The National Catholic Review

British humanists have reacted furiously to Pope Benedict lumping together atheism and Nazism in his speech at Edinburgh.

"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," Pope Benedict said in his speech at Holyrood House at the start of the first ever state visit by a Pope to the United Kingdom.

In a statement, the British Humanist Association  -- part of the Protest the Pope coalition which has objected to the Pope being received as a head of state -- said:

"The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis that led to their extremist and hateful views or that it somehow fuels intolerance in Britain today is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in God.

"The notion that it is non-religious people in the UK today who want to force their views on others, coming from a man whose organisation exerts itself internationally to impose its narrow and exclusive form of morality and undermine the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others, is surreal."

What is the connection between Nazis and their atheism? Are the humanists right to describe the Pope's remarks as a libel?

The Pope did not say that atheism caused Nazism. But it is undoubtedly true that Nazism was made possible by its atheism; there were no moral constraints on the exercise of totalitarian power; nothing to prevent it sliding into idolatry. And of course the vision of society which the Nazis sought to impose knew no constraint. There was nothing to contain the exercise of power. Theirs was the ultimate naked public square.

But it's easy to see why liberal-minded, tolerant atheists might resent the comparison.

Comments

Anonymous | 9/17/2010 - 11:20pm
There have been thousands of Catholic dictatorships.  They were called kings and emperors.  There were also lots of Protestant dictators and Muslim dictators etc.  But in the 20th century it was the atheist dictators that stole the show in terms of killing people.
Anonymous | 9/17/2010 - 10:47pm
There's an interesting post by Andrw Brown (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2010/sep/17/atheism-faith-totalitarianism-evil)  on this subject which makes the point that fascist regimes like Nazi Germany have been both religious and atheist.  A  harrowing example of  a Catholic Nazi regime was the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a Nazi puppet state created on the territory of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia in 1941 .... a Franciscan priest, Miroslav Filipovi?,  ran  the Jasenovac concentration camp.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involvement_of_Croatian_Catholic_clergy_with_the_Usta%C5%A1a_regime
Anonymous | 9/17/2010 - 5:10pm
Hitler's power was not built upon "organized religion," it was built upon secular and technocratic utopianism with some mythology thrown in.

Progressivism is not a problem until it is taken up as a "faith" - a modern faith in human perfection and material/institutional salvation as promised by many politicians, including our current and past administrations in the US. 

Benedict is not "us v them" he is preposing both reason and faith. 

This contrasts starkly with the "reason only" ideology of many modern progressives and the "faith only" crowd of modern fundamentalists.
Beth Cioffoletti | 9/17/2010 - 4:03pm
At least the Magna Carta was a start.  Before that the idea the human beings might be equal and deserving of justice was just a dream.
Anonymous | 9/17/2010 - 1:57pm
Looks like First thigs has picked up your comment, Gabriel:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/09/17/paper-tiger-protestors/
Gabriel Marcella | 9/17/2010 - 1:18pm
Please, let's not revise history.The Magna Carta only gave rights to ''free men,'' not all the people in England were free in 1215. Women and slaves did not have the same rights.
Edward Burton | 9/17/2010 - 12:33pm
As to the quote from a speech by Hitler, nothing Hitler said in a speech to the public is alone any evidence of its truth, particularly in the early years, that quote being on the order of 10 years before he took power. His denouncing of Jews is far more significant than the wrapping around that denouncing, and who the audience was would shed light on the wrapping.

The Holy Father may need help from PR-skilled people fully knowledgable of the his world-wide audience's sensitivities, in order not to speak as if to an audience that knew everything he does.  

As for the Humanist Society, a little humility would be helpful. Atheism is a faith, not a science. Both believers and atheists make a decision about the existence of
Beth Cioffoletti | 9/17/2010 - 9:33am
 I'm wondering if we have not moved, as Thomas Merton coined it, into the "Post Christian Era".  Christianity, as an organized enterprise, did indeed civilize us, and Britain's Magna Carta, insituting a recognition of the dignity of the human person in ways that never had been done before (the ideas of equality and justice!) incorporate the Christian insight.  Yet Hitler's mouthing of Christian morals for the sake of political power reflect the empty and corrupt state that organized religion can fall.

