Monday, December 28, 2009

Nazis & Christians & Pagans, Oh My! (Part One)

European Christendom and the Historical Background of Nazism

It's easy to get the impression that such topics as the "Religious Aspects of Nazism" or "Adolf Hitler's Religious Beliefs" are mind-bogglingly complex, intractably tendentious, and incapable of any simple, straightforward summary. But this is not true.

(1) Adolf Hilter was a Christian, and the vast majority of Nazis were Christians.

(2) Anti-semitism and strident German nationalism were widespread among both Catholics and Protestants in Germany during the decades leading up to the Nazi seizure of power.

(3) Antisemitism had been a permanent and pervasive feature of European Christendom continuously throughout its history (inclusive of the Protestant late-comers).

(4) By the late 19th century anti-semitism was a core feature of political conservatism in Germany, and these same conservatives were overwhelmingly Christians who believed that Germany should be a "Christian State".

(5) Even those Nazis (such as Himmler) who are often referred to as "neo-paganists" were consistent, and insistent, admirers of Jesus and Luther (and also Meister Eckhardt). The hostility of these "neo-paganists" was primarily directed against Catholicism.

Below are some excerpts from Christoper R. Browning's 2004 The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy. These are all taken from the the first chapter of that book, which is titled, simply, Background. (I have provided some links and some comments inserted in brackets but I have refrained from adding any emphases to allow the original to speak for itself.)
Christians and Jews had lived in an adversarial relationship since the first century of the common era, when the early followers of Jesus failed to persuade significant numbers of their fellow Jews that he was the Messiah. They then gradually solidified their identity as a new religion rather than a reforming Jewish sect. First, Pauline Christianity took the step of seeking converts not just among Jews but also among the Pagan populations of the Roman Empire. [This is the one important thing that Browning gets wrong in this summary spanning two millennia of history: the Jews were already a proselytizing sect, and had been for centuries prior to Paul.] Second, the Gospel writers -- some 40 to 60 years after the death 0f Jesus -- sought to placate the Roman authorities and at the same time to stigmatize their rivals by increasingly portraying the Jews rather than the Roman authorities in Palestine as responsible for the crucifixion -- the scriptural origin of the fateful "Christ-killer" libel. Finally, the Jewish rebellion in Palestine and the destruction of the Second Temple motivated early Christians not only to dissociate themselves completely form the Jews but to see the Jewish catastrophe as a deserved punishment for the stubborn refusal to accept Jesus as teh Messiah and as a divine vindication of their own beliefs. Christians and Jews, two small sects that had much more in common with one another by virture of their monotheism and scriptures than either had with the rest of the tolerant, syncretic, polytheistic Pagan Roman world, developed an implacable hostility to one another.

This hostility became historically significant in the course of the fourth century when, following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, Christianity became first the favored and then the official religion of the Roman Empire. The religious quarrel between two small and relatively powerless sects, both at odds with the Pagan world in which they lived, was suddenly transformed into an unequal relationship between a triumphant state religion and a beleaguered religious minority. Even so, the Jews fared better than the Pagans. Triumphant Christianity destroyed Paganism and tore down its temples, but the synagogues were left standing, and Judaism remained as the sole legally permitted religion outside Christianity. Without this double standard of intolerance -- Paganism destroyed and Judaism despised but permitted -- there would have been no further history of Christian-Jewish relations.

Seemingly triumphant Christianity soon faced its own centuries-long string of disasters. As demographic and economic declines eroded the strength of the Christianized Roman Empire from within, the western provinces fragmented and collapsed under the impact of the numerically rather small Germanic invasions from the north. The later invasion of the Huns from the east dissipated, but not so the subsequent Muslim invasions, which stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula and conquered half the old Roman world by the end of the seventh century. In the area destined to become western Europe, cities -- along with urban culture and a money economy -- illiterate, impoverished, and huddled in isolated villages scraping out a precarious living from a primitive subsistence agriculture -- reeled under the impact of yet further devastating invasions of Vikings form Scandinavia and Magyars from central Asia in the ninth and tenth centuries. Neither the Christian majority nor the Jewish minority of western Europe could find much solace in these centuries of afflication and decline.

