Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Oct/10

17

Godwin’s Pope (4)

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The New York Times ran a piece yesterday on a new exhibit on Berlin dedicated to the Third Reich.

This passage in particular caught my eye:

BERLIN — As artifacts go, they are mere trinkets — an old purse, playing cards, a lantern. Even the display that caused the crowds to stop and stare is a simple embroidered tapestry, stitched by village women. But the exhibits that opened Friday at the German Historical Museum are intentionally prosaic: they emphasize the everyday way that ordinary Germans once accepted, and often celebrated, Hitler. The household items had Nazi logos and colors. The tapestry, a tribute to the union of church, state and party, was woven by a church congregation at the behest of their priest.

And yet the pope, a “subtle historian”, people tell me, is a man, who despite education, heritage and, quite possibly, the experiences of his youth, who chooses to claim that the Nazis were atheists. Odd that.

And it’s not just the pope. Here we have Chris Patten, a less than positive presence in British public life and the individual given the task of extricating the recent papal visit from the chaos to which the church’s incompetence had reduced it, writing in the latest European Voice:

Many secularists argue that ever since the Enlightenment, reason has been enough to guide governance and policymaking, buttressed by the rule of law if a community is lucky. But Benedict asserted the importance of faith alongside reason and law in safeguarding our civilisation. Europe’s foundations lie not just in Aristotle, reason, and classical Greece, and not just in Rome with its understanding of the importance of the law, but also in Jerusalem and the Abrahamic faith groups – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Reason devoid of ethics can prove insufficient to support the survival of civilisation, a point that the pope’s own homeland, Germany, discovered in the 1930s.

“Reason devoid of ethics” has to be one of the more boneheaded descriptions I have yet read of Nazi ideology, a mish-mash of beliefs that were, at their core, not only profoundly irrationalist but also explicitly and perversely “moral”. That morality may have been grotesque, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was quite deliberately intended to supplement and, where necessary, supplant the exercise of reason.

The whole Patten piece is instructive reading, both for its exaggerated sense of the importance of the papal visit (in the end, a modest success that confounded some of its more dunderheaded critics, but which is likely to prove of little lasting significance) and for the usual hymn to Thomas More, a man who certainly stood up with some courage for what he believed to be right, but also an apparatchik with relatively few qualms about using state power to crush the freedom of conscience of others. More should be judged by the standards of his time, not ours, but it is still possible to discern within this tough, convinced and clever thinker the first glimpses of the Bolshevik nightmare to come. I’ll pick someone else to mourn, thank you.

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10 comments

  • BOB · October 17, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Without trying to excuse the great obscenity of that tapestry, the crucial thing is that there is a difference between the experience of Naziism of the average German and the experience of Naziism of actual members of the National Socialist Party. Everyone in Germany had to accommodate the New Order. The average German was still at least nominally Christian and accommodated that as well. Atheists did the same; the universities, mainly secular, swooned before the regime.

    But as we climb the ranks of National Socialist Party, we find fewer and fewer Christians, even nominal, until finally in the top ranks of the party there were none. Many of the Nazi inner circle were atheists; others, like Hitler, were spiritual but not religious. The only exception was Ludwig Müller and he was a joke, there specifically to be the token Christian.

    The Churches were too willing to make their peace with the state, and the State had much higher priorities. Even given this, there were some tangles, as with the Confessing Church (who spoke up at time when practically no Germans did). But if the Germans had won the war, I’m sure the government would have taken steps to draw the nation away from Christ.

  • John · October 18, 2010 at 1:16 am

    “That morality may have been grotesque, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was quite deliberately intended to supplement and, where necessary, supplant the exercise of reason.”

    Heck yeah. A lot of the German philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries like Heidegger and Nietzsche explicitly denied the supremacy of reason as the path to truth. Coincidentally (?) fascism found its worst form in Germany. Aristotle and Voltaire didn’t get us Hitler.

