I would like to point out the very interesting ongoing analysis of the process the Vatican is currently engaged in to turn Pope Pius XII into a saint that Irvin Mermelstein has been posting on the Jewish Survival blog. Pope Benedict’s book Light of the World makes statements and claims about Pope Pius that are likely based on what we have already discussed here as the misleading efforts of Pave the Way Foundation and its researcher, Michael Hesemann.
Archive for the 'General' Category
The Bolshevik Revolution was a watershed event that brought down the Romanovs and a long tradition of Tsarist rule in Russia. But the October 1917 revolution that took the communist ideas of Karl Marx and twisted them into the ideas that eventually dominated the landscape of the Soviet Union brought with it an even more dangerous idea: atheism. The Catholic Church had been reeling from more than a century of modernist ideals that began during the Enlightenment and were widely adopted after the French Revolution. The various populations of Europe had been gradually embracing secular ideas with a concomitant loss of Church power and control of the population. In this environment, a revolutionary movement that brought down an empire and imposed atheism by force clearly posed an intolerable risk to the Church.
After the Great War, a cataclysmic event that marked the end of the old order, brought down several empires and dislocated millions of Europeans, the Church hierarchy had no doubt of whom the real enemy was. Long before the Nazis came to power in 1933, Pope Benedict XV sent Achille Ratti (the future Pope Pius XI) to Poland in 1918 to improve the situation of the Jewish community there, but instead Ratti did everything possible to impede any Vatican action on behalf of the Jews. He wrote in a report of his experience in Poland, “the Jews form the principal force [of Bolshevism] in Poland” and, relating his experience in Warsaw, Ratti reported, “I saw that the [Bolshevik] Commissioners . . . were all Jews.” The association of Jews and Communism in the Christian worldview would have lethal consequences just a few short decades later.
There is a report that Archbishop Pacelli (the future Pius XII) gave Hitler money while he was nuncio in Munich in 1919 so Hitler could fight the Communists. Would Pacelli actually finance a movement he considered ‘anti-Catholic’? The answer is, most likely yes. People make deals with all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons, if it’s beneficial to them. Western democracies make deals with their self-declared enemies, fundamentalist theocracies, openly anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-freedom, anti-women, anti-gay and anti-everything the West stands for, because the West has something to gain from that sort of relationship. To Archbishop Pacelli, who had a personal hatred of communists and Communism, and who understood very well that a Bolshevik victory in Europe would mean the demise of the Catholic Church, engaging a Catholic rabble rouser and self-avowed defender of the world against Communism must have made a lot of sense, even when this Catholic thug may have appeared to be “anti-Catholic”. I believe this understanding of the dynamics at play dominated Pacelli’s life from that point onwards.
I find it completely plausible that Pacelli would have funded an anticommunist group, and anticommunist the Nazis certainly were. Defenders of Pope Pius XII typically argue that Pacelli did not become fanatically anticommunist until after the war when he feared a Communist takeover of Italy. But in reality Pacelli had become an anticommunist right after WWI when the communists that had taken over the government of Bavaria attacked him at the Munich Nunciature. In 1919 Hitler did not have enough sources of funding. Like any politician of his time, and of any time, he sought and received funding from many sources, and that surely included the Apostolic Nuncio.
Also, Pacelli continued to invest in this “anti-Catholic” devil, as as Vatican Secretary of State during the 1930s he was instrumental in persuading Pope Pius XI to make enormous investments in Germany, including investing the vast sums the Vatican received from Mussolini as a result of the Lateran Pact.
Cardinal Pacelli said that Nazism was a greater heresy than Communism. However, both Nazism and Communism were secular regimes, so the notion of heresy when applied to them is nonsensical. So, that Pacelli thought Nazism was a great heresy is immaterial to any discussion. In any case, neither his boss Pope Pius XI nor Pacelli himself once he had become pope felt this “heretical” regime to be sufficiently bad to dissociate the Catholic Church and the Catholic faithful from it beyond 1933.
Indeed, in 1937 the Dutch weekly Der Deutsche Weg wrote in amazement about the warm attitude the German bishops showed toward Nazism. They wrote that “despite the inhuman brutalities perpetrated in the concentration camps, despite the currency and defamation trials, despite the personal insults against individual princes of the Church, against the Holy Father and the entire Church, and in spite of all hostile measures amounting to another Kulturkampf, . . . the bishops find words of appreciation for what [next to Bolshevism] is their worst enemy.” As Hitler told Cardinal Faulhaber before the war, “The Catholic Church should not deceive herself: if National Socialism does not succeed in defeating Bolshevism, then Church and Christianity in Europe too are finished. Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the Church as much as of Fascism.”
The Church knew very well that if the Communists won, that would have been the guaranteed end of the Catholic Church. In the titanic struggle that ensued during the Second World War, Pope Pius XII knew that the Nazis were the only bulwark against Communism, and we must keep this in mind when pondering about the Pope’s silence vis-à-vis the heinous Nazi crimes including the extermination of the Jews. As much as the Pope may have disliked Nazism and Hitler, in his realpolitik calculation the sacrifice of six million Jews must have been acceptable if that was what it took to save the Catholic Church from what to them was a mortal and implacable foe.