The great recovery -- demographic, economic, cultural, and political -- began shortly before the milllennium. Population exploded, cities grew up, wealth multiplied, centralizing monarchies began to triumph over feudal anarchy, universities were invented, cultural treasures of the classical world were recovered and the borders of western Christendom began to expand.

But the great transformation did not bring equal benefits to all Europe's first great "modernization crisis," like any such profound transformation, had its "social losers." A surplus of disgruntled mounted warriors -- Europe's feudal elite -- faced constricted opportunities and outlets. A new money economy and urban society eroded traditional manorial relationships. Expanding literacy adn university education, coupled with an intoxicating discovery of Aristotelian rationalism, posed a potential and unsettling threat to traditional Christian faith. Growth, prosperity, and religious enthusiasm were accompanied by bewilderment, frustration and doubt.

For all that was new and unsettling, incomprehensible and threatening, in this modernizing crisis, the Jewish minority provided an apt symbol. The anti-Judaism (and "teaching of contempt") of Christian theologians that characterized the first millennium of Chrstian-Jewish antagonism was rapidly superseded by what Gavin Langmuir has called a "xenophobic" anti-Semitism -- a widely held negative stereotype made up of various assertions that did not describe the real Jewish minority but rather symbolized various threats and menaces that the Christian majority could not did not want to understand. A cluster of anti-Jewish incidents at the end of the first decade of the 11th century signaled a change that became more fully apparent with the murderous pogroms perpetrated by roving gangs of knights on their way to the First Crusade. In the words of Langmuir, "These groups seem to have been made up of people whose sense of identity had been seriously undermined by rapidly changing social conditions that they could not control or understand and to which they could not adapt successfully."
[pp. 1-3]
[Having taken us through more than one thousand years of the Jewish-Christian "adversarial relationship", Browning then proceeds to describe the further development of "xenophobic" anti-Semitism, which I will skip over. Then he comes to the second great "modernization crisis" which centered on the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, finally bringing us to the 19th century.]
[I]n the far more secular and scientific world of the 19th century, religious beliefs provided less explanatory power. For many, Jewish behavior had to be understood instead as caused by allegedly immutable characteristics of the Jewish race. The implications of racial anti-Semitism posed a different kind of threat. If previously the Christian majority pressured Jews to convert and more recently to assimilate, racial anti-Semitism provided no behavioral escape. Jews as a race could not change their ancestors. They could only disappear.

If race rather than religion now provided the rationale for anti-Semitism, the various elements of the negative anti-Semite stereotype that had accumulated during the second half of the Middle Ages were taken over almost in their entirety and needed little updating. The only significant addition was the accusation that Jews were responsible for the threat of Marxist revolution. With little regard for logical consistency, the old negative image of Jews as parasitical usurers (updated as rapacious capitalists) was supplemented with a new image of Jews as subversive revolutionaries out to destroy private property and capitalism and overturn the social order. After 1917 the notion of menacing "Judeo-Bolshevism" became as entrenched among Europe's conservatives as the notion of "Christ-killers" had been among Europe's Christians.
[pp. 4-5]
[Then Browning states that "These developments in the history of anti-Semitism transcended national boundaries and were pan-European." He follows that with the question: "Why then did the Germans, among the peoples of Europe, come to play such a fateful role in the murderous climax that was reached in the middle of the 20th century?" Browning then considers three different "approaches" to answering that question, most of which I will skip over. except for the following summary, which makes a good place to stop.]
Shulamit Volkov's interpretation of late 19th century German anti-Semitism as a "cultural code" constitutes an admirable synthesis of major elements of these different, though not mutually exclusive, notions of a German Sonderweg. German conservatives, dominating an illiberal political system but feeling their leading role increasingly imperiled by changes unleashed by modernization, associated Jews with everything they felt threatened by -- liberalism, democracy, socialism, internationalism, capitalism, and cultural experimentation. To be a self-proclaimed anti-Semite in Germany was also to be authoritarian, nationalist, imperialist, protectionist, corporative, and culturally traditional. Volkov concludes, "Antisemitism was by then strongly associated with everything the conservatives stood for. It became increasingly inseparable from their anti-modernism." As Uriel Tal has noted, German conservatives made their peace with modern nationalism and the modern state by understanding them in terms of a traditional German "Christian state" and traditional values that were seen as the distinct antithesis of the values identified with modern, emancipated, relatively assimilated Jews.
[pp. 6-7]
The next installment in this series will focus on Richard Steigmann-Gall's book Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945.

