I remember this one debate I watched with Richard Dawkins in it, and there is one comment he makes that has always irked me. Not in terms that I found it challenging, but it could easily be answered and wasn't. (For those of you who don't know, Dawkins in currently the leading atheist populariser. His popular works include The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion.)
Dawkins believes that religion is fundamentally evil, and seems to think that atheism can rid the world of atrocities, or at least come close to it. He loves to reference examples where people have used religion as an excuse for genocide, murder, war, and all sorts of naughty things.
However, whenever someone points out that the USSR was passionately atheist, and that there were many atrocities which occurred within that country, Dawkins cries foul. Let's see if I remember what he says correctly... "There is a difference between an atheist doing evil, and someone doing evil who happens to be atheist."
Uh huh. Here's a few things I would like to say to Dawkins: First you seem to think that there was no cultural/political context to things like the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Are you so ignorant as to think that such an argument doesn't work against the very examples you bring up?
Second, the USSR didn't just happen to be atheist. They were Marxist, and atheistic materialism formed the foundation for Marx's theories. Marxism was an application of atheism (not a necessary one, I grant you, but it is still the foundation of it). The USSR even persecuted some purely on the grounds of not being atheist (see example here). Exactly how is that different from the Spanish Inquisition?
To this, Dawkins also said something along the lines of "I see no natural path from an atheistic perspective to any evil. No one will ever blow themselves up in the name of atheism"
Well, OK Rich. I will grant you that no one would ever do that. Additionally, no one ever blew themselves up in the name of Islam either. They did it in the name of Allah. Muslims don't worship Islam, and Christians don't worship Christianity. No religious zealot ever did something in the name of their religion. They do it in the name of their God.
Atheists worship science and human progress, and though there aren't any atrocities someone would commit in the name of atheism, there are lots and lots of atrocities that someone could use atheism to justify in the name of science and human progress. Here's a short list: human guinea pigs, euthanasia (not just of elderly, but also the disabled), eugenics, genocide, and quite frankly war. After all, in atheism human life has no intrinsic value. How hard is it really to justify atrocities with that simple idea?