HERE I continue my critique of the major arguments presented by John Lennox at the recent “Cosmic Chemistry?” public lecture and the “Faith has its Reasons” conference. In this fifth part of the series, I discuss the connections made by Lennox between New Atheism and Totalitarian Marxist regimes of the past. I first consider Lennox’s remarks about Hitler, and argue that Lennox’s attempts to cast Hitler as an atheist are ill-informed and potentially disingenuous. I then consider the connection between Communism and New Atheism, arguing that in essence there is no necessary connection at all, and that Lennox’s insistence on drawing such a comparison is inconsistent with the manner in which he rules out all crimes committed in the name of Jesus as being the work of people who were not ‘true Christians’.
What Lennox Said
“A corollary to this argument (that religion is to blame for all evil) is that atheism is to blame for nothing… imagine a world without Stalin. Without Hitler and Pol Pot.”
“They (atheists) do not want anyone to draw a comparison between the communist attempts to obliterate religion and the current New Atheist attempts.”
“The amount of blood that has been spilled by atheistic philosophies is colossal.”
Hitler was no Atheist
Lennox seems to be implying that Hitler was an atheist. He did not say so explicitly, but he did say ‘atheism is to blame’, and then mentioned Hitler in between the names of two very clear atheists (Stalin and Pol Pot), so I think it is legitimate to infer that he was at least implying that Hitler was an atheist.
However, as anyone with even a cursory understanding of the matter should know, the religious views of Adolf Hitler are a highly complex and controversial subject. Hitler made numerous statements on the matter which were often unclear and potentially contradictory. He often used Christian religious rhetoric for political purposes, and privately often expressed strongly negative views of Christian beliefs. Personally, I doubt Hitler had any especially coherent view on the subject, as he wasn’t a very deep thinker and often expressed crude, inchoate, and contradictory opinions. That said, I also think that Hitler had too much of a sense of destiny and teleology for any sort of purely naturalistic atheism to make very much sense.
Considering all these complexities, therefore, I think that casually mentioning and implying that he was an Atheist Hitler in the way Lennox did is at best intellectually lazy, and at worst intellectually dishonest. I expect better of a leading Christian apologist like Lennox.
Atheism and Communism
As Lennox’s remark that atheists “do not want anyone to draw a comparison between the communist attempts to obliterate religion and the current New Atheist attempts” – is that supposed to come as a surprise? What Lennox is engaging in here is a highly misleading act of bait and switch, since such a comparison is just totally irrelevant to anything whatever. Apparently Lennox thinks that, since Communism was atheistic, contemporary atheists (or atheism generally) necessarily have some connection to the deeds or ideals of past Communist regimes.
If this notion were to be applied consistently, it would mean that contemporary Christianity would have some necessary connection with the evils of the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, anti-Semitism, and any number of other such evils perpetrated in the name of Christ throughout history. Lennox argued that such evils should not be placed at the feet of Christianity because Jesus would have abhorred such things, and “no one who disobeys Jesus is a true Christian”. Lennox’s argument is thus an instance of the No True Scotsman fallacy – every Christian who does evil is not really Christian, but every Atheist who does evil is still a perfectly ‘real’ atheist. Of course, contemporary Marxists say that Stalin and Pol Pot were not true Marxists. They were not following Marx’s actual teachings, nor would Marx have approved of their actions, so how could they be real Marxists? Anyone can play this game.
There is, however, no reason at all to draw a connection between Totalitarian Marxism and contemporary New Atheism in the way that Lennox does. The movements have essentially nothing whatever to do with each other. Both movements incorporate a disbelief in God, and that is the end of the similarity. Marxist philosophy incorporates an immense number of additional beliefs (the labour theory of value, class struggle, Hegelian ideas, etc) which most atheists today would likely reject, and are not in any way logically entailed by a disbelief in God.
One may as easily argue that the Nazis promoted anti-smoking laws and some of the earliest environmentalist policies, and therefore the modern anti-smoking and environmentalist movements are in some way ‘tainted’ by this association. Such arguments are just idiotic and childish. Unless Lennox can make a specific argument, demonstrating how in particular Totalitarian Marxist ideologies have influenced contemporary New Atheism, or how their methods or strategies have been co-opted by New Atheists (which I very much doubt that he can, because the whole idea is absurd), then the comparisons between Totalitarian Marxism and New Atheism are a totally irrelevant red herring. They demonstrate nothing other than Lennox’s inability, at least in this instance, to present a relevant and cogent argument.
Lennox’s Double Standards
Lennox insists on being able to define ‘true Christianity’ such that it conveniently excludes all beliefs and behaviours that he finds objectionable. He then, however, denies New Atheists the same courtesy of being able to define for themselves, according to their own desired criteria, who shall and shall not be considered part of their movement, and exactly what constitutes their core ideology. This is inconsistent, even bordering on hypocritical. Lennox is engaging in special pleading for his own worldview, evidently because doing so is rhetorically convenient for him. There is no justification at all for him excluding whomever he doesn’t like from his preferred label of ‘Christian’, whilst simultaneously sullying the names of his opponents with the heinous crimes of people and movements they themselves do not accept any affinity with.