On January 27, 1945 the Red Army advancing in Poland arrived in a sleepy town called Oswiecim. Next to it, they found Hell. As they crossed the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, they saw discombobulated walking skeletons staring at them with empty eyes. Emaciated corpses were strewn everywhere. The stench of death was overwhelming. Over a million people—mostly Jews—had been murdered there. Auschwitz was the largest and deadliest of the 20,000 concentration camps built by the Germans to create a new world order free of Jews and political dissent.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs on January 27, was designated by the United Nations to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The date, which marks the day in which Auschwitz was liberated, was chosen as Auschwitz has become emblematic of the Holocaust. Of course one could ask the question of why the United Nations thought it necessary to select a new date, given that there already was another Holocaust Remembrance Day date which commemorates the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto. But a more important question is what the meaning of the word liberate is in this context.
Obviously from a literal point of view the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz, in the sense that prior to their arrival the prisoners lived and died under the German boot and after the Red Army arrived those that were still capable of surviving were freed. From this perspective it’s also valid and true to say the American Army liberated Dachau, and the British liberated Bergen Belsen. But I would argue that we need to qualify the word “liberated”, because what the Allied armies did was remove the German occupiers everywhere in their path. None of the Allied armies had as a military objective the liberation of these camps. None of them specifically sent troops in the direction of the camps with the objective of liberating the prisoners there. No, the camps just happened to be in their path. As a matter of fact, most of the Allied troops were understandably appalled by what they found, but they were surprised because they didn’t even know those camps were there and what they had been used for.
But this was not the case with the top military echelons, or of the highest political figures. Indeed, a long time before the Soviets arrived in Auschwitz a detailed report of the inner workings of the extermination camp was circulated in the Vatican, in Washington and London. A little over half a year before the liberation of the camp the Germans began the deportation and extermination of Hungary’s Jews. Many Jewish organizations pleaded with the Allied authorities so that they would bomb the railroad tracks going from Hungary to Auschwitz, and even the gas chambers. Churchill ordered his military to look into that very possibility, but was told that the railroad tracks and Auschwitz were outside the range of British bombers. The American Air Force gave similar excuses.
But the reality is that both the railroads and Auschwitz were indeed within range of American bombers already operating in Italy. As a matter of fact, the Americans had already photographed Auschwitz from the air and conducted several bombing raids of the German industrial facilities surrounding Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stray bombs actually fell in Birkenau. So, the American Air Force definitely had the capability of severely hampering the German deportation efforts from Hungary and even of destroying the gas chambers, thus severely hampering the German extermination effort. But saving Jews was not an Allied military objective, and neither the railroad tracks nor the gas chambers were bombed. As the American Air Force dithered, over 10,000 human lives were consumed in the flames of Auschwitz every day.
These facts should give us pause when we consider the meaning of the “liberation” of the concentration and death camps.
As the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, it’s also important to understand, and remember, what drove the Germans and their helpers in the various countries they invaded to perpetrate the Holocaust.
In Nazi Germany, the ancient hatred toward Jews had evolved into something secular and pseudo-scientific. This was something the post-Enlightenment, highly cultured German people could accept as a replacement for the ancient Christian anti-Judaism of their ancestors. By the time Hitler came to power German antisemitism was firmly grounded on the notions that Jews were racially inferior and for being a threat to Christian Germans and everything that was good. Ultimately, any message of hatred that conformed to the conception of Jews established by almost two thousand years of certain Christian teachings made sense and was acceptable.
Elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the East where the genocide took place and where the Germans found no shortage of auxiliaries for the genocidal duties that took place there, the situation was different. None of the locals who willfully collaborated in the execution of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” had been brainwashed by Nazi racial propaganda. In those countries the locals hated Jews for the same reasons other Europeans had hated Jews for centuries: for killing Jesus, for desecrating the Host, for poisoning wells, for bringing about the Black Plague, for killing young Christian boys to extract their blood to make Passover bread, for being minions of the Devil, for being greedy money-lenders, and any number of other baseless accusations.
But it’s not enough to understand and remember what the motivation of the perpetrators was, because the perpetrators would have been unable to execute their monstrous deeds if it hadn’t been for the fact that the majority of the populations of the world had the choice of acting to stop the genocide and chose not to. Even though it’s true that some chose to remain silent bystanders out of fear of the Germans, many overcame the fear and acted to save people. We do not know with certainty why the American military authorities chose not to bomb Auschwitz, but we do know that many in the military establishment and the State Department were antisemitic and felt no compassion as millions of Jews were mercilessly slaughtered.
So, now that the world is paying attention to the consequences of this hatred when looking-in through the old electrified fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau, we should not forget where antisemitism came from, and recognize that despite the great progress in Jewish-Christian relations made since the Second Vatican Council, more work needs to be done.
Often, religious people cling to their religion because it provides them with solace and succor during times of despair or hardship. Many times religious people go to their priests, rabbis or imams for advice on matters related to morals and ethics. Given this background, anyone studying religion might conclude religion and its institutions are good things, and religion is a force for good in the world.
But, is that really so? Has religion in general been a force for good in the world? Has it made people more compassionate, more respectful of others, more tolerant of their beliefs? Has the advice given by the authorities of the various world religions been good and made people behave any better?
I would argue the opposite is true, and that any study of the effects of religion throughout human history would show for the most part a direct correlation between religiosity and intolerance, brutality, ignorance, discrimination, lack of compassion and immorality.
As one example out of many, we may look at the role religion played during what was likely the most horrific time in human history, the Second World War. At that time, we find man’s worst behavior toward man, at a level and scope unprecedented until that point. It will be interesting to see what role religion played during this cataclysmic event.
Unfortunately for religion, organized or otherwise, it doesn’t look very good. Clearly the Nazis went on their genocidal rampage motivated by secular reasons, but both the Germans and the vast numbers of helpers they easily recruited in the countries they occupied had all been brought up in the Christian tradition. What this meant is that when the Nazis began their anti-Jewish campaign they found that—like themselves—the population already felt deep antisemitism and already believed the Jews to be evil and enemies of everything that was good. Therefore the Nazis had very little to invent in their campaign against Jews and had no difficulty in persuading anyone to denounce, hunt down and murder their Jewish neighbors.
