I am often accused of being an atheist, which I most certainly am not. (There is a big difference between an atheist and an agnostic. And if you want to see why a rational person can be skeptic when it comes to religion you might want to start by reading a wonderful book by Timothy Freke called The Laughing Jesus) And because folks believe that I am an atheist, Christians, particularly those to the right of me politically, like to bring up terrible people from history and accuse them of being non-believers when they argue with me.
I suppose this has something to do with the fact that the Klan proudly claims to be a Christian organization, and I am quite sure that most of its members are in lockstep politically with my right wing conservative friends.
Anyway, I was thinking about all that when I read the following article by Michael Sherlock. (h/t to the commenter over at the Mediaite website. )
"Religious apologists, particularly those of the Christian variety, are big fans of what I have dubbed, the atheist atrocities fallacy. Christians commonly employ this fallacy to shield their egos from the harsh reality of the brutality of their own religion, by utilizing a most absurd form of the tu quoque (“you too”) fallacy, mingled with numerous other logical fallacies and historical inaccuracies.
Despite the fact that the atheist atrocities fallacy has already been thoroughly exposed by Hitchens and other great thinkers, it continues to circulate amongst the desperate believers of a religion in its death throes. Should an atheist present a believer with the crimes committed by the Holy See of the Inquisition(s), the Crusaders and other faith-wielding misanthropes, they will often hear the reply; “Well, what about Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler? They were atheists, and they killed millions!”
Given the obstinate nature of religious faith and the wilful ignorance it cultivates in the mind of the believer, I am quite certain that this article will not be the final nail in this rancid and rotting coffin. Having said this, I do hope it will contribute to the arsenal required by those who value reason, facts and evidence, in their struggle against the fallacies perpetually flaunted by those who do not value the truth above their own egocentric delusions, delusions inspired by an unquenchable thirst for security, no matter how frighteningly false its foundation.
Before addressing the primary weaknesses of the atheist atrocities fallacy itself, I would like to attend to each of these three homicidal stooges; Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler, who are constantly trotted out to defend a religious worldview. I will lend Hitler the most time, as the claim that he was an atheist represents a most egregious violation of the truth.
“Besides that, I believe one thing: there is a Lord God! And this Lord God creates the peoples.”  ~Adolf Hitler
“We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations; we have stamped it out”  ~Adolf Hitler
Hitler was a Christian. This undeniable fact couldn’t be made any clearer than by his own confessions. Yet, I will not merely present you with these testimonies, as damning as they happen to be on their own, but I also intend on furnishing you with a brief history of the inherent anti-Semitism of the Christian religion. I will do so to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Hitler and his Christian Nazi Party were acting in complete concordance with traditional Christian anti-Semitism.
To begin, here are just a few of Hitler’s Christian confessions:
“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.” ....
...POL POT (See pic)
Pol Pot, possibly not even an atheist, but almost certainly a Buddhist, believed in the teachings of the Buddha, no matter how perverted his interpretations may or may not have been. His violence, much like the violence of many earlier religionists, wasn’t the result of a lack of belief in a god, whether Zeus, Osiris, Yahweh, or the god-like Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism, but in the megalomaniacal belief that heaven or destiny was guiding him to improve the state of affairs for all those who could be forced to share his misguided utopian delusions. Not only was Pol Pot a Theravada Buddhist, but the soil in which his atrocities were sewn was also very Buddhist.
In Alexander Laban Hinton’s book, ‘Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide,’ Hinton drew attention to the role that the belief in karma played in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, particularly with regards to the cementation of a docilely accepted social hierarchy, not too dissimilar from Stalin’s ready-made Russian religious tyranny, as well as highlighting the Buddhist origins of Pol Pot’s ideological initiatives.
This [Pol Pot’s regime’s] line of thinking about revolutionary consciousness directly parallels Buddhist thought, with the “Party line” and “collective stand” being substituted for dhamma…One could certainly push this argument further , contending that the Khmer Rouge attempted to assume the monk’s traditional role as moral instructor (teaching their new brand of “mindfulness”) and that DK regime’s glorification of asceticism, detachment, the elimination of attachment and desire, renunciation (of material goods and personal behaviors, sentiments, and attitudes), and purity paralleled prominent Buddhist themes… 
I have only presented a small snippet of the available evidence that points to religion’s role in Pol Pot’s crimes, and there is not one single piece of solid evidence that Pol Pot was an atheist, so let us once and for all dispense with that speculative piece of religious propaganda. Pol Pot spent close to a decade at Catholic school and nearly as long studying at a Buddhist institution, so religious education was something he had in common with both Hitler and Stalin, but I would never use such data-mined facts to assert that religious education invariably inspires tyrants to commit atrocities, although a case for such a proposition could probably be made without committing too many logical and historical inaccuracies. I won’t even bother sharing the un-sourced quote from Prince Norodom Sihanouk that Christians present as “proof” that Pol Pot was an atheist, as its origin is not only dubious, but its contents reflect a belief in heaven, which, if genuine, negates any claim that Pol Pot was an atheist.
THE ATHEIST ATROCITIES FALLACY
The atheist atrocities fallacy is a multifaceted and multidimensional monster, comprised of a cocktail of illogically contrived arguments. It is, at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct. But it is much more than this, for within its tangled and mangled edifice can be found the false analogy fallacy, the poisoning of the well fallacy, the false cause fallacy, and even an implied slippery slope fallacy.
