Saturday, 9 June 2012

Things Christians say: part 19. Hitler and atheism.

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  Usually the aim is to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte').   This week I will combine these into a single comment.

Hitler acted in the name of atheism.

This frustratingly common fallacy has to be divided into two sub-fallacies in order to deconstruct it and expose it to the bright light of reason.  I do this in spite of the fact that this whole topic is a matter over which I can hardly contain my indifference.

With that in mind I intend to quote people who have already written or spoken authoritatively on the topic.

1/  Hitler was an atheist - a Catholic atheist at least!

In the words of Christopher Hitchens (in Hitchslap 13):

The pope, on March 12th 2000, begged forgiveness for the crusades, the inquisition, the persecution of Jews, injustice towards women (half the human race), the forced conversion of the indigenous people of S America, the African slave trade, the admission that Galileo was right, silence during Hitler's final solution, regret for the rape and torture of children.   These are very serious matters, not to be laughed off by reference to occasional work of charity.

'Silence' is a word that hardly applies in this case.  The Catholic Church was entirely complicit in the actions that Hitler instigated, almost as if it had been a matter of doctrine of that church.  Hitler was never excommunicated.   Indeed prayers were said for him in every Catholic church in the country, every year on his birthday.  In fact, anti-semitism was still a matter of official doctrine until 1964 - nearly twenty years after Hitler's defeat.

There is a great deal of evidence that Hitler remained a Christian (and Catholic) for most, if not all his life.  I will not reproduce it here because it is not interesting.

One of the rewards for the Catholic church was a complete control of German education, indoctrinating people during their most vulnerable years.

Whatever the truth about the extent of Hitler's Christian beliefs, Richard Dawkins hit the nail on the head in The God Delusion with these two sentences:

"Either Hitler's professions of Christianity were sincere, or he faked his Christianity in order to win - successfully - cooperation from German Christians and the Catholic Church. In either case, the evils of Hitler's regime can hardly be held up as flowing from atheism."

2/ Atheists can act in the name of atheism

This second half of the argument applies not just to the mythical atheistic Hitler, but to all those other dictators of the 20th century who really were atheists.  This includes Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, among others.

And in Hitchslap 16 Hitch pointed out that: 

"Atheism is not a moral or political position of any kind." 

Even if it is true that Hitler (or substitute any other evil person here) was an atheist, it is little different from pointing out that the current pope is a Christian.  This pope actually is committing atrocities in the name of Christianity, and millions are dying of AIDS in Africa as a direct result.  Meanwhile, thousands of innocent children continue to be abused by Catholic priests because he will not agree to the records of abusive priests being handed to the police, so that justice can be done.

You might not agree with that line of argument, and you might not associate yourself with the current evil German pope in any way.  However, you can't deny that this is any less valid than the way that you associate my atheism with another evil German.

I say all that with apologies to the many millions of good Germans.

Last week:  They want to be their own free agents - free of any consequences.
Next week: So - are you a communist too?

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