If the Nazis were not driven by religious zeal in the execution of the Holocaust, we must then ask the obvious question of what role religion played during that watershed event. Given that the perpetrators had been instructed by their Christian tradition to feel compassion and love for their neighbors, do we have any evidence the majority felt any moral qualms or refrained from murder when asked to kill Jews? Or did the perpetrators willingly and eagerly behave toward Jews in a way that was consistent with what they had been taught for almost two millennia, that is, with contempt and even hatred for them? The answer is also obvious.
For the sake of brevity, it will be interesting to focus on an aspect of the Holocaust that rarely gets the attention it deserves, and that is what happened in Croatia. In that country a puppet Nazi state was established in 1941, led by the terrorist group the Ustasha with its Poglavnik (leader) Ante Pavelić at its helm. From its inception until its demise in 1945 the Ustasha were responsible for the most barbaric acts of the war, making even the German SS pale in comparison. During the rule of the Ustasha regime, more than half a million innocent civilians were slaughtered, many of them using medieval methods: eyes were gouged out, limbs severed, intestines and other internal organs ripped from the bodies of the living. Some were slaughtered like beasts, their throats cut from ear to ear with special knives or saws. Others died from blows to their heads with sledgehammers. Many more were simply burned alive. Some Ustasha perpetrators wore necklaces made from the eyes or ears of their victims.
The actions of the Ustasha are important and relevant in this discussion because the Ustasha were ultra-Catholic and they killed in large part in an effort to rid Croatia of its non-Catholic elements, that is, the largely Orthodox Serbs, the Gypsies, and of course the Jews. Many of the perpetrators were actually Catholic priests. One of them was a Franciscan friar who continued to act as a member of his order as commandant of the notorious Croat concentration camp Jasenovac, where he committed the most heinous atrocities. Sometimes he even wore his Franciscan robes while perpetrating his crimes.
Did the perpetrators consult with their religious leaders before committing these crimes? Did their religious upbringing play any role in making them act the way they did? During the Croatian genocide the Vatican had compiled a list of Croatian priests who had participated in massacres of Orthodox Serbs and Jews with the intention of disciplining them after the war. They never did. Not only that, many perpetrators were protected and given passage to safe havens around the world by members of the Vatican who housed them in Vatican properties, clothed and fed them, and eventually helped them evade justice so they could regroup to fight Communism.
You’d think that during the war the Catholic Church would very publicly and loudly object to the genocide taking place in Croatia, given that the impetus behind the genocide was ultimately the propagation of Catholicism, but it didn’t. You’d think that the Catholic Church would attempt to stop the perpetrators, given that they were Catholics strongly loyal to the pope, but it didn’t. You’d think the Catholic Church would give advice and guidance to the Croatian Catholic faithful in an effort to rein them in, but it didn’t. You’d think the pope, Pius XII, would feel shame and embarrassment and distance himself from the Croat Catholics and their leader, but he didn’t.
Indeed, the leader of the Ustasha, Ante Pavelić was a mass murderer who revered Pope Pius XII, and was aware that Pius XII and his senior advisers thought highly of his militant Catholicism. In April 1941 Pavelić was received by the Pope, creating an uproar at the British Foreign Office who was dismayed that the Pope would even consider meeting with such a notorious mass murderer. They thus described the Pope as “the greatest moral coward of our age.” As the Foreign Office later told the British ambassador to the Holy See, the Pope’s reception of Pavelić “has done more to damage his reputation in this country than any other act since the war began.”
Maybe we should excuse the Pope and the Church for not acting during the war because of the fog of war, lack of communications, the desire to remain neutral, etcetera. But these are all hollow excuses. Moreover, even if we were willing to accept them, what could possibly explain the lack of acts of repudiation after the war for the genocide in Croatia?
In May 1945, after having learned of Hitler’s death, Cardinal Bertram of Breslau ordered that “a solemn requiem mass be held in commemoration of the Führer. . .” so that the Almighty’s son, Hitler, be admitted to paradise. A solemn requiem mass is celebrated only for a believing member of the Church and if it is in the public interest of the Church. Hitler was not a believing member of the Church and only a Church deeply steeped in their own anti-Jewish teachings and the grotesque twist to them that Hitler gave them could think that a solemn requiem for Hitler was a good, moral thing to do and that it was in the Church’s public interest. Did the Pope or the Catholic Church rebuke Cardinal Bertram, then or any time after that? No, it did not.
Given this background, we should not be too surprised to learn that just as the year 2010 was coming to a close a mass was celebrated in a Zagreb church honoring the 49th anniversary of the death of the Ustasha mass murderer Ante Pavelić. The mass was held by priests Vjekoslav Lasić and Stanislav Kos, who referred to Pavelić as a respectable man who made sacrifices for all of Croatia. You’d think the Catholic Church would take advantage of this opportunity to very loudly and publicly repudiate the actions of the Ustasha and its leader Pavelić, but you’d be wrong. What was the official reaction of the Catholic Church to this outrageous mass? So far their reaction is consistent with their reaction during the Holocaust: a deafening silence.
