin any less of a monster, but it also doesn’t implicate atheism in the same way it implicates religion.
Indeed, there have been many acts of mass slaughter committed for religious reasons, such as the Inquisition, the Witch Hunts, and the Crusades. Yet, there have never been any similar mass slaughters committed for the sake of atheism. Whereas religion has been a motivating factor for genocides on numerous occasions — as far is is known, atheism has never been a motivating factor for any genocides in history, even if some atheists have committed genocide. Neither atheism nor theism has consistently people prevented from committing genocide — but theism has incited people to genocide, while atheism has not.
As I said in the Hitler post, lunatics come in all stripes, and I don’t really think focusing on the theological inclinations of those who commit genocide is a productive line of argument, regardless whether you’re arguing for theism or atheism. But since people specifically asked me this question about Stalin, there’s your answer.