Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Theism and genocide

The Christian — at least the theologically and intellectually honest Christian* — must hold that what shocks his conscience is not that Hitler intentionally and deliberately slaughtered ten million people in death camps, but only that he did so without first securing priestly approval. (And that he did not actually win; had Hitler won, the Christians would have been quick to provide theological cover.)

*Both of them

28 comments:

  1. Hitler provided ample material in Mein Kampf, his speeches, oaths... to military uniforms etc. all referring to God given Nazi destiny and mission to destroy Jews etc. as well as as making giving the Catholic Priests the same status and rights as Nazi party members to have made it very easy for churches - especially the Catholics - to have endorsed the genocide should the Nazis have won.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're gonna have to spell this one out for me bb. Why would his not having secured priestly approval before-hand be shocking to the Christian conscience, or that he did not win the war?

    Also

    "Had Hitler won, the Christians would have been quick to provide theological cover."

    While this may apply to many Nazi-era German Christians, the statement is an over-generalization. What about Bonhoeffer and members of the Confessing Church?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not sure I understand your question, Reuben.

    If a Christian believes that moral and immoral is what God declares moral and immoral, then he can have no moral opinion about the mere fact of an act genocide: he must determine whether or not God declared that act moral or immoral: we cannot determine moral or immoral without direct reference to what God declares.

    To put it another way, a Christian cannot simply say: "It is an act of genocide, and therefore wrong." Instead he must say, in one way or another, "God told me this act of genocide is wrong." Without the reference to God, a Christian cannot have a moral belief about any act or state of affairs.

    Furthermore, we know from Christian scripture that God can and has commanded acts or approved of of genocide, slavery, rape, incest, assault, racism, misogyny and murder (not to mention acts off pure insanity). Therefore, genocide, etc. are only sometimes wrong; they are not universally wrong, and a Christian cannot declare them wrong on general scriptural principles.

    Had Hitler won the Second Global Imperialist War and exercised lasting temporal power, the general thrust of institutional Christianity would have discovered that God really did approve of death camps and mass killings, and persecuted dissenters who condemned such killings as heretics.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Larry,

    I have read everything on your site referencing MESR. I had long looked for a coherent way to approach subjectivism, and I consider MESR to be the best that I have seen.

    When I have debated Christians, I tend to emphasize the meta-ethical aspect of MESR (which gets nowhere with theists.) I like the way you use the more normative aspect of your ethics to turn the table on theists. They of course develop their ethics in the same world as we do and are under the same restraints that MESR puts on all of us. But by "preferring" to use the "will" of god as their base, they are, ironically, more susceptible to inconstancy than someone who honestly understands their own desires and can rationally examine the world around them. By trying to work out how to live today based on someone else's interpretation of scattered writing filtered through priestly hands over thousands of years, is it any wonder that theistic ethics is so divergent and such a mess.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm glad you like my work, Chris. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Okay, I take your point, especially in light of your previous post.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I hope there are no hard feelings, Reuben. I wasn't being sarcastic or dismissive: I really wasn't sure I understood your question, and just clarified as best I could.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Joseph Scaliger6/19/09, 6:58 AM

    "Hitler provided ample material in Mein Kampf, his speeches, oaths... to military uniforms etc. all referring to God given Nazi destiny and mission to destroy Jews etc. as well as as making giving the Catholic Priests the same status and rights as Nazi party members to have made it very easy for churches - especially the Catholics - to have endorsed the genocide should the Nazis have won."

    If Hitler was so Catholic-friendly, why did he kill 2-3 million Roman Catholic Poles?

    ReplyDelete
  9. If Hitler was so Catholic-friendly, why did he kill 2-3 million Roman Catholic Poles?

    That was just a head fake by Hitler, he really didn't mean to kill all those Catholics. I mean how else was he going to get theological cover. This was just an attempt by Hilter to confuse future atheists

    ReplyDelete
  10. "That was just a head fake by Hitler, he really didn't mean to kill all those Catholics. I mean how else was he going to get theological cover. This was just an attempt by Hilter to confuse future atheists"

    LOL!

    ReplyDelete
  11. No one is saying that Hitler acted primarily to gain priestly approval, but that he would have received approval had he won. Obviously killing many polish Catholics would have placed a demerit in his files, but if Hitler had won, the church, as a whole, would have figured out how to work with the government. The church is, and has always been, a political animal, and would have done what was necessary to preserve its status. I am sure they would (and do) prefer to control the governments as much as they can, but they can see the writing on the wall as well as anyone else.

