I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but the perpetually aggrieved Bill Donohue is a steaming, whistling little teakettle of a man, forever boiling over one thing or another. What is it this time, Bill?

The pope did not go far enough. Radical atheists like the British Humanist Association should apologize for Hitler. But they should not stop there. They also need to issue an apology for the 67 million innocent men, women and children murdered under Stalin, and the 77 million innocent Chinese killed by Mao. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all driven by a radical atheism, a militant and fundamentally dogmatic brand of secular extremism. It was this anti-religious impulse that allowed them to become mass murderers. By contrast, a grand total of 1,394 were killed during the 250 years of the Inquisition, most all of whom were murdered by secular authorities.

Yawn. Same old, same old. I’ve heard this so many times it’s starting to sound in my ears like the way adults talk in the Peanuts TV shows: Mwuh mwah muh mwah mwah mooah. Hitler an atheist? Nope. Stalin and Mao primarily driven by radical atheism? Pick your favorite response.

But let’s leave Mr. Donohue to his angry jitterbug on the stove burner and take a closer look at the more interesting theme here. One thing all three of those famous monsters actually had in common with Christianity was a belief in the teleological progression of history toward utopia, as well as in the redemptive, cleansing power of blood and violent sacrifice. Biblical scholars are united in saying that Jesus, assuming he actually existed as a historical person, was just one in a long line of Jewish apocalypticists. I know they don’t tend to emphasize this in devotional readings for some reason, but the entire point of his ministry was to prepare anyone who would listen for the coming end of the world, with violent retribution for all whom he felt deserving, followed by endless paradise. Since then, whether it’s based on visions of heaven, the classless society, or living in perfect harmony with nature, this idea that the ends justify the means pops up repeatedly throughout history. Utopia is waiting just around the bend, right after we get through the great purification by flood, fire, earthquakes or mass murder. It honestly has nothing to do with religion or the lack thereof. It’s an abstract concept of perfection that isn’t exclusive to anyone in particular.

As I’ve said before, I expect that we’re in for some hard times in the next few decades as the glory days of life in America fade further into the past, and we face choices over how far we’re willing to go to maintain our privileged position in the world, especially as nations like India and China look to get some of our standard of living for themselves. Perhaps some more equitable, balanced lifestyle will be the end result of our downward spiral, but human nature being what it is, I’m not optimistic. And because of that, I don’t see any reason to gleefully anticipate the chaos and upheaval that may come. Hell, I’d be happy to be wrong. For me, a rule of thumb is that if you’re so attached to your ideological convictions that you would rather see widespread suffering on a massive scale than to have to revise those convictions, if you can envision that sort of suffering while feeling smug over having accurately predicted it, you might just be the kind of zealot we’re talking about here.