Fools on Parade: No Respect For Non-Believers

Errare humanum est. Being incoherent catholicum.

Inconsistency in incoherence. This appears to be the main guideline of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Offer some kind of openness towards atheists, agnostics and rationalists… then offend them?

A new attack by the pope against atheism: “it disfigures men and creation.” It was launched during the audience at the Vatican to the Italian diplomatic corps, on the occasion of the traditional wishes for the new year. According to the pope, the “deep roots” of the economic world crisis reside in the “actual selfish and materialistic mentality,” a mentality that, says Benedict, might also “threaten the creation.” As an example of the damage that can be caused, the pope has recalled the fall of the Berlin wall and the “fall of materialistic and the atheistic regimens which had been ruling half the European continent for decades.”

On the 9th of November, 1989, as he thinks that, “it was possible to measure the deep injuries that an economic and social scheme, which is not based on the actual Truth of mankind, can provoke: not only damaging people’s freedom and dignity, but also nature, by polluting the soil, water and air.”

According to the pope, then, “the denial of God disfigures the freedom of human beings and also devastates the creation.”

Benedict XVI also stated that “in some countries, mainly Western ones, in the political and cultural environments, as well as communication ones, a sense of meagre consideration and, sometimes, hostility against traditional religion, mainly the Christian one, are common.”

The risk would be to “conceive secularism only in terms of exclusion or, more precisely, in terms of refusal of the social importance of the religious facts”. Such an approach, says the pope, “would create struggle and division, hurt the peace, pollute the human ecology and, by refusing, by principle, the different attitudes, it turns out to be a one-way-only trail”.

It is vital, he says, to “define a positive secularism, an open one, that, based on the right autonomy between the material and the spiritual order, can encourage a sane cooperation and a common sense of mutually shared responsibility”. Quoting the Lisbon Treaty, he hoped that “Europe can always draw on sources of Christian identity”. He concluded his speech by saying that “the wait for salvation, that touches the whole of creation, is even more intense in everyone’s heart, believers or not”.

A question is naturally raised: is this respect or atheophobia? The religion the pope is the maximum exponent of, has never treated in a honourable way those who had different ideas: the more heterodox the ideas were, the more they were banned and their “puppeteer” was persecuted and how much those who not only had doubts on the Church’s Magisterium, but have also dragged themselves out of the actual Christianity and the tout-court religion itself were persecuted!

How to forget Thomas of Aquinus, considered even today, the highest theological authority in history, who said, in his work called “Summa Theologiae”, that people who can be defined as atheists “deserve to be removed from the world by means of death”? How to forget that, according to these doctrinal notions, uncountable inquisitorial tribunals and secular institutions have worked together to burn a fathomless number of human lives?

We are not here to rehash past events but it is necessary to realize how “far” and “episodic” the punishments inflicted on dissenters can be, especially after hearing the opinions that the pope, together with many other exponents of the Catholic Church, have supported in recent times. It is difficult to fully distinguish between respect and atheophobia towards the atheists.

In recent years, the pope has stated, more than once, that “without God, men lose their greatness, their dignity, they are far from themselves, somehow alienated from themselves”. Their destiny “can only be the desolation of agony that leads to desperation”: the atheist, who is naturally (according to the pope) “bereaved of orientation” can just “end up on the wrong paths with destructive means. Men, in their interiority and their exteriority, cannot be fully understood if they are not recognized as part of a transcendental scheme”.

Benedict XVI also criticized the laws concerning homosexual unions and gay weddings that were recently approved in some European and American countries. He obviously referred to Portugal, the Federal district of Mexico City and Argentina, where homosexual weddings have become fully legal.

“Creatures are different among each other – he said – and they can be protected or, on the contrary, exposed to risks in different ways, as daily experience teaches us. One of these attacks comes from laws or projects that, in the name of an alleged fight against discrimination, can hurt the biological principle of difference between the sexes”. “I refer – he added – to some European or American countries. Freedom – he explained – cannot be absolute, because the man is not like God, but he’s simply the image of God, his creature. The path men have to follow can’t be their will or wishes, but it has to be, instead, to match the structure planned by the Lord”.

