Holocaust as Religion

Published: 2000-01-03

"Freedom of speech involves the right to think the unthinkable, mention the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable."
Oliver Wendell Holmes

To see it as a religion one has to look carefully at what a religion is in its essentials.

Religions come in many forms from animism to the search for enlightenment. Fundamentally a religion is a set of explanations for the unexplainable combined with performing rituals to do something about it. Without the rituals it does not constitute any more than a body of superstition.

Arabic Muslims may have a world populated by djinn but there is nothing in their religion to deal with them. Medeval Christians had a world populated by demons and there were rituals of protection against them. Thus the latter had a religion of demons.

For animism the rituals are aids in finding food for hunter-gatherers. When agriculture arises nature worship, worship of the forces of nature, becomes more important than the animals. With agriculture people must live together, cities arise, trade arises and cultures clash over wealth and labor.

With this socialization gods take on more the nature of people than of animals or the elements. To hunter-gatherer tribes capturing children and wives or the civil interchange of women or the chief offering his wives to strangers was a necessity of survival by maintaining the genetic diversity of their small groups. To cities and the surrounding farming settlements propinquity was something to be controlled rather than let run loose due to family rights in property.

Thus gods become interested in interpersonal relationships including sexual relationships. If you think about it, those are rather strange preoccupations for gods, as though people couldn't figure them out for themselves. But in fact there are some rather old Greek writings where the institution of religion is recognized as a form of governance rather than as a separate subject. We still see aspects of this today in Eastern Orthodox Catholicism.

There are very few peoples in the world who do not or did not have what we would consider a religion. Those that did not have religions, merely a set of superstitions without rituals, had the set of explanations but do nothing done about it. Avoiding a demon is not propitiating a demon. Leaving out something the demon likes is to distract it but performing a ritual so the demon knows that the distraction is for it is a ritual.

If it is mechanisitic such that it might work against an animal it lacks the ritual aspect. When people are dealing with mindless powers or powers without wills of their own it can not be considered a religion as even though the demons be gods as nothing can be done or is attempted to change their behavior.

Propitiating a god implies there is a penalty for not doing so in the middle east tradition. But in the greco-roman tradition neutrality was not a problem in any logical sense. Sacrifice might bring benefits, insulting might bring harm but neutrality was just that. Propitiation was not a requirement.

Of course people tend to be on the worship side when acting as a group and in most cases group worship was a requirement rather than merely encouraged. Because of geographic relatedness from India through Italy and down to Egypt there was no bright line differention. But Zeus did not demand to be worship nor did he institute any penalties to individuals for failing to worship.

Here we might also distinguish between worship and sacrifice. Take a christian worship hymn or prayer and substitute Zeus for God and see how out of place it sounds. It is an entirely different attitudes towards gods.

As long as one stayed out of Athens one could badmouth Athena solely at the risk of her taking offense against the person. In Athens, watch your tongue!, as she could turn against the city. Athenians might use violence to explain to a person not to do that again.

But where do the gods come from? To make a god he had to have powers in human affairs. He can either have pre-existed people or a person can become a god if they die first or are a emperor of Rome. But they have to be in the realm of the beyond, untouchable by humans else, like the emperors, they too easily reveal their very ungodlike humanity.

The christian god is difficult to discuss given the diversity of christianity. In that diversity it runs the gamut of the ancient purient Israelite god to a modestly interested in human affairs roman god. The priests run the gamut of "put your sins on the ram and drive it into the desert" to the counseling form of the philosopherpriests of the greco-roman hierarchy.

But in all of them that are considered organized christian religions, the purpose of organization is primary to conduct worship that this god requires. Note the israelite god did not require worship but sacrifice while both require obedience to rather self-evident rules of behavior. In these forms it is a social order god.

The idea of a god having a personal interest appears to have originated with Zoroaster (Zarathustra) and imported into Judea with the liberation from the babylonian captivity. It also appears to the north particularly in Assyria as Mithraism. In Iran and northern India (including modern Pakistan) it appears to have continued in a more original form as the worship of Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Light.

This is true worship of the god himself in addition to prayers of intercession and the like.

We can look at Shinto and similar primitive religions where the ancestors look over the affairs of men. But men need to do things (ceremonies) to get their attention so they will know they have not been forgotten. A temple may ring a gong, an individual may simply clap his hands. Both are to get the attention of the ancestors.

We can see a mix of Shinto and the west when the Pharho joined the gods where he could intercede for his people and watch over his land and people. Rather more like a catholic saint than a god. This is not to suggest that the two cultures ever met but rather the origin of the humanness of the gods.

In both cases they look after the affairs of their children as long as they are treated right. With the egyptians that ended with a proper burial which made it all possible. In Shinto regular ceremonies to tell the ancestors of their needs and ritual offerings in gratitude are required.

In christianity the god has hell up his sleave as the big stick even if the individual fails to worship and behave as required. In Shinto abandoning the ancestors means the ancestors will abandon the living to whatever dire fate the world has in store such as an atom bomb or two.

Similarly we look at judaism. Its old tradition is that the sins of the father were visited upon the sons by their god. Without an afterlife that was the only punishment available to their god. And it appeared to work modestly well and still appears to succeed in their holocaust.

In their holocaust they have a rather straightforward reward and punishment system for the requirement to remember. Failure to remember means there will be another holocaust. The punishment for failing to perform ritual remembering is inhaling cyanide. Reward is a touch more nebulous being rather preventing another holocaust in the midst of an everdangerous world.

They have the "have to remember" their ancestors requirement imposed out of no where which is the safest place for a requirement to originate. They have a defined penalty that is clearly miraculous in nature were it to reoccur as it would come out of nowhere. They give public profession to their remembrance and attack unbelievers in a manner that makes evangelists giving testimony to their faith in Jesus pale in comparison.

They have to remember their ancestors as a ritual to ward off the penalty of a recurrance of the event, premature elevation to ancestorhood. But not just death, also torments prior to death that would make any early christian worthy of sainthood. Given the fundamentalist nature of the United States one can see the suffering of the saints has rubbed off on them making the US the "intellectual" center of the holocaustic religion.

So there is ritual remembering and testimony to remembering to ward off demons in its most primitive sense. And Nazis are the demons lurking just out of sight ready to pounce. And occasionally there is one possessed by demons, a neo-nazi, even though they are the rarest of the rare in this world and rarely over twenty five years of age.

As with such superstitious religions there is a lack of causal connection between the ritual and the penalty. At least in a god religion, it can get pissed at failure to be worshipped and do something to those who fail to worship. In the rational world, Nazis rising again is about as rational as another Napolean or Julius Ceasar.

And also note that nothing can convince them of the impossibility just as no one can convince a believer in black magic and witchcraft that it does not exist. While ridiculing the idea of Nazi supermen all kinds of superhuman accomplishments are ascribed to them.

If you look at their discussions you find yourself reminded of the monastic debates of the Dark Ages. You can find debates on Hitler as to exactly which kind of pure evil he was. The kind of mind that can make distinctions between types of pure evil is the kind that needs a pet or a hobby or a life.

Thus we see their holocaust has the essential aspects of a religion simply not the sunday school type of religion with which we are most familiar. To see this type of religion we have to look to its current and past examples from cultural anthropology and comparative religions. From that we can see its similarities with other religions of a similar nature.

© March 2000

"I would rather hide behind freedom of speech than behind maudlin selfrighteousness."—Cabell W. Johnson

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Author(s): Cabell W. Johnson
Title: Holocaust as Religion
Published: 2000-01-03
First posted on CODOH: March 30, 2000, 6 p.m.
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