Alas, Steven Weinberg wants to have it both ways. Weinberg apparently believes that the crimes of religious regimes reflect the true face of religion, while the crimes of atheist regimes represent a distortion of the atheist spirit of rational and scientific inquiry. By Dennett’s standards, this is an evasion. If Christianity has to answer for Torquemada, atheism has to answer for Stalin. By the same token, if the ordinary Christian who has never burned anyone at the stake must bear some responsibility for what other self-styled Christians have done on behalf of religion, then atheists who think of themselves as the kinder, gentler type do not get to absolve themselves for the horrible suffering that their beliefs have caused in recent history. Weinberg is employing a transparent sleight-of-hand that holds Christianity responsible for the evils done in its name, while seeking to exculpate secularism and atheism for the greater crimes perpetrated in theirs.
Along the same lines, Sam Harris attempts to exonerate atheism by alleging that Stalinism and Maoism were each “little more than a political religion:’ Christopher Hitchens advances a similar line of argument, suggesting that as the Stalinists and Maoists sought to replace religion those ideologies should be considered substitute religions. Should religion now be responsible not only for its crimes but also for the crimes committed by atheists on behalf of atheist ideologies?
As for Nazism, Harris writes that “the hatred of Jews in Germany… was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.” Indeed, “the Holocaust marked the culmination of… two hundred years of Christian fulminating against the Jews.” Therefore, “knowingly or not, the Nazis were agents of religion.” Atheist Web sites routinely claim that Hitler was a Christian because he was born Catholic, never publicly renounced his Catholicism, and wrote in Mein Kampf, “By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”