By Rick W
This is not a reply to the usual Christian last-ditch effort of saying "Communists were atheists, and look how they behaved and what happened to them." Well, what I am about to state is that the radical Communist societies in which so many people were killed were/are more religious than atheist and that such figures as Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il Sung could not have held sway over their respective nations had their citizens been strictly freethinking atheists.
Repressive dictators usually have a "cult of personality" around them. This has long been the case, as kings were often thought of as divine rulers - either gods themselves or those who had been specifically chosen by God to rule the masses. Some of these kings might have been atheists and merely used the idea of God as a way to make the downtrodden masses fall in line (which most of the time, they happily did). However, I bet that most kings actually believed that they, themselves were God's chosen one, and so were just as consumed as their subjects with false ideas. Whatever the case, it seems that even in supposedly atheistic societies that were ruled with an iron fist, it was the "cult" that allowed this harsh rule in the first place, for if the masses stopped believing that their "great leader" was infallible, then revolution towards greater freedom would not be far away.
Let me give you all Wikipedia's opening sentence in the "Freethought" entry. "Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logical principles and not be compromised by authority, tradition, or any other dogma." Let me repeat that..."Authority, tradition, or any other dogma."
According to Wikipedia's entry on the "little red book", a book of Chairman Mao's quotations, the book "was essentially an unofficial requirement for every Chinese citizen to own, to read, and to carry it at all times under the latter half of Mao's rule, especially during the Cultural Revolution. At the height of the period, for people out of favor with the Communist party, the punishment for failing to produce the book upon being asked would range from being beaten on the spot by Red Guards to being given years of hard-labor imprisonment." In essence, Mao Zedong simply chose self-worship over other religions. Far from being atheistic, where science and logical arguments for and against things are lauded, China's new religion was "Mao worship". Mao's words were just as infallible as any god's, and questioning Mao was like questioning Mohammad in today's Saudi Arabia - punishable at times by death. There was no free inquiry. No open debate. Thinking that they were freed from the "opium of the people", they were in fact slaves to the belief that Mao was perfect, and his policies, like God's, must never be questioned. So in fact, this society was just as religious as any other, if not more so. Thankfully, China is much changed from how it was then, although there are still some "sacred" notions that should not be questioned.
Any society in which "freethought" was applauded would have balked at the idea that Mao Zedong was perfect. But in a highly religious society, where "Truth" is fed to people instead of gained individually, almost any idea - many propagated by tyrants - can hold sway.
Interestingly, Karl Marx himself came up with the phrase "cult of the individual" (now "personality cult") and stated that he had "antipathy toward any cult of the individual". Thus, these so-called Communist regimes, like Christians and Muslims today, picked and chose from Karl Marx's works to suit their own needs, but in the end, his works were merely used as justification. And the outward statement that religion was dangerous only served to pull religious people away from their past religions and substitute a new one in its place.
In conclusion, I would like to say that whenever someone states that a single book (like Mao's, the Koran, or the Bible) or a single person (Jesus, an imam, or Kim Jong Il) can give you "Truth" and that this "Truth" must never be questioned or tested, a true atheist would say, "Something that you will not allow to be criticized is probably not the real truth. For me to believe in its validity, there must be evidence, and criticism likewise based on evidence must not be stifled." Thus, I have come to the conclusion that while not all atheists are good people, and Stalin et al might have very well been atheists, their ideas and policies would not have gained ground if the populace were not willing to believe in a supreme "Truth" that was taboo to criticize. Thus, these so-called radical Communist regimes were much more religious than they ever were atheist.