July 12, 2017

At the end of your book, you refute the argument that the worst societies—the Nazi and Soviet regimes—were atheistic. Could you summarize your position?

Twentieth-century Germany was not, in the main, an atheist state. Hitler never renounced the Catholic Church. He was happy to receive the prayers of the Catholic bishops in every town in Germany on his birthday, as ordered by the popethe concordat with whom pretty much allowed him to consolidate power in the first place. He undoubtedly had the hope of replacing Christianity with a state religion based partly on paganism and partly on worship of himself. But to say that he was an atheist is utterly false.

Fascism and communismthe roots of the totalitarian impulse are in faith, not in skepticism. Because [the totaliitarian impulse] claims to be a total solution. And to make essentially no difference between the civic and the private life, and to arbitrate on everything from sex to diet.

Actually Christianity doesn't, to its credit, do a whole lot about diet. It does go on a lot about sex, though. It has ruined, irreparably ruined the happiness of millions and millions of people for generations by doing so and threatens to do the same now—and my view cannot be forgiven for that.

The religious impulse, if, shall we say, secularized a bit, is still dangerous: the impulse to worship, the impulse to take things on faith, the impulse to believe in miracles, the impulse to adore and to believe in incarnate good and evil. All these things have dire consequences.

So you're saying if we watch for this impulse to worship or adore as we would for a bad habit, that we can overcome it as a society?

I would prefer to use my term to transcend or outgrow it. But at least to know what the problem is. It doesn't mean we'll vanquish it, but to realize that's not a healthy instinct.