We are told so at Commentary, using the Soviet Union by way of demonstration:
Bolshevik ethics began and ended with atheism. Only someone who rejected all religious or quasi-religious morals could be a Bolshevik because, as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and countless other Bolshevik leaders insisted, success for the Party was the only standard of right and wrong. The bourgeoisie falsely claim that Bolsheviks have no ethics, Lenin explained in a 1920 speech. No, he said; what Bolsheviks rejected was an ethical framework based on God’s commandments or anything resembling them, such as abstract principles, timeless values, universal human rights, or any tenet of philosophical idealism. For a true materialist, he maintained, there could be no Kantian categorical imperative to treat others only as ends, not as means. By the same token, the materialist does not acknowledge the impermissibility of lying or the supposed sanctity of human life. All such notions, Lenin declared, are “based on extra human and extra class concepts” and so are simply religion in disguise. “That is why we say that to us there is no such thing as a morality that stands outside human society,” he said. “That is a fraud. To us morality is subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle.” That meant the Communist Party. Aron Solts, who was known as “the conscience of the Party,” explained: “We…can say openly and frankly: yes, we hold in prison those who interfere with the establishment of our order, and we do not stop before other such actions because we do not believe in the existence of abstractly unethical actions.”
Ethics were reduced to what a character in Vasily Grossman’s novel Forever Flowing identified as a reverse categorical imperative, “a categorical imperative counterposed to Kant”: Always use people as objects. Do unto class enemies what you would not want them to do unto you. That is why, starting in mid-1937, torture was used in all interrogations, not just to extract information. What objection could be raised? Ruthlessness without prompting showed that the torturer harbored no abstract moral standard, even unconsciously. It was a positive good to arrest the innocent. There were special camps for the wives of enemies of the people, campaigns to arrest members of a profession (engineers), and mass arrests by quota. As good Bolsheviks, local NKVD branches asked to arrest even more. “The concept of personal innocence,” a character in Grossman’s greatest novel, Life and Fate, avers, “is a hangover from the Middle Ages.”
Garry Saul Morson, “Among the Disbelievers: Why atheism was central to the great evil of the 20th century” at Commentary
That would account for the scale of the mass murders, certainly. It’s difficult reading. When out of power, atheists tend to be against censorship and coercion but it’s a good question whether a pure naturalist (nature is all there is) who doubts free will and thinks consciousness an evolved illusion has any reason to value the life of the mind except as a way of forcing his will on things.
Closing official religion coverage for the week, apologies for lateness due to the Ottawa tornado and power outage.
See also: Are atheists less tolerant than others? One problem for atheists is that they are often assumed to be open-minded which means that they do not have to ask themselves questions or cultivate the quality, and often therefore don’t. People like Gunter Bechly may well have some stories about that.