Hitler the atheist and other tired misunderstandings

The usually excellent Madame Arcati today repeats one of the most tired cliches about atheism:

We have only to think of at least two recent prophets of godlessness - Stalin and Hitler - to see what can flow from atheism.

Nonsense. Firstly, if Hitler was an atheist nobody seems to have told him. As David Llewellyn documents at some length, Adolf spent an awful lot of time claiming to believe in god.

As for Stalin, let's ignore the fact that he spent five years of his early life in a seminary (though perhaps that's where he learned the power of indoctrination and mindless, unthinking belief). He certainly declared himself to be an atheist in later life.

However, the idea that atheism was to blame for Stalin's crimes is absurd. Atheism is not a religion, it is the absence of religion. Atheism does not specify the circumstances in which the universe was created, it does not have rules or customs and its adherents do not share an idea of how to live their lives. All that atheists have in common is their lack of religious belief.

Indeed, Sam Harris argues that the reason communism and fascism are so dangerous is that they are too much like religions. Stalin targeted the church because it was the only significant threat to his power, not because of his atheism. What Stalin's victims had in common was not religious belief but that they were seen as threats to his ability to control Russia.

It's just as well Arcati is a blogger and not a philosopher.