The series on "Nazis & Christians & Pagans":
[1] Nazis and Christians and Pagans, Oh My! (Part One)
[2] Christian Nazi Quote-fest (Part Two)
[3] Fascism, Islam, and Freedom of Expression (Part Three)
[4] "Hitler was not an occultist": Mitch Horowitz is right but his sourcing is all wrong (Part Four)
[5] Karla Poewe's "New Religions and the Nazis" reviewed by Richard Steigmann-Gall (Part Five)
[6] Rosenberg, Chamberlain, Harnack (Part Six)

Much of the history that Christopher R. Browning covers in the above excerpts is also discussed in a series of posts I have done on the History of Monotheism:
Charlemagne, Part Deux (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Six)
Charlemagne (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Five)
Muhammad (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Four)
Constantine (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Three)

Moses (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Two)

Akhenaten (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part One)
Monotheistic Robots of Doom, Part Deux
Monotheistic Robots of Doom


Unknown said...

Apuleus Platonicus,
you have hereby demonstrated the truth of Godwin's law :).
On a more serious note, the wikipedia article seems to be more balanced. If you carefully choose quotations from Hitler and his sidekicks you can attribute to him almost anything (see the linked article).

Apuleius Platonicus said...

The "evidence" for Hitler making "anti-Christian" comments relies on either outright fabrications or ambiguous second and third hand sources.

Here is a very nice article showing that the "anti-Christian" statements attributed to Hitler's "Table Talk" are bogus:

As far as the famous passage from his diary goes, Goebbels himself wrote elsewhere in his diary that both the Catholic and Protestant Churches are "rotten", but then he goes on to proudly proclaim that the Nazis have "brought back the image of Christ".

Also, just the day before the "anti-Christianity" quote, Goebbels had written in his diary, "The Fuehrer rejects any thought of founding a religion." So Hitler is "deeply religious" AND he rejects "founding a religion"?

Unknown said...

>>So Hitler is "deeply religious" AND he rejects "founding a religion"?

Absolutely. That is precisely what I was driving at. He seems to have said different things suitable for the moment or, in other words, was a demagogue.

>>statements attributed to Hitler's "Table Talk" are bogus

Thanks for the link. The linked author's main intention was to prove that Hitler was not an atheist which makes a big difference. Besides, certain conclusions the author arrives at look completely unfounded.

For instance, the author compares a translated quote from 13 December 1941 with the original and concludes that “the difference in meaning here is radical” because is refers to “criticism of one form of Christianity”, but it doesn't follow from the provided quotation. No context is provided either, from which we could conclude this.

Similarly, the author insists that “Hitler does not deny Christ but claims Christ for himself”, which doesn't follow from the provided quotation. In the same fashion a Manichean or Muslim could claim Christ for himself, but that doesn't make them Christian. The rest of the comment is just as unfounded.

The author's final conclusion that “his Christianity was odd, surely, but so is that of many die-hard believers today” is itself odd. If someone doesn't believe in physical resurrection, denies the authority of a certain Paul of Tarsus and whatever religion he founded and other Christian dogmas, especially that of the Church he formally belonged to, he can hardly be called Christian.

In a similar manner I could write that Hitler was an atheist, but his atheism was odd, because he mentioned God in his speeches.

I personally don't believe in resurrection in flesh, as I find it illogical. I don't believe in miracles in the conventional sense. But I do concede that there might have lived a person, say, a Jewish preacher, who was made into Jesus Christ. Thus I do not entirely deny Christ but rather reinterpret him. I can use the word God in abstract sense, meaning the Divine, like some ancient Greek authors did. Does that make me Christian? I know can't be one because I am a polytheist, but according to the author I might be considered one.