Basically, if you are homosexual, then you are not human, since God hasn’t projected you in the “human” way.

“When God is missing”, Benedict says, “the contrasts become irreconcilable, because it is not even possible to drive those ethical values that may grant a coexistence worthy of men into a civil society”. On the contrary, the pope reckons that it is the hope for an otherworldly existence that allows men “not to hide themselves in a pointlessly paralysing nihilism and triggers a generous commitment to the society they live in”.

A very nice statement, definitely coherent with the Catholic Church’s principles, but totally unrelated to Western cultural identity. In fact, pope Ratzinger is simply “forgetting” what Plato and Aristotle would reckon about the constitution of a civil society. Those ethical values that the pope refers to the divine work of God are the basis of the society. Therefore, his statement is nothing more than a big philosophical contradiction: it is impossible to implant the values inside a civil society, but without these values society itself can’t be constituted.

Modern thinkers believe, that even when accepting the existence of God, ethical principles don’t belong to the religious sphere of reality, since they are raised in accordance with the development of human attitudes. This can be false only in one case: accepting the idea of a transcendental fatalistic predestination, operated by God. In this case the human right to choose would be inconsistent and it would be impossible to implant values in and out of the society, while, on the other hand, there wouldn’t be distinction in beliefs. Atheists still exist, though.

It seems that the pope considers atheism as some sort of “bad company” which is the cause of every form of negativity: everything which is wrong in the world is then atheist. Even what is said to be the Supreme Evil: Nazism, which is conceived as an atheist dictatorship.

During his visit to Israel, the pope claimed that “so many Jews, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends were brutally murdered by a godless regime in Auschwitz”. Then he also promoted the antithesis between “Christian humanism, that bestrides the whole of our history” and the “atheist humanism, that would find its biggest and most evident externalization in the Nazi concentration camps, which can be considered extreme symbols of evil, and of hell opened on earth when people forget God and replace Him with material idols, preventing the Lord to choose what’s aright and what’s not, life and death”.

Ratzinger has certainly seen Nazism with his own eyes and fought it with his own hands, but he didn’t utter a single word to underline how the Catholic Church subscribed a concordat (regularly and authoritatively signed by the new pope Pius XII) with Hitler, exactly six months after the moustached leader had risen to power. The German Catholic party, called “Zentrum”, voted to grant full powers to the fuhrer, which the Vatican endorsed by its sequent dissolution, encouraging the confluence of many catholic exponents to the ranks of the Nazi party. We can think of Franz von Papen, deputy registrar of the fuhrer himself.

Besides, the Catholic Church did actually support many Nazi schemes in Europe. The Slovak one was even led by a Monsignor and, sadly, Ratzinger himself, as an ex Wehrmacht soldier, had to wear a belt that said “Gott mitt uns” (“God is with us”).

These might simply be “atheist” limits, but the words used by the ecclesiastic hierarchies against non-believers are extremely heavy: it is difficult to spot any single sign of respect. It is an authentic demonization of those who don’t belong to the Catholic Church: is it just a coincidence that, in order to take part to the catholic community, it is necessary to undergo a ritual which includes the explicit denial of Satan?

Maybe they don’t realize it, but they are vilifying the dignity of non-believers: sometimes they even deny they belong to the human race and it is clear that denying this logically means, as following step, they are denied human rights.

At the end of the day, there are about one billion non-believers in the world, as many as there are Christians. We all should wonder what respect really is.

Alessandro De Arcangelis was born in Naples, Italy. He published two books, “Un’Elitaria Democrazia” and “Zampa di Gatto” and worked with several magazines and newspapers. His interests vary from humanities to music, from philology to IT. He attended the classical literature and philology university in Milan, Italy.