Friday, January 30, 2009

The Problem with the Myths We Create

The Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire in recent days for the lifting of the excomunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, a British Bishop who is a known "Holocaust Denier." Bishop Williamson publically argues that 6-million Jews did not die in the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz and the figure Jews killed in the Second World War is closer to 400,000. Jewish Groups throughout the world are upset and the Pope has been accused of damaging Catholic-Jewish Relations so much to the extent that the Chief Rabbi of Israel has decided to cut ties with the Vatican.

What strikes me about this incident is the fact that the current Pope should be particularly sensetive to charges of anti-semetism and the serious implications that such charges bring. In his youth, the Pope had been a member of the Hitler Youth Movement (though an unenthusiastic one - believing that the tenennts of Nazism came into conflict with Catholicism) and as such had  first hand glance of the horrors of Nazism. This is a Pope, whom the Israeli Forign Minister had judged as being "will be especially commited to the uncompromising fight against Anti-Semetism," when he was first elected. So, why is this Pope now welcoming a known 'holocaust dennier,' back into the arms of the Catholic Church?

I can't read the Pope's mind and my 7-years of studying Christian Theology at Public School does not give me the privillege of claiming to be an expert on the workings of the Vatican. However, I like to believe the best in people - this Pope, I believe is making serious attempts at producing dialogues with other religions and sometimes dialogues can be messy and brutish. In September 2006, he caused allot fo controversy in the Muslim world when he quoted Byzantine Emperor Mauel II Paleologus - who accused the Prophet Mohamed of only spreeding evil. The Islamic world got very upset - the Pope was denounced as being "Anti-Islam," and yet this Anti-Islamic Pope prayed in Turkey's Blue Mosque and more importantly played an important role in the creation of the "The Catholic-Muslim Forum," which was held from November 4-6 2008. 

Is the Pope admitedly provocative action of reinstating Bishop Williamson a step in bringing Catholic-Jewish relations of a new level? I don't know - I think only time can tell. However, I hope it is. Hopefully this Pope's actions will allow both Jews and Gentiles to look at their relations in a more rational manner without the emotional bagage of past histories. This Pope is not "Anti-Israel." He has declared that the "destruction of Israel is the destruction of Christianity." So why is he lifting the excomunication of someone who is a known "Holocaust Denier." I suspect that what he hopes to bring the Nazi Holocaust into its proper context -namely to ensure that the Holocaust becomes a historical event that we examine, discuss and learn from rather than what it is - a religious taboo. 

I don't doubt that Jewish people have a reason to be upset when it comes to the Holocaust. Whether you believe 6 million or 2 million or 400,000 died, a crime against humanity was comitted. Hitler, in his book, Mein Kampf openly blames the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War 1 and it was clear that he had every intention of doing harm to the Jewish people who lived in Germany and Eastern Europe. I believe that humanity needs to keep up the fight to ensure that such a crime does not take place again.

Having said all of that, it puzzles me why the Holocaust against the victims of Nazism should be mythologised to an extent that it becomes a criminal offense in many European countries that pride themselves in having "Freedome of Speech" to even question the "Official" version of what happened. David Irvine went to jail for suggesting that the figure of Jews gassed in the chambers of Auschwitz was closer to 2 million rather than the stated 6 - he did not suggest that nobody died in the gas chambers and 2 million is still allot of people (Crime against humanity.) By contrast you never hear of anyone going to jail for suggesting that Mao might have been misjudged (Only killed a mere 50 million Chinese - same as the entire battlefield casualties of World War II) or that Stalin (Killed at least 40 million) was in actualy fact a kindly old uncle best beloved by his people. 

Mythologising the Holocaust to this extent is unhealthy. It makes a mockery of the values that people who faught against the Holocaust claim to stand for. For example, you cannot lecture the Muslim world on how they must understand that the importance of "Freedom of Speech" when they protest over cartoons that insult the Prophet Mohammed, when you would happily jail a man who questioned the exact figure of casualties in the chambers of Auschwitz. 

Secondly, it becomes something of an emotional crutch in the relations between nations. Europeans for example remain unable to have a logical dialogue with Israel because they're constantly reminded of their history against the Jewish people. When any American or European politician suggest they're concerned by Israel's actions in the Gaza strip, they'll be denounced for war crimes against Israel. This is unhealthy - modern Europe is not the Europe of the 1940s and has been a great force for peace and an ally of Israel and yet it remains unable to have an honest dialogue with Israel

Most importantly and ironically, mythologising events detracts from the value they posses. to society. When they become myths that are exempt from scrutiny, suddenly their credibility dissapears. What do you believe more?

Example A

q - How did you know 6 million people died?
a - I was told so

Example B

 q - How did you know 6 million people died?
a -  Because if you read xyz, look at exhibit erc etc etc. 

Everytime you confront an argument, you have two options. You can denounce it or you can accept it and provide evidence for your own argument. The problem with the first one is that denoucements can leave you open to the charges that you're views are based on blind faith rather than fact. On the other hand, if you have a better argument you should revel in it. 

Hopefully, once the the furor over the Pope's lifting of Bishop Williamson's excomunication is lifted, we can sit down and overcome our fear of presenting the case for one of the worst crimes against humanity in human history.....

1 comment:

Liberator_Rev said...

Good point. So, if you're interested in the reasons holocaust denial is irrational, check out LiberalslikeChrist.Org/Catholic/holocaustdenial.html