I think that B16's problem lies in the medeival language that he uses to convey Catholic truth.  He's still in a we vs. they, dualistic and accusatory mode, giving the impression that progressive thought is the problem that has to be overcome.  
Catherine Schau | 9/17/2010 - 8:33am
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people."  

-Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)
Tom Maher | 9/16/2010 - 6:49pm
It is amazing how many PhD are atheist and disbelievers with a vengence.  They are not just privately and passively doubters of God existance they are actively, militantly and sometimes manically opposed to the belief in God by anyone and the practice and influence of religions.

Religion and belief in God deeply offends a large number of highly educated people who have a deeply held sense of reality. where God and religious principles and morals are a threat to their sense of what is.  To them God and religion is the basis of widespread social policy error.  Religion is the problem not the solution. Mankind alone controls the world and should determine by utilitatrian criteria what is good and bad withoiut reference to God, the scriptures or religion. 

Of course we have been here before.  Marx in the 1840s said that religion was the opiate of the people and insisted that a commuisnt state must be atheistic for the good of the world.   This extremely bold assertion was put into practice under communism during most of the 20th century.  So the idea of a Godless human organization determining morality has been widely believed in and practiced.   Of course Marxist belief in a all-poereful state as a substitue for God has been proved false in the collapse of communism.  Nevertheless many highly educated people are still trying to substitue some other human institution for God and religion.    

In many universities around the world Marxism remains big,   Many educated people are taught the Marxist vision and beliefs that God, religion and its moraility have no place in world.  Religion and belief in God have no use and just get in the way of needed socail, political and world reform.   It is ironic how insulated some highly educated people can be from some basic timeless truths.

 
Anonymous | 9/16/2010 - 6:30pm
Well, then he also left out Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim il Jung and the leaders of Iran...

This does not alter the truth of his statement.
Anonymous | 9/16/2010 - 5:06pm
When he was equating dictatoships with secularism, I guess he forgot about Franco's  Catholic regime.
Gabriel Marcella | 9/16/2010 - 4:30pm
Beth,
You raise a proper concern, but sometimes the search for inclusiveness can lead to  language that is so opaque that it can border on the meaningless. Moreover, the Pope's strategy is long term: the re-evangelization of Europe. What language is  appropriate for such a grand vision?
Beth Cioffoletti | 9/16/2010 - 3:07pm
There are many good, moral, virtuous people who proclaim not to believe in God.  They want nothing to do with religious thought or belief, saying that it has done much more harm than good in the world. 

Though I think that there is some truth in what Benedict says, I can also sympathize with the point of modern atheists.

Benedict could have worded his statement so that it was less accusatory.  It seems that whenever you mention the word "God" in a pluralistic crowd, you are going to offend someone.  This is not to say that the Pope should not talk about God - but he could do so in a way that is inclusive of everyone, whether they believe in God or not. 

I think that his wording of "exclusion of God, religion, and virtue" was unfortunate.
Anonymous | 9/16/2010 - 2:59pm
Why stop at horrors National Socialism? 

Atheism was official stance of the totalitarian states of the Marixist Russia and Maoist China and millions slaughtered for the atheistic goal of human utopia.  Here is a relevant quote from Benedict himself:


"Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes not divine, but demonic."
Truth and Tolerance, 2004
Gabriel Marcella | 9/16/2010 - 2:54pm
According to the website of the British Humanist Association (BHA) its membership in 2010 is 4,100. Why does America lend its prestige to such a tiny organization? Moreover, even if the Pope had not made reference to atheism and Nazism, the BHA would have found something nasty to say. The crowd of 125,000 in Edinburgh is far more eloquent and significant than the mutterings of the BHA.