Timely Books & Films (March 2003)

A Devil’s Chaplain by Richard Dawkins (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003).

A Devil’s Chaplain is a collection of three decades of essays by this British biologist and well-known atheist. Dawkins discusses genes and memes, religion, Darwinism, creationism, Stephen Jay Gould and other timely topics.

When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball (Harper San Francisco, $21.95). Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister with a Harvard degree in comparative religion and Islamic studies, is chair of the religion department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Religions may cross any of five lines to become evil, Kimball asserts: by making absolute truth claims; requiring blind obedience; declaring an ‘ideal’ time for confrontations between good and evil; believing the end justifies the means, or proclaiming a holy war.

A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty by Daniel Goldhagen (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, $25). Goldhagen maintains Pope Pius XII tacitly condoned the persecution of Jews:

“The Church has gotten more or less a free ride for the last 50 years and it was not a heroic bastion of resistance as it would sometimes like to portray itself, but was deeply complicit in many of the crimes of the time.”
The Harvard social studies professor and son of a Holocaust survivor documents anti-Semitic statements by clergy. The Roman Catholic Church temporarily won a ban on Oct. 7 against selling his book in Germany, which was lifted when a disputed photo caption was blacked out.

Gruess Gott und Heil Hitler (Hail God and Heil Hitler) by Stefan Moritz.

Moritz argues the Austrian Catholic Church struck a bargain with the devil to survive Nazism, with many priests and bishops actively supporting Nazis. Austria today is still 80% Roman Catholic. Moritz provides countless documents and examples, such as minutes from the Austrian bishops’ conference in 1942 noting the mass transportation of Jews to Nazi death camps, an influential Jesuit describing Jews as “God’s Murderers,” and a parish newspaper urging Catholics to support Hitler: “One people — one Reich — one Fuhrer –one God!”

Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, A Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (Broadway Books, $24.95). This biography tells the story of Michael Servetus, considered a freethinking, humanist theologian and predecessor of Voltaire, who was burned at the stake by John Calvin in Geneva. The scientist also discovered pulmonary circulation. His treatise on the Trinity brought him to the attention of the Inquisition, and his rejection of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination resulted in the sham trial leading to his execution.

Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America by David Wise (Random House, $24.95). The book documents how Robert Hanssen, a devout Catholic who went to Mass daily and hung a crucifix on his wall, was obsessed by exhibitionist sex. He rigged a videocamera in his bedroom so that a friend could watch him and his unsuspecting wife have sex.

He gave some payoff money to Mother Teresa, and spent the rest on strippers. “He betrayed his country and simultaneously betrayed his wife,” Wise wrote, while “urging his friends to get closer to God.”

Honor Lost by Norma Khouri (Simon & Schuster). Khouri, an activist against “honor killings,” tells the story of her Jordanian childhood friend and business partner, who was stabbed to death at age 26 by her own father for walking with a man in public. Her book, describing the trapped lives of women in Jordan and many Islamist countries, has been a bestseller in Australia and France, and is now being distributed in the U.S. and Europe. Her friend represents “thousands of women who are still dying.”

“The Magdalene Sisters,” directed by Peter Mullan. This film literally depicts Ireland’s “dirty laundry”–the plight of girls abused by nuns at Catholic convents and Magdalene laundries in the 1960s. It was released in Ireland in November. It has already been condemned by the Vatican, although it won the 2002 Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. The film is being distributed in the U.S. by Miramax Films.

Irish girls and young women were dumped in the Magdalene laundries if they were orphaned, became pregnant, were “too pretty” or were otherwise unwanted by families. Mullan said his movie is based on true events–“one of the great injustices of the second half of the 20th century.”
More than 30,000 women over a period of 150 years were forced to work without pay in profit-making convent laundries, “to wash away their sins.” “We were the living dead,” Mary Norris, 60, recently told British TV.

“The Crime of Father Amaro,” directed by Carlos Carrera. This Mexican movie has caused an uproar and been a box office hit in Mexico. Based on a 19th-century Portuguese novel, it depicts a young priest seducing a younger woman, then forcing her to have a clandestine abortion.

“Amen,” directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras. The Greek director makes the case against Pius XII as a Nazi collaborator. He told the New York Times (Jan. 19): “For me, the idea of silence is the film’s main theme. The silence of the people, the silence of a lot of people in the church.” The film is loosely based on “The Deputy,” Rolf Huchhuth’s play about Pius’s refusal to denounce the mass murder of Jews.

Freedom From Religion Foundation