Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Comparison of Obama to Hitler and Stalin

I do not mean to minimize the challenges of religious freedom that exist in our country and there is much constructive work for all of us to be doing to try to preserve a robust notion of religious freedom.

Having said that, I think homilies like Bishop Jenky's, which can be heard here, are both counter-productive and deeply offensive.  Obama's support of the HHS  mandate, albeit raising real issues about lack of respect for religion, is hardly on a par with the behavior of Hitler or Stalin.

We all need to be sure we are ways that others who dont' already agree with us can hear.  This kind of rhetoric does not, in my view, fall into that category.   


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It is odd that this did not come up during the 8 years that Bush was called Hitler and Cheney was considered Darth Vader. Only when liberal Democrats are in office is there any concern for civility. How about we start by having liberals apologize to Bush and Cheney before complaining about how Obama is treated?

Posted by: Fr. J | Apr 18, 2012 2:04:50 PM

Fr. J,

I have equal objection to comparing Bush to Hitler and there was no shortage of people who criticized those comparisons with Bush was in office. (To say "only when liberal Democrats are in office is there any concern for civility" is simply wrong.)

In any event, if our goal is to advance a robust notion of religious freedom, we have to speak in ways people will be able to hear. My primary concern is not protecting Obama from criticism, but with constructive dialogue. This kind of language - particularly coming from a US bishop - does not promote constructive dialogue.

Posted by: Susan Stabile | Apr 18, 2012 2:13:35 PM

I agree that as soon as Hitler and Stalin are mentioned, many will stop listening because they assume it is rhetorical hyperbole. However, I do not believe Bishop Jenky is saying that the current behavior of President Obama rises to the level of the greatest atrocities of Hitler and Stalin. I do believe that he is right to warn that a stepwise erosion of freedoms and respect for religion are what paved the way for greater evils.

Posted by: Denise Hunnell | Apr 18, 2012 3:27:52 PM

To compare any American politician, Democrat or Republican, to Hitler or Stalin, or to call any president or presidential candidate a fascist, a nazi, a socialist, or a communist, is crackpotism, pure and simple, and should be identified as such. Bishop Jenky is not helping the Church in the battle over religious liberty. He's helping the opponents of the Church.

Posted by: David Nickol | Apr 18, 2012 3:42:23 PM

When you read the whole paragraph from Bishop Jenky's homily - homily! - it is plain that he is saying that President Obama is pursuing the same path as Hitler and Stalin did, at least in their "better moments." He also compares President Obama's contraception policy to Bismarck's Kulturkampf: "a culture war against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery."

A question for Mirror of Justice contributors: Does this kind of rhetoric - and its setting - indicate something more disturbing than merely unhelpful and off-putting efforts to win a policy debate?

We hear Republican candidates calling President Obama a socialist, the worst administration ever with the worst economic and foreign policy record and we dismiss their distortion of reality because that's politics. And we hear people like Ted Nugent calling the President "evil" and "America-hating" and suggesting to the NRA that attempted assassination is the only remaining option if President Obama is reelected* and we dismiss the distorted view and borderline threatening language because the messenger is a hard rock musician whose claim to fame is one hit song and a popular series of hunting videos.

* http://nation.foxnews.com/ted-nugent/2012/04/17/ted-nugent-under-investigation-not-black-panthers

But now we have a bishop saying from the pulpit during a homily--a learned exposition of the meaning and application of Gospel and the readings to our lives--that this President is putting America on a path toward violent suppression of the Catholic faith along the lines of the worst villains in history - the Kaiser, Hitler and Stalin. We can't dismiss it as political grandstanding because it was a homily not a political speech. We can't dismiss the messenger because he was a bishop, a teacher of the faith.

It seems to me that this is evidence that a distorted view of reality dominates the thinking and the judgment of at least one of our bishops. It is distorted because no serious person can compare the contraception mandate to persecutions of the Kaiser, where thousands were imprisoned for practicing their faith, let alone Hitler or Stalin's systematic mass murders. It is dominating because its hold is presumably strong enough that Bishop Jenky felt it appropriate to declare it in a homily during Mass, overriding all other prudential and pastoral considerations.

But perhaps Bishop Jenky believed prudence and pastoral concern required that he reveal the "truth" to his flock about the real nature of the threat President Obama poses to Catholics in America. If so, that's no comfort, because it provides further evidence of how distorted his view of reality is.

Either way, it seems to me that this is a serious problem that goes beyond mere unhelpfulness in the debate on religious freedom. Where such crucial values as religious freedom are at stake, we rely all the more on the wisdom, charity and clarity of our bishops. We need them to see reality as it is and respond to it through the lens of learned and prayerful and confident faith, so that we can get our bearings. But as the rhetoric of some bishops grows more and more sensationalist and disconnected from reality, it makes us wonder whether we live in the same world at all. And if we don't, then how can we rely on what they have to say?

Posted by: Phil Steger | Apr 18, 2012 5:17:59 PM

Susan, how strange in the 8 years that Bush was President that I somehow missed all the liberals who demanded that the Bushitler signs and vile rhetoric be stopped. We both know that the Bush hate continues to this day. You can't have 8 years of that and then suddenly tell us that we must be nice to Obama. I ain't buying it.

The bishop however is correct that Obama seems to be pushing us toward a curtailment of religious liberty.

Posted by: Fr. J | Apr 19, 2012 12:05:54 PM

Fr. J,

I have tried to be very clear (and actually think I was quite clear) that I am not asking anyone to "be nice to Obama." I am making a point about constructive dialogue. What I care about is making efforts to speak in ways people can hear. And I expect all of us - and perhaps especially church leaders - to model that.

I was also explicit that I objected to the use of such rhetoric regardless of whether the object was a Republican or a Democrat.

I don't know how to be any clearer than that, so I won't try again.

Posted by: Susan Stabile | Apr 19, 2012 12:21:12 PM