Monday, October 4, 2010

Catholics, secularism, and Nazism

Catholics, secularism, and Nazism

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 03:24 PM PDT

While in England a few days ago, Pope Benedict stirred the pot by equating secularism with Nazi tyranny. Here is what he said:

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. … 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." … Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.

Fact Check: Did the Nazis wish to eradicate God from society? Did the Nazis promote "the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life"?

Backing up just a little, remember that the Nazis were a copycat of the Fascists in Italy, who seized power ten years before Hitler did. The Fascists were Catholic to their core; in fact, their success was that of a Catholic counter-revolution against the secular Italian state that had the nerve to dispossess the Pope of his civil power over central Italy. Mussolini's "March on Rome" was fully backed by the Catholic hierarchy. Once in power, he put crucifixes back into courts and schoolrooms, and even reinstated the Pope as a civil ruler over a minuscule "nation," a legal fiction that has plagued international law ever since. At the same time, he paid a massive bribe to the Church to give up its claim over the rest of central Italy, a bribe that was used to establish the Vatican Bank, an organization whose far-flung criminal activities are in the news again.

In Germany, the Catholic hierarchy during the 1920s opposed the Nazi Party, for the simple reason that they were promoting their own Catholic political organization, which they called the Center Party. By far the most important issue on their plate was the approval of a "Concordat" between Germany and the Vatican, to give the Church power over marriage, schools, tax money, etc. As the German economy deteriorated and the Nazis grew in strength, confrontations between Nazis and their rivals in the Center Party grew increasingly bitter, and often violent.

In the elections of 1933, Nazis won the plurality of the Reichstag seats, but not an outright majority. A grand deal was struck: the hierarchy would not only back Hitler's bid for the chancellorship, but would dissolve the Center Party itself, most of whose adherents would then flock to the Nazis. In exchange, the Catholics got the Concordat they had pursued relentlessly for the previous 50 years. In the Concordat, Hitler agreed to have the government pay the cost of Catholic education at every level, all the way through secondary school, with the hierarchy given the right to hire and fire government-paid teachers.

Germany's Catholics celebrated the Concordat with a joyous Mass of thanksgiving at St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin, with the papal nuncio himself presiding. Nazi flags mingled with Catholic banners, and the Nazi "Horst Wessel song" was sung along with Catholic hymns, while thousands listened on loudspeakers outside.

The new chancellor proclaimed that "The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life." A few months later, he added that "The National Government regards the two Christian confessions (i.e. Catholicism and Protestantism) as factors essential to the soul of the German people. … We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people." Later he bragged that "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."

Hitler kept his word. In 1936, when a local official in Cloppenburg got too big for his jackboots and ordered the removal of crucifixes from the schools, the order was countermanded by Berlin, and the crucifixes were restored. In 1939, Hitler delivered a major speech to the Reichstag, boasting that the churches had received more money from the Nazis than under any previous administration, more tax advantages, and more freedom. In fact, state subsidies for religion had risen from 130 million marks in 1933 to 500 million in 1938; during the war they further increased to over a billion marks.

With that kind of loyalty, it's little wonder that after Hitler's suicide the archbishop of Berlin ordered all his priests "to hold a solemn Requiem in memory of the Führer." So, is this "eradicating God from society," or "the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life?" We report, you decide.

Fact Check: Did the Nazis and Catholics "deny our common humanity to many, especially the Jews?"

There's not much doubt about the Nazis here, but the Catholic record bears some repeating. Adolf Hitler grew up in a Catholic family in Catholic Austria, then under an intense Vatican-directed campaign of anti-Semitism. Hitler himself claimed to be inspired by its leader, Karl Lueger, who inflamed passions with lurid tales of Jews murdering Christian children to drink their blood. The hierarchy backed him to the hilt, with Cardinal Schwarzenberg thundering that "I believe that it is time to counteract the defamation of the Church . . . and to carefully investigate these issues involving the Talmud, the Kabbalah, and the blood ritual of the Jews, and to take appropriate measures depending on the result." When Jews were acquitted of these charges in dozens of trials, the Vatican newspaper explained that "It only confirms the conviction that the Jews truly do murder Christians to use their blood in their detestable Talmudic and rabbinical rites, and that to help them conceal these crimes, as well as for others no less atrocious, the judiciary is entirely in the synagogue's control."

The official Jesuit newspaper Civilta Cattolica crowed that "The most practical remedy, the one most readily available and most effective, is in that revolt against the Judaic yoke which the Social Christians of Vienna and Austria have mounted, a revolt that has given and that continues to give a splendid example to all Catholic towns and villages … With the municipal elections of 1895, it chased the Jews and their lackeys from City Hall, and now, with the latest elections taking place under Jewish suffrage, it has already largely cleared them out. Tyrannical Judaism has been defeated there … and victory won by the Catholics of Vienna and Austria."

