The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nazism and the Christian Heritage: Uncomfortable Parallels

by Robert Carr (Robert Carr lectures in history at Spelthorne College and is a Research supervisor in international relations at the American University in London.)

At first sight, the very idea that Nazism bears any relation to Christianity seems absurd. Yet before dismissing such an idea, we have we consider certain similarities. Certainly there were marked Christian influences on Nazism. This article will look specifically at the expression of Nazi anti-Semitism.

Christian Anti-Semitism

Nazi Germany was both a product of, and established in, Christian Europe. The Fuhrer himself was educated in the strictest of Catholic institutions-a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria. More than that, he'd been a church chorister. Without doubt, childhood experiences help to mould adulthood. Christian influences certainly remained important in Hitler's life: his favourite bed-time reading was Martin Luther.

Luther had particular advice to offer concerning those who had failed to follow Christ-the Jews. Luther urged Christian action against them, including concentrating them in certain areas, drowning Jewish individuals and even wholesale murder:

We are at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them.

Christian protagonists and texts have levelled spiteful accusations at Jews since the advent of Christianity. Part of the very foundations of the faith are ideas of Jewish betrayal, hard- heartedness and deicide. New Testament characters such as Judas, Herod, Saul, the Pharisees and the Jerusalem crowd (baying 'Crucify him!') have shaped, over centuries, European attitudes towards Jews. Such accusations and the demonisation of Jewry are based on the Christian idea that it has, as a faith and a civilisation, superseded Judaism. For Christians, God transferred his covenant and favour to them; rather than being the chosen people, Jews simply became stubborn unbelievers. Antagonism between the new faith and Judaism has characterised aspects of Christian history including the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the blood libel. Indeed, before Nazism even, Theodor Fritsch argued, 'Surely Christian teaching arose as a protest of the Aryan spirit against the inhumane Jew spirit.'

Out with the Old, In with the New

There is an interesting parallel in terms of both Christianity and Nazism regarding themselves as usurping Jewish culture. Christianity had to throw off the shackles of its Jewish heritage, i.e. the laws of Deuteronomy, besides dietary, Sabbath and other rituals: 'Beware of those dogs and their malpractices. Beware of those who insist on mutilation-circumcision' (Philippians 3).

Similar to Christianity, Nazism offered salvation of a sort--a new and perfect Aryan order to replace the old. Indeed the 'debased' culture the Nazis hated so virulently was much shaped by Jews, including Einstein, Freud, Marx and Mahler.

Both movements sought to end Jewish culture, albeit in different ways. How though can it be possible to regard Nazism in religious terms?

Nazism and Religion

Fundamentally, religion is a means of binding and supporting society.

The overlap of nationhood and religious practice is evident, for example in Japanese Shintoism, Judaism and the Church of England.

Nazi faith was in the same mould and, likewise, relied on indoctrination, preaching, mass gatherings, rituals and shrines.

More than advocating supposed Aryan spiritual superiority, Nazism, like Christian institutions, introduced laws and measures against Jews. All aspects of 1935's Nuremberg Laws had been previously exercised in Medieval Christendom as a way of isolating Jews in society. Interestingly, Hitler even framed Jew-hatred in religious terms: 'This was the time of the greatest spiritual upheaval I have ever gone through. I had ceased to be a weak-kneed cosmopolitan and become an anti-Semite.'

Regardless of proclamations and violence against Jewry, Hitler's regime was legitimised by various Christian churches from the start. The Vatican state was the very first to recognise Nazi Germany diplomatically. In 1933 the Deutsche Christen (the German Church) declared its support for the unity of cross and swastika. More ominously, 1941 's joint declaration of German Protestant Evangelical leaders urged that the 'severest measures against the Jews be adopted and that they be banished from German lands'.

Ultimately, the Nazi regime did pursue abominable measures against the Jews. Just as Christian mythology relied on the red-haired Judas race for vilification, so Nazism relied on its Jewish scapegoat. Anti- Semitism was the very lifeblood of Nazism. Jews were demonised and, like the devil, their treachery came in many guises. Following World War I, accusations levelled at Jewry included the 'stab in the back' and the 'November traitors' ideas; further myths saw Jews acting as international capitalists seeking unreasonable reparations and also as Bolshevik conspirators working against Germany.

For such supposed transgressions, Jews were the target of the Endlosungsprojekt (Final Solution). The Nazi regime put into motion modernised genocide. The transportation, mechanisation and practice of Jew-murder relied on the knowledge and assistance of Christian Europe--from Vichy France to the Baltic states. The phenomenal effectiveness of death pits, gas vans and extermination camps relied on Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike. More specifically, consider Rudolf Hoess who was a committed Catholic: 'My father had taken a vow that I should be a priest, and my future profession was therefore already firmly laid down. I was educated entirely with this end in view.' interestingly, Hoess swapped the idea of the priesthood for employment as camp commandant of Auschwitz- -the centre of Jewish Slaughter.

Lower down the state hierarchy, Ernst Biberstein, as commander of SS Einsatzgruppen C, was responsible for the murder of 75,000 Jews in late 1941. Biberstein could somehow reconcile such work with his profession as a Protestant pastor and theologian. German clergy also served as Nazi Jew-hunters in their role as Sippenforscher, i.e. tracing Jewish heritage through parish records.


Without doubt it is difficult to Measure individuals' religious credentials. However, Nazism was advantaged by the Christian mind-set of Europeans which included myths of Jewish treachery and deicide. The Nazi movement exploited its apparent Christian agenda. As Julius Streicher wrote in 1936:

We have dedicated our lives to the fight against the murderers of Christ ... if we always think of Adolf Hitler then we cannot fail to receive strength and benediction from heaven.

What is certain is that both Christianity and Nazi-Aryanism defined themselves in opposition to Jewry and promoted their own 'chosen people'. The Christian text Revelation indicates that punishment by tortuous death is set aside for 'the synagogue of Satan'. Nazism almost delivered what Christianity threatened, i.e. the elimination of Judaism. Ironically, even the Nazi-led slaughter of Jews has a spiritual dimension: the term 'Holocaust' usually describes the burning of a religious sacrifice. While Nazism took inspiration and succour from Church documents and protagonists, this article indicates how Nazism can even be regarded as a racialised and deformed brand of Christianity.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Home | Syndicate this site (XML) | Guestbook | Blogger
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors.
Everything else © 2005 The Conversion Agenda