The Pope, Nazis, and atheism

By Phil Plait | September 22, 2010 12:41 pm

popebenedictSo last week Pope Benedict XVI was in the UK giving speeches. He said several things of note, but one of them stands out among the rest. At Holyroodhouse, he said this:

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. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious 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 twentieth 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 and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”

Now, I’m the kind of person whose first inclination is to give people the benefit of the doubt. So I read the whole transcript of the Pope’s speech, twice, and after thinking about it, I can’t see any way of interpreting the speech as a whole other than as him saying secularism and atheism = lack of virtue and morality = Nazism.

That is such a grossly flawed chain of reasoning that it strains credulity well past its limit. It’s hard to know where to even begin debunking these statements. Maybe to start with, Hitler wasn’t an atheist (though his personal beliefs were unclear; he used religion or the lack thereof to his advantage when needed, for example using atheism as a bogeyman to rally the people against Russia). More importantly, The Catholic Church went way out of its way to support Hitler during WWII*. [Update: Apparently, the Church’s relationship with Hitler was more complicated than I first read. There was condemnation of Nazis, as well as some support. I think the best thing we can say here is that blanket statements about large organizations can be inaccurate, and need to be done with care. The history of this situation is complex.]

Mind you, I am not trying to condemn the entire Catholic religion, or even the Church (the Church then is not the same as the Church today). I am pointing out that what the Pope said in the UK is pure nonsense, and in fact widely known to be untrue — in fact, studies have shown that secular societies tend to have better moral and social behavior (lower homicide rates, lower infant mortality, lower STD rates, and so on). I would go so far as to say the Pope was being bigoted, equating Nazism and atheism in a way to specifically spur hatred of nonbelievers, or at least amplify mistrust. And given the Church’s support of Nazism at the time, condemning atheists for Nazism is galling.

I am worried about this Pope’s declarations that are clearly contrary to reality, such as him saying condoms cause AIDS. I like to think that John Paul II and I could’ve sat down and had a solid discussion on at least science and the Church; he was pro-evolution, for example. And while I would’ve disagreed with him on a slew of basic items of Church dogma and social beliefs, and fought him on these topics, there were at least some points on which we would agree.

With Benedict XVI, not so much. And in fact, much of what he says is not just nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense. He puts lives at risk — and his statements about condoms and AIDS puts millions of lives at risk — by saying the things he does. Perhaps compared to that, his utterings about secularism may seem trivial.

But it is important. The skeptical blogs are understandably and in my opinion deservedly in an uproar about it.

A major religious figure is preaching intolerance, and that is not so easily dismissed. Even other religious figures are disagreeing with him:

"Eminent Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that as Catholics and Hindus and others had freedom of their belief systems and were respected for their respective choices, and so should be the atheists. A religious leader of Pope’s stature should have been more inclusive."

I agree. While I might disagree with the vast majority of religions out there — and if you belong to a particular faith, you probably do too — I do think they have the right to their beliefs as long as they don’t step on the rights of anyone else. What the Pope has done has crossed a line: he’s said something verifiably false about an entire group of people.

It’s ironic that we can be intolerant of intolerance. But that’s the case here. What the Pope said was shamefully wrong, it was awful, it was ugly, and it was bigoted. I see no reason to tolerate that.



* It’s well-known that during World War II, the current Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth, but he was conscripted, and by accounts was not enthusiastic about it. I don’t think this really plays into this topic except tangentially.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Comments (145)

  1. i read this post and come to a completelly different conclusion … i.e.

    Nazis were bad and did horrible things..

    then him being the Pope continued on .. someone who beleive in GOD should not be able to do such horrible things…

    Then the Nazis did not beleive in GOD.

    for the rest of your post i agree that Benedict XVI is not such a bright guy in terms of science

  2. Timmy

    I’m probably too close to this one to be objective, but I disagree with you. The study you linked to doesn’t really prove cause and effect to me. Believing in God doesn’t make you a moral-less psycho. Growing up in a society that reveres bad-boys with big guns makes you a psycho.

    And he didn’t say athiests = nazis per se… but well maybe you are right on that one…

    Anyway, he is the last of the old school Catholic popes. The next one will most likely be a post-Vatacan II priest and will make big changes in the Church (I hope).

  3. Bubba

    Come on Phil. The Pope, and Roman Catholicism, represents a small portion of the world population. That there are several times more Protestants than Catholics menas that, obviously, he doesn’t speak for anyone but Catholics. And, so what? He’s already given too much respect and media attention considering how small a portion of the world population he represents. Just brush it off. It’s so easy to do so. So many Catholics are disappointed in their own church. His speeches mean little more than a burp (not my intended word) in the wind.

  4. “I do think they have the right to their beliefs as long as they don’t step on the rights of anyone else.”

    Problem is, of course, that many beliefs have a requirement that you *do* “step on the rights” of people who don’t believe as you do – or at least, badger them a lot to change to your beliefs.

  5. Vaccination Dalek

    When you consider that some of the random Catholics they interviewed on the BBC called the protests of the Pope “evil”, I think its important that we point out that a pope who was a member of the Nazi military should not be throwing stones at atheists.
    Clearly the Pope views secularism and atheism as the greatest threats to his church, and since he views his church as the only passage to heaven, he naturally wishes to discourage people from both. It is important to realize that a lot of people look to him for guidance in the world, and that when he throws Nazi blood libel our way, we can’t let it stand. Hitchens’s recent debate in CSPAN has him verbally crushing someone who made the same proposition, and I think anyone who agrees with the church should see it.

  6. cameron

    The whole Hitler Youth thing still bothers me. Yes, he was forced into it, but so what? Does he have the courage of his convictions or not? Other Religious leaders are always telling us that their morality is god-given and therefore absolute. As someone who is supposed to be one step down from St. Peter in the universal spiritual hierarchy, I would have expected that his morals wouldn’t have allowed him to participate whether he was drafted into it or not.

    The pope has gone on record (just in the last few days) praising the courage and sacrifice of those who were imprisoned or killed in Nazi Germany for opposing the regime. Why wasn’t he one of those? “Go along to get along” doesn’t sound very compatible with absolute, divinely-ordained morality.

  7. David P

    Whoa had to check I wasn’t on Pharyngula.

    @Timmy I don’t think Phil was saying that believing in god makes you a moral-less psycho. Rather that not believing in god does not make you less moral (Which is one of the main arguments usually leveled against us) and there is even some correlative (Not causal) evidence to the contrary. There are good people, bad people and all shades between. What is dangerous however is forming an opinion on ideology which is contrary to fact or evidence and this can be seen clearly in this pope’s attitude towards secularization, women, condoms, science and quite frankly children.

  8. kwoolf

    I have to agree with Phil. My reading suggests the Pope DOES equate Nazism with atheism, ridiculous and unacceptable. Atheists need to come out of the closet we’ve been content to exist within for so long. ATHEISTS UNITE!

  9. BJN

    Not sure why you weighed in on this one. The topic has been flogged like the back of a Catholic penitent practicing “mortification of the flesh”. Simon Bar Sinister was an odd pick to become Pope.

  10. Joao

    What do you expect from a person that wears funny clothes and speaks to imaginary people? Seriously, how i wish humankind spent more time on stuff that really matters instead of wasting time with religion…

  11. Keith Bowden

    Well, that certainly frosts my cookies.

    Is he trying to distract people from hating Islam by picking on atheists? Or simply adding us to the mix?

    Sigh.

  12. Ryan

    @3 Bubba

    Roman Catholicism is the world’s largest Christian denomination. It’s estimated to have close to one billion followers.

  13. AJKamper

    There are over a billion Catholics in the world.

    Il Papa speaks for 15% of the world’s population.

    Let’s not overly discount this.

  14. changcho

    Tangentially related, but regarding Bubba’s comment: “That there are several times more Protestants than Catholics menas that, obviously, he doesn’t speak for anyone but Catholics. ” Er, I think you’ve got that backwards; unless you mean in your immediate neighborhood perhaps?

    In any case, I agree 100% with Phil’s post.

  15. Lawrence

    The Catholic Church is one organization that can’t really claim the moral high ground on just about any issue – they’ve had too many problem, let too many things slide (heard about the $30 million dollar embezzelment investigation at the Vatican?), and resisted necessary changes that would have enhanced their own standing in the world of religions.

    No wonder religious participation in Europe is so low – look what they’ve had to put up with from the Catholic Church for the last 1500 years.

  16. SonnyBobiche

    Mao’s China – Mass Murder of 45 million
    Stalin’s Russia – Mass murder of 25 million

    Atheist secular society’s are more moral? Not really, Mass murder in the name of religion or in the fight against it just shows that humans are flawed and that power is the ultimate religion of humanity; leftist, rightist, socialist or capitalist. Orwell was right.

    However, at least with the teachings of certain religious leaders like Jesus or Buddha if you murder, you are explicitly disobeying their teachings, so that’s a moderating influence. Others, well, they teach that killing your enemies is actually a higher calling. Secular society is actually a moderating influence on those who would follow that particular “holy” book.
    .

  17. Georg

    Well,
    I like the speeches of this and the pope before him.
    The more the better. At least in Germany the result
    is more and more Catholics quit membership.
    Georg

  18. Gus Snarp

    @Timmy – I’m pretty sure that the choice of a very conservative Pope and the very conservative moves the Pope is making are very intentional and not likely to be reversed. The Church sees fundamentalist evangelical churches growing throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. It also knows that Western Europe, the U.S., and Canada are not really where its future growth is going to happen and that they are not going to win back the liberal folks they’ve lost there. So it makes sense that they would make a conservative move in an effort to retain the followers they have in the West while trying to pick up the conservatives who are upset with the Anglican Church and strengthening their position in Africa where Catholicism tends to be very conservative and where there is real growth potential. The Church is in a competitive market, and they’re making strategic moves. I have little hope for a return to Vatican II style liberalism.

  19. Nemesis

    Religion’s sole intent is to perpetuate the dominator framework’s existence. It’s obvious that the Pope wants an ever-burgeoning world population to ensure the procreation of hopeless individuals who will turn to stories for wisdom, instead of observing reality.

    Chuck Schuldiner said it well:

    “Built from blind faith
    Passed down from self-induced fantasy
    Turn a page to justify
    Conjuring power – it opens wide
    On your seventh day,
    Is that how it’s done?
    Twisting your eyes to perceive
    All that you want
    To assume from ignorance
    Inflicting wounds with your
    Cross-turned dagger

    [Chorus:]
    Inside crystal mountain
    Evil takes it’s form
    Inside crystal mountain
    Commandments are reborn

    All the traps are set to confine
    All who get in the way of the divine
    In sight and in mind of the hypocrite
    A slave to the curse forever confined

    [Solo: Schuldiner]

    Shatter the myth
    Don’t cut yourself
    On your words against
    Dreams made of steel
    Stronger than any faith
    That inflicts pain and fear,
    Is that how it’s done?
    Twisting your eyes to perceive
    All that you want
    To assume from ignorance
    Inflicting wounds with your
    Cross-turned dagger”

    The problem is: too few individuals have the intellectual capacity to figure things out for themselves and deal with their new-found freedom in a way that isn’t a direct detriment to society. The answer is condoms and other forms of birth control, with financial rewards being given for not reproducing (in the cases of people who have no appreciable skills to contribute to society).

    How do you tell people with 12 starving children that the only way to prevent the problem from getting worse is for them to stop having children. I’m not even sure that they’re aware that sex leads to babies.

