Pope Blames Atheism For Holocaust

Really.  He did, right up there on his hind legs in front of the Queen and England and all.

Here’s the Guardian’s excerpt of the relevant remarks:

“Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live,” he said.

“I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious people who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives.

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society …”

I’ll still attempt to be slightly cagey about my own place in the unbeliever-believer-crazed religious fanatic spectrum (remember, I said “slightly”), but as I sit here near the end of the Days of Awe, reflecting on who among my friends, colleagues and acquaintences I need to ask forgiveness for what acts committed over the last year, and thinking about what I wish to think about tomorrow at the beginning of the Day of Atonement, I can be clear about this:

For this Pope — anyone, really, but especially this ex-Hitler youth Pope — to tell me or anyone that the problem of evil can be explained away by blaming those who do not believe, is an abomination.

That’s high-falutin.  Let me try again in more simple language.

Asserting that the Holocaust is in essence the punishment unbelievers bring on the world is a variation on the blame-the-victim strand in writing on this evil.

Ben Zion-Gold, the rabbi who married my wife and me, is a Holocaust survivor.  He lost his entire family in the camps.  He has spoken about the viciousness of this line of explanation, and of the destructiveness of it to any claim for the value of revealed religion.  No god worth believing in can be imagined to use the faithful instrumentally, as lives that must on occasion be snuffed out, no matter what their individual worth, to serve the greater good.

Bluntly, I’d say Christian Europe has a great deal of introspection yet too do on the entanglement between religious commitment and the Holocaust (and much else besides.)

The Pope is correct that a few priests and other ministers resisted Nazi demands.  He omits other, less convenient facts. And in the end, the point remains:  it wasn’t atheists that set the Holocaust in motion, nor atheists who devastated Rwanda, nor pagans who massacred my own country’s native Americans, nor … you get the idea.

It was Germans, it was Rwandans, it was devout colonial Protestants (first, in my home area of Massachusetts) and so on.  Individual agents, many of them by their own lights wholly religious people, have over history committed crime after crime after crime.

If you want to say that the intellectual context in which they lived mattered to their crimes, if the ideas that animated them helped drive their actions, well and good.  But then a measure, just a tithe, even, of intellectual honesty would note the Christian strains in the context of so many mass killings, including the Holocaust.

Please note, in this argument, I am explicitly not doing what Pope Benedict has done:  it was not aggressive Christianity that caused the Holocaust, any more than did “extremist atheists” (whatever that vacuous phrase might mean).

Hitler and his circle set it in motion, thousands of Germans, many of them Christians, some of them not, and many more allies and collaborators, executed it, and millions across Europe passively enabled it — and unless we confront the specifics of how each of those levels of engagement emerged, operated, and convinced itself of the tolerability of the actions involved, then we are left undefended against any repetition.

In that context, Pope Benedict’s vicious nonsense on this matter only deepens that vulnerability.  (I.e., rooting out “atheism” is not, IMHO, going to reduce the risk of the next genocide.  It is far more likely to be the occasion for it.)

Enough.  To put it as plainly as I can:

When the Pope tries to use the sufferings and death of millions (of Jews!) to advance his claims of Christian truth, then he is himself committing an act of moral viciousness.

The Jews of Europe, and the gay men and women, the gypsies, the Slavs and all the rest murdered by the Nazis did not die so that Joseph Ratzinger could try to shift the focus of moral attention from what actually happened — including the entanglement of religious believers in the Nazi program — to what he wishes we would believe happened.

Instrumentality again: those deaths, no one’s death, should be morally available as an means to advance some other program.

Joseph Ratzinger should be ashamed of himself.

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39 Comments on “Pope Blames Atheism For Holocaust”

  1. PalMD Says:

    Ugh. So many years later, and we still have to use small words to explain it.

    Perhaps those who do not feel a personal ethnic identity do not “get” the whole “ethnic thing”. Jews were being massacred in Europe by Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc for centuries. The Polish Catholics and the Nazis didn’t find some common Kumbaya moment of ideologic-religious agreement—they had an intersecting desire to kill Jews, something for which both were willing to set aside other difference.

    • Tom Says:

      History is both more difficult and more valuable than convenient glosses. Ratzinger knows better; that he chooses not to act better is a measure.

