Pardon the title, but I couldn't think of anything to accurately describe the situation.

Yesterday, this answer was posted. I was immediately concerned by the use of the phrase

The 20th century is largely the story of the war against murderous materialistic atheist

I think that we would all agree that this statement1 is a tad inflammatory.2 I was a wee bit ticked off, and I was even more concerned when I noted that there were already two upvotes. I duly downvoted and left two comments. I considered flagging, but thought of this xkcd and decided to push off thinking about the whole thing later.

Today - this morning, as it is evening for me now - I came back to Stack Exchange, went through all the new responses, and checked on this answer - and saw that it had more upvotes (the current net score is five, from nine upvotes and four downvotes).

I left another comment, waited a while, almost flagged, stopped, wrote up a meta post, stopped writing before posting said post, mentioned it in chat, and finally decided to write up a new post, centered around one question:

Why was this answer upvoted?

The answer has some interesting points - which I have some arguments against, specifically against the claim that

the idea that "religions cause wars" is fallacious.

and so I will state that it's not entirely a rant.3 I also don't think that it's entirely off the point of the question, as that one statement is a valid response. I disagree with the evidence given to support it, but that part is valid.

So, to sum up this question body that hopefully wasn't prohibitively long, I'd like to ask this: Why did an offensive, rant-like, partly-off-topic answer get upvotes?

I encourage both sides to share views. I ended up not flagging the answer because I was curious enough that I wanted to see a discussion.

Also - and I write this with a wry grin - I suppose I asked for this simply by writing the title of the question the answer at hand was posted on.4

1 I'll admit that I think it's wrong, too.
2 I should note that I'm an atheist, so I'm actually personally offended here.
3 At least one other user used this term.
4 Not that I was taking one side over the other; that was precisely why I asked the question in the first place.

  • $\begingroup$ If anyone wants clarifications or a better explanation of my thoughts, feel free to ask, and I'll edit it into the question; it's still a work in progress. Like I said, I wanted a discussion to happen, rather than . . . something worse. I'm also available in chat, for side conversations. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify: the murderous materialistic atheist are the communists and the fascists? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent I interpreted it as referring in part to communists, given the length of the Cold War, although that only lasted for about 50 years. Fascism was active in the early half of the 20th century, so I guess it included both groups. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ I guess it would be better if the answer had been more specific. Use the names USSR and Third Reich instead (or other similar appropriate words) $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent I agree. It still doesn't excuse "Objectively, in the last two hundred years, materialist atheist have proven much more brutal, bloody and warlike than the religious in the same time period.Every atheist dominated polity since the French Revolution as turned instantly muderolus and warring.", obviously. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, it is a false statement. One of the deadliest conflict in human history had been fought partially for religious reasons, in the last 200 years : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion#cite_note-4 And I'm sure I could find plenty of other examples. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 17, 2015 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent: the fascists were Christian, weren't they? (Hitler was, at any rate.) $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2015 at 0:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HarryJohnston this is debatable. Both the Italian Fascists and Germany Nazi embraced the Christian Faith, but it could be seen as more a political move than ideological. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2015 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ There were a lot of blatant inaccuracies and offensive descriptions in that answer. Not enough that I mod hammered it but still I was surprised to see it getting up votes. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Jul 17, 2015 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I suspect it gets upvotes from the same people that were giving my religious answers down votes. ignorant people feel it supports their world view, having nothing to do with reality or facts. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Jul 17, 2015 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DVK and ? ''One of the deadliest conflict'' 20 million is a small number ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 17, 2015 at 19:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ask yourself, if the question was rephrased as... "can there ever be a group of <insert ethnic minority> who never commits crime?"... how well do you think that would be taken? IMO, the question is what is bordering on offensive territory. The answer, I thought, was an excellent response. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2015 at 5:31
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @GrandmasterB How else could it be phrased? As I told TechZen, I asked it because I was shocked by the assertion of others on a related question of mine that there is no such thing as a peaceful religion. I was on the side of religion when I asked this question, not against it. Look at the context. Furthermore, I felt that the answer went far beyond any boundaries by openly attacking atheism, which was completely beside the point. If I asked the question, "Can there ever be a group of atheists who are nonviolent", and the answer attacked religion, would you really agree that it is relevant? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 18, 2015 at 15:55

4 Answers 4


First, a lot of people dislike atheists. We get compared to rapists, for example, in levels of trust - and not favorably.

Second, there's a demographically significant media push that paints atheism as extremely anti-Christian.

Third, note that our site is heavily weighted in favor of upvotes (97%). So in fact 9 up/4 down is a highly unusual ratio, and is an indicator that the answer was particularly disliked.