When it comes to the issue of Vatican non-recognition for the State of Israel, apologists for the actions—or lack thereof—of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War period often focus on the following things:
• The Vatican’s non-recognition for the right of the Jewish people to establish a homeland in their ancient land of Israel may have been influenced by concern with the safety of Christians in Arab lands
• Political and diplomatic issues
• Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli’s (later Pius XII) excitement at the prospect of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine
• Pope Pius’ refusal to recognize the State of Israel because he would have a preferred a state of religious Jews
• Pope Pius’ 1945 prediction to an audience of 80 Jewish survivors that “soon you will have a Jewish homeland.”
• Pope Pius pressured other Catholic countries to recognize the State of Israel
Let’s look at these explanations or justifications in more detail: the Vatican’s non-recognition for the right of the Jewish people to establish a homeland in their ancient land of Israel may have been influenced by concern with the safety of Christians in Arab lands, but given the small number of Christians in Arab lands one must wonder if this was sufficient for the Vatican to delay recognition until 1993. This theory doesn’t hold water.
Perhaps the Vatican was concerned with realpolitik issues. Maybe there were political or diplomatic issues, and maybe the Vatican, who always thinks of consequences to its actions in the long term, thought it imprudent to recognize the Jewish state right after its founding in 1948. But did the Vatican continue to feel it imprudent to refuse recognition for decades after most other countries ceased to have any qualms to do so? This theory does not hold water either.
It is possible that the Secretary of State under Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli, had been excited at the prospect of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine during his tenure in the 1930s. If so, that would have been a jarring contradiction with the track record of previous Vatican officials who had opposed just that in the most callous ways. In any case, regardless of what Cardinal Pacelli may have thought about the prospect of establishing a homeland for the Jewish people, the Vatican refused to recognize Israel when the state was founded in 1948 and Pope Pius was in command of the secretariat of state and in a position to do this.
I find the assertion that Pope Pius refused to recognize the secular State of Israel because he would have a preferred a state of religious Jews sadly pathetic. Even if this was true, who did Pope Pius think he was to pretend to dictate to Jews the nature of their own state? If this had been the true reason for the refusal to recognize the state, this would be more proof of Christian contempt for Jews and, if anything, betrays the pope’s true feelings for Jews and Judaism.
Papal apologists sometimes claim that Pope Pius XII made a prediction to an audience of 80 Jewish survivors in 1945 that “soon you will have a Jewish homeland.” Can they be serious? What do they think that proves? What else do they think the Pope would have said in 1945, when the League of Nations mandated Britain in 1917 to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine? Do they find that statement particularly prophetic 28 years later in 1945? They say that the pope didn’t oppose the partition plan of 1947. Again, so what? Is this proof the pope supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland, or was he just accepting reality? Moreover, I find it particularly callous of Pius XII to have prodded Spain to recognize Israel in 1950, when he himself refused to do so at that time and the Vatican would continue to do so for another 43 years!
No, none of these things hold water or ring true. I will tell you the actual reason. It began long before Pope Pius XII. In 1904 Theodor Herzl, who was spearheading the Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, met with Pope Pius X with the intent of securing Vatican support for that effort. But Pope Pius X did not recognize the right of the Jews to exist as Jews: “The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people . . . The Jewish religion was the foundation of our own; but it was superseded by the teachings of Christ, and we cannot concede it any further validity.” And so he denied support. So did the Cardinal Secretary of State, who earlier had also denied support by saying, among other things, “But in order for us to come out for the Jewish people in the way you desire, they would first have to be converted.” Almost 40 years later, during the Nazi period, Undersecretary of State Tardini (under Pius XII) also opposed Jewish emigration to Palestine, the only place where Jews could have been saved from the Nazi onslaught: “The Holy See has never approved of the project of making Palestine a Jewish home . . . [because] Palestine is by now holier for Catholics than for Jews.” Pius’ Secretary of State Maglione also opposed the possibility of establishing a Jewish homeland there, because according to him Catholics had a right to the holy places, and their “religious feelings would be injured and they would justly feel for their rights if Palestine belonged exclusively to the Jews.” When we read these statements we must remember the historical context of when they were uttered. At that time, Jews were harassed, deprived of citizenship and their livelihood, physically attacked, economically disenfranchised, thrown into ghettos, and worse.
Just in case anyone wants to exculpate these individuals because perhaps they didn’t really know what was going on (they knew very well, but anyway…), after the horrors of the Holocaust became widely known and the State of Israel had been declared in 1948, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, which was the closest publication to the pope in the Vatican, felt necessary to declare, “Modern Israel is not the true heir of Biblical Israel, but a secular state . . . Therefore the Holy Land and its sacred sites belong to Christianity, the True Israel.” So, I think it’s important to call a spade a spade and recognize the real reasons why the Church and the Vatican acted the way they did vis-à-vis the Jews before, during and after the war.
Ultimately, the Vatican would shamefully continue in its refusal to recognize the State of Israel until 1993, 45 years after its founding and 14 years after its greatest foe, Egypt, had recognized its right to exist in 1979. The Vatican was one of the last states in the world to do so.
The Catholic Church claims to be the highest moral authority on Earth. It also teaches to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to avoid doing to others what we don’t want others doing to us. These are of course wonderful, lofty goals and the Church is to be commended for holding them at the very top of their priority list. Yet, given the history of this institution, one wonders to what extent these are goals they strive to live by, or whether to them they are just nice-sounding goals on paper they just pretend to live by. After all, one needs to wonder given the attitudes of the Church as well as that of millions of Catholics during the Crusades, the religious wars in Europe, the persecution of others they considered to be heretical, their abominable behavior toward the natives in the New World, the Inquisition, and the deafening silence of the Church as millions of Catholics actively or passively participated in the murder of millions of Jews, Roma, Orthodox Christians, and others during the Second World War.