    All one has to do is look at the religious in the USA today to see how this works. Why do you suppose that conservative (and many moderate and liberal) christians see failure to support unfettered free enterprise and capitalism as tantamount to lack of faith? It can't be what is actually in the Bible, since it is far more collectivist than not.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "No one is saying that Hitler acted primarily to gain priestly approval, but that he would have received approval had he won. Obviously killing many polish Catholics would have placed a demerit in his files, but if Hitler had won, the church, as a whole, would have figured out how to work with the government. The church is, and has always been, a political animal, and would have done what was necessary to preserve its status. I am sure they would (and do) prefer to control the governments as much as they can, but they can see the writing on the wall as well as anyone else."

    Chris, which church are you referring to (the lower case "c" is throwing me off)? Anyone familiar with ecclesiastical history (whether they hate Christianity or not) is aware that the "he won, so he was justified" attitude could hardly be considered universal, or even common. Just look at the situation in France, Germany, or Italy in the 19th century. In all three cases, even when it had lost the political battle, the Catholic Church remained intransigent in resisting the victors' claims to political and moral justification. Although settlements were reached eventually, these arrangements often took decades to come into being (i.e. after the initially ideological conflict had died down). One can recognize and even appreciate the democratization brought by the French Revolution without simultaneously approving the quasi-genocidal war against the Vendee. Bismark, Cavour, Victor Emmanuel, and Robespierre were never given "theological cover," so why would Hitler be granted it?

    Anyway, I think you're shifting what was claimed in the post. This is what is disputed: "had Hitler won, the Christians would have been quick to provide theological cover." You seem to shifted it to a question of whether Christians would interact with and try to influence a regnant Nazi government. That a somewhat different issue. If Nazis won WWII, the USA would probably have "figured out how to work with the [foreign] government." Does that mean that the USA is evil?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Just look at the situation in France, Germany, or Italy in the 19th century. In all three cases, even when it had lost the political battle, the Catholic Church remained intransigent in resisting the victors' claims to political and moral justification.

    Sources? References? I'm no historian, but IIRC, all these battles were lost to specifically Protestant-allied governments. The actual details of the rulers' characters — other than their religious loyalties — were irrelevant.

    Had Hitler pressed any opposition to the Catholic Church (the priesthood and the institution, not just a few million irrelevant laity) the Church would have condemned his actions. But had he demonstrated loyalty or even benign neutrality, the Church would have swept the death camps under the rug; they've excused crimes just as bad.

    ReplyDelete
  14. If Nazis won WWII, the USA would probably have "figured out how to work with the [foreign] government." Does that mean that the USA is evil?

    Yes, the US government might well have worked with the Nazi government, especially to make sure communism did not arise.

    But in a way, that is the point. The Catholic Church would also have eventually worked with a victorious Nazi Germany for the same reason--the Catholic Church is first and foremost political. It uses its immense wealth and power to achieve its ends. It will not jeopardize its standing to make a moral point. Or more precisely, it will only make a moral point if it advances (or does not detract from) its political and cultural agenda. In other words, the Church only pushes a moral agenda to the extent that it can do so and keep its central power and authority.

    ReplyDelete
  15. "I'm no historian, but IIRC, all these battles were lost to specifically Protestant-allied governments. The actual details of the rulers' characters — other than their religious loyalties — were irrelevant."

    I'm not sure what you mean by "specifically Protestant-allied governments." France and Italy = Protestant?

    Ever hear of Italian Reunification or the French Revolution? Bismark's Kulturkamph? They're not minor events in European history and religion was one of the key issues involved in each.

    "Had Hitler pressed any opposition to the Catholic Church (the priesthood and the institution, not just a few million irrelevant laity) the Church would have condemned his actions. But had he demonstrated loyalty or even benign neutrality, the Church would have swept the death camps under the rug; they've excused crimes just as bad."

