Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler review SS troops during a Reichsparteitag (Reich Party Day) parade in Nuremberg.The tactic of using a reductio ad Hitlerum — or an appeal to Hitler or the Nazis — to condemn one’s opponents and ostensibly “prove” they’re bad or wrong, is decades old. It’s not logical, of course, since comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis are rarely based on facts. I’ve caught people at this particular fallacious game before. I assumed back then, that I would again.

And I did.

This time the perpetrator was none other than Pope Benedict XVI, on a state visit in the UK. As the BBC reports, he attempted to link atheism and secularism with Nazism (WebCite cached article):

A speech in which the Pope appeared to associate atheism with the Nazis has prompted criticism from humanist organizations.

However, the Catholic Church has moved to play down the controversy, saying the Pope knew “rather well what the Nazi ideology is about”. …

In his address, the Pope spoke of “a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society”.

He went on to urge the UK to guard against “aggressive forms of secularism”. …

He said: “Even in our own lifetimes 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.

“As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.”

First, let’s get this right out of the way, up front: The Nazis were not atheists; their movement was not an atheist one; and they did nothing whatever to abolish religion. The religion of members of the Nazi party was, as far as can be told, similar to, if not the same as, that of the population of Germany as a whole; the majority of them were Christians (with Lutherans and other Protestant churches dominating, and a large minority of Catholics). Whatever the individual religious beliefs of Hitler and Goebbels and Göring and Himmler and the rest of that crew may have been, the majority of the Germans who (initially at least) obeyed and supported them, were Christians.

Far from trying to eradicate religion from the lives of Germans, the Nazis actually got themselves involved in Christianity at its most basic level. They welded Germany’s Protestant churches into a federated entity under their own control, the Reichskirche. Hitler’s party also negotiated a formal accord with the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. the Reichskonkordat). There is no logical way that either of these acts could possibly be viewed as the product of an inherently anti-religious or anti-theistic regime.

Next, the Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, grew up in Germany during the Third Reich. He knows what Nazism was, and who the Nazis were, at least as well as anyone on the planet. Thus, he knows full well what I just said — that the Nazi regime was not an atheistic one — and therefore has zero excuse for having made this comparison.

Third, as I pointed out in my earlier post on this matter, details matter. You can’t call people Nazis — or imply somehow that they’re Nazis — unless you can point to some details of their actions or policies that match those of the Nazis. I’m not aware of any atheist militias (similar to the Sturmabteilung or “brownshirts”); I’m not aware that atheists are locking people away in concentration camps (emulating the Nazis’ policy of rounding up “enemies” and keeping them out of the way). I’m not aware that atheists have outlawed labor unions or rival political parties (both of which the Nazis did). I’m not aware that atheists have ever done anything even remotely close to what the Nazis did.

Fourth, in addition to being honest about the Nazis’ religious motivations, we also need to be honest about the anti-Semitism that drove them: If not for centuries of Christian hatred for and vilification of Jews, the Nazis would never even have dreamed up the Holocaust, much less carried it out. While Christianity may view Judaism as a “rival contender” religion, and the mere existence of Jews as an insult to its teaching that Jesus was the “Messiah,” atheism has no particular motive to despise Jews so especially. None.

I get that the Pope dislikes atheists. It’s OK, this is a free world and he’s entitled to hate anyone he wants, for any reason he wants. He is not, however, entitled to lie about those he hates … especially when he, personally, knows his claims about them to be untrue.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,