    Extreme?

  20. Chris

    There are plenty of examples of the bad things religion can produce. Look at all the problems because three groups think Jerusalem is the holy city of their God. The terrorists act out of a misinterpretation of a book thinking it’ll get them into heaven. The crazy guy who wanted to burn the Koran. The Protestants vs Catholics in N. Ireland. I could go on, but religion has people following sketchy orders that they have no way of verifying. It always bugged me that the religious leaders say America is God’s chosen land. Really? Where does it say that in the Bible? I knew he had a fondness for Israel, but where did you see America?

  21. Nemesis

    @Joao

    “Seriously, how i wish humankind spent more time on stuff that really matters instead of wasting time with religion…”

    If I can convince one intelligent, good-natured person to abandon religion, I feel I’ve accomplished something.

  22. “studies have shown that secular societies tend to have better moral behavior (lower homicide rates, lower infant mortality, lower STD rates, and so on”

    Yes,, secular societies tend to have better moral behaviour. We agree there. However, what’s up with infant mortality and STD rates?

    Societies which have high infant mortality rates generally have them because of bad hygiene, not because folks eat the babies! Please explain your logic here! Yes, lower infant mortality rates are good, and they are lower in secular societies (probably because more education leads to a) secularism and b) understanding and fighting disease), but equating a low infant mortality rate with better moral behaviour seems bizarre.

    STDs? Again, low STD rates are due to better hygiene. Again, education leads to a) secularism and b) an understanding of hygiene, but why are low STD rates per se morally better? The only way I can make this statement work is by assuming that low STD rates are due to less sex and less sex is morally better. The first assumption is usually not correct (yes, abstention will reduce STD rates, but most low STD rates are due to lowering the risks while still having sex) and I really can’t believe you believe in the second assumption.

    Please explain your logic. (An admission that you were smoking something funny while listening to a Dead album is also acceptable.)

  23. michael

    I’m actually not at all surprised. What the Pope said is a standard catholic trope, I (formerly catholic, German) have heard it many, many times, in many sermons and in my religion classes (all schools have them in Germany but you can obviously opt-out). Naziism and more broadly fascism is an oft-discussed topic in sermons and those classes and “godless” is nearly always the adjective used to describe the German past and fascism in general.

    It is true that some devout catholics and protestants stood admirably against fascism in Germany. It’s also true that many marched right along.

  24. Becca Stareyes

    The fact that the current pope is German and grew up in the 1930s and 1940s means that I either have to assume he has age-related mental deterioration (he doesn’t remember the Nazis), severe cognitive biases that neither he nor his people challenge (he remembers the Nazis wrongly) or he’s deliberately perpetuating lies for ideological reasons (he remembers the Nazis correctly, but would rather others didn’t). The first two are dangerous, the third downright evil.

    Mere ignorance (which can be corrected more easily than refusal to acknowledge one’s cognitive biases) strikes me as impossible.

  25. Last time I looked, Holyroodhouse had not moved anywhere and the nearest part of England to it is about 40 miles away.

  26. Leon

    Well said, Phil. It was an outrageous and hypocritical statement made by a world figure whose voice carries considerable weight with millions of people. Pope Benedict deserves to be called out when he makes irresponsible public statements of this caliber.

  27. Marvin

    Hitlers Nationalist socialism and the less talked about Stalins or Mao’s socialist communism were and are very much religious ideologies as far as religion can be understood within human behavior. These organisations were and are evil, without evoking a supernatural element. A Deity here has just another form. The mental process in these cases are much the same as in any supernatural religion. It gives people the excuse to treat other people against they’re free will as they believe to get some gain out of it at the end. The gain is usually fictitious. Having listened to Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Nationalist extremists the language and behavior seems very much the same. The golden rules can only stand without any of them.

  28. BJN (#9): Other blogs have written about it, but I have my opinions I wanted to air out as well. Not everyone reads every blog on the planet.

    Bubba (#3): There are a billion Catholics on Earth. That strikes me a s a large number.

    Timmy (#2) and others: I didn’t say there was a cause and effect. I said that secular societies tend to be more moral and have a better standard of living, thus proving what the Pope said was wrong.

  29. Zehra Nasif

    List of Hitler quotes — in honor of the papal visit to the UK – for anyone who is wondering Hitler’s religious ideas http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/09/list_of_hitler_quotes_in_honor.php

  30. Michael Swanson

    When the Catholic church can take some real steps toward being a morally sound organization, and when they’ll get their damned facts straight (Hitler stated that the Nazis were doing God’s work, i.e., was not an atheist), then I might care what that ass Benedict has to say about “atheist extremism.”

    Advice from a woman-hating, homophobic, scientifically illiterate, history-denying, preachy loud mouth!

    By the way, what is “atheist extremism?” Because I’m certainly weary of secular suicide bombings, skeptical fatwas, and, oh, this is the worst: agnostic indulgences!

  31. James Bowden

    The pope was a Nazi, is he saying he’s also an atheist.

  32. Number 6

    I think Timmy in Post #2 said it well….This pope is “old school”….He’s regressive and mirrors the greater conservative nature of Catholicism at the Vatican and in other parts of the world. The more liberal Catholicism seems to reside here in the States.

    I think some Catholics in America cannot really identify with some of this pope’s pronouncements.

    It’s unfortunate that he’s “misspoke” several times, and this might be another of those times. In that way, he’s similar to some of our politicians on the national stage.

    As Phil stated above, John Paul II was much more temperate — broader in his views, a peacemaker, and a unifier….I saw him when he came to Chicago in 1979 and the outpouring of love from him and to him from common, everyday people was amazing….but the current pope seems to be closer to the other side of that spectrum….more divisive and more polarizing.

  33. Derek

    Ever seen “Braveheart”, Phil?

    The Palace of Holyroodhouse is in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. It is not in England. (Edit: Oh, you’ve changed it to UK…..)

    The geography of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland isn’t really all that complicated, you know 😉

  34. Elmar_M

    It is interesting to know that the church taxes were introduced in Austria and Germany under Hitler. Hitler had arranged things for himself quite well with the churches.
    He got their land and some other properties, in return the churches were allowed to ask for church tax.
    Interestingly, after the war the churches got their land back and kept the church tax too 😉
    That said, I think that you will find people of low moral standards among the christians as much as you will among the atheists.
    Of course damning the pope for being a catholic and promoting his religion is a bit difficult. Of course he has to say that. Of course, he does. Like any religion, or ideology for that matter, catholizism has to be promoted.
    Every ideology has this as the first and most important demand: Promote and “enlighten!” the rest of the world. The catholics evangelize, so do the protestants and the mormons. The buddhists “enlighten”. The moslems spread Allahs word with fire and sword. The communists had their world revolution. And finally the Nazis (also an ideology and in that sense not much different from any other religion) seeked to spread their ideology by conquering and dominating the world.
    It really is all the same. All of them (with the exception of the buddhists, maybe) have commited countless atrocities in the name of their ideology.
    And all of them will very quickly point fingers at another ideology if it serves their cause.
    I would not go and say that this current pope is that much different from any other pope of the past though, in this regard. He is just doing his dang job! It is like blaming an actor for acting in bad movies. It is his job to act. Its the popes job to talk bull and to promote his religion.

  35. The whole Nazi comment thing is a distraction. It’s one person’s opinion, and as such is arguable even if unpleasant. It’s chaff, thrown out to dazzle and distract.

    What is more worthy of our attention is the way that Cardinal Ratzinger, since at least 2001, has actively covered up priestly child abuse, placing hundreds of vulnerable youngsters in harm’s way. The evidence for this is strong, and this is one of the main resaons why I was at the Protest the Pope rally on Saturday.

    Johann Hari’s speech at the rally concentrated on this, and was therefore in my view a lot harder-hitting than Richard Dawkins’s. You can easily find it by typing “johann hari” “protest the pope” video into Google.

  36. Gamercow

    The thing that bothers me the most is the AIDS/condoms issue. The Catholics devoted the most to the pope tend to live in poor, underdeveloped areas of Africa, South America, and India. These are also the places where AIDS is a scourge, and is killing millions. The pope will directly cause the deaths of thousands of his followers. He effectively told them to go jump off a cliff and dash themselves on the rocks. Who is amoral now?

  37. Tim

    We all know that Benedict XVI is a throwback to most conservative part of the Catholic church and reversal from the John Paul II but comments like these are not good for anyone. As a leadership figure in ANY organization saying something like this is just wrong. I come from a very Catholic family who talked about the Popes comments and how right they are. Obviously the closet atheist can make no headway against people that believe the pope holds the “keys to the city of god”.

    To make matters worse I have a relative killed at a concentration camp during WWII but he was killed because he owned a resource the Germans wanted not because he was Catholic. Though my parents believed it was because he was Catholic. I guess I’d like to know what the former Nazi Pope himself would say to Catholics who now believe his words about this point in history.

  38. Kirk

    @Feòrag (#25): Holyroodhouse is in Scotland, isn’t it? Which is in the UK? Which is what Phil said? If those are all true (and it wasn’t some other Holyroodhouse, for example), I’m not entirely sure what your point is.

    It looks like the first reference to England specifically is your comment.

  39. Michel

    ” I can’t see any way of interpreting the speech as a whole other than as him saying secularism and atheism = lack of virtue and morality = Nazism.”

    That is also the perception of everybody in Europe (except ofcourse his blind followers).
    But hey, they follow the biggest pedophile crime ring in the world (they even got their own bank, which happens to be in trouble, again, for laundering very dirty money).
    So what would you expect?

    ” There was condemnation of Nazis, as well as some support.”

    It was the other way round actually.
    A lot of support and some condemnation. But most kept their heads down. Doing/saying nothing.

  40. Dan

    I’m of two minds on this. His remarks are incorrect and indefensible of course, and I’ve generally been not impressed by this pope since he was elected. As an ex-Catholic who rejected the Church (and organized religion in general) during John Paul II’s time in the Vatican, I, like Phil, at least considered him a man I could respect, even if I disagreed with some of the things he preached. (Oh, and didn’t he work AGAINST the Nazis during WWII?)

    OTOH, Who exactly is his audience here? The Catholics who come out to see the pope, in the UK, USA or elsewhere, are true believers who probably already think the same things he says. No one is going to change their minds, and in developed countries at least, he’s not scaring anyone into going Catholic with this talk. So it’s all just a lot of preaching to the choir in that sense. Catholicism, like any religion, is a voluntary thing. If you don’t agree with what the Church teaches, don’t be a Catholic. It’s that simple.

    The only real problem is in developing nations, where the Church can rely on the general lack of education to scare/hoodwink/cajole people into converting, and then believe whatever they’re told, and the end result is it’s detrimental to their health.

  41. Lolwhites

    If secularism is so terrible, why did the Pope not speak out against it during his visit to France last year. Sorry, I forgot, France has been secular for over 100 years now.

  42. James

    Thanks for your comments Phil. And thanks especially for the full quote. I believe there a lot of ways to interrupt Pope Benedict’s statement. I agree with your analysis and I think you went out of your way to provide as much perspective as possible.

    As a fallen away Catholic now atheist, Pope Benedict’s comments push me further from the Church and further from religion. The conflict in my mind is between preservation of freedom of religion, which I hold dear from a sociality and civic viewpoint, or “militant atheism”, from a intellectual viewpoint.

