Secularists in the UK are outraged after Pope Benedict XVI seemed to associate atheism with Nazism during his speech to Queen Elizabeth II yesterday.
The BBC reports that humanists in the country have called the Pope’s remarks a “terrible libel” against nonbelievers.
The Pope, speaking at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, talked first of a wartime “Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society.” Then he said the UK should guard itself against “aggressive forms of secularism.”
However, the Catholic Church has played down the Pope’s words, saying the Pope knew “rather well what the Nazi ideology is about.”
The British Humanist Association condemned the Pope’s remarks. In a statement, it said: “The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis that led to their extremist and hateful views or that it somehow fuels intolerance in Britain today is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in God.
“The notion that it is nonreligious people in the UK today who want to force their views on others, coming from a man whose organisation exerts itself internationally to impose its narrow and exclusive form of morality and undermine the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others, is surreal.”
The Pope’s speech contained the paragraph:
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 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.”
And later in his speech he referred to “aggressive” secularism as he said:
Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
The four-day visit by Pope Benedict to the UK – which began yesterday – has never been without controversy. Yesterday, a senior cardinal was called on to apologize after he likened England to a Third World Country.
Earlier this week, 50 notables from the worlds of science and the arts – including Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman – signed an open letter condemning the state visit, which has put a burden on the British taxpayer.
Meanwhile, nuns and monks have been frisked and their robes and habits scrupulously checked by police in London today as Pope Benedict begins the second day of his state visit.