In fact probably a large majority of people disliked it, but only a small percentage of them were willing to downvote. The anti-atheist minority had a much higher upvote percentage, so they won the war. It just comes down to math and vote ratios.


I am a functional materialist and and a philosophical agnostic in the Huxley tradition. My models of human behavior are grounded in evolutionary psychology. I think that evolutionary psychology makes a strong argument that religion is needed to moderate human behavior.

But my phrasing is no more inflammatory than the very title of the post "Can there be a religious group that will not commit religious violence?"

Clearly the question relies on the premise that there is a direct connection between religion and violence.

Nor more inflammatory than many of the answers and comments in that post or this one.

My answer pointed out that all organized groups of humans, especially polities, will commit violence. There is nothing, absolutely nothing about believing in the supernatural that makes individuals or groups more prone to violence. There is however, significant evidence religion moderated violence.

I am sorry if I offended anyone as that was not my intent. I regarded my statement as merely factual and not a matter of contention by any educated person.

But by the same token, I will point out that atheist are utterly tone deaf to the sneering disrespect they vomit out on others constantly not to mention their arrogant attitude of asserting that religious people are always irrational and destructive while atheist have never made a mistake in the last two centuries and are responsible for everything good in the modern world.

Such an attitude wears and can make one snappish. Especially for those of us who are not religious but suffer in our own reputations and regard from the reactions that atheists misbehavior evokes.

The very fact that my statement was considered provocative while the post title was not, demonstrates at best an blind spot and at worst outright bigotry.

As to substance, I will simply state it as a matter of historical record that every political regime that was explicitly atheist or in which atheism played a predominate role turned murderous which shocking rapidity. I can point to the The French Directorate, the Mexican PRE, The Soviets, Mao and all the rest of the sad litany.

There are zero counter examples. People can try to offer rationalizations about why this doesn't matter but they can't offer the real world evidence of atheists regime that didn't turn on its own and others.

Stating that the 20th century has largely been a struggle against murderous atheist ideologies and states is simply history. The liberal democracies, still dominated by religious populations have had to wage war and containment against atheistic Communism and Fascism.

It is also clear that atheism removed all moderators on their behaviors making them more murderous both internally and externally. No religious leader ever endorsed the concept of unrestricted warfare but atheist adopted it quickly.

The Communist were explicitly atheist and there is simply no debate. The Hawaiian Democide project puts the deaths attributable to Communist, outside of war, i.e. killing their own populations at 120 million. To this we could add their role in the creation of Fascism of a counter reaction and Stalins attacks on the German Social Democrats in an an attempt to polarized Germany and bring about a "crisis of capitalism".

This is not to mention their creation of the entire Cold War and their pushing humanity to brink of extinct on several occasion based on their delusional, but entirely materialistic and supposedly "reasoned" belief in Marxist historical inevitability.

As far Fascism:

Firstly, I find it interesting that atheist rather calmly accept that Communist were atheist but violently reject that Fascist were even though Communist killed more people and presented a much more significant threat than Fascism ever did.

Mussolini was an explicit atheist. He was raised in a Marxist household his father reading from Marx at night like the partisans of old read from the bible. He came to power after the strikes and sabotage by Red socialist, driven by Communist, brought Italian cities to actual starvation. However, Mussolini never managed to create his totalitarian state being forced to work within the framework of the Constitutional monarchy and constantly opposed by the Italian king.

The relative high degree of internal diversity in the Third Riech confuses many who only lightly study it because they assume Hitler ruled with as tight a fist as Stalin. They assume that any political assertions by any Nazi at any time must, just as would have been true under Stalin, have had Hitler's blessing and reflected his beliefs.

But unlike Stalin, Hitler came to power by election having to cobble together a coalition to get and keep power. He did not inherent a system of central authority as the Communist inherited from the Tzars. He did not inherent population of illiterate peasants but the best educated population in Europe. He had a short time table to mobilize for his war. He had to keep things as loose as possible to build as broad of support as possible. He couldn't squeeze to hard.

For example, Rotenburg's Myth of the 20th Century one on the Nazi's foundational text (though Hitler hated it), was so hostile to Christianity that Hitler blocked Rosenberg from having any prominence in the regime out fear he would alienate to many Christians.

As long as party members acknowledged Hitler's leadership and embraced his racial ideas, he allowed a wide degree of latitude in beliefs within the party. Others were coerced to join the party for propaganda reasons. Therefore their were a some Nazis that professed Christianity.