    As a student of history, I’ve made the mistake of commenting inappropriately on historical events to the people who lived them many times. As a student, your perspective is wider, shallower, and not tainted by your feelings. Pope Benedict lived under the Nazi’s, he may be very well rationalizing his own actions and that of the Church. Trying to find an objective history dealing with this topic is extremely difficult. To retain some semblance of dignity for person or Church in the middle of WWII requires rationalization.

    The former Catholic in me is crying out because I am thinking about the Pope as a man and not the infallible head of the Church.

  43. Francisco Burnay

    «I like to think that John Paul II and I could’ve sat down and had a solid discussion on at least science and the Church; he was pro-evolution, for example.»

    Well, yes and no. Pope John Paul II said that the theory of evolution was not incompatible with the teachings of the Church in regard of all life with the exception of man.

    In his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in 1996, he said that «theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man.»

    This is actually quite anthropocentric…

  44. Derek

    @Kirk (#37)

    “England” was edited and replaced by “UK” after Feòrag’s comment (and while my comment #32 was being moderated)

  45. I didn’t say there was a cause and effect. I said that secular societies tend to be more moral and have a better standard of living, thus proving what the Pope said was wrong.

    Yes, agreed, but address comment 22. Forget cause and effect, we are talking only about correlation. How are low STD rates and low infant mortality correlated with better morality? Better hygiene, yes; better society, yes; better morality?

  46. Floyd

    I gave up Catholicism a long time ago, in 1969; the pronouncements against birth control was the last straw for me. I just decided the religion made no sense.

    The awful thing is that, with the exception of Buddhism and Unitarian/Universalism, almost all religions promote rigid dogma of one kind or another. While I’m not quite an atheist(I’m close), the awful things people have promoted in the name of various religions have soured me on almost all religion.

    To top it off, the pronouncements of the Pope and other religious leaders that Gamercow refers to just sours me on the rest of religions that push an agenda against birth control. Those religious leaders must be mad.

  47. (25, 33, 40): Yes, I edited that. My mistake; but it wasn’t key to my point, so I simply changed it.

  48. Phillip Helbig (47, 20): When I added that link right before posting this, I forgot to add the word “and social” to it, so I just did. The point is that secular societies, whether it is causal or not, have higher standards of living in many parameters over non-secular ones. I think that point is clear, and what you are arguing is a detail that is not terribly important.

  49. Dreamer

    @40: Phillip Helbig — I get what you’re saying, Phillip. Morality is in the eye of the beholder, thus it’s probably wrong of BA to use it in the context of lower STD rates and infant mortality, and perhaps even with lower homicide rates.

    After all, if you identify and abort many more fetuses with congenital problems, you can have a lower infant mortality rate, and if you hand out condoms to teenagers in high school and give them explicit sex education on how and when to use them, you will likely reduce the number of STDs while the actual age of first having sex is lowered. Finally, if you lock up more people for longer (as is happening in the USA), then you will reduce the homicide rate.

    I would not necessarily argue these are bad things, but whether they are good moral behaviors very much depends on your political (and religious) viewpoint.

    Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say that a secular (and thus usually more liberal) society has better outcomes. Quality of life tends to be better, poverty rates lower, and education levels higher. It’s no accident that the countries with the best quality of life trends tend to be more secular and atheistic than those that are lagging behind. Sadly I see the USA, with its far more conservative and religious (and dogmatic) outlook heading further and further in the wrong direction.

    Finally, note to those who see the Soviet Union and China as a big blot on the atheist’s copy book. The big difference between those regimes and the secular social democracies with majority non-believers today is the lack of coercion. Nobody is forcing people to reject religion today (as they did under threat of imprisonment, torture, and death in the communist dictatorships). All that’s happening is that they are beginning to understand the rational argument against religion of their own free will, and that makes all the difference. Even my parents, lifelong members of the Methodist Church, at the age of 80 appear to be on the verge of accepting that argument, which is quite remarkable to me.

  50. Dreamer

    (25, 33, 40): Yes, I edited that. My mistake; but it wasn’t key to my point, so I simply changed it.

    It’s always worth remembering that the Scots, Welsh, and Irish don’t take too kindly to being referred to as being part of England, or as English. As an Englishman who grew up in Scotland, I am well aware of how sensitive they are to it!

  51. Dreamer

    Back on topic, it’s also worth remembering just how conservative Ratzinger is. The Catholic Church was brought kicking and screaming into the 20th Century (well, almost) by Vatican II, but more and more I am hearing Conservative Catholics relishing the day–they believe is coming soon–when the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy repudiates the revisions and teachings of Vatican II and sets the Catholic Church firmly back on the track of Medieval dogmatism.

    There are plenty of Catholics around today who firmly believe that the only reason why there has been the terrible series of child sexual abuse scandals over the last 30 years is because of the liberalizations of Vatican II, with which they lump in the acceptance and appointment of gay men into the clergy.

    While a jerk back to conservatism may doom the church in the long run, it could cause an awful lot of mischief and suffering before that happens.

  52. Georg

    It is interesting to know that the church taxes were introduced in Austria and Germany under Hitler. Hitler had arranged things for himself quite well with the churches.
    He got their land and some other properties, in return the churches were allowed to ask for church tax.
    Interestingly, after the war the churches got their land back and kept the church tax too 😉

    Hello Elmar,
    this is plain nonsense. Where from did You get that?
    Church Taxes in Germany were a Development in 19 Century.
    Georg

  53. Nemesis

    @gamercow
    “The pope will directly cause the deaths of thousands of his followers.”

    -and the birth of millions more.

  54. Wayne on the plains

    Maybe I’m giving him too much slack, but my reading of the short quote in the post is that the exclusion of God AND virtue = Nazis, not just atheism by itself. I’m not sure if that makes it a lot better, but to me it makes it seem like less of a blanket condemnation of atheism.

  55. John Ellis
  56. Elmar_M

    @54 Georg.
    Ok, I was (partially) wrong about Germany, but right about Austria (where I am from). Here the church tax was introduced by the Nazis in 1939 (read it up on Wikipedia).
    In Germany the church tax was indeed already introduced earlier, but Hitler further promoted it via the Reichkonkordat of 1931 an agreement between Hitler and the pope.
    So yes, I was wrong about Germany, though Hitler still was involved there too. But I was right about Austria.
    Anyway, thanks for correcting me.

  57. This pope is directly responsible for placing thousands of children in the care of child molesters. If you have any doubt on this read The Case of the Pope by Geoffrey Robertson QC (A famous and well respected lawyer [insert we all hate lawyers joke here] )

    http://www.amazon.com/Case-Pope-Vatican-Accountability-Rights/dp/0241953847/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285192265&sr=1-1

    Robertson QC spoke at the rally against the Pope in London recently alongside of Richard Dawkins. He made some extraordinary claims that I found difficult to accept, so I bought his book. The first 25 pages convinced me that this Pope should be arrested and tried under international Human Rights laws.

  58. zantor

    His statement seems to ignore all of the super religious white supremecists that wish to bring back the nazi era. All the KKK members, etc.

  59. Monkeyhybrid
  60. I think at it’s core the Pope’s argument is patently absurd. Religion being marginalized? Says who? You can’t open a newspaper or watch a television news show without encountering story after story of some uppity religious group complaining that this that or the other thing is offensive to their beliefs.

    An awful lot of people are sick to death of the lot of ’em, their silly headgear inclusive.

  61. Old Geezer

    I will accept the pope’s advice on morality when the number of atheist priest child-molesters equals the number of catholic priest child-molesters. Until then he is best served by staying home and cleaning house.

  62. Kris

    First of all, the notion that “Nazis were Christian” seems to be makings rounds on skeptic blogs lately, but it’ so ridiculous that it falls in the “not even wrong” category. For starters, these guys got the core of their ideology — the idea of Herrenvolk — from the work of a prominently atheist philosopher, Nietzsche (that’s the dude who said “God is dead”). They have compiled a weird, self-contradicting mixture of nationalism, racism, occultism and Christianity and used that to hijack a predominantly Christian nation. But, don’t let facts get in the way of your rant.

    With that out of the way: the main problem with Ratzinger is that he is an excellent theologian, but he writes his speeches as if they were written for an audience of fellow theologians. The problem with this speech is that he does not MAKE the argument, he REFERENCES one. The atheism=Nazi argument is a very old one and essentially works like this:

    Christianity asserts that certain moral laws as God-given, i.e. absolute. Atheism, in contrast, asserts that there is no God. If there is no God, there are no absolute moral laws. Instead, an utilitarian view of them is taken: the laws can be changed as we see fit. The argument is that this situation creates a slippery slope for a soft descent into a totalitarian regime. (Which, interestingly, is how such regimes actually originate).

    To provide a concrete example, the concept of euthanizing terminally ill goes against the absolute (God-given) right of everyone to live. However, if we eliminate the concept of absolute rights, then we can agree that the right to live should not apply to the terminally ill. So we have now created one class of people which is exempt. Then, an utilitarian argument can be made that the exemption should also be made for the almost-terminally ill. When that happens, we can determine that it’s more cost-effective to extend this to everyone diagnosed with cancer, because they’ll end up getting euthanized anyway. So, basically, once an exception is made, it can be gradually extended to every member of a society which is found to be undesirable. Congratulations: Nazi approach at it’s finest.

  63. bad Jim

    Kris: Nazism is in no sense based on Nietzsche, who loathed anti-Semitism.

    Moreover, the notion that secular democratic states inevitably descend into totalitarianism is sheer nonsense. In fact their democratic nature, and the necessity of a forging agreements contending factions, is what imparts robustness and stability to the rule of law.

    Just as importantly it allows a moral consensus to evolve over time. Slavery and the subjugation of women were widely accepted at the founding of the U.S., as they were in biblical times. This has changed. By contrast, absolute moral laws cannot evolve.

  64. Utakata

    Phil Plait @ 28 reeplies:

    “There are a billion Catholics on Earth. That strikes me a s a large number. ”

    I hate to rain on your parade Phil…

    …but that’s 3 billion people who are quite likely wrong. :(

  65. Old Geezer

    @Kris: So the burning at the stake of “Heretics” goes against this “…absolute (God-given) right of everyone to live”? How does that fit in with Catholic and Muslim theology? Or are “God-given” laws simply situational ethics when practiced by your church?

  66. Old Geezer

    @Utakata: A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real numbers.

  67. Beau

    Phil,

    Just as in politics today the extremes are bad. The devout and/or fanatic practitioner of any religion and the militant aethists are in my mind both bad. Taking the extremes the militant forms of both are equally responsible for mayhem in our history (crusades, and Pol Pot for instance). Why should it bother you so much that a person who heads a faith you have no interest in makes a few irrational statements! There are plenty of aetheists spouting off on the evils of religion and vice versa. As with politics the other 80% of us just want to be left alone by both sides.

  68. GP

    @ 61 Kris
    What’s bothering us (atheists) is that the conslusion appears to be: Atheism = no morals.
    Someone generalizing and using the premise of extreme example (like Nacism ) to conclude (or suggest in this case) that atheism is not moral or has lower moral values. What is that then going down the slippery slope?

    Slippery slope is erronous argument not the unavoidable evil…

    Reality is that religion constantly adjusts the meaning of absolute rules as much as it is neccessary. It just stays on what is called “conservative side” of most arguments. It does not look to me that religious people are actually obidin these laws. The way I see it some are and some are not.

