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KRONOS Vol III, No. 3
To the Editor:
In "Sin and the Control System" (KRONOS 11, 2, 1976, 77-91) John V. Myers convincingly argues the cosmic-catastrophic origins of major religious texts, as well as of notions of "sin" and of certain subsequent historical events such as witch-hunts and pogroms. To summarize, Myers holds that "uniformitarian scholars [who] do not believe in cataclysms and in the cosmic origins of religion... can seldom catch a religion at the precise moment of its inception [emphasis added] but are forever condemned to begin their study at some point far down the line . . .". He then documents allusions to a vast c. 1500 B.C. cosmic catastrophe in the originological texts of widely-separated religions and links these to Velikovsky's work on planetary contacts. From this, Myers deduces a general psychology of religion, "sin", and scapegoating: general catastrophe strengthens the concept of an all-powerful "God", who must continue to be seen as essentially beneficent lest life become altogether too terrifying ... But, to sustain this belief in the face of catastrophe, the victims must be perceived as having somehow "sinned" and the survivors perceive themselves as non-"sinners", as obedient to priest-elaborated "control-systems" or religion. During subsequent cataclysms like the Black Death, argues Myers, it then becomes very convenient to rationalize the slaughter of an out-group, e.g., Jews, as "sinners" who "caused" the disaster. Finally, Myers discusses the modern physical science "establishment" as a case study of intolerant religious reaction to "deviance", i.e., the data and theories of Velikovsky.
But just as Velikovsky's ideas have come to be confirmed by some contemporary data -- I find his counter-ideological prediction of the Venusian surface temperature particularly impressive -- it is also possible to validate Myers' derivations on the origin and psychology of religion through a cataclysm more recent than those he cites. This event is the Nazi holocaust -- the extermination of the Jewish population of German-occupied Europe, and the subsequent historicizing of this event.
The first and obvious connection lies within the event and need not concern us further as it simply elaborates the scapegoating dynamic as a partial cause: anti-Semitism increased during the depression-catastrophe, helping racially murderous leaders to power; later many of the mass executions took place according to methods routinized to the point of ritual; meanwhile the major religious institutions of Europe either ignored the extermination or participated actively in the intermediate phases of ethnic definition and deportation.
Less obvious, but more interesting, has been the reaction-pattern of most of those Jewish intellectual survivors-from-a-distance who have written on the holocaust since 1945 (Myers, 80: "cataclysms tend to be interpreted by their survivors, not by their victims") -- a pattern which, in its genesis and content, closely parallels Myers' theory on the origin and psychology of the great religions. In the aftermath of the European Jewish catastrophe, the dominant pattern which emerges reveals that academic interpretation has systematically misused documents along three modes in order to: a) gradually reduce the number of victims,(1) b) portray the victims as "participants in their own destruction",(2) that is, as somehow "guilty", and c) portray the killers as mere "bureaucrats", not actively bad but simply "plain folks" who "did what they were told to do" by "authority figures".(3)
The first mode is obviously the most primitive and can be completely effective only with catastrophes small enough and remote enough, e.g., the 1915-1916 killing of more than one million Armenians by the Turks, a holocaust which has now disappeared almost completely from western history and social science writing. Because of its geographic and psychological centrality -- relatively few western intellectuals are Armenian, many Jewish -- the Jewish holocaust can only become part of the collective amnesia through a gradual victim reduction.
More important, therefore, has been the largely successful attempt to blame the "guilty" victims, a view which exactly corresponds to Myers' analysis of religion as an explanation for catastrophe which enables the threatened survivors (here, the academics) to feel safe and superior.
The third mode seems to be a direct inversion. If the victims were "bad", if they "deserved" what happened to them, then the killers cannot be seen as "bad"; after all, most of them survived too. In sum, the distant academic survivors of the holocaust have formulated a very comforting religious explanation.