When you are the self-avowed protector of morals, silence is not an option when faced with moral outrage. When Catholic Father Tiso, the leader of Slovakia, deported Slovakian Jews to their deaths during the 1940s, the Vatican merely made some token effort to try to stop him. The Vatican would have excommunicated Father Tiso if it had believed that what he was saying and doing was not in agreement with Catholic teachings and Church policy. Instead all he got was a slap on the hand meant to show the Church disapproved of his actions, while clearly that was not the case. What they truly disapproved of was the embarrassing situation Slovakia was getting the Church into, because so many members of the Slovakian government, including its president, were Catholic priests.
In Croatia the situation was worse, as many of the actual perpetrators were priests who were members of the ruling regime. Many committed the most heinous crimes imaginable. The commandant of the concentration camp of Jasenovac, a place where the crimes committed made even the SS cringe, was a Franciscan priest who had no qualms in cutting hundreds of throats of people in one night while wearing his Franciscan robe. These were priests with literally blood on their hands. Many more were part of the genocide through the incitement of their sermons and writings, the antisemitism they continued to spread throughout the war, and their failure to tell the faithful to stop. Given that the Croatian regime was in a crusade to eliminate Orthodox Serbs and Jews and forcibly convert thousands of Orthodox to Catholicism, the Vatican, and Pope Pius XII at its helm, remained as silent about this genocide as they were about the genocide the Germans and their helpers were perpetrating everywhere else in Europe.
Typically papal apologists confuse “silence” with “actions”. Even if the Pope did take actions to save Jews—and I’m quite skeptical—the fact remains that the Pope was indeed silent irrespective of what these actions may have been. He never publicly condemned the extermination of the Jews in language that anyone other than the curia and the Nazi hierarchy understood. He never admonished the faithful and his entire Church network to save Jews. He never told the flock and his vast network of priests that denouncing, hunting down, and killing Jews was a crime and a mortal sin. He never instructed the German Catholic Church to avoid helping the German government in any way, and failed to reprimand them once they helped the Nazis identify the Jews. He never told the German Church, and thus never told the faithful, that obeying Catholic principles and being loyal to God was more important than obeying the authorities, particularly when those authorities were asking the faithful to do things that were contrary to the teachings of Christianity. He never threatened the faithful, or Nazi authorities, with excommunication if they persevered with the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. He never told his priests to tell the flock to refrain from having any part in the exterminatory campaign. He never reprimanded or even less told German Army Bishop Rarkowski to instruct his priests to admonish the troops to refrain from participating in any exterminatory actions.
It’s true the Germans are responsible for the Holocaust. It’s also true the Nazis wanted to make Nazism into a neo-pagan cult. But it’s also true that despite all efforts they failed, as the vast majority of the population remained Christian. In any case, any claims to neo-paganism are immaterial given the widespread active and passive participation of ordinary Christian civilians in the occupied countries, most of whom were Catholic. It’s disingenuous to say that the Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians and others are not responsible for the Holocaust too. Sure, Germany was the force behind it, but the Germans would not have been able to do what they did without the willingness—indeed, eagerness—of others that enthusiastically denounced, hunted down, and killed Jews. It’s a canard to say that they were forced. No one was forced to kill Jews. The belief that that was so is an already discredited post-war myth. The commanders of the killing squads gave their platoon members the option to not participate in killing operations. Only a handful did so, and they suffered no consequence for it. The willing auxiliaries in the East, the vast majority of whom were Christian and not brainwashed by Nazi racial propaganda but rather but the teachings of Christianity, were very happy to sign up for the task. They were very happy to join the Waffen SS and help in the killing squads. They were very happy to finally solve the “Jewish Question”. No one put a gun to their heads to do anything. No one forced the French police to round up the French Jews. And neither the Pope nor anyone else in the Roman curia reminded any of them that Jews were human beings too, and that murdering them was contrary to the Golden Rule, contrary to Christian teachings, a crime and a mortal sin.
I realize papal apologists tend to think they can counter these arguments by looking under the rocks for someone who can say the Pope told them to save a Jew, or a Jew that is thankful to the Pope for having saved him. But they are missing the point, because even if by his “heroic” behind the scenes actions the Pope was successful in saving tens of thousands of lives, he would still be a moral failure because he failed to do all the things I mentioned above, which could and most likely would have completely changed the course of history.
History has shown us that the so-called “advanced” or “progressive” societies have been in certain regards as primitive as the “primitive” ones. Western Civilization has always been quite savage under the—sometimes not very good—cover of advanced civilization, from the Spartans throwing “useless” girls and malformed boys off a cliff to Roman bloodthirstiness to the horrors of the Dark Ages (under the veil of Christian devotion!) to the corruption of the Middle Ages. When we compare the “primitive” societies of the Americas and those of Africa and the Polynesia with the European societies that brought them “modern” technology, culture, and Christianity, can we honestly say the Europeans were more advanced? Why? Because they had muskets instead of bow and arrow? Because they believed in one god instead of many? Were these Europeans really less primitive than the peoples they colonized?
Most of the people in the “advanced” societies that conquered the “primitive” societies did not believe that the universe operates according to natural law rather than by supernatural powers. On the contrary. And just like the “primitive” societies they conquered and decimated, the Europeans did not believe that by observing nature and applying reason through the scientific method, people could understand natural law and successfully apply that understanding to the task of living on Earth. No, rather they read the Bible believing it was the immutable word and law of God and blindly followed the Church’s dictates. They did not think that by assuming self-responsibility, each individual could shape the course of his own life, rather than being controlled by the tribe, but rather they accepted their life was in the hands of God and/or the Church. What the “more advanced” societies definitely had was better technology.