Anonymous said...

If you are, as you say, a polytheist, you may want to consider using the gender-neutral "god" rather than the masculine singular "God". The term "god" originally stems from Germanic paganism and only after Christianization did it refer to a single male being in the sky; the Semitic Yahweh. Per Barnhart (1995:323): "The Germanic words for 'god' were originally neuter, but after the Germanic tribes adopted Christianity, 'God' became a masculine syntactic form."

Apuleius Platonicus said...

There is zero evidence for Hitler being an atheist, just as there is zero evidence that Hitler ever embraced any religion other than Christianity. All of the direct evidence, based on what Hitler himself wrote and said, is that he was a Christian.

There were people around Hitler who claimed to follow some kind of "volkish" pre-Christian religion. Hitler rejected their ideas and ridiculed them (including even in the case of Himmler). The case of Himmler and other "neo-paganists" shows that even they never really broke from Christianity and were consistently favorable toward Luther, Jesus and Meister Eckhardt.

Many early Christians denied the resurrection, and even those who accepted it argued endlessly over precisely what it means. The Arians, the largest and historically most important of the non-orthodox sects, rejected the Nicene formula of Jesus' "dual-nature", which is central to the orthodox understanding of the resurrection. The Arians also had their strongest base of support among the various "Germanic" peoples, especially the "Goths" groups. They even had their own Bible written in the Gothic language.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Dear Anonymous: What, pray tell, are you prattling on about precisely?

Where is it that you find the "masculine singular 'God'" being used in this blog???

There are, of course, individual "male" Gods, and referring to one of them as a "God" is perfectly compatible with polytheism. Other usages could be problematic, but you will not find them in anything I have written.

Nick Ritter said...


What "Anonymous" is stating is factually correct, although I don't see how it relates to this conversation. The word "god" was certainly grammatically neuter in pre-Christian Germanic laguages, and could apply to male or female gods equally well. Only after Christianity did the word "god" become grammatically masculine. I'm not getting how "god" (with a small g) is neuter, while "God" (with a big g) is masculine, though. That's just an odd statement.

@ Denis: While I'm not entirely sure, and while I certainly wouldn't want to take the wind out of Apuleius' sails here, it seems like our host might be winding up to show how Nazism was *not* (contrary to the current pope's statements) a "pagan phenomenon." If that's the case, a look at whether or not the authors of Nazism were Christian, Pagan, or neither is pertinent, thus I don't think Apuleius is pulling a Godwin.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Nick, you have guessed correctly. However, all three of the following are independently verifiable:

Hitler and the vast majority of the Nazis were Christians.

Hitler and the vast majority of the Nazis were not atheists.

Hitler and the vast majority of the Nazis were not Pagans.

What ties all three together is that Christians (and some other misguided non-Christians) consistently insist that the following logic must hold:
(1) Christians are good.
(2) Hitler was bad.
(3) Therefore Hitler could not have been a Christian.

All of the arguments claiming that Hitler (or Nazis more generally) were not Christians are really just arguments that Hitler COULD NOT POSSIBLY have been a Christian, since Christians don't do things like that. Based on such "logic" all of the great mountain of evidence demonstrating that Hitler was a Christian is dismissed, and isolated secondary and tertiary sources (either fabricated or taken out of context) are paraded as "proof" of what is actually merely a self-serving assumption.

Unknown said...

Contemporary modern English doesn't have grammatical gender. Who in this discussion referred to “God” as masculine?

Nick Ritter,
Yes, but the article is in the monotheism series. So it looks like we start from the ancient time and end up with Christianity eventually leading to Nazism. Or is it just my impression?

Apuleus Platonicus,
it's easier to say what Hitler's religion wasn't rather than to say what it was. Can you identify his denomination? I cannot think of a Christian denomination compatible with his views. Otherwise, anyone is a Christian, just a non-standard one.

Of course you can simply say that he was formally a Catholic. I say he was concerned about expediency rather than theology.

