Pope Benedict’s recent lifting of excommunication on Bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier, raises the question of whether Holocaust denial is a position that a reasonable person can simply arrive at by a dispassionate survey of the evidence, or whether it is an Antisemitic passion that hides behind the pretenses of “objectivity” and “reason.”
I argue that it is a passion, divorced from rationality, and an abysmal moral failure.
Put differently: If an intelligent person denies that the Holocaust occurred, it is not for want of compelling and diverse historical lines of evidence. It is because of emotional and psychological perversity. To be a Holocaust denier is not to be a dispassionate observer of historical truth, but a person possessed of a soul-warping animus toward Jews.
It is, in other words, to assert a position that is utterly without WARRANT, and to do so out of a profound prejudice.
Reasonable people do not disagree about whether the Holocaust occurred, or what the vast range of converging pieces of evidence tell us about its scope. It is unreasonable people that drive “debate”—insofar as debate occurs—on this matter.
Holocaust denial is thus, in its intellectual content, analogous to a person or group that denies that the earth is round, or that asserts “young earth creationism” (the denial that the earth is old and that plants and animals have changed over time). In “flat earthism” and “young earth creationism,” dispassionate presentations of superficially “rational arguments” simply mask a passion for a literalist reading of the Bible.
Like “flat earthism” and “young earth creationism,” Holocaust denial also constitutes the rejection (or malicious distortion) of vast and multiple lines of evidence that converge upon a compelling and reasonable conclusion. In the case of the Holocaust, no reasonable person denies that approximately six million Jews were systematically, and with genocidal intent on the part of the Nazi government, killed during World War II.
The lines of evidence that prove the Holocaust occurred require far more space than an entry here could possibly lay out, but there are books readily available that make these lines of evidence accessible to any truth seeking lay person of average intelligence.
One of these books is by the historian Michael Shermer. His book on the Holocaust, and Holocaust denial, can be found here.
In short, Pope Benedict has indulged in an enormous evil by readmitting Bishop Williamson to communion, for Benedict has made Holocaust denial a matter of peripheral indifference to Catholic religious life. This obscene gesture, barely 60 years since the world first discovered the horrendous extent of the Shoah, suggests that the current pope possesses (at minimum) a caloused and emotionally distorted moral sense—and at worst, a sympathy—and even solidarity—with conspiratorial cranks and Antisemites.