Tu quoque (“You Too”) Fallacy
The Tuquoque fallacy is an informal fallacy used to dismiss criticism by means of deflection.  Instead of addressing an accusation or charge, the perpetrator of this fallacy will offer an example of their opponent’s alleged hypocrisy with regards to the allegation. This is precisely how Christian apologists employ the atheist atrocities fallacy.
To give you an example of this fallacy in action, we need only examine the reply of renowned Christian apologist, Dinesh D’Souza, to charges of religious violence:
And who can deny that Stalin and Mao, not to mention Pol Pot and a host of others, all committed atrocities in the name of a Communist ideology that was explicitly atheistic? 
“…it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or Nazis or Stalinists.” 
This fallacy will be often employed with an added sprinkle of one-upmanship, with the apologist using the immense scale of secular atrocities to argue that atheism is worse than religion. However, if we were to honestly calculate those victims of ritual and religious sacrifice across the entire planet, the total number of witches burned and drowned across Europe and in America, the near genocides of the Pacific Islanders by the London Missionary Society, and similar missionary organizations, the dismembered bodies of the Saint Francis Xavier’s Inquisition in Goa, the disembowelled remains of the Anabaptists in Europe, the men, women and children murdered by Muslim conquerors from the Middle-East to Spain, the stoned and strangled blasphemers in Christian states of the past and Muslim ones of the modern age, and all of the unmarked graves of all of the victims of religion, from the dawn of that plague to now, I am quite certain that the numbers game would prove to be an unfruitful one for the desperate apologist." [Read More]
You can thank me for the education later.
I grew up poor with a single mom. I moved to one side of the country and back; as the new kid, I was a frequent target of bullies. I had an abusive relationship with a stepfather. From early high school, the income from my after-school jobs covered our family's monthly shortfall.
I waited tables all through college, my bank account hovering just above zero. No one showed me the ropes, and I mostly figured out on my own what it meant to be a man.
Don't tell me I had it easy.
On the other hand...
Although my mom struggled to make ends meet, my broader family was financially comfortable. Attending college was so embedded in my childhood context that I don't ever recall considering that I wouldn't go. And while I was poorer than some of my college friends who received a monthly check from their parents, my scrappy work ethic was supplemented by no less than five different sources of extended family financial support.
I had a lot of help climbing over some of the hurdles in my path.
So was I "privileged"? Hell, no (okay, maybe a little).
Calling me privileged implies I didn't earn what I've created. That it was easy for me. That's not my experience. I got where I am with blood, sweat and tears. Telling me otherwise (especially with a charged word like 'privilege') just makes me defensive. I don't want to appear elitist, arrogant, selfish, or like an exploiter. Combine it with "white privilege" and I'm a quasi-bigot.
Except that's not what women and people of color are talking about.
We are talking past each other
The real issue is one of obstacles. Moving up the socioeconomic ladder in America involves leaping over certain hurdles: poverty, the color of your skin, the education level of your parents, if they are immigrants, where you live, how good the public school system is, if anyone in your context has gone to college before, whether your parents read to you at night, are you male or female. The list goes on and on. The more obstacles you face, the more challenging upward mobility becomes.
The breakdown in our public dialogue begins with our inchoate perception of these obstacles: We see the ones we confronted; we simply aren't aware of those we didn't.
Instead of the "special rights and benefits" of privilege, let's talk about the "absence of obstacles." As a white male from an educated, single parent, mostly middle class family, I had more obstacles than a rich kid raised by two parents and sent to private schools. On the other hand, I'm not black, a woman, or from an inner city with a broken school system. In this sense, I benefited not from privilege, but from an absence of several very challenging obstacles.
I don't want to feel guilty (because I had it easy) or prideful (because I had it harder than you). I'm not interested in yelling matches about who is right, who is wrong, and whether white privilege is reverse racism. All that is a diversion.
I am grateful for the obstacles I was spared without thinking I'm superior to those who weren't. I am curious about and respectful of the obstacles others faced without needing to deny their difficulty because it makes me feel less worthy.
The great cost of our addiction to labeling and being right over each other is that it distracts us from moving towards what (I believe) we most want: a society where people from every rung of the ladder can receive the support, and learn the gumption, to overcome the obstacles on their path.
Be the starting point of dialogue, not diversion:
- Notice how you get defensive. When we feel criticized, accused or devalued, we lash out, typically in ways that cause others to feel mistreated. Defending your position creates no progress.
- Actively seek out what you don't know you don't know. It's not your fault you didn't encounter certain obstacles. Be grateful. But also be curious about the challenges that people not like you had to overcome.
- Embrace your own obstacles. When I look back at my life, my most meaningful accomplishments were my most difficult obstacles. I can feel jealous that others had fewer, or I can embrace the growth that my next obstacle is offering me.
- Expand your empathy. Suffering and difficulty aren't a competition (neither is success, by the way). Acknowledging what others have gone through can inspire our own courage and commitment to growth.
- Focus your energy on obstacle busting. For both yourself and others, acknowledge the vulnerability we feel when we face a daunting challenge. Create a context where people feel safe and inspired to go for broke.