    It comes down to crowd control and the premise that religion is neccessary (?evil?). Maybe people are not able to be moral unless there is an absolute set of laws and rules. It might be so. But again that is why we created courts, police, goverment…
    Believing in my own ability to distinguish between “good” and “evil” is one thing I am proud of as an atheist.

  69. Michael Swanson

    Unfortunately most religious folks believe that atheism = nihlism. That’s it is literaly impossible to be moral without a god to provide those morals for you. It drives me completely bonkers — because it’s demonstrably untrue — but I don’t think it will ever go away.

  70. t-storm

    I think the study you cited is just you using data to support a view you have of this country.
    Israel is a fairly religeous country yet fairly consistently has better numbers than the author’s beloved UK.
    4.22 vs 4.85 infant mortality (deaths / 1,000 live births)
    5,100 cases of AIDS vs. 77,000
    1.87 vs 1.49 Homicide rate (homicides / 100,000 pop), the UK has the edge here.

    The US did better than Russia (which is a secular country) in all but AIDS cases (1,200,000 vs 940,000) which I think is attributed to the increased access to decent medical care and drugs in this country (whether you believe it or not).

  71. jp

    From my understanding, modern notions of morality stem from inherently Christian ideals during the Enlightenment (Aquinas might be a good example). Given how overtly religious Western nations were during these times, it is by no means surprising to see these nations assimilate these values so completely that even over time, after the overt religious connotations have long since faded, what we are left with are moral norms and ideals.

    I’ll speculate that the Pope sees this moral code as still being linked to Christianity and that adherents to it are working within a Christian framework of understanding; Therefore Atheism becomes an attack on morality itself.

  72. Well, one thing I’d like to say about this, had I not read through the whole @dont be a dick@ series, I’m sure my reaction would have been soooo different as I was listening live to this; but, thanks to you Phil and your speech, I took a step back, thought about what I was gonna say and how I was gonna phrase it and it did make a difference. Even some of my friends who asked me about it were quite (nicely) surprised at the way I reacted. So, once again, thank you!

  73. Beay (69): Seriously? A guy who is the spiritual leader of over a billion people on this planet tells lies about an entire group of people, saying they are equal to Nazis – Nazis! – and you want us to not be bothered by that?

  74. I’m so glad you posted about this. I was disappointed you hadn’t yet.

    Since hearing the pope’s words last week, I have felt that atheists are in for more trouble. With Tea Party candidates and other conservatives possibly heading into office, I hope we aren’t in for a more intolerant society in the US. More of this “atheism inspired Hitler” nonsense around the world isn’t going to help.

    I don’t feel I’m being alarmist, but I do hope we don’t head into a new Dark Ages.
    Did anyone here see this hamster cartoon:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBJjBOwk9oI&feature=player_embedded
    I really hope all the atheist Erics of the world don’t suffer his fate in the future. (And Eric wasn’t even being a Dick!)

  75. TheBlackCat

    @ Kris: And what are these “absolute moral laws”? I would expect them to be ones that are consistent across all religions and consistently promoted by those religions. So do you have some examples?

    To provide a concrete example, the concept of euthanizing terminally ill goes against the absolute (God-given) right of everyone to live.

    Of course, because no religion ever calls for people to be killed, or orders the death penalty for particular offenses. Any examples of “absolute moral laws” that are actually followed even remotely consistently even in holy books?

    However, if we eliminate the concept of absolute rights, then we can agree that the right to live should not apply to the terminally

    No, we can’t. I totally disagree with that. You basically seem to be arguing that if we don’t have absolute rights given by some higher power, then we have no rights at all. But humans are empathetic, social creatures. Our concept of laws stems from that, and the concept of rights comes from relatively recent thinking on how best to encourage a happy society.

    Historically, increases in civil right have accompanied a decrease in the power of religion on society, and religion tends to be on the trailing edge of human rights. In fact the very concept of rights is a fairly new one, only going back a few hundred years and being the direct result of secular enlightenment ideas and the growth of the middle class.

  76. Mike Saunders

    Somebody needs to give that pope some Metamucil, he won’t be so ornery.

  77. Lila

    @Phil (50)
    …..what you are arguing is a detail that is not terribly important.

    but Phil, I’m confused. How else will pedantic attention-seekers make others aware of their esoteric genius?

  78. Tribeca Mike

    I agree with your comment, though you have to admit he looks absolutely fabulous in that dress.

    But seriously, il Papa’s logic is the same logic that has been employed by the Catholic Church to support fascist and other authoritarian regimes (like that of Franco in Spain and Mussolini in Italy, and don’t get me started on Africa) for a long, long time. In fact, they had the corner on authoritarian regimes for over fifteen hundred years.

    The church does do good things around the world, like operating various social services for the poor. But the other 90% of their medieval organization is superstitious, sexist, and literally antiquated balderdash.

  79. Autumn

    Every member of the Catholic Church hierarchy who is not actively working to oppose the RCC”s teachings about condom use, especially in Africa, is a murderer.
    It really is that simple. The Church entertains an audience which it knows will follow its every command, and orders them to take actions that are the proximate cause of their deaths.
    It is no different than hosting a meeting of severely depressed individuals and taking an hour to explain why everyone would be better off without them, and passing out guns.

  80. DAstronomer

    I wanted to make a note of the last paragraph Phil: “It’s ironic that we can be intolerant of intolerance…”
    I lived with a gay man my sophomore year of college and the experience changed my whole worldview. I grew up in a VERY conservative town in rural Colorado, and so homophobia was rampant – there might have been ten or twenty gay people I knew or was acquainted with in my youth.

    The young man I lived with told me once of his philosophy on tolerance, and I found it to be quite enlightened. “I don’t talk about tolerance. Instead I preach acceptance.”

    Acceptance. Not tolerance. The difference is subtle but palpable. You can accept most anything, given enough time. Being tolerant – well, we’re tolerant of mosquitoes. Most people can tolerate poisons, too (at least small amounts). It’s very difficult to be freely accepting of negative things, but easier to tolerate negatives.

    That thought alone made that year in college one of the most valuable to me. I hope that we can inject this one thought, this one paradigm into our national discussion, and end the silly Intolerant of intolerance schtick. That’s a difficult framework to work in.

    Phil, please feel free to use this phrasing! I use it and I talk about it when it comes up, but I just don’t have the social reach you do….
    Preach acceptance, not tolerance. Acceptance gets you to equality. Tolerance gets you the status quo.

  81. Jeremy Thomson

    I’ll give the Pope Atheist extremism.
    Google Tim Minchin and Pope Song.

  82. Tribeca Mike

    Having never heard of Rajan Zed, I looked him up, and found a Washington Post article about how in 2007 Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid invited Mr. Zed to be the first Hindu to deliver an opening prayer before the Senate.

    According to the article, “Several Christian organizations spoke out against the prayer, before and after it was delivered. The American Family Association circulated a petition, urging its members to contact their senator to protest the prayer. ‘This is not a religion that has produced great things in the world,’ it read. The Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America issued a statement saying the prayer placed ‘the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ.'”

    Skipping for the nonce the somewhat squirmy fact that somewhere in this country there is a person who goes by the uproarious moniker of “The Rev. Flip,” as well as the fact that it was India that gave us mathematics (which kinda should count as “one great thing” — oh, and that Taj Mahal thing is sorta awesome too) this episode (coupled with the Pope’s comments) tells me that the whole inter-denominational bunch are out of their ever-lovin’ minds.

  83. ColonelFazackerley

    “Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society” is clearly false. Most German soldiers had “God with us” written on their belt buckles.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gott_mit_uns

  84. bad Jim

    India didn’t give us mathematics. Maybe, sorta, they gave us the use of zero as a placeholder, but that practice may go back to the Sumerians. The Greeks claimed they got their math from the Egyptians, and they added something to it, as did the Arabs and the Persians, and eventually the Europeans. It’s been a collective enterprise for millennia, prizes for everyone.

    JP, upstream: “modern notions of morality stem from inherently Christian ideals”. Really? So what were our pagan ancestors, chopped liver? Was Moses the first lawgiver, and earlier civilizations, no matter how powerful and well-organized, merely rabble? Palpable nonsense. Our laws and our morality are the product of thousands of years of practice, negotiation and compromise, the result of people living together and helping each other to survive and thrive. Where Europe’s concerned, a place once called Christendom, Roman law, pagan in origin, was most likely the first one generally applied.

    It’s true that Christian ideals are not greatly different from pagan ideals, so the difference is not immediately noticeable, but it’s silly to insist that all morality originated in one ancient text.

  85. JB of Brisbane

    I thought I read somewhere that the spread of AIDS was actually lower in Catholic areas of Africa than in the non-Catholic areas… because they were less promiscuous! Or was that just church-circulated propaganda? Anyone else want to comment?

  86. BW

    Question: did any well-known politicians, in any country, speak out against this unbelievable rewriting of history?

  87. Gary

    It’s in the news today that Italian authorities have seized €23 million in assets from the Institute for Works of Religion in Vatican City amidst an investigation of alleged money laundering. The Vatican Bank have been money laundering. The Catholic Church are just the Mafia in fancy dress.

  88. Now you might see why about 20,000 of us were protesting in London last weekend over this idiot coming here on a “state” visit while trashing human rights and spreading dangerous misinformation.

  89. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 64. Kris :

    However, if we eliminate the concept of absolute rights, then we can agree that the right to live should not apply to the terminally ill.

    Its not that euthanaisa removes the right to life – it just adds a right to choose how we die as well.

    The way I see this issue; those who wish to die an excruitiating, agonising, humiliating death because of their religious beliefs are still very free & entirely entitled to choose to do so. But how dare they, how dare they, insist that others who do NOT share their beliefs are compelled to die such agonising, awful, humilating deaths if they do NOT wish to? :-(

    Off topic sorry but I felt that had to be said.

  90. jpj

    Hello Mr Plait, you wrote:

    “I can’t see any way of interpreting the speech as a whole other than as him saying secularism and atheism = lack of virtue and morality = Nazism.”

    I noted that the Pope started with an empirical point, so I had no problem interpreting his following argument as empirical. That Nazism was hostile to religion and particularly to the catholic faith is an easily checked historic fact: when the nazis were not yet in power, they and the catholic church were regularly oppsed aginst each other. With good reason, the internal enemy the nazis feared most was faithful christians, whom they subsumed under the term “Die Reaktion”.

    After they had attained power, the nazis stripped the church off its political role in exchange for leaving it its autonomy. That did not keep them however from starting campaign after campaign against an alleged epidemy of abuse and immorality among the priests. During the war, priests like Count von Galen stood up against the atrocities. The nazis made some of them, like Lichtenberg, pay with their lives. Many leading members of the german resistance, starting with Stauffenberg himself, were devout catholics. Particularly catholic christians as a group resisted the takeover by nazi ideology. To illustrate, here is the distribution of nazi voters in 1932:

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_DUrhKfAaKGc/RxDd5jP4wiI/AAAAAAAAAfU/Fv7Ck68vO78/s400/Nazi-Waehler.jpg

    compare this to the distribution of catholics:

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_DUrhKfAaKGc/RxDdsTP4whI/AAAAAAAAAfM/diG2nfAoWwU/s400/Katholiken.jpg

    For an empirical argument, this is pretty strong IMHO.

    There are many ways for us to defend atheism and attack the rationality of theism or even the morality of such concepts like original sin. On the empirical side, however, the Pope has a point.