Unfortunately, the ideals of the Enlightenment are not as prevalent as we would like (and as they should). Recent polls show that about 98% of Americans believe in God. A large number of those think that Evolution through Natural Selection is not only wrong, but evil, and truly believe that the Creation, as narrated in the book of Genesis, is actual and indisputable truth. We are talking about millions of people who do not believe the Scientific Method is—so far—the best epistemological system we have, and also the only system that has proven to consistently provide correct answers to questions about the natural world, time after time. The Scientific Method opposes the dogmatic view, and it is a self-correcting system. To the millions of religious people —the nice couple next door, you could say—the word of the priest (or God) has always been more significant than that of the scientist. To them, if the Bible says that sodomy (or whatever) is bad or wrong, it’s enough to burn those people’s houses or lynch them. Even to this day, at the beginning of the 21st century, there are people in the “advanced” societies who refuse to accept modern medicine and prefer to see their family members die of some disease while they pray by the bedside. It was only a few years ago that the Pope officially acknowledged that the Church had made a mistake in condemning Galileo for supporting Copernicus’ heliocentric theory… To me, they are not any less primitive than any society we wish to call “primitive”. We are not any better than them just because our telephones work.
It is very important to be aware of the memetic heritage any social group has, and how that determines the identity of the group. Ethnicity—determined by their gene pool—is clearly not the factor that matters the most: there are myriad of different groups who share a Caucasian, or black, or Polynesian, American Indian or whatever origin and yet they can be not only totally different but also mortal enemies. The differences are cultural. Culture evolves and propagates through a memetic process in a way analogous to the way genetic evolution occurs: through Natural Selection. The memes that conform a society—the beliefs, ideas, thoughts, hopes—go through a constant battle for survival, exactly as our genes do. The memes that survive are those that can replicate, that is, they get transmitted to another brain which in turn transmits it to another brain and so forth. The memetic pool of the western powers which “conquered” the world were spread and inculcated in the colonized societies that endured them. The Jesuits had (have?) the specific purpose of proselytizing the Catholic creed. The Mormons are one of the most phenomenal cases of successful memetic propagation in modern times. But this is not limited to the great religions and/or ideas: even simple memes like “Say no to drugs!” get propagated.
In the history of the world many cultures have come and gone. Some of those cultures were seminal in their advancement of human thought, such as that of the ancient Greeks; some others were the incarnation of evil, such as the one that flourished in Germany during the Nazi period. The reasons for their demise are numerous and irrelevant to this discussion; what matters is that whether their legacy survives or not happens through a selection process. Their memes either propagate or not: there are a limited number our brains can deal with, so the competition for survival (replication) is very tough.
Whether any “primitive” cultures eventually get assimilated into the mainstream of the memetic pool or not remain to be seen. The question is whether any “primitive” memes can compete with the mainstream, “modern” memes. When someone is faced with the option of having a refrigerator where to preserve food fresh or have to deal with spoiled food, or when someone has to choose between a proven penicillin shot or the local shaman’s incantations, etc., it is very likely that, if the person really has a choice, they would choose the former. From this regard we call the societies that subscribe to the latter ideology “primitive”, in the sense that they maintain an epistemological system that has—historically speaking, at least—not advanced.
Defenders of the Church are fond of repeating the already debunked post-WWII myth that nobody knew of the atrocities back home, that the perpetrators were merely following orders, and that they feared for their own lives if they dared opt out of an Aktion. This is simply not true. These men killed because they wanted to, they did it with gusto and pride, and very few of them asked their superiors to be relieved of their duties. There is no record of any of them being shot because of it. Many men volunteered to work in the death camps; they even had waiting lists for the job.
It is absolutely true that the “Final Solution” was a top secret operation, but it’s absolutely not true it stayed that way. Most people knew back home. Many among the millions of soldiers who fought in the East sent letters and pictures telling their families of their deeds, with pride and with nothing to hide. They spoke about it at home when they came back from the front, and their families largely approved of it as they had all been indoctrinated in the same miasma of hatred. As Stewart Herman, the Minister of the American Church in Berlin who remained in Germany until December 1941, corroborated: “It became definitely known through the soldiers returning from the front that in occupied Russia, especially at Kiev, Jewish civilians—men, women, and babies—were being lined up and machine-gunned by the thousands.”
How else could it be? After years of the most vicious anti-Jewish campaign in history, hundreds of thousands of Jews were visibly disappearing from their homes everywhere in Europe, they were being visibly loaded onto cattle cars never to be seen of again, and we are to believe no one knew? That no one suspected?
I can’t fathom how anyone can really believe that the factory workers making Zyklon B thought that all of a sudden the insect and pest population had grown so dramatically that they had to produce orders of magnitude more poison. Or that the train workers bought the official story that they were bringing tens of thousands of Jews into the concentration camps every day to work, given that they were doing it every day, and that these “workers” were never leaving. Even a very dimwitted train engineer would have realized that they were bringing too many people into the concentration camps, and they were never taking any out. At some point these people surely must have wondered about the brutality of the transportation process, the death of many of the people on arrival, the Selektion process (which they witnessed as it was done next to their train), and the stench of death, which was pervasive in these camps and they would not have been able to avoid. Surely these men smoked a cigarette and chatted with the guards while the trains were emptied before leaving to pick up another batch. You don’t think they would have asked what was going on there? But maybe they didn’t ask, after all. Because they already knew.
