A reader writes:
In 2010, as far as I can tell, these five states executed the most people:
1. China (2000+)
2. Iran (252+)
3. North Korea (60+)
4. Yemen (53+)
5. USA (46+)
Two of the top three entities are explicitly atheist. Hitch's assertion that we can ignore Chinese executions because they are a "very nervous oligarchy" can easily be used for Iran considering, you know, they actually have a demonstrable REASON to be nervous – the 2009 protests/Green Movement, hostile relationship with the world's only superpower, etc – and because any analyst of Iran worth his salt will tell you that their government is an extremely Byzantine oligarchy, not a true dictatorship. In other words, you don't get to throw China out and retain the Iranians while making this argument. Yemen is a barely functioning state of tribes. Surprise.
As for us, maybe "God" has something to do with it. But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest something risky: perhaps it has more to do with a very particular brand of Protestant Christian theology than it does with "God".
I didn't see Hitch accounting for ultra-Catholic South America, where Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela have explicitly abolished the death penalty. There are also a handful of countries that have de facto abolished the practice, having not carried out an execution for at least the last two decades: Dominica (1986), El Salvador (1973), Grenada (1978), Jamaica (1988), Peru (1979), Suriname (1982), Brazil (1876). Most of these nations retain the death penalty for possible use in cases like treason or crimes against humanity. Somehow one of the most religious continents in the world seems to have escaped Hitch's sight.
I get it. Hitch hates God. But this seems like a classic case of him beginning with his own very well-known assumptions and then hastily assembling the best argument he can make to support it. Religious conservatives will always point to communist dictatorships. Liberal atheists will point to religious theocracies. Both are capable of great evil. You don't need to believe in God to murder. And just because you believe in God doesn't preclude you from being a murderer. More than anything, it is just simply absolutism in something that deludes people into murder.