    Hitler already opposed (and killed) members of "the priesthood and the institution" of the Church.
    http://zenit.org/article-26194?l=english
    http://www.holycross.edu/departments/history/vlapomar/hiatt/martyrs.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clemens_August_Graf_von_Galen
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Mayer
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoni_Julian_Nowowiejski
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/108_Martyrs_of_World_War_Two
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Delp
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alois_Grimm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Leisner
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Josef_Metzger
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernhard_Lichtenberg
    Ever hear of Mit Brennender Sorge?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mit_brennender_Sorge
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge_en.html

    A pair of good books on the religio-political events I alluded to in my earlier post are Micheal Burleigh's "Earthly Powers" and "Sacred Causes." Burleigh is a well-respected historian of the Nazi-period. In the "Sacred Causes" he discusses the anti-Catholic activities and propaganda of the Nazi party.
    http://www.amazon.com/Earthly-Powers-ebook/dp/B000W93AYC/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1
    http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Causes/dp/B000W94DFC/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245786426&sr=8-3

    ReplyDelete
  16. "But in a way, that is the point. The Catholic Church would also have eventually worked with a victorious Nazi Germany for the same reason--the Catholic Church is first and foremost political. It uses its immense wealth and power to achieve its ends. It will not jeopardize its standing to make a moral point. Or more precisely, it will only make a moral point if it advances (or does not detract from) its political and cultural agenda. In other words, the Church only pushes a moral agenda to the extent that it can do so and keep its central power and authority."

    Again Chris, there's a difference between establishing diplomatic relations and providing "theological cover."

    Second, are you saying its impossible to push for reform from within a government system or culture? If so, do you advise that Americans secede from the U.S. whenever they feel their government is engaged in something they consider gravely immoral (e.g. the war in Iraq)?

    ReplyDelete
  17. By the way, I accidently gave the kindle pages for Burleigh's books. Here are the correct ones:
    http://www.amazon.com/Earthly-Powers-Religion-Politics-Revolution/dp/0060580941/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245848219&sr=8-2
    http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Causes-Religion-Politics-Terror/dp/0060580968/ref=pd_sim_b_7

    ReplyDelete
  18. Second, are you saying its impossible to push for reform from within a government system or culture?

    You are aware, Alphonsus, that this blog is run by a revolutionary communist?

    ReplyDelete
  19. "You are aware, Alphonsus, that this blog is run by a revolutionary communist?"

    The question was directed at Chris.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I understand. Asking someone in an apparently incredulous tone if they would act contrary to the U.S. government's interests is kind of stupid here. You should *presume* that these sorts of options are on the table here.

    They hypothesis is not falsified by noting that the Church does "good" things, even a lot of good things. The hypothesis would be falsified by showing the Church had a pattern of doing "good" when it was contrary to their political interest, and supported by observing they did evil things when it served their political interest.

    You're obviously a pro-Catholic apologist, and I am very explicitly anti-Catholic and anti-theist. Fundamentally, we have a difference of opinion: I think the Catholic church is filled with evil, hateful men who would do anything, up to and including murder, torture and genocide to keep their power, and its followers at best deluded fucktards and at worst evil people who would sacrifice their children to their deluded fear of hell.

    Furthermore, I'm irritated by your bullshit hyperbole responding to Chris, and the ludicrously false "comply or secede" dichotomy you present.

    You've had your say, you've irritated me enough, now kindly piss off and fuck some Irish children in their Catholic asses.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Asking someone in an apparently incredulous tone if they would act contrary to the U.S. government's interests is kind of stupid here. You should *presume* that these sorts of options are on the table here."

    Didn't Socrates ask questions, sometimes outrageous or annoying ones, in order to draw out his interlocutor's positions/beliefs and its implications?

    Why not let Chris answer for himself? You may be a revolutionary communist, but that doesn't necessarily mean Chris is.

    'Furthermore, I'm irritated by your bullshit hyperbole responding to Chris, and the ludicrously false "comply or secede" dichotomy you present.'

    I thought Chris was the one who was presenting the issues in black and white. He seemed to be equating the establishment of political/diplomatic relationships with moral affirmation. I think you and I both know that there is a whole spectrum of possible positions between complete detachment from government and being a slave of the party.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "You've had your say, you've irritated me enough, now kindly piss off and fuck some Irish children in their Catholic asses."

    Sorry, it's against my beliefs to abuse children. Anyway, check out the books I mentioned. Even if you disagree, you'll probably learn something interesting. Burleigh covers a lot of ground in two volumes.

    A.M.D.G.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Again Chris, there's a difference between establishing diplomatic relations and providing "theological cover."

