The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason

New Atheist Sam Harris, insists that faith is responsible for the vast majority of the atrocities that have occurred in history, and that faith is driving humanity towards apocalypse:

A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason p.12)

Of course, Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin were together responsible for the death of between 80 and 109 million non-combatants.

Harris believes these deaths ought to be blamed on faith.  His reasoning?

Consider the millions of people who were killed by Stalin and Mao: although these tyrants paid lip service to rationality, communism was little more than a political religion … Even though their beliefs did not reach beyond this world, they were both cultic and irrational. (p.79) 

The rise of Nazism in Germany required much in the way of “uncritical loyalty.”  Beyond the abject (and religious) loyalty to Hitler, the Holocaust emerged out of people’s acceptance of some very implausible ideas.  (p.100, italics in the original)

Harris’s extraordinary assertions aside, these men were all atheists and socialists.  For their recent arrival on the world stage, these ideologies certainly have a disproportionate volume of blood on their hands.  This is without taking in account Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge who was responsible for another two million lives lost – 25% of the Cambodian population.    

What should this tell us about atheism and socialism?

Whenever you hear that people have begun killing noncombatants intentionally and indiscriminately, ask yourself what dogma stands at their backs. What do these freshly minted killers believe?  You will find that it is always – always – preposterous. (p.106)

Of course, I am using Harris's propensity for vitriol and overstatement against him. Neither atheism nor socialism inevitably results in holocausts. But Harris’s view on religion clearly does not bear scrutiny.