  2. fradiavolo Says:

    Pope Benedict ignores the role of the Catholic Church in legitimizing the Nazi regime by entering into a concordat with Hitler in 1933. Under the Reichskoncordat, the Holy See agreed, inter alia, to: (1) Approve the dissolution of the Catholic Centre Party, which opposed the Nazis; (2)rescind its ban on Catholics joining the Nazi Party; (3)require Catholic bishops to be obedient to, and respectful of, the Nazi Party (Art. 16); and (4) require educators in Catholic schools to teach children “patriotic love” for the Nazi regime (Art. 21). He also ignores (as do most Catholic apologists) virulently anti-Jewish statements by senior members of the hierarchy, such as the one made in 1936 by Cardinal August Hlond, Primate of Poland, that “[t]here will be a Jewish problem as long as the Jews remain … It is a fact that the Jews fight against the Catholic Church, they are free-thinkers, and constitute the vanguard of atheism, bolshevism and revolution. It is true that the Jews are committing frauds, practicing usury, and dealing in white slavery. It is also true that in the schools the Jewish youth is having an evil influence, from an ethical and religious point of view, on the Catholic youth.” Put bluntly, while many individual Catholics did oppose the Nazis, the Catholic Church itself is in no position to lecture anyone about the Holocaust.

    • Tom Says:

      Thanks for this. This is exactly the issue: In my haste to get my outrage up and out, I didn’t do the work you just did to pull these historical facts up.

      But the essential point is that when Benedict says atheism is a primary cause of the Holocaust he is doing so at least in part to obscure much more direct connections between organized belief and that atrocity. In other words, he’s lying. Thank you for making it possible to say that clearly.

      • Peter London Says:

        The Concordat saved many people and allowed Catholic priests to come to the aid of many people during this Atheist underpinned regime as the Concordat protected them from Nazi atheist death camps! Learn your history please!

  3. Blake Stacey Says:

    The Pope has brought hope to millions of brain-damaged Internet trolls the world over. It’s a miracle!

  4. Tom M Says:

    Speeches by popes don’t just happen. Someone, probably including il papa, thought about what to say (or not). So, why make this statement? To show solidarity with Anglicans? To make the believers in the crowd feel better about themselves?
    To insult non-believers? Piss off Dawkins? Hmmm.

    • Tom Says:

      The “because it makes liberals mad” rule of thumb works pretty well on many things, but I think this is really part of the “smaller, crazier church” ambitions of this Pope.

  5. […] Pope Blames Atheism For Holocaust « The Inverse Square Blog […]

  6. Hamish Johnston Says:

    An illuminating discussion of the church’s teachings with regards to facism can be found in the book “Young Trudeau”, which charts the Jesuit education of Pierre Trudeau in 1930s Quebec.


  7. aimai Says:

    I was just discussing the BBC report on the Pope’s speech in Edinburgh with Mr. Aimai. Interestingly enough they only interviewed Catholic Women–as though there were no Catholic men in Scotland at all. These women were very sentimenally moved about “our pope” and what he stands for. The BBC interviewer brought up the creeping secularism comments, however, and then the interview went slightly off the rails. Not in a big way, but in an interesting small way. The women seemed to take the creeping secularism comment not as anti-society, and not as a chance to draw back in horror (with the pope) from creeping secularism but as some kind of sideswipe at their own faith and practice. Each denied vehemently that the secularism of society had affected them, or would affect them and each said she felt very comfortable being one of god’s people, and living her faith, within a secular society. I thought it was really interesting that what to me seems a clear Papal call to fight–agressively–against atheists and atheism and even mere modern education was taken by these women to be a kind of mis-statement or passing thing. It didn’t even seem relevant to their lives. The Pope is trying to gin up the culture wars, but the women weren’t having it.

    That’s neither here nor there of course. What the Church is up to is no different than when escaping travellers choose to throw one of their membership to the wolves to lighten their load. The Church and its adherents were no different from any other peoples living in Europe at the time of the run up to world war II. There wasn’t some difference, culturally speaking, between atheists, jews, poles, and christians. Some were presented with the chance to collaborate, benefit, and kill–others were presented with the chance to die. The fact is that Christians of all sorts chose, preferentially, to be on the side of war, death, torture, and theft on a grand scale. They chose to benefit at the expense of their neighbors, friends, and even their own relatives. If they did it in spite of their Christian theology and training that’s an indictment of their teachers and leaders. If they did it, in some cases, because of that training–even worse.

