Calling Benedict Out

James Carroll of The Boston Globe has done something I was hoping someone in the mainstream press would do for a while now. Carroll has called Pope Benedict XVI out on his recent revisionism on the origins of Nazi ideology and hatred of the Jews. For those keeping track, Benedict has been publicly calling the Nazis “pagans” and “neo-pagans” in speeches for some time now. Carroll reminds his readers that the Nazis had other inspirations.

“The question about the Holocaust has a special edge because Benedict is German, and it first surfaced during his visit to Cologne last August. In addressing an audience of Jews in that city’s synagogue, the pope condemned the Nazi genocide campaign. But then he defined the lethal Nazi anti-Semitism that spawned the genocide as having been “born of neo-paganism.” He made no mention of anti-Semitism’s other parent, the long tradition of Christian contempt for Jews and the Jewish religion, which both fed the hatred of the perpetrators and justified the inaction of the bystanders. Little was made of the pope’s omission of reference to such Christian responsibility, as if to give him time to make his position clearer. Last week, the time came. At Auschwitz, again, he was unsparing in condemning what the Nazis did. But now he implicitly exonerated the German people, effectively defined the Nazis’ ultimate target as having been not Jews but Christianity, and complained not of the church’s silence in the face of the horror, but of God’s.”

In Benedict’s revisionist view, the Nazis were really a small band of neo-pagans who were wiping out the Jews in the first step to wiping out Christianity itself. This viewpoint, while convenient for Christians looking to remove Christian culpability from the Holocaust, is dangerous in the long run and could allow another Jewish genocide in the future.

“If the Holocaust is remembered as having been the work of a small “ring of criminals,” with no relation to the deep structures of Western civilization’s attitude toward “the other,” as centrally represented by Christian contempt for Jews, then sources of future crimes against “the other” remain protected. Roots of anti-Semitism, in particular, can sprout again.”

This intellectual deceit on the part of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church may make him and some of his followers feel better in the short term, but it won’t erase the large part institutional Christian attitudes (attitudes fostered within the Catholic Church) had in making the Nazi genocides happen. Good on Carroll for saying something.