  91. Messier Tidy Upper

    Hey, what happened to Godwin’s law – has it been abolished? 😉

    If so, good. I think there are many problems with it not least the fact that it leads to the Nazi’s beecoming unmentionable and thus forgotten. And we should NEVER forget.

    I think it is a bit rich – or even extremely hypocritical – for the head of the Catholic Church which is an organisation responsible for literally centuries of anti-Semitism and Judeaophobia, for countless pogroms, forced conversions, attacks and insults against Jews to start casting “nazi” slurs against others. Especially when, as has been pointed out already, the Catholic Church’es role in the Shoah (Holocaust) is fairly mixed to put it generously. :-(

    As an agnostic, I respect people’s right to believe as they choose and I cannot claim certainty in religion as the likes of the Pope or, for that matter, Richard Dawkin’s do but I find many elements of Catholicism deeply disturbing and worrying.

    To me, the Catholic church does look like a very sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, nasty and long past its use-by-date religion – and the current Pope is excerbating that problem with such mean-spirited and erroneous comments. :-(

    Atheists may be wrng and they may be guilty of biased attacks onthe religious but they certaintly aren’t nazis.

  92. mjs

    Obviously the pope hasn’t read mein kampf in which Hynkie says -in chapter two for example- things like “I am certain that GOD has put me on this earth for a reason”. He was a devout catholic in fact. Hmm.. Perhaps we should not blame the pope for not reading mein kampf, it’s almost as interesting as the bible.

  93. Messier Tidy Upper

    I wonder what if anything it says that modern secular values seem to be much more compassionate and fair than traditional religious ones?

    For instance, euthanaisa, gay marriage, womens’ rights, etc ..

    It might be arguable but I do think its true to say that in modern Western societies most people have no trouble accepting women, homosexuals and those from other nations and different religious faiths as fully equal and capable yet some religions – especially and relevently here, Catholicism – still seem to think otherwise and feel it is okay to openly and blatantly discriminate against them. Eg. no women preists, no gay marriage, etc ..

    Hmm … ?

    I also find it is interesting that opponents of certain ideas will now often accuse those who adopt those ideas of having “faith” and of the idea being a “religion” eg. those who accuse ppl accepting the scientific consensus on the Anthropogenic Global Warming of following the “Warmist Religion.” Has the term “high preist” become a perjorative eg. “Al Gore the High Preist of AGW” and suchlike?

    (Just in case this topic wasn’t already controversial enough for y’all! 😉 )

  94. jpj

    Vaccination Dalek (#5) wrote

    “a pope who was a member of the Nazi military”

    cameron chimed in and at least got the military bit right (#6):

    “Yes, he was forced into (Hitler Youth), but so what? Does he have the courage of his convictions or not?”

    James Bowden (#31) offered the following:

    “The pope was a Nazi”

    Which Tim (#39) agreed to with

    “the former Nazi Pope”

    And even James (#44) sounded reasonable until he wrote

    “Pope Benedict lived under the Nazi’s, he may be very well rationalizing his own actions”

    Meaning no offense, I must ask if such comments are made in seriousness. First, neither the Hitler Youth nor the Reichsarbeitsdienst were part of the military. The first one was a nazi organisation for, as the name implies, youth. The Reichsarbeitsdienst was a paramilitary labour service. Attendance in both was compulsory by law. So, by the way, was military service. Second, Ratzinger had just turned 18 when the war ended. To accuse someone of moral inferiority because as an 18-year-old, he did not have the “courage of his convictions” (which ones? The ones at the time or the ones he attained in the 65 years since then?) and face internment or death sounds a bit harsh to me. And which actions from then in particular is he supposed to “rationalize”? Just “living” under the nazis? Is that your general standard for convicting people living under criminal governments?

    The pope made an argument starting from an empirical point. To treat this argument as a personal insult and therefore as an excuse for name-calling is neither fair on the one who made the argument nor on the listener. Better for us to try and counter the argument itself, as Mr Plait did — though I am afraid his point has some weaknesses by itself.

  95. Michael Kingsford Gray

    Don’t be such a Dick.

  96. jp

    @83 I didn’t say that pre-enlightenment civilization had no concept of morality, and I agree with you in the fact that what we define as a moral code certainly had a genesis many thousands of years ago. However what I was trying to emphasize was that what we see today as modern liberal values only really started to gain traction in their present form as initially religious writings during this circa 1600 period. Simple concepts such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (all humans are equal before the eyes of God etc), Geneva Conventions (just war tradition) etc, all have this certain Christian taint (at least initially) to them.

    However, all morality does not originate from Christian writings. Morality at most is a human construction and as a result, cultures and religions have different views on what is important within society or how society should be run. When we see similarities it is for practical pragmatic reasons in avoiding anarchy or a legacy effect. Christianity then, got its talons into the European powers before these same nations started spreading out across the globe and as a result, taking their values with them, becoming the modern legacy of the colonial era.

  97. jpj

    First off, I would like to thank Kris (#64) and jp (#73) for clearing away some of the fog: the Pope made a theological argument. To repeat myself, he started from an empirical point. One cannot easily address this argument: confusing secular with atheist societies is only the first mistake easily exploited by theists. Both Cuba, the government of which imposes an atheist ideology on the country, and Mexico, where catholic faith is deeply rooted, have laicism written into their constitutions. How do you rate them?

    Then comes the mistaking of moral and justice. Even if we went on with that: comparing morals in religious societies to secular ones as has been done by the study cited in the Times fails to take in the differences within those societies themselves: Are we to believe, as that article suggests, that e.g. in the US murder rates or gonorrhoea in adolescents are as prevalent in their most religious subcommunitites as in their secular ones?

    The pope’s observation that empirically, *atheist* societies display less moral than others is hard to deny. The only way to counter it IMHO is pointing out that he is mistaking causation with correlation. Call it “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” and he may understand the point. For the governments following an atheist ideology like nazism or communism, first there is their claim to total power. Then comes immorality, since total power negates such a thing as preexisting, inalienable rights. And then comes atheism, because total power cannot accept a divine source of inalienable rights.

    In short: the pope is falling mistaking causation with correlation. Atheism leads to immorality only when it follows from totalitarianism, which is irrational. Atheism can be justified rationally as well — as can moral precepts like inalenable rights. In short, rationalism, which produces atheism, can produce morals as well as theism can. The pope more than anyone else will realize that catholicism itself has tried to explain morals on rational grounds while claiming that the existence of god cannot be so explained.

  98. mjs

    I made a small error in language, when I wrote chapter two, I meant book two of mein kampf Die Nationalsozialistische Bewegung (national socialist movement, I think, I don’t speak german as good as I did way back when). Carry on.

  99. mallie

    It is troubling that a supposed leader of the largest and most oppressive church/cult in the world, second maybe to islam, shows his true colors so blatantly. I clicked on a link posted here that was replete with Hitler quotes, and this one struck me like an axe between the eyes. No truer words were ever spoken – on wonder Hitler mesmerized the masses (including the pope). In this quote, he is speaking of a tenet of the catholic church that has stood unchallenged for 1500 years, but it would apply to just about anything: “The faithful will swallow it whole, so long as logical reasoning is never allowed to be brought to bear on it.” A clock is right twice a day, even when it’s broken….. So in my view of things, there are those who have NO logical reasoning, and those who do. The ones that don’t won’t change, no matter how logical YOUR stance … is it surprising that the no-logic ones follow blindly their leaders who spout such drivel as the pope? He sure struck fear into MY heart, as if those he disapproves have no right to live. Gee, wonder where he got that idea…. and Hitler was a devout catholic for anyone who didn’t actually know that…. an undiluted mystic.

  100. MarcusBailius

    I agree pretty much with Phil’s take on things here.

    The Pope’s visit to the UK was widely covered in the UK media, including his speeches of course. Telling everyone that atheists = nazis, which is effectively what he did, was a calculated falsehood. Coming from him with his history, was mind-bogglingly, well, insolent, really. And also of course a major fail in terms of Godwin’s Law.

    The UK National Secular Society immediately found a poster from 1933 from Germany, basically saying Catholics should vote for Hitler’s party. This followed the Reichskonkordat negotiated by the Germanophile Pope Pius XII. See the poster here:

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/hitlers-election-poster-uses-the.html

    I’m sure it’s unconnected, but Benedict XVI is trying very hard to get Pius XII canonized.

  101. andyo

    Oh please! People need to stop with the “1 billion” number for catholics. It is a weasel statistic. If it’s even close to that, it is the number of baptized people, the vast majority of whom were baptized as babies, without any say in the matter, and the majority of whom aren’t catholics in any real sense. That number includes people like me, and in the eyes of the religious I’m not only a staunch “atheist”, but I consider myself also pretty anti-catholic. Most people I know from my South American country are also “catholics” but no one I know goes to church regularly, only for weddings and funerals, and even then, they don’t bother to confess so they can take the eucharist.

    The Church keeps books, and like any other organized crime institution, they cook their books.

  102. Elmar_M

    @ 64. Kris:
    >>For starters, these guys got the core of their ideology — the idea of Herrenvolk — from the work of a prominently atheist philosopher, Nietzsche (that’s the dude who said “God is dead”). >>

    Have you actually read Nirtzsche? I actually read “Also sprach Zarathustra” (Thus spoke Zarathustra) and other writings by him and I can not find anything that you are referring to. I think you have been badly informed.

    I also want to argue that Austria, with a very large part of the population being atheists, does have a very low crime rate and lowest infant death rates in the world.

  103. andyo

    I think the claim should not be that atheist or secular societies tend to be more moral. It’s that more moral societies tend to be more secular. There is nothing about atheism that dictates moral behavior, it just liberates you from one form of dogmatic mind control: religion. That’s why I don’t like to define myself by something I don’t even believe in. A religious person can call me an atheist if they want, but I don’t have to, just as I don’t have to call me an inastrologist.

  104. Dan I.

    It’s certainly a problematic quote. Especially when you consider that Hitler co-opted A LOT of Catholic symbolism and imagery into Nazism. For example: some of the scepter like devices that had a Swastika inside them are pretty much carbon copies of what the Catholic Church uses in the adoration of the Eucharist.

    It’s too simple to simply go atheism leads directly to Nazism or anything else. There’s plenty of virtuous, upstanding, moral atheists. What’s really sad about it is that one of the core teachings of Catholicism (I am Catholic) is that salvation is open to everyone. Belief in Jesus etc. is the best path but NOT the only path to salvation. Catholicism rejects the idea that God would prefer believers even if they are dirtbags over non-believers who are virtuous. Being atheist (or simply non-CatholicChristian) does NOT condemn you according to Catholic teaching.

    As for the Churches relationship with the Nazis, you’re right Phil, it was VERY complicated, mostly because, contrary to popular belief the Catholic church is NOT a monolith and things change a lot depending on location and Pope.

    Pope Pius XII is often viewed as someone who was, at best, weak against the Nazis and at worst a collaborator. But he did denounce genocide (a term not yet coined) stating in 1942

    “the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline”

    Which was a fairly obvious reference to the Holocaust (although debate still exists on this)

    Pius XI the Pope before Pius XII was actually fairly outspoken in his critique of Nazi ideology. It’s pretty well accepted that he was on the verge of openly condemning the Nazis when he died (which has lead to all manner of conspiracy theories about his death).

  105. JMW

    @Kris 64:
    You don’t explicitly state that you agree with the argument of the church, but I believe you do. If I’m incorrect, my apologies.