For almost two thousand years Christianity taught the faithful that Christianity had superseded and replaced Judaism. It taught that God had abrogated his covenant with the Jewish people and had made a new one with the “New Israel”, the followers of Jesus. This replacement theology was based on the premise that the Jewish people, due to their obstinacy and blindness, failed to recognize Jesus as the son of God and as his messiah, and therefore lost their place in the world. According to this Christian view, Jews were no longer the “Chosen People”.
This unfortunate state of affairs evolved over time from contempt to hatred. For centuries Christians persecuted Jews everywhere they lived. They locked them into ghettos, they prohibited Jews from working in most professions, they forced them to hear conversion sermons, they forced them to wear distinctive clothing, they persecuted and tortured them, and often they murdered them. The Second World War provided the infrastructure, the excuse and the opportunity for Christians everywhere in Europe to give free rein to their latent or open antisemitism and turn against their Jewish neighbors. The result, as we know, is six million dead.
After the Second World War the surviving Jews of Europe, unable to go back to their former homes, went to Mandatory Palestine where they later founded the State of Israel. The surrounding Arab countries, unwilling to tolerate a Jewish state in their midst, initiated a war of extermination, promising a grand bloodbath and to push the surviving Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. For almost a hundred years now, the land of Israel has been in turmoil between Jews and Arabs.
In 1965 the Catholic Church issued an extraordinary declaration essentially exonerating all Jews of Jesus’ time, and of all time, for his death. The declaration also made clear that Judaism had not been superseded, that Judaism was still valid and its relationship to God was as legitimate and strong as that of the Church. In other words, the fathers of the Catholic Church during the Second Vatican Council, bolstered by further statements by all popes since, have reinforced the notion that the Jews were and continue to be God’s “Chosen People”. Since then, both the Catholic and Protestant churches as well as Jews have made great strides to improve relations between Christians and Jews. Today Jews and Christians are closer than they have ever been.
This background makes the recent declarations of the Synod of Middle Eastern bishops convened in Rome and subsequent statements particularly jarring. Ostensibly intended to address injustices toward the Christian population living in Middle Eastern countries and the dwindling numbers of Christians there, the bishops seem to have focused instead on regressing to previously held but now officially repudiated theological positions and to castigate Israel. Given the undeniable fact that it is radical Moslems who persecute Christians and Christianity in the Middle East, this particular line of attack raises serious questions. As Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, Greek Melkite archbishop of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Boston, Massachusetts, and president of the ‘Commission for the Message,’ said at a Vatican press conference after the Synod:
‘The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands.’
‘We Christians cannot speak of the “promised land” as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people. Even if the head of the Israeli state is Jewish, the future is based on democracy. The Palestinian refugees will eventually come back and this problem will have to be solved,’ the Lebanese-born Bustros said.
In a final joint communique, the bishops also told Israel it shouldn’t use the Bible to justify “injustices” against the Palestinians. These are very troubling statements, on many levels. First, because an important member of the Catholic Church uttered them, and they have not been clearly and loudly repudiated by the Church. At best, the Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi has attempted to calm the waters, but he did so in such a tepid way that the corrosive effect of these words continues to eat through the advances in Catholic-Jewish relations of the last 45 years. Second, because Archbishop Bustros, in contravention of the official Church position and statements made by Pope Benedict, is now claiming in supersessionistic terms that the coming of Jesus negates the covenant God made with the Jewish people, which among other things, includes the “Promised Land”. This is an astonishing thing to say given that Pope Benedict has clearly stated that God’s covenant with the Jews “has never been revoked.” For Archbishop Bustros there is no longer a “Chosen People” and the land of Israel is “occupied”. Irrespective of one’s theological or political beliefs, objectively this was a colossally irresponsible thing to say.
With the exception of some fringe right wing extremists, no one claims the Jews returned to the Land of Israel following a dictum in the Bible. The Balfour Declaration, the immigration of Jews to Mandatory Palestine, the UN Partition Plan and the formation of the State of Israel follow a historical claim to the land as the ancestral home of the Jewish people, a land some of them never left. Even though some local Arabs (only some of whom were natives of the region and who did not call themselves “Palestinians” back then) were displaced in the 1948 war that ensued when five Arab countries invaded the newly formed state, the vast majority of those who left did so willingly. Regardless of whether one agrees with Israeli policies toward Palestinians or not, the one thing is certain is that despite what these Middle Eastern bishops believe, those policies are not dictated or animated by the Bible. When Archbishop Bustros talks about the ‘occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands’ it’s not really clear whether he refers to all of Israel as occupied Palestinian land, or whether he refers to the West Bank or Gaza (which in any case are autonomously governed by Palestinians). Based on the context of what he is saying, he seems to be embracing the Palestinian narrative and appears to refer to “Palestine” as the place where Israel stands, which implies Israel should not exist as a Jewish state. Archbishop Bustros also seems to confuse the nature of Israel as a Jewish state and democracy as its chosen political system. There is no conflict there. In Israel Arabs constitute a sizeable minority that has the same rights as Jews, including voting rights. This is also true of many other countries that call themselves Christian and have Jews, Moslems, Hindus and others who vote as well.
It seems Archbishop Bustros believes that Jews have no right to have their own country. According to him, the coming of Christ has nullified the designation of the “Chosen People”, which also means Jews have forfeited their right to the land God had promised them. This is the old theological Christian slander that stated that Jews were doomed to eternal exile as a consequence of their rejection of a divine Jesus. In this view Jews are a fallen people who are not entitled to a state of their own, the only people in the world to be singled out this way. Also, by suggesting that millions of Palestinian refugees will come back to Israel proper and thus change the nature of the Jewish state, the bishop is in essence denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
These profoundly anti-Jewish statements are a violent step backwards that threatens to undo the great progress in Jewish-Christian relations of the last few decades. We can only hope Pope Benedict will step in to authoritatively set the record straight.
