For anyone following the Pope’s state visit to the U.K., and all the controversy surrounding it, here’s some more fuel for the fire: In his Holyroodhouse speech today, the first official speech since his arrival, the Pope at one point compared atheism to Nazism.
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 the 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” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
Maybe the Pope was a bit put off by a recent letter signed by noted British humanists like Stephen Fry, Terry Pratchett, and Richard Dawkins saying, among other things, “We reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.” The letter then went on to list the Church’s many abuses against human rights, including its opposition to birth control, abortion and gay rights.
I find it odd that Ratzinger, himself once part of the Hitler Youth, would make such a comparison. And I'm certainly not willing to cede the moral high ground to a man who has dedicated his life to protecting child molesters, a man who, if there were in fact a just and loving God, would have been shot dead and left to rot on a German battlefield more than 60 years ago.
On a side note, Hitler had an extremely complicated relationship with the Christian faith, and was almost certainly not an atheist. Take a speech he gave in Stuttgart in February 1933:
Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity. Fourteen years they have gone arm in arm with atheism. At no time was greater damage ever done to Christianity than in those years when the Christian parties ruled side by side with those who denied the very existence of God. Germany's entire cultural life was shattered and contaminated in this period. It shall be our task to burn out these manifestations of degeneracy in literature, theater, schools, and the press—that is, in our entire culture—and to eliminate the poison which has been permeating every facet of our lives for these past fourteen years.
Back in 2003, Timothy Ryback wrote a great article for The Atlantic titled “Hitler’s Forgotten Library: The Man, His Books, and His Search for God” which includes the following memorable passage:
As I traced the penciled notations, I realized that Hitler was seeking a path to the divine that led to just one place. Fichte asked, "Where did Jesus derive the power that has held his followers for all eternity?" Hitler drew a dense line beneath the answer: "Through his absolute identification with God." At another point Hitler highlighted a brief but revealing paragraph: "God and I are One. Expressed simply in two identical sentences—His life is mine; my life is his. My work is his work, and his work my work."