I've written a few posts now on both Christianity and Islam where I basically state that the majority in both religions are too decent to follow all of the laws that their religions actually ask of them. After all, both of their holy books command all sorts of atrocities and absurdities that get conveniently ignored. However, all of those passages are in there, and those passages have been used to justify all sorts of malignant acts over the centuries.
But what about atheism? Many Christians point out the evils supposedly done in the name of atheism, and they point out Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. (They also point out Hitler, but sorry, you don't get that one. I wouldn't call him a Christian either, but that's not because Christians have no basis in their scriptures to justify anti-Semitism. He was making up his own religion as he went along - a bit of a mix of Christianity and paganism, if anything.)
The thing is, I don't want to give a cop-out answer to this question. Many Christians have accused atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. of doing just that when they say that none of these tyrants did what they did in the name of atheism. While I don't think that they do, I will try to give my own answer to this question, as I really can't stand the cop-out answer.
To really look at this, we have to look at what atheism is - what it REALLY is, that is. Theists like to define it in their own way and on their own terms quite a lot. They say things like "atheists hate God" (which is absurd - that's like saying that we hate Superman - how can you hate something that you don't believe in?) Or they say things about how atheists worship themselves, because you have to worship something (don't ask me to make sense of that one.) So, what is atheism? If you just break it apart, with theism meaning the "belief in the existence of gods" and "a" as being a prefix that means "no", you're basically just stuck with "no belief in the existence of gods."
Pretty simple, isn't it? What else? Well, that's it! It doesn't cover whether you're a Marxist, Democrat, Republican, or Whig. It doesn't make a statement on what you think your moral obligations are - although it's clear that you don't think they come from Zeus though. Is there some holy book that you have to follow? Many theists would think that it would be Darwin's Origin of Species, but nope. You could be an atheist and not accept evolution (although it could be argued that you'd be even battier than the religious people who don't - at least they have an excuse!) Shoot, you could be an atheist and believe that the world is flat!
So that's all there is to it. What about the ideas of Stalin, etc? Well, I'm an atheist, and when I hear what he believed in, I don't exactly think, "Oh yeah, that guy totally had it right." I mean, I think that Marx had a point when he called religion the "opiate of the masses," but that doesn't mean that I'm a Marxist. If Charles Manson were to say that people should be sure to strap their babies in child-safety seats while driving, it wouldn't make it any less true. I have yet to meet an atheist who thinks that Stalin had a good thing going. I mean, there certainly could be some, but again the definition of atheism isn't "not believing in gods and thinking that Stalin is cool."
So why did those guys do what they did? Were they brought to it by atheism? I certainly don't see it that way. After all, it wasn't like atheism was all there was to their philosophies. It was just one small part of what they were pushing on their people. Plus, the cult of personality that was created by all of these guys resembles religion more than it does the freethought that's espoused by modern-day atheists like myself. I don't hang pictures of Richard Dawkins up on my wall, and I don't assume that everything he says is right. I'm a fan because I like what he says, whereas religion teaches you to be a fan first and like what's said second. Besides, if religion is the answer, then why did Stalin's religious upbringing not prevent him from committing the evils that he has done?
I'm really trying not to be disingenuous or employ any sort of doublethink here. However, I simply don't see how atheism in itself is to blame for those villains of history. Not only that, but when you listen to the atheists of today, they're not exactly saying the same sorts of things that those guys did. Nobody (that I know of) is calling for the tearing down of churches or a brainwashing program that forces people to convert (although some theists seem to think that teaching facts is akin to brainwashing). If atheism became a significant force in this country, I know that I'd be one of the first ones to protest the destruction of churches, temples, and mosques (especially the ones in Europe!) While I would certainly like more people to come to atheism, I don't think that it's the kind of thing that should be forced on anybody. I had to come to it myself through my own reasoning. Brainwashing ultimately changes nothing, as one philosophy can easily replace another one that way.
So, to sum up: atheism good, Stalin bad.