October, 1940—just 13 months after Germany invaded Poland and wiped it off the
map—the Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, issued orders to some of his most trusted
aides, including his top assistant, Martin Bormann, and Hans Frank, whom Hitler
had made dictator of Poland, about what to do with the conquered nation.
(This information was reported in the Nuremberg Trials, which
made use of captured German documents.)
they were a conquered, subjugated slave colony, the Poles nonetheless
presented certain problems for Hitler. There was the messy situation with the
Jews. There were the remnants of the intelligentsia, who were anti-Nazi. And
there were the Catholics; Poland always had been one of Europe’s most devout
nations, and relations between Berlin and the Vatican were none too warm.
Hitler did not wish to convert the Poles away from Catholicism. On the contrary, the Fuhrer considered it “proper for the Poles to remain Roman Catholics.” He elaborated on his reasoning. “The task of the priest is to keep the Poles quiet, stupid and dull-witted.”
In looking over History, it’s always been the role of the priest (or shaman, lama, imam, rabbi, whatever) to keep his flock “quiet, stupid and dull-witted.” A timorous, unreflective person, who believes in superstition and is afraid of burning in hell, is not going to be rational in his thinking. He is going to believe what his priest tells him. Accordingly, if the all-powerful leader (king, dictator, fuhrer, president, generalissimo) wishes to have a compliant populace, he will not only encourage religion, he will make sure that religious leaders destroy the ability of the people to think critically.
Hitler knew how to achieve this. “Polish priests,” he declared at that meeting, “will receive food from us and will, for that very reason, direct their little sheep along the path we favor. The priests will be paid by us and will, in return, preach what we wish them to preach.”
This troublesome detail of History,
which recurs over and over and over, is the main reason why intellectuals
mistrust religion, or at least the role of organized religion in being complicit
with authoritarian regimes. This is at the heart of the split between religion
and science: religious people believe in the anecdotes contained in their
sacred texts, no matter how senseless they are, while scientific people believe
in the power of experiment and evidence—in human reason, that is. Scientific
people tend to be more aligned with democracy, while religious people are more
in favor of autocracy and theocracy.
This split has become glaringly evident in America, where for generations radical rightwing sects within Christianity and Judaism have been teaching their flocks, not only to believe in the inerrancy of their Bibles, and not only to disbelieve any science that says otherwise, but further, to believe that scientists are at best misguided, or at worst, evil. Let’s not forget what the Roman Church did to scientists, from Galileo to Alan Turing: They attempted to snuff them out.
The leader of this anti-science,
pro-religion movement in America is, of course, Donald Trump. The irony is
that, for most of his adult life, he apparently had no religious beliefs at
all, and—being a building developer—he must have put his faith in such
scientific branches as engineering, metallurgy, mathematics, seismology and
climate science. But once the presidential bug bit him, Trump decided to cast
aside his faith in science—or to pretend to—in order to win the devotion of the
very low-lifes whom, once upon a time, he would not have invited into any of
his homes: Bible Belt Christians.
Trump too has his priests to keep his people “quiet, stupid and dull-witted.” Some of their names are well-known: Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee and their ilk. Less famous but no less pernicious are many Catholic priests and probably a…
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