But that does not mean Hitler was Christian. He remained technically a member of the Catholic Church and ordered Goerign and Gobbles to remain also but he never attended or took sacrament as far as I tell. More definitively, unlike most Catholic leaders, he had no religious advisors in his retinue

As an example of Hitlers latitude, Himmler tried to create a whole ritualistic system for the SS to create an emotional bonding system based on Hitler's success with rituals in Nazi public ceremonies. He based it on everything from king Arthur to Nordic gods to bits of old Sanskrit. People have looked at that and thought that Hitler must have approved so Hitler must have been into the occult. In fact, Hitler let Himmler do as he wished but sneered behind Himmler's telling Speer

Thus Hitler had little sympathy with Himmler in his mythologizing of the SS.

What nonsense! Here we have at last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now he wants to start that all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the church. At least it had tradition. To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! Can you imagine it? I would turn over in my grave. . . .

Inside the Third Riech, pg 94

All members of the SS were required to be avowed atheists by the way.

So the fact that there were some Christian Nazis means little to core drives of the party no more than as much as a 20% of the Nazis were former Communist does.

Some people point to this or that statement on Hitler's point that he was a Christian. Well... I suppose that's definitive proof. What's the world coming to when you can't take the word of a mass murdering psychopathic leader who see propaganda as their main tool?

You know what else he said in hundreds of speeches all throughout the 30s? He absolutely promised, to never ever, pinky-promise, cross his heart and hope to die to never ever start another war in Europe.

I don't know how to break this to people who think Hitler was a Christian but well...hold your hats...Hitler lied, kinda a lot, sort of thing you might say.

He had a knack for telling people just what they wanted to hear, to appear to really believe whatever the person in front of him believed while giving a wink and nod that all that other stuff was just for the rubes.

You can't judge Hitler, or any other leader by why they said but only what they did. Hitler never attended a church, had no clergy in retinue, and he held a giant festival every year for the most noted Atheist philosopher of the previous century.

Beyond embracing Nietzschean philosophy complete with its atheism and its idea that religion was just a means of the weak to control the strong. Hitler's racial theories were dependent on the concepts of non-Darwinian evolution, then scientifically current and rejected by most Christians who remain creationist. Likewise he jumped onto the Eugenics bandwagon,he didn't invent it. An most Christians opposed Eugenics.

At best Hitler saw religion as practical materialistic tool for motivating and controlling populations p95. He told Speer that it was to bad that Christianity took over from the pagan religions in Germany that they'd be better off with a religions he thought more militaristic like Islam or Shinto.

Hitler usually concluded this historical speculation by remarking: "You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Father- land as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?" Inside the 3rd Reich p96

He butted heads with the Catholic church repeatedly, most famously when they shut down his euthanasia program.

Hitler believed that people could programmed and he sought out various means of doing in an utterly cynical manner. He would say anything, adopt any façade and hijack an set of ideas, values and beliefs and tack into his programming system.

As for religions and wars:

Historically, atheist have employed a rhetorical trick of ignoring that prior to the mid-1800s, the idea of any strong separation between the materialistic and the supernatural did not exist. Going backwards in time just a couple of centuries leads us to a time when no separation existed. Religion intertwined with everything from brushing ones teeth to all politics.

It almost the way that people treat science today, using it to justify any action whether it well proven, still conceptual or even pure pseudoscience, well proven or not or complete pseudoscience centuries from now, histories will believe that science caused all wars.

Since all actions were justified at least partially by religion, it’s easy for the dishonest or ignorant to assert that religion caused the conflict. At best the assertion is untestable since all cultures where religious and all major action had a religious justification, how can you actually assert that without religion, people would have made better decisions?

Well, you can't. Moreover, since strong materialistic causes always exist behind every war, we can never isolate religion as a sole or even critical trigger.

And since the 20th century has shown that atheist are every bit as capable as horrific murders and wars than and religions, clearly the absence of religion does not prevent wars, indicates it is not a necessary element.

Can religion be used to excuse wars fought for other reasons? Yes. Is there any historical examples of a war having no driver except religion? No. (I would welcome any examples because I have looked.)

Religion is often used as a fig leaf to disguise more grubby self interested motives of the cynically powerful. People wrapped themselves in a halo long before they wrapped themselves in flags or hugged trees.

E.g. The Tai ping Rebellion mentioned in a comment above was not driven by religion. Religion simply coalesced many smaller and local uprising that had been going on for years in the disintegrating Quig dynasty.

Having some nut running around claiming to be Jesus' younger brother merely increased the internal cohesion of the rebels, it did not create the motives of the rebellion. Although, some religious rationale would have played a prominent role in the rebellion because religion played a prominent role in all human choices back then in China.