After Hitler took power, he made good on his promises to crack down on Germany's Jews. As described in What's a Jew? a couple of months ago, this involved the often difficult task of figuring out who was and was not a Jew. Germany's Catholic Church sprang to action, opening its vast collection of marriage and birth records to the Nazis to help them sort out Aryans from Jews; the Nazi decree that Jews must wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing was borrowed directly from an earlier law in effect in the Papal States.

Space is too short to deal with the question of whether Pope Pius XII did or did not do "enough" to oppose the Jewish holocaust, most of the dirty work of which was performed by Catholics. There is no doubt, though, that the Vatican was actively complicit in the genocide of Orthodox Christians in Croatia who refused to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope. Even the Nazis were appalled by the Catholic brutality there; German General Lothar Rendulic estimated that the "beastly persecution of the Orthodox" took over half a million lives. A Berlin newspaper criticized Germany's own staunchest ally in 1944: "An extraordinary ecclesiastical struggle is going on in Croatia. The Ustashi Government is persecuting the Orthodox Church and is trying to convert as many Orthodox people as possible to Catholicism by means of intimidation and all kinds of devices."

Then there were the hundreds of thousands of humanists the Nazi and Catholic-backed Franco regime slaughtered in Spain, and perhaps 750,000 Ethiopians that Mussolini killed, with the fervent backing of the Church – not because they were black, but because, like the Orthodox, they were Christians who did not swear allegiance to the Pope. So did the Nazis and Catholics "deny our common humanity to many, especially the Jews?" We report, you decide.

Related articles:

  1. Most US Catholics think Pope Benedict should not resign
  2. What's a Jew?
  3. Benedict "Won't be intimidated" by calls for justice


Why young adults change their religious beliefs

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 10:44 AM PDT

Your religious beliefs, like many aspects of personality, tend to crystallise in your late teens and early adulthood. It's a period of tremendous change but, once set, few people undergo and radical changes.

Even so, some kids change, while others do not. It's interesting to speculate on why that might be. What separates the changers from those who stay the same? Is it genetics, or is it environment?

A recent study has looked at this using data from two twin studies in Colorado, USA. The basic idea is simple: they measured religiosity at around 12-18 years old, and then again around 5 years later.

By comparing identical twins with non-identical twins, you can estimate the importance of three factors contributing to the change:

  • Genetics (what's shared by identical twins but not non-identical ones),
  • Family or shared environment (what's shared by twins after you take out the genetic component, but not shared by individuals not brought up together)
  • Non-shared environment (what's left, which is basically whatever it is that causes twins to be different).

Now, it has to be said that there are a lot of caveats to these kinds of studies. The gene-environment interaction is complicated, and the effect of genes in one environment likely differs from the effect in another – including another genetic environment (i.e. the same gene will have different effects in different people).

There's an additional problem when linking genes to personality. The classic example is genes for skin colour. Your skin colour affects the way people treat you, which in turn affects your personality. Gene linkage studies would show that your personality is genetically determined, whereas in truth its the environment (i.e. social prejudice) which is causing the effect!

All in all, lessons from gene studies in Colorado, where the population is mostly religious but undergoing change, do not necessarily apply to Pakistan or Sweden.


Click for larger version.

That said, take a look at what they found. For those Colorado kids who kept their religious beliefs as they moved into adulthood, the major influence was their family. Not too surprising- your family environment is a major, constant factor.


Interestingly, however genes only play a minor role – especially when it comes to the importance of religion in their lives. Keeping the faith is largely a function of family pressure.

Looking at what lies behind changing religious beliefs, you can see that the external environment (the stuff that one twin is exposed to but the other is no) plays a vital role. Change is driven by outside influence.

But it's also driven by genetics – and to a greater extent than religious stability. What this seems to indicate is that some effect of genetics is critical to changing beliefs.

In the case of these Colorado kids, the most common change (in common with kids elsewhere in the USA) was a decrease in religious attendance and also in the importance attached to religion.

So some kids are genetically predisposed to shift their beliefs. Unfortunately, what this study doesn't tell us is why. Perhaps these genes somehow lead to a rejection of religious worldview. That's certainly a possibility.

But I wonder whether perhaps some kids are just born to be different. Perhaps these kids are becoming non-religious because it shocks the old folks. Perhaps, in a world of atheists, these would be the kids picking up religion!


ResearchBlogging.orgButton TM, Stallings MC, Rhee SH, Corley RP, & Hewitt JK (2010). The Etiology of Stability and Change in Religious Values and Religious Attendance. Behavior genetics PMID: 20711848

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Related articles:

  1. Young evangelicals are greener… but no more liberal
  2. Colorado's Religious Bill of Rights: Religious Insurgents' Latest Assault on Schools
  3. Blink and you'll miss it (depending, of course, on your religious beliefs)



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