    There’s a logical leap in the argument that appears to me to go unchallenged. As you summarized the argument, it goes, “Christianity asserts that certain moral laws as God-given, i.e. absolute. Atheism, in contrast, asserts that there is no God. If there is no God, there are no absolute moral laws. The unspoken bridge between the first two sentences on the one hand and the third sentence on the other is: only god can be a source of absolute moral laws.

    I disagree with this thesis. I could choose to say that I have a moral law that says that killing is wrong, and that under no circumstances will I kill someone. That makes this an absolute moral law…for myself. One can then get into an argument over the definition of “absolute moral law”.

    Someone arguing from your position might argue that I don’t have the authority to make absolute moral laws, to which my reply would be that I’m only making them for myself – I’m not arrogating any authority to make absolute moral laws for anyone else; and also, that I’m not permitting anyone else the authority to make absolute moral laws for me. There’s a whole side issue here where we can discuss what to do about someone who decides it is their absolute moral law to kill people, or molest children, and what not.

    This other person could also argue that an “absolute moral law” that applies to only one person isn’t absolute – that absolute moral laws need to apply to everyone, whether they accept them or not. To this I would reply that religiously-based “absolute moral laws” are no different. Each person chooses, either consciously or through conditioning, the moral laws that they will follow (or not follow). Whether they do that by adopting the moral rules of a religion, or by using critical thinking to arrive at a set of moral rules in the absence of religion is irrelevant.

    I also have a problem with the part where you write, “…the laws can be changed as we see fit. The argument is that this situation creates a slippery slope for a soft descent into a totalitarian regime.” Again, I sense an implied attitude in your argument which holds that people are inevitably going to slide down slippery slopes. I disagree. It requires effort, vigilance and attention to the choices we make, but a slippery slope, while there, is not an inescapable trap.

    So in total, I disagree entirely with your paragraph that starts “Christianity asserts…”

    In fact, I would argue that abrahamic religions actively practice the infantilizing of their followers. Consider: god the father. Priests called “father”. As parents, we teach our children simple rules about right and wrong. Religions attempt to perpetuate this process, and they start by convincing people that there can be no absolute moral law without god. That’s a great way to make sure that everyone thinks you’re necessary – convince them they’re not really grown up and can’t figure out what’s right and wrong on their own.

  106. TheBlackCat

    With good reason, the internal enemy the nazis feared most was faithful christians, whom they subsumed under the term “Die Reaktion”.

    It seems pretty clear that the internal enemy nazis feared most were Bolsheviks, so much that they imprisoned or killed anyone they could find who could be seen as remotely related to them. What evidence do you have to back this claim?

    Much of the Nazi ideology was explicitly Christian, and for the most part the Nazis and churches got along well. The Catholic church helped Nazi leaders escape following WWII, and Hitler is still a Catholic in good standing.

    After they had attained power, the nazis stripped the church off its political role in exchange for leaving it its autonomy.

    They eliminated all other political parties, of which the Catholic party was one of many. How does that remotely imply that they opposed Christianity as a religion?

    That did not keep them however from starting campaign after campaign against an alleged epidemy of abuse and immorality among the priests.

    Yes, they wanted to “fix” the Church. Once again, how does that imply they opposed Christianity as a religion?

    During the war, priests like Count von Galen stood up against the atrocities. The nazis made some of them, like Lichtenberg, pay with their lives. Many leading members of the german resistance, starting with Stauffenberg himself, were devout catholics.

    Yes, some Catholic clergy opposed the Nazis and paid for it dearly, sometimes with their lives. On the other hand, the Catholic church was one of the first “countries” to officially endorse Hitler’s leadership of Germany, and this move gave Hitler a huge amount of legitimacy. The Catholic church also helped Nazi leaders escape following the end of the war. And although some individual clergy helped prevent the Holocaust, the Catholic church as a whole knew about it but mostly just ignored it.

    Particularly catholic christians as a group resisted the takeover by nazi ideology.

    To illustrate, here is the distribution of nazi voters in 1932:

    Yes, there was a fair amount of resistance to the Nazi initial rise to power, but that changed a lot thanks to the Catholic church’s official endorsement of Hitler.

    The pope’s observation that empirically, *atheist* societies display less moral than others is hard to deny.

    Do you actually have any evidence to support this conclusion, or are we just supposed to take your word for it?

  107. Phillip Helbig (47, 20): When I added that link right before posting this, I forgot to add the word “and social” to it, so I just did. The point is that secular societies, whether it is causal or not, have higher standards of living in many parameters over non-secular ones. I think that point is clear, and what you are arguing is a detail that is not terribly important.

    I agree it is a small point, but still. 😐

    OK, better “social” could decrease STD rates. High infant mortality, though, is due neither to low morals nor to low social standards, but to bad hygiene and, in some cases, perhaps superstition. So, if “social” includes hygiene and education, then OK.

  108. Kris

    @67 Old Geezer: So the burning at the stake of “Heretics” goes against this “…absolute (God-given) right of everyone to live”?

    Of course it does. You may want to look up when the last heretic was burned and when the “every life is sacred” ethics became a dominant position. Yup, the Church is changing the rules as they go along, but so does a secular society.

    @77 TheBlackCat: “because no religion ever calls for people to be killed, or orders the death penalty for particular offenses. ”

    We’re talking about a Catholic pope. Please give me a specific reference where the Code of Canon Law or the Catechism say that anyone should be killed. As for the death penalty, you may want to familiarize yourself with section 2267 of the Catechism. (These texts are available online).

    @91 Messier…: “Its not that euthanaisa removes the right to life – it just adds a right to choose how we die as well. ”

    Yes. But if euthanasia is allowed, then the state gets an effective say to decide who is eligible and who is not. The argument is that it may lead to a slippery slope, and repeating of Action T4 of the Nazi Germany. And, an assertion that a secular democratic government would never do something like that is demonstrably false. Let me remind you, that a secular and democratic government of the ATHEIST Sweden was forcibly sterilizing some of its citizens until 1976.

  109. TheBlackCat

    Of course it does. You may want to look up when the last heretic was burned and when the “every life is sacred” ethics became a dominant position. Yup, the Church is changing the rules as they go along, but so does a secular society.

    They aren’t very “absolute” then, are they? How can “absolute moral laws” given by God change over time in response to social changes? And if those weren’t the “absolute moral laws”, then how can we tell which church teachings are “absolute moral laws” and which aren’t?

    We’re talking about a Catholic pope. Please give me a specific reference where the Code of Canon Law or the Catechism say that anyone should be killed. As for the death penalty, you may want to familiarize yourself with section 2267 of the Catechism. (These texts are available online).

    What? When did “Code of Canon Law or the Catechism” enter into the discussion? You said, and I quote:

    Christianity asserts that certain moral laws as God-given, i.e. absolute.

    You are moving the goalposts here, you start off talking about Christianity as a whole, then you move to the “Code of Canon Law or the Catechism”, which you never mentioned before. And, as I said, the fact that these have changed over time means, by definition, they are not “absolute”.

    Yes. But if euthanasia is allowed, then the state gets an effective say to decide who is eligible and who is not. The argument is that it may lead to a slippery slope, and repeating of Action T4 of the Nazi Germany.

    You are aware that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy, right? “The argument is that it may” is hardly very convincing. You need, at the very least, to give some reason to think that the state allowing people to do something will likely lead to the state forcing them to do the same thing. The Nazi program was based on principles animal husbandry, while euthanasia is based on the concept of individual rights. Trying to argue that a program based on the government trying to force its views on the people is somehow equivalent to the government trying to avoid forcing its views on the people is highly disingenuous.

    Let me remind you, that a secular and democratic government of the ATHEIST Sweden was forcibly sterilizing some of its citizens until 1976.

    And let me remind you that Sweden had a state church until 2000, and in the 1970’s about 95% of the country belonged to it.

  110. Kris

    @109 JMW: “You don’t explicitly state that you agree with the argument of the church”

    I am not entirely convinced Ratzinger is right, but having lived under a totalitarian regime I understand where he is coming from and I believe that he has made a valid argument (although he could use better phrasing). When I hear Dawkins denouncing the God delusion, it reminds me of Marx’s “religion is an opiate to the people”. And Marx’s followers were fighting the religious intoxication with 2-year health tours in Siberia, where owning a bible was enough condition for eligibility. (In fact, DPRK is now offering even better deals, with 15 years and up per bible. Go figure). Such lessons of history should not be forgotten.

    “I sense an implied attitude in your argument which holds that people are inevitably going to slide down slippery slopes. I disagree. It requires effort, vigilance and attention to the choices we make, but a slippery slope, while there, is not an inescapable trap.”

    The Nazism certainly was not an inescapable trap, because it was defeated (albeit it took tens of millions of lives). The communism was not inescapable either, but it still took hundreds of millions of lives.

    And yours are very wise words. This is why I wrote that I am not entirely convinced he is right: people are perfectly capable of avoiding going down the slippery slope to another totalitarianism, even without a religion to guide them. Whether they will be able to avoid the next trap, however, remains to be seen.

  111. vel

    Unfortunately, many many theists, and it seems especially Christians, must rely on outright lies to support their faith/religion. We see that in Texas with the actions of the Board of Education, we see that in Glen Beck’s tirades, etc. Is it that, in believing something that has no evidence, one more claim with no basis in fact is acceptable as long as it promotes their faith which indeed does simply equal their desires and fears with a shellack of divine “approval”?

  112. Kris

    @112 TheBlackCat: “They aren’t very “absolute” then, are they?”

    According to the present teaching, they are absolute and inalienable. In the past it was believed that they don’t apply to certain groups of people, but the present teaching contains no such notions. Which is, coincidentally, why we don’t burn heretics any more. (I must admit that there still are some areas where the doctrine is dangerously backwards, i.e. AIDS). Both the Canon Law and Catechism are relevant here because they codify the present teaching.

    As for Christian/Catholic, that’s my error. I meant Roman Catholic throughout the post. (We’re talking about the head of this particular church, don’t we?)

    “And let me remind you that Sweden had a state church until 2000”

    From Wikipedia: “At the end of 2008, 72.9%[2] of Swedes belonged to the Church of Sweden, a number that decreased yearly by more than one per cent during the last decade (2000–2009). In 2000, 82.9%[2] of the Swedes belonged to the church of Sweden, by the end of 2009, this figure was 71.3%.[1] Church of Sweden services are sparsely attended (hovering in the single digit percentages of the population).[11] The reason for the large number of inactive members is partly that until 1996, children became members automatically at birth if at least one of their parents was a member. Since 1996, only children that are baptised become members.”

    Yup. A poster example of theocracy.

  113. Kris

    @115, vel: “Unfortunately, many many theists, and it seems especially Christians, must rely on outright lies to support their faith/religion.”

    Believe it or not, such fellow believers really piss me off.

  114. Bill Doorley

    Phil:

    Thanks for your comments on the Pope’s visit to the UK. Though I’m a practicing Catholic, I agree with you in principle if not degree.

    I also appreciate your recognition that not every “believer” is a bigoted evangelical, foaming at the mouth and smiting the ungodly, any more than non-believers are horned and fork-tongued servants of evil bent on world conquest. I like to think that such people are at the extreme ends of the spectrum, and that the rest of us are pretty tolerant of each other.

    I think it’s been said here before, but one of the reasons religion flourishes in the United States is because we have a secular Constitution (in spite of what the Religious Right has to say). When nobody tells you what to believe, you’re free to believe anything you wish. While this means we have to tolerate some sporadic and occasionally dangerous nonsense (intelligent design, anti-vaccination, reality television), at least we’re not required to accept it or face punishment.

