UNC law professor and blogger Eric Muller took strong exception to what the Pope said at Auschwitz on May 28.
Muller’s argument, which earned a collegial link from InstaPundit, is interesting if not always informed, so I thought I’d present its salient points, together with my own observations and the more astute comments from people who visited his essay and took time to observe what he did not.
Muller starts with an ad hominem gambit, which to a guy like me is tantamount to shouting “en garde!”p>His jibe: br> /p>
When the white smoke told the world that Josef Ratzinger had been elected pope, it took some of us a moment or two to get our minds around the idea that the College of Cardinals had elevated a childhood member of the Hitler Youth to one of the world’s leading positions of moral leadership.br> That Muller in the next sentence acknowledges that Ratzinger had been “no teenaged Nazi” does not dilute the weapons-grade disdain of that opening salvo. You’d never know from Muller’s essay that young Ratzinger had been an unwilling Hitler Youth, or that he later deserted from the German army into which he had been conscripted.
Muller’s main disappointment with the Pope’s Auschwitz statement is that for him (and, to be fair, for a few others as well), it implies that Benedict’s understanding of the Nazi chapter of modern German history “does not even rise to the level of the ordinary,” and this because (Muller says) “Ratzinger is out at the self-absolving fringes of his generation on the question of German responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich.”
Ignorant fecklessness is an especially provocative charge to level at a moral and spiritual leader whom more than a billion people esteem as a shepherd of souls and successor to Peter, but there’s more. Muller also claims that the Pope “proved himself incapable of understanding the Holocaust as a crime against the Jews.”
Muller knows how to build an argument, and in support of his main thesis, he goes on to assert that Benedict wrongly sees Nazi motivation as essentially theological rather than grounded in bogus racial “science.” Certainly Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels were not theologians (they weren’t scientists, either), but that does not mean that their National Socialism cannot be viewed theologically. That a scholarly Pope might view history through a theological lens, or that bogus science is frequently justified by appeals to equally bogus metaphysics, seems not to have occurred to Muller.
The law professor took particular umbrage at this statement of the Pope’s, reading it as a gross misappropriation: “By destroying Israel, they [the Nazis] ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.”
By “Israel,” of course, the Pope meant not the country, which did not then exist, but the Jewish people.
PHILOSEMITIC CHRISTIANS UNDERSTAND those words as an acknowledgement of the importance of the Jews as God’s chosen people, from whom came not only Divine (Mosaic) Law but also and ultimately Jesus as well. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once put it this way: “In the shadow of the Holocaust, it is both morally imperative and good manners to emphasize the linkage between Judaism and Christianity. But much more is involved than a moral imperative, and certainly much more than good manners. It simply is not possible to understand the Christian story apart from its placement in the Jewish story.”
Muller, however, sees insult where none was intended, lamenting the alleged “degradation” of identifying Judaism as the taproot of Christianity, as though the effort to eliminate Judaism from the world were not “a complete crime in itself.”
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