Unfortunately, not all have abandoned that assumption — some still believe that the physical suffering of humans can be explained, defended, and justified on the grounds of purification. Very occasionally this principle is applied to oneself, but far more often it is conveniently applied to others. Pope Benedict XVI appears to be a good example because he recently tried to defend the mass slaughter and forced conversion of indigenous tribes in America by European governments because it purified them.
In a speech to Latin American and Caribbean bishops at the end of a visit to Brazil, the Pope said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
They had welcomed the arrival of European priests at the time of the conquest as they were "silently longing" for Christianity, he said.
To claim that there was no imposition of Christianity on people in the Americas is a blatant falsification of history. We might be tempted to wonder if Pope Benedict XVI is totally ignorant of his own church's deplorable history, but that's just not plausible — and it frankly wouldn’t paint him in a much better light. He has to be aware of the crimes of his own church and how, for examples, Catholic priests blessed the conquistadors waging war on indigenous tribes.
This is rather like — and perhaps much worse than — attempts to justify or dismiss rape by claiming that the victim was actually "asking for it" all along. Here, Pope Benedict XVI is dismissing complaints about genocide and forced conversion by saying that the people were really "longing for it." Even worse, Benedict claims that the baptisms that were part of the forced conversions and genocide helped "purify" the indigenous populations.
Thus we have a modern European religious leader claiming quite openly and unashamedly that violence committed in the name of religion can "purify" people. This was an argument once used to justify mass torture slaughter in Europe itself whenever people got the funny idea that maybe they should be allowed to have religious beliefs different from those in charge. Pope Benedict XVI, once Cardinal Josef Ratzinger and head of the Inquisition, is therefore echoing argument formerly used to justify the behavior which gave the Inquisition its bad reputation. Coincidence? Unlikely.
Just how extreme and out-of-touch were Benedict's comments? One way to look at them is to compare them with comments made by others with similar stature and power: Pope John Paul II admitted that "mistakes" were made in the conversion of Native Americans and President George W. Bush openly acknowledged that European colonization was achieved through a terrible cost imposed on indigenous tribes.
Catholics who actually live and work with native Americans have barely hesitated to distance themselves from Benedict: Cimi, an Indian advocacy group within the Brazilian Catholic Church, won't support him for example. Cimi advisor Father Paulo Suess is quoted as saying: "The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible. I too was upset."
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez wants Pope Benedict XVI to apologize:
"How can the Pope say that the evangelization was not imposed," said Chavez. "Then why did our indigenous people have to flee to the jungles and the mountains?" he asked. ..."What happened here was much worse than the holocaust in the Second World War, and no one can deny us that reality," said Chavez. "Not even his Holiness can come here to our land and deny the holocaust of the indigenous people."
Chavez referred to the work of the Spanish Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas, who denounced the genocide of the indigenous people in the 16th Century. "Christ came to America much later. He didn't arrive with Columbus, the anti-Christ came with Columbus," stated Chavez, who went on to ask the Pope to apologize for his error. "Just like the Catholic Church has recognized errors, as a descendant of those martyr Indians that died by the millions, I ask, with all respect, your Holiness, apologize, because here there was a real genocide," Chavez pleaded.
Source: Venezuela Analysis
I don't know if the slaughter of indigenous tribes in America really was "much worse than" the Holocaust in Europe, but it's quite reasonable for the people today to regard their history as being at least as horrible. Benedict's remarks are thus reasonably interpreted as being not too different from an attempt to deny that the Nazis really did commit try to exterminate the Jews and Judaism.
Such denials of great crimes are significant because they make it easier to commit the same crimes again. First, denial ensures that the beliefs and ideology behind the original genocide are able to survive and continue informing people's actions. Second, denial makes it easier to pretend that what was done in the past wasn't really criminal at all. The actions were, instead, justified as self-defense, as something that the victims really wanted, etc.
Remember, though, that it's atheists who are arrogant, intolerant, and unreasonable for presuming to think that perhaps no gods and exist and, even worse, for say aloud that believing in gods is irrational. Such positions are presumptuous, rude, and uncivil. When the most powerful Christian leader in the world, however, insists that victims of forced conversion and genocide were silently "longing" for the Church to come and do what it did, well that's just another example of how reasonable, rational, and socially useful Christianity continues to be.
Pope Benedict XVI isn't some fringe lunatic whose views and statements don't matter; he's the epitome of "reasonable" religion. He can say and do such things with impunity — the press in America barely even mentioned his comments. For an atheist to speak out, though, would be an atrocity of the highest magnitude. Atheists who speak out are militants and no different from bomb-throwing fundamentalists.