Having proved my point, I will offer the following observations.

It disturbs me greatly that many people with still hold so many tropes of atheism even though they claim to believe in evolution. It appears for most atheist, evolution is used merely to replace divine creation in a cosmology without a god but even a basic application of rule of evolutionary theory to human cultures and histories makes it plain that religion must have been very vital to rise of large scale human societies and that it might remain so indefinitely.

If we step back from the struggle for social and political dominance and look at religion objectively as phenomena, then from a scientific perspective, the behavior of religion clearly serves an evolutionary purpose.


1) All known historical people's have/had a religion or a belief in non-material i.e. spiritual effects on the world, usually in response to human moral decision. If religion served no purpose, somewhere,just by chance we should expect to find a purely materialistic society and such a society should have major advantages over a religious one. We have not. That strongly suggest a materialistic society could not survive in the past.

2) Civilizations have devoted staggering amounts of resources to religion when those same resources could have raised the standard of living or been used for military action. Theoretically, an atheist society at any point of history would have had a significant advantage against religious ones because it would not "waste" resources on religious rituals, buildings nor cloud their thinking with beliefs in supernatural effects. Yet, again, no atheistic or materialistic civilizations are known. The only conclusion is that the high material cost of religion is off set by a strong positive materialistic return.

3) All attempts to base a society or polity explicitly on atheism, have failed catastrophically and with shocking rapidity.

We can deduce that religious ideas provide some great benefit that purely materialistic ones cannot. It appears that key element is the concept of Inescapable Supernatural Consequence for human actions.

That the consequence mechanism are utterly fictional is irrelevant. It only matters that people believe in the inescapable consequence and moderate their behavior to avoid the consequence.

Conversely, in a strictly materialistic world view, if you escape materialistic consequence, then you face no consequence. But in a religious culture, every sociopaths believes that all their moral choices will have a supernatural consequence. The Tzar believed he would answer for his decisions before God, Stalin did not. Which one was quicker to kill?

Is supernatural consequence true? Philosophically, I can't say, my gut says no and as practical matter I would never make a decision based on the premise that it is.

But that doesn’t mean it isn't a powerful moderator of human behavior perhaps one that we cannot do without.

The best evidence for this moderation by inescapable consequence is found in the deep similarities between the ###behaviors### that all major religions require in their adherents.

Just as different genotypes produce the same phenotype, different theologies generate the same general behaviors. If one compares the behaviors between Buddhist and Christian that arise from their moral choices, what differences do they exhibit? None really. Shorn of decoration and ritual, Buddhist and Christian make the same moral choices in the same circumstances.

Because natural selection operates on the phenotype and not the genotype, a theoretical infinite number of theologies could exist and persist as long as they all produce the same similar highly cooperative "phenotype" behviors in their adherents.

Well, some will say, maybe in the past we needed religion but do we need it now? After all, we know so much more now.

Yes, but not enough.

The base problem that we face in trying to make decisions about society and politics and morality using only reason is that we lack any hard science on human social organization, political behavior, sexual behavior, etc. So when we say we're using "reason" to make decisions we're deluding ourselves. Instead, we simply create rationalization for our own Darwinian self-intersest and then things get ugly.

All atheistic ideas about society, politics, morality etc as seriously flawed because the proven data they need to be usefully accurate does not exist.

But this is rarely admitted. Instead, atheist do what everyone does in a logical argument when they run past the data, they paper over the hole and keep going.

The history of the last 200 years has shown that such "reason" is every bit a dogmatic, provides every bit as much certitude as religion every did. Religious people proved correct about many major ideas in the the 20th century, Eugenics, Freudian psychology, Behavioralism, the effects of social welfare programs on individuals and communities, sexual eduction (failed to alter behaviors) etc.

Religion makes better decisions about such matters, because, with great irony, religions have evolved over the courses of centuries under the presure of natural selection and encode within their edicts more sound models of human behavior than materialistic models based on incomplete or flawed data can.

It's twisted,, but religious people ultimately have faith in the results of an evolutionary process and atheist do not. Instead,atheist prefer the ad hoc revelations of their own inherently flawed intellects. Religious models of human behavior are based on experimentation, atheism on intellectual revelation.

Reason can produce absolutist and dogmatism and the certitude that justifies murder even quicker than religion if for no other reason that religion carries with it the weight of centuries of expectations while flawed reason does not. There are certain limits to the actions a Christian can take, there are no limits to the actions an atheist can take if reason justifies the action.

