The Pope, Benedict XVI (nee Joseph Ratzinger) sort of put his foot in it last week, suggesting that atheism leads to the devaluing of human life, and that this in turn leads to such nastiness as the Holocaust and the Nazi regime:
“Even in our own lifetimes 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 atheist extremism of the 20th 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 a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.”
Sure, his job involves pushing the idea that God is necessarily part of a fulfilling life—such sentiments are to be expected. But it’s something else, in my opinion, to imply that atheism leads to the kind of heinous philosophies of Hitler et al. The only way to join the dots and get from A to B is by assuming that it is only by following the tenets of the Bible (or the Church itself, which ultimately leads back to the Pope anyway) that one can be a truly moral person and not a murderous sociopath.
Of course, being involved in the protection of child abusers is a totally different matter.
This is the man who was a member of the Hitler Youth. More importantly, this is the man who, in his later years, helped to protect a known child abuser who had tied up and molested two boys in 1978. Regarding the priest’s potential defrocking (not to mention any referral to the authorities), then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote this in 1985:
“This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.”
(The “petitioner” was Stephen Kiesle, the man who molested the two boys. He was 38 at the time.)
In other words, sure, we’re dealing with a child molester here, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that this man needs our protection, as does the Church’s reputation.
In 1985, Kiesle became a youth minister at another parish. It was not until 1987 that Kiesle was defrocked. The Diocese eventually reached monetary settlements with eight of his victims.
Yet Ratzinger has the gall to paint atheists with the “Nazi” brush, while there’s a general accusation of a witch-hunt mentality against the Church, likening it to antisemitism. This is demonisation of the worst kind, simultaneously avoiding responsibility for past deeds while accusing of gross discrimination those insisting the Church be held accountable. “I’m not the monster! You’re the monsters!”
Most interesting of all is the inconvenient fact that Hitler never renounced his Roman Catholicism, speaking openly about his professed Christianity. The Nazis, in fact, were explicitly hostile towards atheism. But no, let’s just ignore all that and pretend that Nazism was an atheist movement.
Given all this very ugly rhetoric directed at atheism by an organisation as backwards-looking, corrupt, hypocritical and self-serving as the Catholic Church, I cannot stay silent regarding my own beliefs (or lack thereof). 1 in 4 Australians are Catholic, as per the 2006 census, presumably taking their cues from a man who misleads his followers about the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV (while en route to Africa, no less). Roughly 2 in 3 Australians are Christian. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised within churches here regarding the potential problems of having a Prime Minister who is a non-believer, as if being a Christian were a necessary condition for being moral.
Saying “I’m not really religious”—a sort of vague catchall remark that indicates general apathy—is not too controversial in Australia. But the “atheist” label is still a bit of an uncomfortable fit when facing the wider society. Until such a label is gladly self-applied without shame by those for whom it applies, such a stigma will continue.
So, I’m going to “come out of the closet” and say it: I’m an atheist.
That’s not to say my worldview is cold or heartless. I enjoy the poetry, imagery and symbolism of the Bible, as I do with many other sacred texts. I find awe-inspiring beauty and elegance in the universe, from the formation of stars to the operation of the human brain. I love life and enjoy each day.
What I certainly don’t do is round up Jews in my spare time. Nor am I involved in stigmatising homosexuality (unlike the Catholic Church, who seems ideologically aligned with Nazi Germany in this regard).
So while it’s nice to know that a man with roughly one billion followers worldwide is willing to make authoritative statements implying that my moral compass is lacking in a regard for humanity, it still irks that such a self-serving hypocrite wields so much power. It’s not Jesus I have a problem with—it’s the man who claims to speak for Him.