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.