How to Respond If Someone Asks, ‘Is God Mostly to Blame for the Holocaust?’

World War II and all of its hideous fruit is squarely the fault of humans, not God.

Ron Porter, “Auschwitz”
Ron Porter, “Auschwitz” (photo: Pixabay/CC0)

The whole abominable mess of World War II and Adolf Hitler would and could have very easily been prevented if folks had listened to one man: Winston Churchill. But such is the folly of men that they want to believe that everything is fine (the Neville Chamberlain appeasement mentality).

Churchill warned all through the 1930s of the German military build-up, but no one wanted to listen to him. At the same time, Malcolm Muggeridge was exposing Joseph Stalin’s starving of 10 million Ukrainians but no one wanted to listen to him, either.

It’s as simple as that. Germany was disarmed after World War I — what happened a mere 15 years later when they started building tanks and fighter planes again? Nothing, of course.

If something as terrible as World War II and the death camps and genocide could have been prevented by the simplest common sense, and listening to one clear-minded man, then where do we get off blaming God for this idiotic folly of mankind?

It is the unchecked evil of men in various “difficult” circumstances and the good men who do nothing (as Edmund Burke said) that brings all this about. God wants us to do our duty of promoting justice and brotherhood in the world. 

The more primitive biblical view was that good people prosper and the evil have all kinds of problems. That is true at the very deepest level, and long-term, but not short-term, and it is seen to be utterly simplistic in terms of this life.

The more developed Old Testament biblical perspective on suffering is that of Job — even the good people suffer (sometimes even extraordinarily, “unfairly” so) and it is ultimately a mystery why, requiring us to trust that God is good and has a purpose, despite all. 

That’s the whole point of that book (especially the end, where God keeps appealing to his omnipotence, omniscience, and providence and saying in effect: “who are you to question anything about me? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

We must incorporate in our searching for answers, the more advanced, “mysterious” understanding of suffering as seen in Job, Isaiah 53 and many New Testament passages, which we Catholics readily apply to the spiritual fruitfulness of penance for the sake of souls (just as prayer and charity do the same good). Suffering has a deep purpose. When we suffer we can apply that to other souls.

We all have to continually remind ourselves that God only promises to make things totally right by including the next life into the equation. This world can never be “right” or “normal” because it is a fallen world. All we can do is follow God. We’re just pilgrims. But we can have joy and peace despite all. That is promised.

Often the problem is people not doing what they should do, in the final analysis, because of “what others may think” (peer or social pressure). Half the things I’ve done in my life (and most of the best, in my opinion) were in the teeth of objections of friends and sometimes, extended family. I would never have become a Catholic or a writer or apologist. I wouldn’t have been in Operation Rescue (a moderate form of conscientious protest against an unjust society and the mass murder of abortion). I wouldn’t have even converted to evangelical Christianity in 1977 (my upbringing in my first 18 years was nominal Methodist).

If we’re so worried about mere social opinion and what our own circle will think of us, is it any wonder that folks (generally speaking) are so easily cowed into doing the will of dictators and abortion providers, no matter how outrageous, and will endure very little risk in order to avoid speaking out or acting in protest?

I think what could have been said to those who would have frowned upon an early shut-down of Hitler is that there was no particularly compelling reason to think that the man didn’t mean to do exactly as he had stated and had written in Mein Kampf (one might cite analogous behavior of the Communists who set out and did pretty much what Marx and especially Lenin predicted, and even more).

Hitler was an extremely serious person. I think anyone could readily see that he meant business. Jews in Germany were certainly well aware of that early on. Why wasn’t anyone else? It was probably the typical latent European anti-Semitism again. Combine this with the history of German/Prussian militarism and aggression and the collection of misfits and moral monsters that Hitler was collecting in his government and “it didn't take a rocket scientist to see what was coming.” Yet people are quick to blame God for men’s follies, imbecilities, blindness and stupidities.

World War II and all of its hideous fruit is squarely the fault of human beings, not God. It’s ridiculous for us to make a royal mess of things and then when the chickens come home to roost, we start whining and moaning about “why did God allow this?” (and then prepare to make the same stupid mistakes all over again; learning absolutely nothing from history).

Indeed, it is an extremely serious and troubling philosophical question — why God allows the human free will that he knew would continually fail and cause great suffering and misery. But that’s different from directly blaming God for “doing nothing” during the worst times of our butchering each other.

I think the free will defense in apologetics provides a fairly adequate answer, but there is always a gap left, making it difficult to understand why God allowed a thing that has entailed so much pain and suffering. We can accept it in faith, humbly acknowledging our limitations and God’s goodness, but those without faith will understandably struggle quite a bit with it and feel a perplexity that only faith brought about by God’s grace and our cooperation with it is ultimately able to overcome.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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