The sun set on the 20th century more than four years ago but you can still see a blood-red glow on the horizon. The century that saw unprecedented technological progress also saw unprecedented slaughter. Previously, religion had served mankind’s deep needs for explanation, order, spiritual comfort and transcendental meaning. Now a new and hideous thing was summoned up to serve the same needs. The thing was ideology, and in a few decades it caused more bloodshed than millennia of religion. It was darker and more irrational, and contained within it something unknown to all the Religions of the Book: a death wish. Religious leaders, however bad they may be, however prone to hubris and hatred, are constrained by fear of God above and by ancient tradition and wisdom. Ideological leaders have no such constraints.
Recently there have been hysterical attacks on the new Pope Benedict, including the charge that he has the blood of millions of Africans on his hands because of the Church’s ban on condoms in a continent ravaged by Aids. I live in Africa, I am an atheist and I think the Church’s prohibition of contraception is wrong, but I want to defend the Pope. To do so, I must compare the good and bad of the Church in Africa with those of the ideologies.
Ideology comes in three colours: red, brown and green, representing Marxism, fascism and environmental extremism. Judged on sheer evil, the worst crime in history was brown, the Nazi genocide, although the reds slaughtered more people. The death toll (difficult to measure) is roughly, Hitler’s holocaust 6 million, Stalin’s famine and terror 8 million, and Mao’s famine 30 million. But the greens have topped them all. In a single crime they have killed about 50 million people. In purely numerical terms, it was the worst crime of the 20th century.