According to this story, which was sent to me by my cheesehead buddy Will Nehs, Pope Benedict XVI blames atheism for the atrocities of the 20th century. I think he’s cutting things in the wrong place. It wasn’t atheism; it was consequentialism. Christians, as such, are deontologists. (So are Jews.) Consequentialists believe that the end justifies the means. Deontologists deny it. To a consequentialist, there is no type of act that is intrinsically wrong. If an act is wrong, it is because of its extrinsic properties (specifically, its consequences). To a deontologist, there are types of act, such as lying, torturing, committing adultery, cheating, stealing, and directly killing innocent human beings, that are intrinsically wrong, i.e., wrong in and of themselves, independently of their consequences. That the moral monsters of the 20th century, such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, were atheists is an accident. It was their consequentialism that motivated—and, in their view, justified—their atrocities. (By the way, I’m writing an essay entitled “The Horrors of Consequentialism” in which I make this case. If you’re nice to me, I’ll let you read it when I’m done.)