    But the one thing you can not say, as a leader of the Catholic Church, is that the holocaust and the war itself wasn’t conducted with the full backing of the Christian population of Germany. The war and all its attendant horrors had the full backing of the people–you have to account for that. You can’t magically wish away their Christianity. Putting the blame on imaginary (or even on one or two real “atheists”) is to deny your role in those deaths.

    The insistence that the population of a Christian country magically ceased being Christian when they do wrong things reminds me of my Christian sister-in-law’s insistence that whatever she doesn’t like, or whoever she doesn’t like, “isn’t a real Christian.” Politically, morally, philosophically its convenient. It has saved her hours of soul searching and suffering, let me tell you. Perhaps its appropriate that the Pope descends into the “One true Scotsman fallacy” while in Edinburgh?

    • ix Says:

      I guess that goes doubly so for the rest of us. On the news here (Belgium), they only aired the last paragraph of his speech. Reading it in context now it’s quite a bit worse than his usual bullshit. I guess with all the reporting they’re doing around recent pedophile cases, they weren’t really paying attention to that part of the speech. He also failed on the pedophile front BTW, stating that pedophiles need to be thrown out (good) but shying away from taking responsibility (which would be the catholic thing to do, but also open up the church to lawsuits).

      I wouldn’t say he’s trying to gin up “culture wars” though. Put it in the context of speaking in Western Europe, generally pretty non-religious, and there in probably the most atheist country (which odly, still has mandatory religious education in the schools?). He’s not about to ask people to start bombing clinics and take to the streets. Which is what I think of when I hear culture wars. What he is trying to do, quite simply, is convince atheists that they’re wrong. Badly of course.

      Before I get flamed, please don’t take this as me trying to cover for him or saying it’s any less outrageous. But I find the idea of a catholic culture war anywhere around here somewhat ridiculous. Ratzinger remains an academic. A hard right-wing one (in church politics), but still an academic. I fear he’s gotten a bit too used to nobody pointing out his errors anymore.

      • Jules Says:

        “which odly, still has mandatory religious education in the schools?”

        Religious education is not mandatory in UK schools: you can opt out with parental consent.

    • Tom Says:

      A brilliant comment; exactly so.

      That’s what’s most interesting to me about the Pope’s speech — the undercurrrent of desperation implied by the need to say something so obviously at odds with the underlying history.

  8. Ignatz Says:

    I do not like this Pope, but his words are a response to militant atheism that targets religion for all the woes of mankind, and neglects the fact that the massive death counts of the 20th century – Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler – did, indeed, spring from godless philosophies.

    And it’s easy to see why: if human beings are simply the result of random chemicals a cosmic accident – a human life has no more objective value than that of a cockroach.

    You cannot have a moral universe when all you have is a universe of physical properties. You cannot arrive at universe of “should” when all you have is a universe of “is.”

    Personal desire becomes its own justification, since you have nothing else.

    • banzailibrarian Says:

      Ignatz, I take objection to your implication that there can be no moral system of behavior without subscribing to the idea of a higher being. Just plain wrong. Logic can lead you to arrive at exactly the same conclusions about the value of other lives, the virtues of honesty and fair play, and so on. In fact I would say there is more intellectual rigor, and therefore a stronger foundation, to arriving at these conclusions through thought and reflection than through believing what someone else tells you to believe.

    • SwedishSkinJer Says:

      On the contrary, since we do not believe in an afterlife, I would argue that an atheist would think more strongly about taking a life. Regardless of what constitutes a human, each life is utterly unique in how it develops and, if snuffed out, will never be seen in the same way again. There’s only one chance to do things right, so endeavor to make the most of it.

      Also, would you kindly elaborate on what “godless philosophies” are? Atheism is, simply put, a lack of belief in deities. Other than that, there is no coherent, guiding force behind atheism. Indeed, if you claim that religions can be manipulated into creating evil, then surely things such as atheism can be manipulated for political purposes, even if atheism has no compelling theology behind it to be twisted into an endorsement of violence?

    • Believers who make the claim that only god can give morality imply that they would be sociopaths in the absense of their belief in god.

