Atheists behind the greatest cruelty, says Pope
03 Dec 2007
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
Pope Benedict XVI has launched a powerful attack on atheism, saying that it was responsible for some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history.
In the second encyclical of his papacy, the Pope urged Christians to put their hope for the future in God and not in technology, wealth or political ideologies.
His 76-page document, Spe Salvi, comes in the context of rising secularism in Europe and a spate of books attacking belief in God, including the "The God Delusion" by the Oxford academic Richard Dawkins.
In the document, the highest form of papal writing addressed to the whole Church, Benedict XVI said that many people rejected religious faith because they no longer found the prospect of an eternal after-life attractive.
Instead, they had put their faith in human reason and freedom in the hope that the "kingdom of man" would emerge.
In a scholarly analysis, he said that these ideas had originated during two periods of political upheaval, the French and Communist revolutions.
He said that Karl Marx and the 19th and 20th century atheism spawned by his revolution could be seen by some as a "type of moralism" responding to the injustices of the time.
Atheists argued that "a world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God," the Pope wrote.
But ideologies such as Marxism that hold that humans have to establish social justice because God does not exist had been proved wrong by history.
The idea that man can do what God cannot by creating a new salvation on earth was "both presumptuous and intrinsically false."
He added: "It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.
"A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope."
Marxism, the Pope wrote, had left behind "a trail of appalling destruction" because it failed to realise that man could not be "merely the product of economic conditions". For man to be redeemed, he also needs God's unconditional love.
Benedict XVI, who was elected in 2005, is working on a third encyclical on the theme of social justice which is due to be released next year.