    Stephen Jay Gould said it best. All fields of human endeavor–science, faith, law, etc.–have their own sphere in which they are relevant. We only get into trouble when they intrude on each other.

    I think that’s something that the Holy Father, religious leaders, and leaders of all stripes, need to remember.

    Thanks.

  115. Messier Tidy Upper

    112. Kris Says:

    Yes. But if euthanasia is allowed, then the state gets an effective say to decide who is eligible and who is not.

    Well, the state will surely put in legal safeguards and a bureacratic procedure making euthanaisia hard to get. I accept that. It won’t be casual spur-of-the-moment stuff.

    I’m not so sure that constitutes the state getting a decisive say so much as enabling individuals to make a choice if they so desire.

    The argument is that it may lead to a slippery slope, and repeating of Action T4 of the Nazi Germany.

    Okay “Action T4” = ??? I haven’t heard of that – what was it?

    As for the slippery slope I agree with what (#113) TheBlackCat said :

    You are aware that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy, right? “The argument is that it may” is hardly very convincing. You need, at the very least, to give some reason to think that the state allowing people to do something will likely lead to the state forcing them to do the same thing. The Nazi program was based on principles animal husbandry, while euthanasia is based on the concept of individual rights. Trying to argue that a program based on the government trying to force its views on the people is somehow equivalent to the government trying to avoid forcing its views on the people is highly disingenuous.

    Which I’ll just second here. :-)

    And, an assertion that a secular democratic government would never do something like that is demonstrably false. Let me remind you, that a secular and democratic government of the ATHEIST Sweden was forcibly sterilizing some of its citizens until 1976.

    Sterilisng isn’t euthanaisia. Mr (?) “Slippery slope” is certainly slipping off topic further here! 😉

  116. Daniel Mallon

    Dear, Bad Astronomer you have just lost a subscription and a follower on twitter and perhaps thousands more since I have shown this article to my friends.
    Your article was uninformed, petty and downright insulting to Catholics.
    As a Catholic myself you really need to read and understand more about our faith. Your petty statement about the Holy Father reveals a kind of ignorance we have witnessed in the UK this last past few weeks.
    The Holy Father did not condemn atheists rather the extremists, and there are many I can mention.
    Perhaps your publishing house should take a look at the lies and drivel you write because it borders on hate towards a faith community.
    Bad Astronomer = really bad and really really ignorant writer.

  117. Tribeca Mike

    bad Jim — And the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahans. I was a bit sleepy (and ticked off) when I posted that comment.

  118. mike burkhart

    Phil you nead to stop blasting faith you just giving extremists more ammo and creating more in fact thats the problem with athests the more you blast and riddicule the stronger the extremist become because you give them A cause to fight for and to die fore after all meny of them want to be martyers . By the way Hitler was religous he thought he was God.

  119. Daniel Mallon (120): In case you read this: I disagree with you. I was clear that I am not condemning Catholicism, but just the things the Pope said. If you read the comments here, many are from Catholics who agree with me. I don’t see how in any way what I wrote was petty– it was fact-based and shows pretty clearly that the Pope said things that were downright false.

    I think you need to read what he said more carefully. The one passage I quoted is not all he had to say. He talks about secularism specifically in the latter part of his speech, which is simply the desire to not give any faith preference. America, like it or not, is a Constitutionally-based secular nation.

    And if you can name “many” atheist extremists — and by extremists, I mean ones that use atheism as a basis to match the deeds of faith-based extremists — then by all means please do so.

  120. TheBlackCat

    According to the present teaching, they are absolute and inalienable. In the past it was believed that they don’t apply to certain groups of people, but the present teaching contains no such notions.

    But the fact that this has changed proves that this is NOT really absolute. You were arguing that religious morals are superior because secular moral rules can be changed as society sees fit, but you readily admit that religious moral rules also readily change as society sees fit. Your whole argument is based on an assertion that you admit is false.

    And the fact that the very concept of human rights originated with secular enlightenment thinking completely contradicts the your statement that we need religion for this. Religion wasn’t responsible for the idea of human rights, it took a few hundred years after the concept was established for it to be fully embraced by the Catholic church. Do you know when the Catholic church official abandoned it policy of antisemitism? The 1950’s.

    Which is, coincidentally, why we don’t burn heretics any more.

    At least not in Europe or the U.S. Witch hunts are still common in Africa.

    (I must admit that there still are some areas where the doctrine is dangerously backwards, i.e. AIDS). Both the Canon Law and Catechism are relevant here because they codify the present teaching.

    Yet the rules against contraception are treated as “absolute moral laws” as well. Are you saying you just outright reject God’s own absolute moral laws? What good are they if you won’t even accept them?

    From Wikipedia: “At the end of 2008, 72.9%[2] of Swedes belonged to the Church of Sweden, a number that decreased yearly by more than one per cent during the last decade (2000–2009). In 2000, 82.9%[2] of the Swedes belonged to the church of Sweden, by the end of 2009, this figure was 71.3%.[1] Church of Sweden services are sparsely attended (hovering in the single digit percentages of the population).[11] The reason for the large number of inactive members is partly that until 1996, children became members automatically at birth if at least one of their parents was a member. Since 1996, only children that are baptised become members.”

    Yup. A poster example of theocracy.

    Hopefully don’t need to remind you that you were talking about a practice that ended in the 1970’s? Why are you now quoting statistics from 2008? You were the one arguing that atheism was somehow tied to their sterilization policies, but that ended close to 30 years, a whole generation, before the country abolished its state church. Now if you are able to provide evidence that Sweden was largely atheist in the 1950’s, that might have some relevance.

    Based on what I have been able to find, rather than indicating atheism is responsible for Sweden’s sterilization policies, it seems that such policies were abolished as the country grew more secular. So so far Sweden looks like a good example contradicting your position.

    Take this for example:

    According to Palm and Trost (2000), when Swedes were asked in 1947 ‘Do you believe in God?’ 83% said yes, 9% said they didn’t know, and 8% said no. ” [Palm, Irving and Jan Trost. 2000. “Family and Religion in Sweden. ” Pages 107-120 in Family, Religion, and Social Change in Diverse Societies, edited by Sharon Houseknecht and Jerry Pankhurst. New York, NY: Oxford University Press]

    Yeah, really sounds like it was an atheist stronghold.

  121. Caleb Jones

    It does bother me when people make blanket statements of this kind (either towards religion or atheism).

    The fact of the matter is that wars are almost always about resources or politics. Religious sentiment, unfortunately, tends to be easily wielded by leaders towards their cause. This especially gets sticky when the political leaders and religious leaders are one and the same.

    This highlights the importance of two things:
    1) The ability of the population at large to think critically (something I see eroding more and more) and avoid sacrificing their humanity for some ideology.
    2) The importance of separation of church and state.

    Makes me think of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator:
    http://www.vagabundia.net/dictator.html

  122. Tribeca Mike

    Daniel Mallon — I was wondering if you’ve also burnt your library card, considering how many books have been published which back up Mr. Plait’s comments.

  123. GP

    @120 Daniel Mallon
    The fact that Mr. Plait criticized what Pope said in no way criticized Catholicizm. You are exhibiting a typical follower mentality – “if someone said something against my leader he is my enemy”.
    Also there is no need for Phil to understand Catholicism since he is not talking about Catholicims in his article. What Pope said does no anything to do with religion in general he is creating a straw man out of atheism and suggesting you can’t live “good moral” life without religion. It is offensive, but offense comes from Pope and it’s directed towards ahteists.

    @mike burkhart
    Yep – let’s not “fuel extremists”, everyone just lie down and let them bury us nicely under pile of misinformation and insinuations…

  124. Aussie Jedi

    In 1933, Hitler *BANNED* the German Freethinkers League… half a million atheists were outlawed half a decade before any war started … and guess what Hitler did with the Freethinkers League’s headquarters? he turned it into a bureau to advise people on religious matters

  125. Dwatney

    So, I guess your footnote means it it inappropriate to use the old grade school line “It takes one to know one!”

  126. Kalli Ducheyne

    Daniel Mallon with your rose tinted spectacles taken of you’d see:

    The Pope = really mendacious and really really ignorant theocrat.

  127. Messier Tidy Upper

    @110. TheBlackCat Says:

    It seems pretty clear that the internal enemy nazis feared most were Bolsheviks, so much that they imprisoned or killed anyone they could find who could be seen as remotely related to them. What evidence do you have to back this claim?

    Ahem .. The Jews!?

    Adolf Hitler was the most notorious anti-Semite in history and he blamed everything on the Jews. The Jewish people living in Germany and Europe were demonised, lied about, propagandised against, persecuted and scapegoated .. and then Hitler came up with his famous “Final Solution” for the “Jewish problem.” Without a shadow of a doubt the Nazis feared as well as hated the Jews far more than any other foes – internal or external.

    You do know this really, right? This, of all things, hasn’t been forgotten has it?

    True, the Nazi’s didn’t like the Bolsheviks – but then they blamed Bolshevism on the Jews. Ironically, that didn’t save other Jews from being persecuted by the Bolsheviks and their Communist successors one little bit. The Nazi’s called the Jews “communists”, the communists blamed the Jews for “Capitalism”. Scapegoated by all sides – as usual. :-(

    Ironically, the same anti-Semitic “Blame the Jews” meme is becoming more widespread and popular again these days especially as the anti-Semitic Islamic world gets ever louder and larger. The same warped demented theories in ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ that were forged by Czarist Russia are still best-sellers in the Middle-East today and even in increasingly Islamicised Europe of all places, Judaeophobia is rearing its murderously, ugly head again. :-(

    Example : The recent Hamas supporters boat Mavi Marmara taunted the Israelis with anti-Semitic “go back to Auschwitz” remarks before they were intercepted a month or two ago. Funnily enough, the Israelis were falsely made out to be the bad guys (yet again) despite (yet again) merely defending themselves against a planned brutal ambush by a terrorist group masquerading as “peace activists”. As always the Jew cannot win. If he fights back – he will be blamed, if he is killed, no-one will speak out or remember.

    Hitler is still a Catholic in good standing.

    I’m no fan of the Pope or Catholicism at all .. but WHAT? 😉

    Hitler is dead so you’ve got your tense wrong for starters and, much as I dislike their creed, history and leader, I don’t think many too Catholics would still consider Hitler in good standing with them!

  128. Darth Robo

    —“The Holy Father did not condemn atheists rather the extremists, and there are many I can mention.”

    Like Richard Dawkins? OMG he is EVIL!!!!

    (giggle)

    .

    It does appear that hiring Benny as the Pope has been a bit of a PR blunder to say the least. That’s what happens when you hire bozo’s.

  129. Gonçalo Aguiar

    I don’t have anything against those who believe religion or God for that matter. I just say to them: go to wikipedia and count how many wars have been fought and how many lives have been taken in religions’ name.
    As for the Pope: anything coming from his mouth has been surprising less and less. This is not even the worst speeches he’s given.

  130. bob

    “A religious leader of Pope’s stature should have been more inclusive.” What? Has he read the Bible (possibly not, but if he’s assuming all religions are as inclusive as his, he really should)? A couple of hundred years ago the current Pope would have been excommunicated. I’m not a big fan of religion, but I really hate the modern, wishy-washy, “will stick to our guns until it starts to affect bums-on-pews” mentality. Show a bit of backbone religious people: crucify the unbelievers, stone the women, burn the witches, fear omens, curse trees and it’s ok to “know” your daughter as long as you’re drunk!

