Atheism has been around for thousands of years, and responsible for many philosophical and scientific developments. Like any movement, it has had its fair share of evil characters. As atheism has no moral precepts, outside of natural morality and ethics, it is hard to say how their atheism influenced their behavior or the particular political and similar movements they chose to follow. It seems that no matter what philosophy or religion people profess, people will always do wrong, whether or not in the name of their faith.
10. Alfred Kinsey
Alfred Kinsey was an infamous American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology, who made groundbreaking research on human sexuality. Undoubtedly, he helped to progress social values – but, nevertheless, he took sadistic pleasure out of his research, and did some very weird stuff, including exploiting children for sex. Moreover, much of his research was fraud.
9. Napoleon Bonaparte
Many people agree that Napoleon Bonaparte, heavily involved in the anti-clerical French Revolution, was atheist – he claimed that “all religions have been made by men”. He was one of the best ever military commanders, and conquered much of Europe. He staged a coup and declared himself Emperor. While he ended anarchy in post-Revolution France, many considered him a tyrant and usurper. He ignored treaties and conventions, seeking undisputed rule throughout Europe. He plundered conquered territories. His 17 years of rule resulted in the bankruptcy of France, loss of many of her territories, six million dead Europeans and economic setback in just one generation.
8. Than Shwe
Than Shwe is the 77 year old dictator of Myanmar/Burma, the head of the ruling military junta. He has overseen the formation of one of the most closed societies in the world. There is no notion of free press, and journalists who opposed his regime are detained. Aung Suu Kyi, the leader of the main opposition party, is kept in house detention by him. Civil servants are forbidden from resigning. Burma has the highest rate of child soldiers in the world, and uses forced labor on construction projects. As far as dictators go, Than Shwe keeps a relatively low, and even sullen, profile. Nevertheless, he reportedly leads an extravagant lifestyle, while his people continue to suffer a life of extreme poverty and natural disasters. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, he refused entry into the country for many foreign aid organizations.
7. Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong-Il is the de facto leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and responsible for the deaths of four million of his fellow Koreans. He is also at the heart of a bizarre personality cult; apocryphal stories such as how “at the time of his birth there were flashes of lightening and thunder, the iceberg in the pond on Mt. Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up” are abundant. Those caught stealing food in the famine-struck nation, or attempting to cross the borders, are subject to public execution. Kim is continuing his lavish lifestyle and military obsession in spite of the crumbling economy. In North Korea he and his father are deified, considered saviors of the whole universe. 250,000 dissidents are confined to “re-education camps”. He has waged a war on South Korea that involved assassinating South Korean leaders and blowing up South Korean planes. He presents a great threat to the world in terms of nuclear warfare, having persuaded the Soviet Union to award him a nuclear reactor in 1984.
6. Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer, an infamous serial killer and atheist sentenced to 900 years in prison, said “if a person doesn’t think that there is a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?”. He brutally killed seventeen men and boys, dismembering them, storing their parts and indulging in cannibalism and necrophilia. In 1991, he was caught by the police after one of his would-be victims escaped. Despite pleading not guilty on the basis on insanity, the court found him sane and fully accountable. He later expressed remorse.
5. Jim Jones
Jim Jones drew people into atheism through the People’s Temple, largely based in California. He said that he “took the church and used the church to bring people to atheism”. In 1978, 909 people at the restricted communist “sanctuary” he presided over in Jonestown, Guyana, committed “revolutionary suicide” at his command. This occurred after the arrival of an American delegation, which he claimed was conspiring against the People’s Temple. Men, women and children took a vial of cyanide and died within five minutes. Only a few people escaped. This event was the largest single loss of American civilian life, in a non-natural disaster, up until 9/11. This entry has the unique status of being on both the atheism and Christianity list. The reason is that the majority of people considered Jones to be the leader of a type of Christian cult, but, as the quote above illustrates, it was really a ruse to attract people who would otherwise have steered well clear of him.
4. Benito Mussolini
Mussolini is notorious for his war crimes as a Fascist dictator during World War II. As a young man he openly declared his atheism, and in his early career as a politician was openly anti-clerical. He was the Italian leader of the National Fascist Party, became Prime Minister in 1922 and was eventually a dictator who severely restricted freedom of speech. Mussolini supported Hitler’s conquest of Austria. In 1935, he invaded Ethiopia, using poison gas, bombing Red Cross hospitals and concentration camps to kill civilians and destroy “inferior” cultures. He ordered the execution of prisoners without trial and the shooting of “witch-doctors”. Italian troops used public executions, hostage taking and burning of villages to crush the Slavic population of Yugoslavia. These acts are now widely considered an attempt at genocide. However, later he tried to associate Fascism with Catholicism in order to garner dwindling support (however his widow made it clear that he was still staunchly atheist). Mussolini was also deeply anti-Semitic.
Mao Zedong led the Communist Party of China to victory in the Chinese Civil War, helping to establish the People’s Republic of China. He had ambitions for a strong China, but his programs largely failed altogether. He has been blamed for the death of between 20 and 67 million of his “comrades”. Under his insane rule there was a culture akin to anarchy, that killed the economy and industrial production. His “Great Leap Forward” triggered a catastrophic and massive famine. However, he is most notorious for the precepts of the “Cultural Revolution”, which led to perhaps the greatest era of cultural vandalism the world has ever known. Antiques, historical sites, artifacts, ancient documents, feng shui traditions, Chinese traditional dresses and monasteries were destroyed for being associated with the “old ways of thinking”. Many copies of the Qu’ran were burnt. Red Guard groups around the country destroyed political and educational stability, criticizing anyone who considered himself superior, destroying reputations and lives. Mao, privately, led a life of great deviancy and excess. He also exacted revenge on all those, mainly intellectuals and professionals, who had disgraced Mao in his earlier career. He also targeted anyone with links to the Chinese Nationalist Party as well as anyone who posed a threat to him. Five million were executed in death camps. 36 million were persecuted and tortured. There were even instances of cannibalism.
2. Pol Pot
Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and Prime Minister of Cambodia from 1976 to 1979, having been de facto leader since mid-1975. During his time in power Pol Pot imposed an extreme version of agrarian communism, where all city dwellers were relocated to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labour projects. The combined effect of slave labour, malnutrition, poor medical care and executions is estimated to have killed around 2 million Cambodians (approximately one third of the population). His regime achieved special notoriety by singling out all intellectuals, and other “bourgeois enemies”, for murder. The Khmer Rouge committed mass executions in sites known as the Killing Fields, and the executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, executions were often carried out using hammers, axe handles, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. His attempts to “cleanse” the country resulted in the deaths of 1.7 to 2.5 million people. He also had an intense dislike of anyone with the semblance of being intelligent, such as those who wore glasses or who spoke another language.
Stalin was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee, from 1922 until his death in 1953. Under Stalin’s leadership, the Ukraine suffered a famine (Holodomor) so great it is considered by many to be an act of genocide on the part of Stalin’s government. Estimates of the number of deaths range from 2.5 million to 10 million. The famine was caused by direct political and administrative decisions. In addition to the famine, Stalin ordered purges within the Soviet Union of any person deemed to be an enemy of the state (i.e. capitalists, theists). In total, estimates of the total number murdered under Stalin’s reign, range from 10 million to 60 million. His government promoted atheism with mass propaganda in school, and held a terror campaign against the religious. He crushed the Russian Orthodox Church, leveling thousands of churches and shooting more than 100,000 priests, monks and nuns between 1937 and 1938.
N.B. Adolf Hitler is left off this list because it is widely acknowledged that, while he abhorred organized religion, there is much evidence that he engaged in “nazi mysticism” or occultism.