This past weekend, pope Benedict XVI rescinded the excommunication of four bishops who had broken away from mainstream Catholicism some 20 years ago (BBC article). No sooner does he do this than one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, outs himself as a holocaust-denier on Swedish TV saying: "I believe there were no gas chambers. I think that two to three hundred thousand Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but none of them by gas chambers." This has led the superior of Williamson’s order, Bishop Bernard Fellay, to prohibit Williamson from expressing views on history and politics publicly (National Catholic Reporter)."Catholics and Protestants were subject to oppression under the Nazis, but aside from some notable voices of opposition from each church, they generally went along with the regime."
~"Report Details Catholic Role in Nazi Abuses" Reuters April 9, 2008
Meanwhile, the pope’s YouTube channel (yes, the pope has a YouTube channel) has uploaded several videos in which Benedict XVI (a former Hitler Youth, though allegedly not by choice) in which he speaks out against the horrors of the holocaust. Nothing so bold as an actual apology for the church’s complicity with the Third Reich but, hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
A common objection that I expect Protestants might proffer to Christianity’s unseemly connections with Nazism, is that the Catholic Church is hardly a representative of authentic Christian beliefs. I don’t think that’s true, but this sort of “no true Scotsman” argumentation might actually have held some water if it weren’t for the embarrassing fact that, far from leading the cause against fascism, Protestant churches in Germany initially embraced the rise of German nationalism and anti-Semitic rhetoric (see a detailed history at the Claremont McKenna College website). What’s more, many of Hitler’s own twisted beliefs were inspired by his understanding of Christianity as well as the writings of Martin Luther. (http://nobeliefs.com/hitler.htm)
I am in no way trying to suggest that religion is solely responsible for the rise of the Axis powers. That would be naive (or deceitful)... about as naive (or deceitful) as people like Ben Stein and David Berlinski whose fatuous remarks have led their respective fans to think that we have belief in evolution and secularism to thank for the rise of the Axis powers. I’m referring to Stein’s movie Expelled and Berlinski’s book The Devil’s Delusion. In reality, a great many people, both religious and secular, shared the culpability in setting the stage for one of history’s most heinous eras.
What I am trying to say is that the question of what’s good and what’s evil is not reducible to the question of what’s religious and what’s secular.