  131. TheBlackCat

    @ Messier Tidy Upper: Duh, what was I thinking?

  132. jpj

    Hello TheBlackCat (#110)

    I believe we are completely OT, nevertheless here goes. You remarked:

    “It seems pretty clear that the internal enemy nazis feared most were Bolsheviks, so much that they imprisoned or killed anyone they could find who could be seen as remotely related to them.”

    That the nazis fought the communists and that during the war they persecuted them as enemy allies does not mean that they feared them. Goebbels actually shared the communists’ harted of the burgeois and wrote into his diary in 1926: “I find it horrible that the communists and ourselves kick in each others’ heads.” As much as they battled them before their ascent to power, the nazis couldn’t help but noticing that after such battles, several new recruits would show up. In fact, this was a deliberate tactic: “Haven’t you noticed,” Hitler once asked, “after a brawl at a meeting, that the ones who get beaten up are the first to apply for membership in the party?” The nazis never saw any real danger of a successful communist revolution.

    “Much of the Nazi ideology was explicitly Christian, and for the most part the Nazis and churches got along well.”

    The leading nazi ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, did try to set up a meta-religion in his book “Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts”: a “religion of the blood” was to replace christianity, which was supposed to be stepped with “jewish influences”. Bishop count von Galen had the following to say about the “explicit christianity” of that: “idol worship, cultism, fallback into the night of paganism.”

    About church and nazis getting along well: The episcopate remarked in 1933 already that the nazis were in constant breach of the concordat. Also, german bishops decribed matters to the vatican’s secretary of state, relating e.g. nazi persecution of Jews as “unjust and painful.” In sermons, their take was that “God always punishes the tormentors of his Chosen People, the Jews.” Starting in 1935 the nazis started a libel campaign against catholic priests. To this the nazis added interventions with the seminaries and personal attacks on priests. The conflict led pope Pius XI. to issue the encyclical “With burning anxiety”. Drafted by cardinal von Faulhaber, another “famous opponent of the Nazis” (Rabbi David G. Dalin’s words) and written in german instead of latin, it was read from the pulpits of all german catholic churches on Palm sunday. It detailed Nazi crimes, criticized Hitler personally and generally condemned Nazi ideology. If you know how the church works, you’ll realise that this is a hair’s width away from branding National Socialism a heresy. For the nazis, this was a call to battle against the Reich. Hitler wrote that “I shall open such a campaign against them in press, radio and cinema so that they won’t know what hit them.” Among others, the Gestapo searched the offices of every german diocese, effectively shut down the publishers who printed the encyclical and renewed its campaign against alleged immorality among the clergy.

    If you call that “getting along well” then I wouldn’t wasnt to know what your idea is of “being in love”.

    “Hitler is still a Catholic in good standing.”

    “Good standing” with whom? With the church? The clergy? The laypeople? I find no such “good standing” in evidence.

    “The Catholic church was one of the first ‘countries’ to officially endorse Hitler’s leadership of Germany.”

    If you can find an edorsement of Hitler by the holy see I would be curious to know about it. If you’re talking about the concordate: that was an agreement between a catholic church already feeling the pressure of a hostile government — the nazis e.g. undermined the funding of foreign missionaries — and the nazis, who wanted to gain standing both among hostile, local catholics as well as wary catholic neighbouring countries.

    “The Catholic church also helped Nazi leaders escape following the end of the war.”

    Point us to one order from the Vatican in that respect. All right, point us to one bishop who helped a nazi escape. Very well, point us to one priest who did so.

    “And although some individual clergy helped prevent the Holocaust, the Catholic church as a whole knew about it but mostly just ignored it.”

    The church knew about the persecutions of jews before the war and condemned it, as mentioned above. Later they were told about the atrocities commited by the SD and the SS in the wake of the Wehrmacht’s advances. German bishops did inform the holy see, which led to pope Pius XII’s 1942 Christmas statement, denounciating of nazi ideology. Thousands of jews were kept hiden in churches and monasteries and saved. Recall, if you may, where the pope lived at that time and how many catholics, particularly clergy, were then in nazi controlled territory.

    That the catholic church however had knowledge of the decision at the Wannseekonferenz – the starting event of the Holocaust – and the means of the “Endlösung” I find a rather fantastic claim. All internal communications by the nazis were not just secret, but also in codewords. Recall that it took years after the war’s end to determine the full extend of the Holocaust.

    “Yes, there was a fair amount of resistance to the Nazi initial rise to power, but that changed a lot thanks to the Catholic church’s official endorsement of Hitler.”

    I find no such switch of the low esteem that the church, both clergy and laypeople, held against the nazis. Among the clergy, what I do find is stand they took as mentioned above as well as the consequences they had to bear. Among the laypeople, what I do find is the “Kölner Kreis”, “Junger Bundschuh”, “Weiße Rose” and others.

    For myself, I’d like to conclude our OT exchange: I find you picture of the church under the nazis a bit lopsided. Please have the last word.

  133. TheBlackCat

    That the nazis fought the communists and that during the war they persecuted them as enemy allies does not mean that they feared them.

    It doesn’t mean they didn’t fear them, either. They were certainly treated much worse and put under much higher scrutiny than Christians were. But that is all irrelevant, as Messier Tidy Upper explained.

    The leading nazi ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, …

    That has nothing to do with the fact that Hitler’s rhetoric was steeped justification from Christianity and God, and that German soldiers went so far as to have “God is With Us” stamped on their belt buckles.

    Also, german bishops decribed matters to the vatican’s secretary of state, relating e.g. nazi persecution of Jews as “unjust and painful.” In sermons, their take was that “God always punishes the tormentors of his Chosen People, the Jews.”

    No, that was the take of one Bishop, others had no problem with it or even approved of it. In the end the decision at the council of German Bishops was to just ignore the Holocaust entirely.

    If you know how the church works, you’ll realise that this is a hair’s width away from branding National Socialism a heresy.

    Why didn’t they go the extra step and call it heresy? The Vatican refused to take a firm, even verbal stand against the Holocaust even towards the end of the war.

    For the nazis, this was a call to battle against the Reich. Hitler wrote that “I shall open such a campaign against them in press, radio and cinema so that they won’t know what hit them.” Among others, the Gestapo searched the offices of every german diocese, effectively shut down the publishers who printed the encyclical and renewed its campaign against alleged immorality among the clergy.

    Yes, and it worked, the church backed down.

    You’re right, they didn’t “get along well”, there were quite a few conflicts. But the Catholic church still refused to take a firm stand.

    If you’re talking about the concordate: that was an agreement between a catholic church already feeling the pressure of a hostile government — the nazis e.g. undermined the funding of foreign missionaries — and the nazis, who wanted to gain standing both among hostile, local catholics as well as wary catholic neighbouring countries.

    Even if that is the case, it was a huge boost to Hitler’s power and acceptance worldwide.

    Besides, I thought the Catholic church was supposed to be so moral and upright, if they knew what the Nazis were doing why didn’t they take a stand? The Nazis put pressure on them, and they just caved. This is supposed to be God’s representatives on Earth, yet they put their diplomatic position ahead of the lives of millions. If they expect to be treated as a superior moral group, then I would expect them to act like one.

    “Good standing” with whom? With the church? The clergy? The laypeople? I find no such “good standing” in evidence.

    He is still considered a Catholic by the church, he was never excommunicated.

    Point us to one order from the Vatican in that respect. All right, point us to one bishop who helped a nazi escape. Very well, point us to one priest who did so.

    Uh, Bishop Hudal for one. Google “ratlines”.

    “The Allies’ War against Germany was not a crusade, but the rivalry of economic complexes for whose victory they had been fighting. This so-called business … used catchwords like democracy, race, religious liberty and Christianity as a bait for the masses. All these experiences were the reason why I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my whole charitable work mainly to former National Socialists and Fascists, especially to so-called ‘war criminals’.”

  134. Markle

    Kris #112

    Let me remind you, that a secular and democratic government of the ATHEIST Sweden was forcibly sterilizing some of its citizens until 1976.

    I’m not going to let you get away with slandering an entire country. Especially when you hang the slander on further lies. Sweden is a constitutional monarchy. It has an established religion, Lutheranism. Their particular brand of Lutheranism being called, officially, the CHURCH OF SWEDEN (Svenska kyrkan).

    Lutheranism has been the state religion since the 16th century. Until the 19th, it was illegal for a Swede to convert to another religion. And then, only if you left for another Christian denomination. It wasn’t until 1950 or so that you could simply leave the church. Something like 75% of the Swedish population currently identifies as Lutheran. It used to be 95%. In oh, about 1970.

    As for forced sterilization, you’d be hard pressed to find a society that didn’t get swept up in the eugenics movement of the 1920’s. Canada also had a sterilization program into the 1970’s, for example. The aim was not genocide in either case. It was a misguided attempt to stem mental illness.

  135. Markle

    Let me emphasize that. How wrong you were. In 1970, and back into time before democracy, Sweden was MORE CHRISTIAN than the US (by percentage) and engaged in active eugenics.

  136. itskurtins

    OK when I first saw this post I thought of this In case some one is unclear on what a concordat is it can bind all catholics to a certain action in this case voting for Hitler.

  137. Chris

    What people don’t understand about Benedict XVI that he’s smarter than people give him credit for. When I read that article I came to this conclusion. Nazism was a distortion of the moral and human rights, just as atheist extremism is a distortion of moral and human rights. I have just as much of a right to believe and pray to God than an atheist has to not believe in God. But when that movement starts to turn into downright prosecution or manipulation then it interferes with humanities moral and human right to believe and pray. The Pope IS talking about tolerance and he’s not making the make blanket statement mistake you made then corrected. Remember he’s talking about Atheist extremists. He’s not talking about every atheist out there. If so, then by saying Catholic extremist or Muslim Extremist then you might as well talk about everyone in those religions too, not just the nut jobs.

  138. Michael H

    WHAT atheist extremists?

  139. “…how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life…”
    So he’s claiming that you can’t have “virtue” without God and religion???? What planet is this idiot living on?
    To all the rational among us here, I recommend Crispian Jago’s hilarious but accurate take on the Pope – go to www dot crispian-jago dot blogspot dot com, and link to “The Tw*t in the Hat”. Warning – NSFW.

  140. Opinion + opinion +opinion does not lead to understanding, to love, to non-aggression.

    Listen to King, Ghandi, Mandela, Tutu, The Dali Lama none of them try to be on the right side they say there are no sides only humanity (and the rest of life on earth)
    I am an atheist but then I can’t prove I am right, neither can any of us. I have an idea, lets do less harm to our fellow humans, do less harm to the earth, treat it like an experiment and see what happens.
    “I” think we evolved from aggressive apes… “I” have sense (not a knowing) that we could do with less aggression and more compassion. “I” think that is a step upwards on the evolutionary ladder, “Imagine” as a singer once said.
    So the Pope is just one more evolved ape, he has his own stuff, he is the same as the rest of us, he just happens to have a bigger stage.
    Forgive his foolishness as you forgive yourself and I try to forgive myself.

    Resistance requires you defeat to win, love just is, win or lose is not an issue.

    Rumi said
    “Out beyond ideas of right doing
    and wrongdoing
    There is a field.
    I will meet you there”

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