A short while back, I wrote a book of guidance for teenage atheists. My manuscript ran long, and I had to cut some parts. One of my favorite deleted passages debunked the idea that religion helps to make people moral by pointing out that some terrible, terrible people were religious.
Here, for the first time in public, is that deleted piece of the book. (If you’re wondering whether Adolf Hitler — clearly a terrible person — is one of the bad believers, he’s actually a more ambiguous case, as you can see here.)
Prince Vlad III of Wallachia (1431-1476), also known as Dracula
Vlad, alias Dracula (“son of the dragon” in his language), inspired the creation of the blood-sucking count. His people called him Țepeș, “impaler,” because he ran sharp spikes through his enemies. And he considered thousands of people his enemies. He also enjoyed, according to one expert, “cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, [and] mutilation of sexual organs.”
Vlad was Christian twice over: born into the Eastern Orthodox Church but converted to Catholicism. When Pope Pius II called for war against the Muslim Turks, Vlad was the only national leader to obey.
Czar Ivan IV of Russia, also known as Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584)
Ivan the Terrible established a national police force that robbed, tortured and massacred people — thousands of them. He launched (and lost) wars that ruined millions of lives. He beat his own son to death.
And he was a devoted Christian. Ivan supported Russia’s Orthodox Christian church (until some of its members started opposing him) and accepted the church’s head as a close advisor. Late in life, he underwent fits of wild praying, fasting, and confessing his sins. And in 2003, a movement arose within the Russian Orthodox church to declare him a saint.
King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909)
Leopold was born and died a Catholic. He wasn’t especially devout, but he supported efforts to convert Africans to Christianity.
“Of the Europeans who scrambled for control of Africa at the end of the 19th century, Belgium’s King Leopold II left arguably the largest and most horrid legacy of all,” said a BBC report. “He turned his ‘Congo Free State’ into a massive labor camp, made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber, and contributed in a large way to the death of perhaps 10 million innocent people.”
President Idi Amin of Uganda (approximately 1925-2003)
The New York Times put it well: “[Idi Amin’s] eight-year reign of terror in Uganda encompassed widespread killing, torture and dispossession of multitudes, and left the country pauperized.” Rumors circulated that he was a cannibal. His nickname: “The Butcher of Uganda.”
Amin was also a dedicated Muslim. The British Guardian newspaper said, “The Islamic religion became a fetish for this unbalanced man, and his uncouth espousal of it did great harm to the Muslim cause in Africa.”
Other evil theists:
Tomás de Torquemada, Spanish priest (1420-1498), Christian: Burned, tortured and murdered thousands of people he considered heretics.
Enver Pasha, Turkish military leader (1881-1922), Muslim: Presided over the murder of more than a million Armenians.
Augusto Pinochet, president of Chile (1915-2006), Christian: Ordered thousands to be tortured, killed, exiled or imprisoned.
Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, president of Pakistan (1917-1980), Muslim: Used military forces to murder hundreds of thousands in parts of the country that opposed him.