Atheists, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Step by ever-quickening step, cut down the laws that protect the Jews. Cut down the laws that protect those you hate. If you lack the stomach to slay them yourself, perhaps the mob will do it for you, or perhaps government, the state, a particular official.

Atheists, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
"Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake."

Bad boys, bad boys

Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do

When they come for you?

Lines from the 1992 Ian Lewis song, Bad Boys.

It is 4:30 in the morning and I’m penning this article in hope of getting back to sleep. I witnessed a disturbing event yesterday, although I did not realise at the time that I would lose sleep over it. It is perhaps because the circumstances were so incongruous.

I am speaking at the Days of Atheism conference in Warsaw. Yes, the place is packed with atheists from around the world. Somewhere along the way, during a lighter moment in the proceeding, someone announced (with some glee) that Donald Trump had just been indicted, prompting joyous whooping and cheers from several.

I was stunned. It instantly brought to mind several things: the Palestinian celebrations when Jews get murdered; the Reverend Martin Niemöller’s confession; the Warsaw Ghetto; Robert Bolt’s 1960 play A Man for All Seasons, and Liel Leibovitz’s critique of his earlier writing.

The Palestinian pathology is happiness and national affirmation that can only be found in the physical destruction of Jews:

Only a Palestinian can imagine the force of the happiness that these courageous acts [of mass murder of Jews] evoke in our heart. They cause adrenalin to spike to the highest levels, and increase the people's belief in itself and in its ability to change the equation. [They show it] that it is capable of dealing with the enemy and that we, the weak, are capable of resisting our strong enemy. [The Palestinian] cannot hide his joy and delight at any brave operation. Once an operation takes place, people instantly pass on the news, at lightning speed... The people go out into the public squares and the streets, cheer for Palestine, express their joy and delight at the operation, pass out sweets, embrace one another, and, at top volume, the mosques' public address systems broadcast the cries Allahu Akbar, and la ilaha illa Allah, with joy, with praise, with gratitude to Allah for this achievement.[1]

Granted, an entire people erupting in joy and celebration at the mass murder of another people is of a different order to a gathering of atheists finding spontaneous happiness in the indictment of a former US President. But that is the point, it was atheists. How could I not recall the Reverend Martin Niemöller’s confession?

I really believed, …given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany at that time, that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler's assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. …I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.[2]

Niemöller’s many sermons and bits of confessions mean that what ultimately came to exist are several variants, one of which is the famous poem “First the came for the socialists.” There might be no connection to Ian Lewis’s song, Bad Boys, above, but it bears alluding to. I shall not reproduce the poem here, since it has become clichéd, but a rarer account reads:

When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.

Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians - "should I be my brother's keeper?”

Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. - I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it's right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn't it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? -- Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren't guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers.

I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.”[3]

And it should be in Poland where I am reminded of this, in Warsaw, no less, the erstwhile centre of European Jewry, city of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, just as POLIN, The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, gets ready to open its Around Us a Sea of Fire. The Fate of Jewish Civilians During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibition, 18 April - 8 January 2024.

Step by ever-quickening step, cut down the laws that protect the Jews. Cut down the laws that protect those you hate. If you lack the stomach to slay them yourself, perhaps the mob will do it for you, or perhaps government, the state, a particular official. One is reminded of a scene in Robert Bolt’s 1960s play, A Man for All Seasons, in which English lawyer, judge and humanist Sir Thomas Moore confronts William Roper, lawyer, Member of Parliament and High Sheriff of Kent, on whether the accused’s character ought to have any bearing in the application of law, arguing that one who has not broken the law be released:

MORE And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

ROPER So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on ROPER) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man’s laws, not God’s-and if you cut them down-and you’re just the man to do it-d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

And so we come to Donald Trump whom so many, in loathing, find affirmation of their own righteousness, a loathing that they must publicly display, with gusto, lest they be thought of as doubting Trump’s guilt. Guilty of what? Doesn’t matter. Who cares? It’s Trump! Liel Leibovitz writes:

A few days after the November 2016 elections, I sat down to write out my feelings, which consisted mainly of fear and loathing. The president-elect, I intoned, was a dangerous lunatic, one likely to recall the ghosts of Fuehrers past. His election meant the death of America, of democracy itself, and maybe even scores of Americans. “Assume the worst is imminent,” I advised. Celebrities I’d admired my entire life praised the piece on Twitter. NPR came calling. Seven years later, my cri de coeur remains one of Tablet’s most widely read articles.

As a piece of writing, it was moving, forceful, and … entirely wrong.

You can find much to dislike about Trump—his policies, his personality, and an assortment of other failings—and, over the next four years, I did just that, often and with gusto. But my piece remains an embarrassment, more hysterical ululation than an attempt at the kind of useful or correct analysis that readers deserve. Reading it today, I realize that, for a brief moment there, I lost my goddamned mind.”[4]

What I witnessed at the Days of Atheism conference in Warsaw yesterday was not even silent complicity (for which Niemöller was racked with guilt); it was active endorsement of a state riding roughshod over the rights of the citizen, the stuff of communism, of Catholicism, of Islam. And as the Catholic fascists openly proclaim their wish to see atheists done away with, and Muslims murder with abandon, both are in the act of usurping human rights in the West. The atheists whooping for joy at the state going after someone they loathe, do not see that their own state loathes them even more. Whom would they like should celebrate when the fascists come for them?


  1. Abdallah Al-Lidawi, “Deliverers of Joy – About the Younger Generation in the West Bank” published on the website of the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s terrorists. The article is summarised here.
  2. Leo Stein, “Niemoeller speaks!” The National Jewish Monthly, May 1941, pages 284-5, 301-2
  3. Martin Niemöller, Of Guilt and Hope, (Die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung), translated by Renee Spodheim, New York: Philosophical Library, 1947.
  4. Liel Leibovitz, “Protest Porn,” Tablet, 9 March 2023,

Picture credits:

Pastor Martin Niemöller: By J.D. Noske / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, CC0,

Sir Thomas Moore: By J.D. Noske / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, CC0,

Video screen grab: USA News.

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