Thursday, January 29, 2009

Naive or Deceitful

"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
This past weekend, pope Benedict XVI rescinded the excommunication of four bishops who had broken away from mainstream Catholicism some 20 years ago (BBC article).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).

MeanwhilThe Pope on YouTubee, 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. (

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.



  1. excellent display of balance and even-handedness. should be read by religious and non-religious alike.

  2. I agree that in addition to good there is also a good portion of evil in what is religious and secular. I don't even know if the good to evil ratio is any different between that which is religious and that which is secular.

  3. Zee said: "I don't even know if the good to evil ratio is any different between that which is religious and that which is secular."

    It would make an interesting study if someone could figure that out.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I'm not sure that is something that is quantitative. I do not believe any person that thinks their nature is any less evil because of their religion.

  6. Hello Zee,

    I would have to agree with your first comment, there is little difference between the religious and the non-religious in matters of morality. In America, atheists are the least represented segment of the population in the prisons. Using this metric alone, one would assume that atheists were better people and committed less felonies and that Christians (who represent a disproportionate percentage of America's inmates) were more prone to committing felonies.

    Using a behaviorist paradigm, it would be possible to measure "morality" by observed behavior. Such an experiment would be difficult to control, but I think it might be possible to create "real-feel" laboratory scenarios in which a moral choice is presented. For example, a theft assessment could lead to the positioning of same-age adults individually into a room with a wallet full of cash. The "morality metric" would be whether the subject would take the cash or not.

    I suspect that there are many religious people who are cemented into lower levels of moral development because of a simplistically polarized view of morality. For these individuals, the "letter of the law" is the mind of God, and they dare not consider violating the letter. Unlike Rahab who lied to hide the Israelite spies, the lower-level moral performer would tell the Nazi soldiers that there are Jews in his attic. My point with this paragraph is that some forms of religiosity actually seem to retard moral development.

  7. I know that Philosobot more than adequately already touched on this, but I want to rant a bit. It is so annoying and discrediting to read and watch the associations that theist apologists make between atheism and whatever social ill they choose, Naziism, communism, etc.

    Stein's Expelled is a good example of this. He does not even address the issues associated with ID. He does not provide even one example of where ID trumps naturalistic explanations (there are none). He does take the viewer through a tour of a Nazi torture chamber where he makes associations between rejecting ID, accepting evolution, and Naziism.

    to the theist apologist: stop using such tactics. They only work against your credibility.

  8. I think evil is a lot deeper then breaking the law. I have been in jail but I have never been to prison I don't think that makes me any less evil then people in prison or any more evil then people that have never been in jail.

    For example there are people that have genuine hatred in their hearts for people of different races. In my experience these people tend to be religious more often then atheists but thats not relevent. Back to my point. As an American you have the legal right to hate whoever you want for whatever reason you want and to voice your opinion. I don't think this is any more evil in the heart then somone that acts out violently against other races which is not legal.

    I still think evil is something that is not realistically quantitative.

  9. Scriptulicious... what is ID?

  10. Hey Zee... it's Intelligent Design (ID)

  11. Thanks. Its hard for me to change my train of thought. ID means a lot of different things in my world and none of them relate to this topic.

  12. evil as realistically quantitative??

    how about my ex-wife, "the pillar and ground of wickedness (and depravity)" (II Tim 3:14)

  13. Sorry, you lost me on that one. I'm not sure if you are saying evil is quantitative or not.

    You lost me with your Bible reference too. My Bible 2 Timothy 3:14 (New International Version)says, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,"

    I'm lost. Please guide me back.

  14. sorry, zee, it was just a bad joke, my ex is not even that bad (most of the time).

    I think that evil can be placed against a behavioral rubric and so be quantified.

  15. My ex-wife is often refered to as the spawn of Satan. Its an insult to her mother just as much as its an insult to her.

    I still do not like the idea of quantifying evil based on behavior. First it makes the assumption that evil is only evil if its an outward action. Also this is a concept that Christians (and non-Christians) abuse to justify their own evilness. They focus on homosexuality or premarital sex and claim they are such great evils in order to draw attention from their own evil nature or to justify it to themselves. I think evils are hard to compare. I'm overlooking the Christian concept that all sins are equal in the eyes of God since that is not a universal belief. How do you quantify the evil of stealing compared to the evil of physical assult? At what point is it physical assult? I just through a paper clip at a co-worker because he is annoying. Was that physical assult? What if it was a stapler? What if it was a brick?