All possible evidence seem to point to the fact that Arab nations are indeed monolithic in pretty much everything, and have been that way for 1000 years. There is a glimpse of change among some of those countries’ cultural elite, as somewhat seen in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. But in general all Moslem countries follow a pattern of dictatorial government, reaffirmed by religion.
There seems to be something of a religious war brewing, although ultimately this “religious war” is no more religious than any other “religious war” in history. Religion has always been just the excuse. None of this has anything to do with the values of each religion, or even the value of the religions themselves, and not even with whether Religion has any value at all.
Jihad, or Holy War, has always been in integral component of the history of Islam. The reason why Islam propagated so quickly, and so vastly, is because the Muslims were very good with the scimitar and they were fighting a holy war, that is, one in which the objective was not political but rather religious, the outcome was always conditioned to god’s will, and death was welcome. This is not a subversion of a peaceful, beautiful religion, any more than the oppression of non-Muslims in Muslim societies, the abominable treatment of women and the rejection of any authority that is non-Muslim in Muslims societies—to name a few—are examples of the teachings of a beautiful religion. These, and many examples like these, are not perversions of Islam by right-wing fanatics, but rather are and have always been an integral part of Islam.
Not understanding this is likely evidence of a projection of our own desires, and not a reflection of reality. It is probably natural of us as children of the Enlightenment to try to see goodness even when there is none. We look at Islam and we like to think that what we see is a peaceful religion. We look at the Koran, their holy book, and we convince ourselves that what we see is a wondrous literary masterpiece that exalts love and understanding. However, if we scrutinize all of that with cold, analytical eyes we will actually see 1400 years of bloody holy wars and intolerance (with a short glorious hiatus) and a “holy” book that teaches, among much other similar wisdom:
Koran 47:4-6: “When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them . . . And who so fight for the cause of God, their works he will not suffer to miscarry; He will vouchsafe them guidance, and dispose their hearts aright; And he will bring them into the Paradise, of which he hath told them.”
Koran 2:216: “War is prescribed to you: but from this ye are averse. Yet haply ye are averse from a thing, though it be good for you.” (also 9:41)
Koran 3:157: “And if ye shall be slain or die on the path of God, then pardon from God and mercy is better than all your amassings; For if ye die or be slain, verily unto God shall ye be gathered.”
Koran 8:65: “O prophet! Stir up the faithful to the fight. Twenty of you who stand firm shall vanquish two hundred: and if there be a hundred of you they shall vanquish a thousand of the infidels, for they are a people devoid of understanding.”
Koran 61:4: “Verily God loveth those who, as though they were a solid wall, do battle for his cause in serried lines!”
Koran 4:74: “Let those then fight on the path of God, who barter this present life for that which is to come; for whoever fighteth on God’s path, whether he be slain or conquer, we will in the end give him a great reward.”
It’s true that the Jewish and Christian bibles have somewhat comparable verses. Maybe the world would be better off without any of it at all… With that being said, the Jewish people have not gone in genocidal rampages in the name of god or religion since biblical times and the Christian people haven’t done it in quite a long time either. The reason why the Muslim people are not only capable but also willing to do that today is because the immoral teachings of their holy book resonate loudly with them, because their culture makes them receptive to that, and because so many among them still believe it’s the inerrant and literal word of Allah.
There are entire populations in the Muslim world that have been brought up thinking similarly to absolutist 12th century Christendom, and are stuck in that mind frame. There are entire peoples that relish their cult of death and simmer in a miasma of hatred. When we look at great swaths of Muslim societies we see deep-seated tribal, barbarous attitudes towards their own people and their women. We see internecine fighting for power. We see the cult of death and the pursuit of selfish objectives. What we definitely do not see, as a whole, before or now, is love of life and peace.
The Western World has had, and still has, many examples of how low human beings can get: right-wing militias, the Nazis (even in the US), the religious fundamentalists (regardless of what religion they belong to), and others. But there are many significant differences: for one, none of these is condoned or promoted by the state, and some of them are actively fought against by the state. Not so in the Moslem world.
Let’s be clear here: Islam is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, if you accept that religions are a good thing. Islam has been used as an excuse to perpetrate atrocities, as Christianity has been used to perpetrate numerous atrocities and to a much lesser degree Judaism has been used in the same way. The difference is that the two latter have for the most part advanced past a literal interpretation of their respective holy books and have become less radical. With some minor fringe exceptions, you just don’t see entire populations this side of the Urals calling for the elimination of other people, like large portions of the Moslem world do. You do not see vile racial incitement in the mainstream media, let alone in state-sponsored media like you do in the Moslem world.
Not all Moslems are bad people, of course. Many, if not most of them are kind, family-oriented, peaceful people. But their voices are not heard. They let their radical brethren take over their governments, their societies, and more importantly, the minds of their children. The moderate in their midst usually prefer to keep quiet and support “the party line”, despite their possible conviction that it’s wrong. In essence, they have capitulated and let the bad guys win. They lack the will to fight the fundamentalists that tarnish their religion, their societies and their countries.
It will take more than just a few enlightened Muslims to get them out of that state: it will take a considerable amount of courage to break with the past and it will take an amount of energy and determination directly proportional to the backwardness of the societies in which these enlightened Muslims will operate. In practical terms, the societies in question also have to be receptive and willing to hear a different view but, more importantly, they need to acknowledge that their way of life is backwards and morally corrupt before any progress can be made.