August 06, 2005

The Vatican's Nazi Neutrality: Condemnable or Commendable?

I was recently watching a rerun of the theologically confused and irreverent movie Dogma when one of the characters made a jab at the Vatican's policy of "neutrality" toward Nazi Germany. This is an often-heard complaint against the "church," and in the minds of the critics would probably fit into the "atrocities committed" category. That is to say, Christianity has supposedly perpetrated more acts of war and oppression than any other cause, and standing aside while Hitler architected and executed his pogrom is just one more example of its true immoral character. Leaving aside the larger issue of Christianity's real record for now, I'd like to make an observation regarding this "neutrality" charge.

Regardless of whether it is true that the church remained silent, the implication is that the church should have spoken out against the aggression and atrocities of Nazi Germany. Indeed, it should have sounded the alarm and led some sort of resistance effort as soon as Hitler's agenda became clear. Now think with me what the skeptic is implying about the obligation of the church. He is saying that if it is really Christ's body and a moral institution, then it should be in the vanguard of social activism. But this is an odd stance given the modern position on "separation of church and state," which these accusers most surely support.

When the church in present times raises its head to speak out against what it sees as atrocities and social decay, it is beaten down for "politicizing" its "articles of faith." Now, my question to them is this: Ought we to be permitted (yea, expected) to be active in shepherding society toward the good, even if that means political activism? Or should we keep to our enclaves, even if the world around us descends into anarchy? The latter option means that the Vatican did the right thing (assuming the original premise) and is to be commended. It also means that the church should have taken no sides in the slavery or civil rights debates, among other issues. However, I don't think this is really what the skeptic is implying. There are really no complaints when Christian activists happen to take the same side of an issue as the skeptic. When is the last time you heard a secularist complain when a liberal church lobbied in favor of a pro-choice or same-sex marriage cause?

I think our detractors instinctively know that if the church is what it claims to be, that it should be leading the charge for social justice and charity. The real problem is that they don't agree with what side classical Christianity comes down on regarding some particular social issues. Unless they wish to put themselves in the awkward position of admitting an absolute moral standard by which they can judge Christian stances, they must, as outsiders, take our causes as they come. Either we do or do not have the right to speak our minds. Either Christianity has a place at the table (perhaps even duties there) or it does not. If not, they can't accusingly ask things like, "Where's the church on the environmental crisis; or where's the church on class struggles; or why didn't the church speak out against Hitler?" If we do have a place at the table, then let them stop clouding the discussion over issues on which secularists don't like our particular position; and it will be a matter of dumb luck for them if we happen to come down on the same side of any issue as they.



At 8/15/2005 4:26 PM, Blogger Vman said...

I liked dogma. Especially how one should take religion to be a set of ideas rather than a belief.

At 8/15/2005 5:22 PM, Blogger Paul said...

That was a comment regarding religion. So, was that a "belief," which you are proposing as truth, or just an "idea" for my amusement?


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