Pope Benedict XVI launched his visit to Britain in style by blaming atheists and atheism for Nazi atrocities, completely ignoring the widespread complicity of Catholics and Catholicism in Nazism and the Holocaust. The fact that Hitler openly opposed and oppressed atheism doesn't matter. The fact that Nazi government explicitly promoted Christianity doesn't matter. The fact that just about everything the Nazis did to the Jews they borrowed from past Catholic practices doesn't matter.
Because, you know, facts just don't matter when you're the pope. It's easier to blame outsiders who are already dislike than to face your own complicity in past crimes. It also helps deflect attention from current crimes, a problem the Catholic Church has in a big way. Maybe that's why Pope Benedict decided to single out atheists in this speech -- in 2005, he merely blamed liberal democracy for the rise of fascism and thus the Holocaust.
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. I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives.
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".
Source: Posterous [emphasis added]
Atheist extremism, eh? Was "atheist extremism" behind the medieval Catholic Church's decision to force Jews to live in ghettos, restrict them to certain occupations, require them to wear yellow badges, and generally oppress them as second class citizens? Was "atheist extremism" behind Martin Luther's recommendation that Jews be driven from Germany or even killed? No, that was Christianity all the way -- and when the Nazi government adopted all those Christian measures against the Jews, it was easy for German Christians to go along with it all because the Nazis were simply continuing traditions that were centuries old.
Was "atheist extremism" behind Hitler's vocal attacks against atheists and atheism? Was "atheist extremism" behind Nazi Party's platform of "Positive Christianity"? Was "atheist extremism" behind Hitler's calls for a return to traditional family and Christian values? Of course not, there wasn't anything "atheist" about any of this, "extremist" or otherwise. Don't forget that Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic and the Roman Catholic never excommunicated him or any Catholic member of the Nazi regime.
These were all consistent with the traditional, conservative Christianity in Germany of this era -- that's why so many conservative Christian voters openly and enthusiastically supported the Nazis. I suppose some atheists must have supported them too, but atheists were probably more likely to support the communists -- and the communists were imprisoned or killed by the Nazis long before they got around to the Jews.
There were no atheist institutions which supported Hitler, the Nazis, or fascism. There were, however, Catholic and Christian leaders and institutions which did exactly that. There are no major atheist leaders today who were once members of any Nazi organizations, but there is at least one major Catholic leader who was: Pope Benedict XVI. For him to attack atheism and atheists for something he himself was once part of is the height of hypocrisy. But like I said, facts just don't matter when you're the pope, do they?