      So maybe it’s good they believe…

  9. Andy Vance Says:

    Amen, Tom. So to speak. When the leader of one of the world’s largest and supposedly most august institutions rants like a right-winger blogging out of a Peoria basement, something’s gone seriously awry.

  10. SwedishSkinJer Says:

    Also, since morality can be explained in a sociological context, a universe without God can have an acceptable moral structure. Despite common generalizations against atheists, do you see people like Richard Dawkins running around in the nude, slaying others at random and getting headlines for robbing banks? There have been numerous essays written about this matter more persuasively than I could ever manage.

  11. KWillow Says:

    Many people I know seem to think “Atheism” is a type of religion: complete with bizarre superstitious rituals “worshipping” … something. They fear and loathe it the same way they fear & loathe other christian sects, or Islam or Judaism, or Buddhism for that matter (one Fundy christian friend [what I think of as one of the Good Ones: ministers to the poor, turns the other cheek etc.] called it “Idol-worshipping” when I showed her some photos of my trip to Hong Kong and visit to the Po Lin Monastery Giant Buddha. She was genuinely revolted- sickened even; shocked to the core that I brought my 3-year-old daughter to see it).

    Better to say “I don’t believe in a God” than “I am an Atheist”.

  12. KWillow Says:

    Ignatz: Many crimes have been committed by professed Atheists, but NOT in the name of Atheism; unlike most religions ESPECIALLY christianity, the most vicious, murderous religion of them all. The catholic church’s actions over the last 2010 years make the Hindu Death-cults look like boyscouts.

  13. Ellis Weiner Says:

    I would just add that it is religion–and particularly the mystical Catholic religion–that teaches people to ignore what is in front of them and to believe what is invisible and asserted on authority. To believe that Jews–who either you have never met, or have met and have reason to believe are not demonic–are the root of all evil, and therefore to condone (or, of course, collaborate in) their industrial slaughter, in spite of your experience and at the behest of the Nazi Party…that’s almost a religious act.

    It’s an act made legitimate by what religion requires and rewards.

    Catholicism didn’t invent the Holocaust, but the mental, emotional, and existential conditions it requires in each individual, made it possible.

    • aimai Says:

      Not so much believing in the unseen, unknowable, ineffable, and mysterious–but believing in blind submission to authority. In his book “The Authoritarians” Bob Altemeyer explores several aspects to this and determines that you can give people a fairly reliable standardized test that will predict how submissive they are to authority figures in their own life. People who score high on his tests (High scoring authoritarian followers) have a very strong propensity to do as they are told, and to rationalize it, regardless of how it contradicts their previously stated beliefs and morality. They are also more likely than other people (low scorers) to try to bring their behavior and their thoughts into line with that of what they think to be “the majority.” In other words: strong followers of an authoritarian, hierarchical religion like Catholicism or Islam are very likely to be easily led into herd behavior, and are extremely likely to excuse their behavior with reference to the value of conformity.


  14. […] former head of the Inquisition (yes, those guys are still around) blamed all the woes of the world (including the Holocaust) on atheism, and somehow arrived at the conclusion that we’d all be better if we were […]

  15. cromercrox Says:

    Fuck. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck fuckity fuckfuck. With an extra portion of fuckfuckfuck for dessert and a bit steaming dollop of fuckfuckityfuckadoodlyfuck on the side. This from a man whose predecessor colluded with the Nazis on the extermination of the Jews. Well, fuck.

  16. geemoney Says:

    Okay, you might not think this is as funny as I do, but here goes:

    One day, my wife mixed up the two common phrases, “Does a bear sh!t in the woods?” and “Is the Pope Catholic?”, conflating them into “Is a bear Catholic?”. I jumped on the other conflation right away, of course. Anyway, in order to stop that nonsense, we agreed in my household to use an alternate phrase which touches on just the subject of this post, namely, “Is the Pope a former Nazi?”. Much clearer, I think.

  17. Aside from complicity in the Jewish Holocaust, Pope Pius XII was complicit in a much larger scale mass murder: the Atheist Holocaust. Strange that no one ever talks about the 20 million or so atheists who were killed by the fascists during the World War II era, many of them in battle but many also murdered in cold blod.

    See “The Atheist Holocaust” at http://www.iiipublishing.com/blog/2009/09/09_23_2009.html

  18. […] Did you hear that the Pope blames Atheists for the Holocaust? […]

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