Finally, the reaction of these "priests" closely resembles that experienced by Velikovsky and others in their attempts to argue for the truly cataclysmic nature of earthly and human history. In some early correspondence with Hilberg on the matter of Reitlinger's numerical "errors", I was advised to "lay off".(4) After completing the first section of a project on the holocaust,(5) the journal to which I had submitted the paper sent it to Hilberg and he [then] attempted to squash it, perhaps suspecting that his own documentary abuses were next.(6) In order to get the paper into print I was obliged to alter it substantially, which is not a new experience for me or, I suspect, for anyone else who deviates from the liberal-optimist consensus in social or physical "science".(7) All in all, the academic consensus on the holocaust strikingly resembles Myers' analysis of religion. First a catastrophe, then attempts by survivors to blame victims, and finally efforts to suppress contradictory data and theory. The historiography of the Nazi holocaust provides dramatic support for his Velikovskian derivation on the cataclysmic origins of religion.
1. Originally determined to be "about" 6,000,000; reduced in the major analytic study, Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago, 1961), to about 5,000,000; further reduced in the major historical study, Gerald Reitlinger's The Final Solution (New York, 1968), to about 4,000,000. German accounts frequently give the death toll as "3,000,000 or less", while some mention only "several hundred thousand" Jews (cf. Pendorff, Das Judenpolitik des Dritten Reiches, Hamburg, 1961, 112) who died during "reprisals" for "partisan activity" (cf. Nuremburg Case IX, defense arguments). One German high school history text illustrates the terminal point of this amnesiac progression in passing over the holocaust with the sole remark that "during the war, anti-Jewish measures were intensified".
2. Hilberg's study (see pp. 16, 207-210, 310-316, 662-69, and passim) puts this thesis most strongly. See also Reitlinger, op. cit.; Poliakov, Harvest of Hate (New York, 1953), 154; Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (New York, 1963), passim; the holocaust writings of Bruno Bettelheim in The Informed Heart (New York, 1961), in J. OF ABNORMAL AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY 38 (1943), and 42 (1947), in MIDSTREAM 8 (1962), and etc.; R .J. Lifton, "Jews as Survivors" in his History and Human Survival (New York, 1971), 195-207; various papers by G. Kren and L. Rappoport in WESTERN HUMANITIES R. 26 (1972), SOCIETAS 4 (1974), HIST. OF CHILDHOOD Q. 3 (1975), and PSYCHO-HISTORY R. 5 (Sept. 1976); and so on.
3. The thesis of most of the above studies. See also Levin, The Holocaust (New York, 1968); Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews (New York, 19 75); Kraus and Kulka, Death Factory (New York, 1966); Milgram, Obedience to Authority (New York, 1975), pp. 9, 11; and so on.
4. Hilberg, 1973 personal communication.
5. "Use and Abuse of Holocaust Documents, 1: Reitlinger and 'How Many'?", forthcoming in JEWISH SOCIAL STUDIES 39 (1977).
6. Hilberg surmised correctly: see Luck, "Use and Abuse, III: Germans and Jews on the Psychology of the Holocaust", an unpublished paper. It should be noted that Hilberg, Reitlinger and the other authors cited above do not mis-"interpret" documents in founding their holocaust-"religion" but actively attempt to fob off as facts what objectively (on the basis of the cited documents) are not facts, in a manner precisely analogous to that given by Myers, p. 88, in illustrating the games Velikovsky's detractors play. Thus Reitlinger systematically switches dates, alters place names, baselessly impugns some sources, confounds others, and ignores still others in effecting a one-third reduction in the death-cataclysmic scope of the holocaust, while Hilberg claims to have produced an ,.objective" study of victim-behavior ... by relying almost exclusively on the killers' own documents, ignoring victim accounts.
7. "I had to cut out a section offering psychological data and explanations for Reitlinger's "errors"; apparently some people would rather be called conscious liars, which is the only possible alternative to an explanation cast along lines of unconscious factors. In an earlier paper, "A Psycho linguistic Approach to Leader Personality, 1: Hitler, Stalin. . .", STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE COMMUNISM 7 (1974),428-53, I had a similar go-round. It nicely illustrates the ideological-religious gate-keeping function performed by many journal editors. Some material offering psychological explanations for the general tendency of political scientists either to ignore catastrophe-catalyzing individual leaders or reduce them to "agents of history" had first to be shifted to several longish footnotes at the behest of the editors; later it transpired that several "too-long footnotes" (contents unmentioned) had to be cut out before publication.