Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spinning up the spin..

I was interested to read the transcript of the Pope's welcome address, given when he arrived in the UK today, one particular section caught my eye,

"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"

Equating things you don't like (i.e. Atheists) with Nazis is a well known debating tactic of idiots and hucksters commonly referred to as Godwin's law, a complete fallacy of course, it is a historical fact that the vast majority of Germans at the time of WWII were Christian (Ratzinger was one of them). Hitler himself was notionally Catholic (although clearly not devout) and there are hundreds of mentions of "God" in his many writings and speeches on political and social policy (i.e. "Mein Kampf"), but strangely nothing at all about Atheism.

It's true that Britain stood up to the Nazis, on the other hand the Catholic church took a somewhat different tac, "collaboration" would be too strong but "opposition" is not the right word either, but we'll probably never know what secret deals were done in those dark days between Hitler and the Pope, "cover ups" are their speciality after all.


gerrardus said...

When I re-read it this morning, I can't help thinking the "atheist extremism" he's talking about may be Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin. Not a bunch of teenagers publishing witticisms on Comment is Free. So he's comparing two bunches of 20th century evil beggars.
To be fair, those 20th century atheist extremists were responsible for more deaths on ideological grounds than anyone else in history.
I don't agree with the Pope's lumping the Nazis in there, mind, as the Nazis weren't attempting "to eradicate God from society" - they were a theist bunch, as you say, some Christians and some kind of pagan revivalists.

Steve Borthwick said...

G, you are right about the deaths in pure statistical terms, Stalin and Mao being the prime proponents. But seriously, were these psychopaths doing what they did in the pursuit of Atheism? or more likely their goals were totalitarian political systems that could tolerate zero opposition, faith based or otherwise. After all, both regimes persecuted scientists and intellectuals they saw as a threat well as priests who I'm sure they viewed in the same light.

Labelling them "atheist extremists" is simply convenient to the Pope's current argument, a more accurate label would be COMMUNIST extremists, i.e. the fear of which was the very reason the Vatican created the concordat with the Nazi's in the first place!!

The whole thing is surreal.

gerrardus said...

Dreadful amateurs when it came to death, your Nazis. The atheist regimes (and Communism is inherently and insistently atheist) were your real dealers of savagery and death.

But of course that doesn't mean atheists are Communists, or bad people. It's simply that atheism is part of the Marxist package in the same way that nationalisation is.
You're absolutely right, every totalitarian uses oppression. because they have to.

One irony about the Nazis is that, although they had various religions, one of their inspirations was Nietzsche, who was the definitive atheist philosopher in my opinion in that he seems to have followed the logic through more rigorously than the others. Perhaps that's why he ended up being arrested and sectioned for hugging a horse?

Steve Borthwick said...

G, post hoc ergo propter hoc!

Perhaps you could explain, using this logic, why the Nazis weren't a "Christian regime" but Stalin was an "Atheist regime"; I can't understand this logic, other than in the context of a rather simplistic ad hominem argument against atheists? If I were to meet the Pope, I'd have to ask, "is that really the best you've got"?

gerrardus said...

Atheism is part of communism. It's in Marx's writings and it was adopted enthusiastically and brutally by his followers. As we can both see it's not a two-way relationship. Stalin had a stupid moustache as well, but not all people with stupid moustaches are paranoid mass-murderers.

But I do agree with you - the Pope's lumping all nasty people form the 20th century together seemed a bit strange to make his point. Nazis were nasty but whatever else they were, they weren't atheists.

Another reason it was strange was because this was all a long time ago. Apart from Cuba, most communists have given up on trying to wipe out Christians and Muslims, and gone off to work on the rail network instead. My youngest had a "War" day yesterday at school (as part of history, not some "Cameron Youth" exercise) and he and some mates took in 2nd world war medals - and they were all their great-grandparents'. This was all 70 years ago now.

(I won't use "ad hominem" if you don't mind, as that's a phrase used by atheists when they're not launching ad hominem attacks on others)

Steve Borthwick said...

G, As an ad hominem argument, the Hitler/Stalin/Pot argument is typically a tu quoque, or “you too,” made in response to the claim that religion is responsible for the deaths of millions through the inquisition, Crusades, genocides, New World invasions, etc.

This is what's really going on here, theists struggle to win the argument with Atheists on the level playing field of reason but if they use history (& especially by re-writing it) they can gain a foothold with a simplistic "atheism is responsible for the worst atrocities in history" tac. I must admit it's a nice touch and most people are convinced by it, it doesn't bear too much critical examination however.

Marx was an Atheist, but I think you'd have a harder time showing that Stalin was a Marxist, a warped and perverted one perhaps. Marx arrived at atheism through reason, as most of us do, and wrote a fair bit about that, quite reasonably. Stalin was not a man of reason, he had good scientists killed as well as priests, so, I think you have to look at other motives than simply "he was a communist" before reaching any kind of simple correlation.

Steve Borthwick said...

G, Also, the whole "name calling" thing is somewhat convenient for the theistic side, taking offence at the drop of a hat seems to be a standard way of avoiding a debate in some circles; of course Islam has this perfected, and I think a lot of Christians look on them with envy for that?

Sure, you get adolescent twits on both sides but If you actually look at what is being said most of the things that moderate religious people complain about "Dawkins is shrill" et al is only a reaction to religious incursion into the public square, discrimination, indoctrination, special pleading or pure lunacy.

I think we have to agree that the days when certain sacred things are "above" unmasking, criticism or discussion are long gone, and good riddance wouldn't you say?

gerrardus said...

Hi Steve

You could only say that Christianity (of a sort) was part of the bundle that made up Nazism, in the same way that atheism was part of the bundle that made up Marxism, Stalinism etc.

In the great web of humanity we're all guilty by association with some toe-rag.



gerrardus said...

Tell you what, this is an impressive example of Godwin's Law by anti-Papist. Straight out of the box, and based on Pope Benedict's German accent at that.
Look for "Expatnhappy".

Sorry, never responded to your earlier point re name-calling. Personally I think it's a good idea to be polite. It just reminds everybody that we're all human beings. Saying things that are offensive to others is fine, because often true things are offensive to some people, but being deliberately offensive always strikes me as a bit pointless.

Steve Borthwick said...

G, I agree entirely, in EA modelling terms "atheism" is an attribute among many attached to the entity of Stalin-ism/Communism and not a 1st class entity in its own right; hence my huffiness when people call these regimes "Atheist regimes", it sounds to my ear like pure "ad Hom" in it's intent. I wouldn't refer to the Nazi's as a "Christian regime", that would be ridiculous, although (illogically) if I did it would probably be deemed "offensive" (damned if we do damned if we don't etc.)

I do take your point regarding deliberate offence, in all but extreme cases it's unnecessary. The difficulty however is that often when atheists attack the "ideas" of religion or ridicule them as a way of illustrating some point this is often taken personally. I think this is because of the unique nature of religious belief, i.e. that it is woven so tightly into the fabric of some communities; the ideas become indistinguishable from the people. Against this landscape it's very hard not to be heard as arrogant or shrill simply because this is a voice that has been forcefully suppressed until recent times (the last successful prosecution for blasphemy in the UK was in 1977!!)

The other challenge is that it's all too easy to suppress free-speech by playing the intolerance card, if Catholics or Muslims want to stifle the on-going protests about child abuse or Sharia law they scream "religious intolerance" - this just makes their position even less respectable IMO but how do you say so without offending someone?