  • Clay Sills · October 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Arguing that the Nazis weren’t Christian is absurd: their signature atrocity is the exacting of vengeance on the Christ-killers. The Catholic Church supported the belief that Jews bore racial guilt for murdering Jesus until the 1960s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a shot of sodium pentathol made Pope Benedict confess nostalgia for die alte Zeiten.

  • BOB · October 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    But that ignores that fact that Nazi anti-semitism was on a biological basis, not religious. “Der Ewige Jude” didn’t talk about Christ-killing, it talked about infection and cruelty to animals. Jews-turned-Christians were Jews as far as the Nazi govt was concerned.

    Catholic anti-semitism was a great help to the Nazis, and reaction to that fueled the reforms of Vatican II, but that hate wasn’t what propelling Nazi policy.

    Would you say that the Soviet anti-semitic campaigns of the late 40s/early 50s prove that the USSR was secretly Christian?

  • MKH · October 19, 2010 at 2:16 am

    Without religion the Jews wouldn’t have become the bogeymen of most of Europe in the first place and thus there would have been no basis for biological antisemitism to develop around.

    It’s not like the biological antisemitic approach was developed by people who had no problem with Jews and arrived at their conclusion due to objective research, it just gave those Jew-haters and their existing antisemitic sentiment a modern-looking facade.

  • panglos · October 19, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Hitler was a maniacal opportunist – as the Bolshevics committed genocide against millions, he gained support by professing anti-communism. This resonated with the Christian Germans who by 1933 lost half a million relatives who had migrated to Ukraine.

    http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/general/sinner.html

    However secretly, he schemed with Stalin for munitions and training facilities for his pilots.

    Christianity had nothing to do with the rise of the Nazis.

  • BOB · October 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    “Without religion the Jews wouldn’t have become the bogeymen of most of Europe in the first place and thus there would have been no basis for biological antisemitism to develop around.”

    EVERYTHING in European modernism springs from a religious background. Christianity was so pervasive that it affected everything. Rationalism came from the Christian tradition of reason. Communism found roots in Christian egalitarianism and apocalypticism. And yes, biological anti-Semitism came out of religious anti-semitism.

    But these things became different. Voltaire was educated by Jesuits, and he thanked them for it, but he became his own thing. You could “blame” the Jesuits for Voltaire (and I’m sure someone like Jack Chick has at some point), but it’s missing the point. In the same way, biological anti-semitism left its relgious origins and hove off far and away. It became its own distinct thing, and the only connection with religion historical.

    Views like James Von Brunn’s were very common among the ranks of the Nazis:
    http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/documents/2009/06/james-von-brunn-christianity-and-the-holocaust.php?page=1

  • MKH · October 19, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I would never consider the Nazis to be a Christian movement, unlike say the Falange in Spain which was strongly Catholic Church-influenced. There were of course Christian Nazis but the ideology overall didn’t seem to be particularly in line with Biblical teachings.

    At the same time it’s downright stupid to assume their dislike of Christianity made them somehow atheist rationalists. Many Christian leaders and apologists however like to somehow morph them into being such representatives of atheism which is a provocation and unsurprisingly triggers outrage.

    Their ideology was strongly anti-rational and gave quasi-religious meaning to concepts like “folk”, “blood” and “soil”, it embraced pre-Christian Germanic culture. An ideology which glorifies the warrior cult and asks its people to kill and die for their fatherland with smiles on their faces can’t be said to be particularly in line with modern atheist thinking. As inconceivable as it may seem the Nazis probably would have an ideological problem with Pope Benedict and Richard Dawkins alike for different reasons.

    Associating someone or something with Nazism is of course the ultimate smear in our age and the attempts to either paint the Nazis as atheist or Christian “baggage” can obviously be counted as political warfare.

  • BOB · October 20, 2010 at 12:00 am

    “Associating someone or something with Nazism is of course the ultimate smear in our age and the attempts to either paint the Nazis as atheist or Christian “baggage” can obviously be counted as political warfare.”

    Agreed.

  • Clay Sills · October 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Say what you will about the Nazis, they sure were snappy dressers.

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