    Yes, there is a difference, although you do concede that the church is so worldly that it does need to establish diplomatic relations. This is not terribly shocking; all large groups pool their strength to achieve collective goals. But the church, like all nations, will compromise on their principles when it is a matter of survival or when it serves some higher purpose (which is usually defined as a simple increase in power). If the Nazis had won, it is conceivable that the Church would not have supported Hitler at first and there may have been some initial fight for power (although there is much evidence that it would have taken little time for the Pope openly declare Hitler as a legitimate ruler). I am sure that many Catholics would have seen Hitler as an evil no matter what. But, it is almost laughably ludicrous to imagine that the Pope would have ordered all Catholics to openly rebel against the Nazis. I can definitely picture Pope placing a crown on Hitler’s head as the new Holy Roman Emperor, or some such thing. Just one obsequious bow before the Pope might have been all it took.

    Second, are you saying its impossible to push for reform from within a government system or culture? If so, do you advise that Americans secede from the U.S. whenever they feel their government is engaged in something they consider gravely immoral (e.g. the war in Iraq)?

    No it is not impossible. It is not impossible that the Church might have stood up to a victorious Hitler. But true reform is a rare artifact, unless it is dictated by the powers to be. (Slavery became “wrong” about the minute the capitalists realized it was unworkable in an industrial state.) The history of the Church is one of continual compromise with various nations. Whether the church or the state was the master makes no difference--the Church has not been at the forefront of moral improvements. In fact, when the church does put its foot down on some moral question, it tends to be in the most egregiously evil way possible (re:Aids and Condoms in Africa.) When the church does some good, or doesn’t openly condemn something good, they were dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age (re: slavery, science, condom use.)

    I just read this last sentence and almost choked. Even when they purport to do something good (support science, let some people--people in the west--have condoms, etc) they almost always have to burden their own followers with endless encyclicals on how bad, in a way, all of these are--how bad science is, if not tempered by faith, how bad condoms are, even if we do let middle class western Catholics use them)

    ReplyDelete
  24. I thought Chris was the one who was presenting the issues in black and white. He seemed to be equating the establishment of political/diplomatic relationships with moral affirmation. I think you and I both know that there is a whole spectrum of possible positions between complete detachment from government and being a slave of the party.


    Moral affirmations are subjective in that they reflect the state of mind of the person making them. They can be stated in an official context after some subgroup comes to an agreement or compromise.

    I have no doubt at the ability of people and groups to explain away compromise, even the most egregious compromise, as a moral victory.

    Yes, the Catholic church would have been somewhere on the ol’ slope between open rebellion against Hitler, and wiping his ass. Let’s just say that I think they would have been a little farther down that slippery slope than you. If you want to provide any relevant evidence otherwise from history, please do so.

    And none of my assessment of where the Church falls on moral grounds has any connection with whether I understand that realpolitik is complicated as is our own moral development. But then again, all the fancy analysis usually leads back to groups just doing what they need to survive, and making up stuff later to justify it.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm getting too irritated with Alphonsus' apologetics for an evil and corrupt institution. This is not a good venue to debate the political and moral integrity of the Catholic Church.

    ReplyDelete
  26. You are right. He is starting the old standby: pretending he is Socrates and only asking questions. It does become tiresome.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Joseph Scaliger6/25/09, 8:56 AM

    Chris, do you have any encyclicals condemning science or affirming slavery that we might read? On the slavery question, I know of several from the age of exploration which condemned the enslavement of native peoples. Sublimus Dei declared that

    "Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect."

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Eugene04/eugene04sicut.htm
    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Paul03/p3subli.htm
    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Greg16/g16sup.htm

    Rodney Stark has written about the ignorance displayed even by professional historians regarding the issue of papal condemnations of slavery.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=cdfT9DfL3x8C&pg=PA329&lpg=PA329&dq=paul+iii+on+slavery&source=bl&ots=txRkTIIh-a&sig=VleCvF9XEYd0urSK5Cmnqh_rEcc&hl=en&ei=IItDSsnLKI7UMr6OkKwC&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4

    In any case, I think burden of proof is on those who made a claim about "what-if" history. If I were to say, "Had the Soviet Union won the Cold War, the atheists would have been quick to provide philosophical cover for Soviet atrocities", would not the burden of proof be on me to provide evidence for such a claim? Or is it a case of "guilty until proven innocent"?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Enough! You have had the last word, Joseph. Comments are locked for this thread.

    ReplyDelete