Atheist are dangerous precisely because they have no behavioral moderators, no brakes. (This is particularly true of sociopaths whom now have reason to believe are very common, at least evolutionary theory predicts they will be.) Applied to politics, that lack of brakes produces internal purges and external wars.

I will offer this final observations: The universe does not reflect our personal desires. Simply because we choose the materialistic assumption, indeed, even if we assume that the materialistic assumption is actually absolutely true, that does not mean that humanity has evolved in such a way as to be able to build large scale functional societies with the governor of inescapable supernatural consequence. It maybe that we have delude ourselves to some degree,and constantly invent a supernatural consequence just to suppress our selfish, Darwinian cores.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As in the noted answer, you mix very interesting points and some others which are, at the very least, debatable. Try something: find references to back all the claims that you have. You'll achieve one of two things: either see it from a different perspective, or be more convincing. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2015 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ One thing in all of this that I don't understand is the following: Why did you feel it was necessary to mention atheism at all? The question was not about it. The world in which the story takes place does not necessarily have atheism, nor does it need atheism. Your answer was spent trying to paint atheists as evil as religious folk as perfect. I don't understand your reasons for doing so. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 18, 2015 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ I also did not intend the title to be inflammatory. If you read the question that inspired my second question, you will note that I made the explicit assumption that religions can exist that will not commit religious violence whatsoever. I took this completely for granted. Yet people asserted that this was a fallacy. Naturally, I questioned that assertion, and so I asked a follow-up question about it. If you had paid attention to the context, you would notice that, in this sense, I was fighting for religion, not against it. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 18, 2015 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I was offended at: that you felt the need to openly attack atheism, despite the fact that that was completely irrelevant. The question could not have been phrased differently, but your answer could have. It was needlessly offensive. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 18, 2015 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ With all of that said, thank you for posting an answer here. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 18, 2015 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 - Sorry if I missed the context of your question but I've spent the better part the previous few hours plowing through questions and answers in in various forums all premised on the idea that religion is dangerous while purely materialistic philosophies are not. Complete with the smug, ahistorical arrogance that such assertion usually come with. Likely all those previous exposures primed me to view you question more negatively than I should have. $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jul 18, 2015 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE 226868 - I felt it necessary to mention atheism because 1) it is the natural counterpoint to religion and 2) Only by examining the history of atheist ideologies can we demonstrate that there is nothing particular to religion that promotes violence as ideologies that explicitly reject religion also commit violence. $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jul 18, 2015 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @TechZen Okay, now I understand why you mentioned it, and I think I can understand your rationale for writing it. Thanks, I misunderstood the comparison. I don't blame you for viewing the question negatively; it's perfectly understandable. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Jul 18, 2015 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ «turned murderous which shocking rapidity» you mean with perhaps? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Oct 17, 2016 at 19:26

Let's take it down a notch... I think the question was one that begged a possibly inflammatory answer, since it dealt with religion. To say all religions were peaceful would tick off those for whom military was important, to say all were warlike would have annoyed the peaceful ones. To say atheists cause wars has the same effect.

The inherent problem with a religion question is it has an opinion based answer in many respects, based on the viewpoint under which you are raised. There is a lot of evidence of atheists causing wars, just as there are religious people and groups who have caused wars and even genocides (think the Hugenot Wars). What the poster was stating, I think correctly although maybe not well founded, is that atheism is the application of survival of the fittest, while religion cloaks this desire with other motives that may not be violent and thus may dilute the competitive aspect. I would say downvoting is appropriate if the info is misinformed, but reporting/removing is not necessary given the touchy nature of the subject and its possible actual significance of the answer in a world building context.


Atheist here. I do not find that part of the answer inflammatory nor offensive. Besides that, I find it is factually correct.

For full context, this is the whole paragraph that is being discussed:

The 20th century is largely the story of the war against murderous states with ideologies founded in materialistic atheism, who adopted notionally secular ideologies but which functioned as religions in terms of their absolutism. It appears that if people do away with a supernatural religion, they just reinvent the same functional structure using a made up materialistic explanation. We get the worst of religion with none of its built in moral restraint.

So let's break it down into parts:

The 20th century is largely the story of the war

So far so good

against murderous states

Doesn't matter what your moral or political views are, this is true.

with ideologies founded in materialistic atheism

I dare say that a couple of ideologies involved in WW2 did use religion as a binding agent to gather more followers, but it was a distorted form of the involved religion, and it was not central to the ideologies.

who adopted notionally secular ideologies but which functioned as religions in terms of their absolutism. It appears that if people do away with a supernatural religion, they just reinvent the same functional structure using a made up materialistic explanation. We get the worst of religion with none of its built in moral restraint.

This is so very true, and sadly so very current.


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