As a side note, I even read parts of Ulfila's Bible in the original as a student. Arianism is a remarkable branch of Christianity. No Arian theological works survived, though, so what we know about it, we know mostly from their opponent's viewpoint.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Denis: "Yes, but the article is in the monotheism series. So it looks like we start from the ancient time and end up with Christianity eventually leading to Nazism. Or is it just my impression?"

Apuleius' response: The article is not specifically included in the Monotheism series. I do provide links to the posts in that series because, as I explain, they closely parallel Richard R. Browning's presentation of the "Background" of the Final Solution. Browning is not some Pagan conspiracy theorist. He is one of the world's leading historians specializing in Holocaust studies.

Denis: Can you identify his denomination?

Apuleius: That would be Catholicism.

Denis: I cannot think of a Christian denomination compatible with his views.

Apuleius: Which views are those? Are you really arguing that kiling 6 million Jews is a side issue, and that the real question is where Adolf came down on Trinitarianism?

Anonymous said...

My comment regarding usage of the term "god" is in response to Denis, who wrote "I can use the word God in abstract sense, meaning the Divine, like some ancient Greek authors did. Does that make me Christian?" Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the masculinity in "God", I will again quote Barnhart's Dictionary of Etymology (1995:323): "The Germanic words for 'god' were originally neuter, but after the Germanic tribes adopted Christianity, 'God' became a masculine syntactic form."

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Dear Anonymous: OK, that clears it up. Sorry I didn't see that originally.

And I have to also agree with you now that I understand your point. The kind of usage of "God" that Denis refers to is implicitly Judeo-Christian. All too many Pagans don't understand that.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

When the ancient Greek Pagans used said "ho theos" this should never be translated as "God". Nor should it be translated at "the god". The first translation is inaccurate. The second translation is unacceptable because "ho theos" was normal, acceptable, recognizable, everyday Greek, while "the god" is a linguistic monstrosity that occurs nowhere in actual speech.

"Ho theos" should always be translated as "the Divine" or even "the Gods". In Timaeus 27b-c Socrates and Timaeus use "theos", "theoi" and also "theoi kai theai" interchangeably (in the accusative case, though).

Here is an English translation, where "God" is used, for "ho theos". By leaving the mistranslation "God" in place I hope to emphasize that, at least as far as Plato was concerned, this "God" is interchangeable with both "Gods" and also with "Gods and Goddesses", which makes perfect sense from a polytheistic perspective.

Socrates: "Bounteous and magnificent, methinks, is the feast of speech with which I am to be requited. So then, it will be your task, it seems, to speak next, when you have duly invoked the Gods."

Timaeus: "Nay, as to that, Socrates, all men who possess even a small share of good sense call upon God always at the outset of every undertaking, be it small or great; we therefore who are purposing to deliver a discourse concerning the Universe, how it was created or haply is uncreate, must needs invoke the Gods and Goddesses (if so be that we are not utterly demented), praying that all we say may be approved by them in the first place, and secondly by ourselves. Grant, then, that we have thus duly invoked the deities."

Unknown said...

Apuleus Platonicus,

>>Are you really arguing that kiling 6 million Jews is a side issue, and that the real question is where Adolf came down on Trinitarianism?

If you have to decide if John is a Christian you don't ask if he has ever committed genocide. You will ask if he goes to church regularly, takes part in Eucharist and what he believes. If John turns out to be Adolf, the rules suddenly change.

Or did I miss the point of the article and it's about whether Hitler killed 6 million Jews?

But, anyway, if you insist that he was motivated by Christianity, I give up. I just find it to be a simple solution of a complex problem. If we use this argument in a debate against Christians, we will surely lose.

this seems to be a talk of a deaf and a mute (no offense)
>>I will again quote … Germanic tribes adopted Christianity, 'God' became a masculine syntactic form
And I will once again say that modern English nouns have no grammatical gender. That is why some monotheists refer to their God as “She” and “Her”. English grammar allows that.

Neorxnawang said...

I'm glad we can agree. I think there are a lot of linguistic issues we can look at stemming from the Christianization of the English people and, as a result, the language. From my heathen standpoint, this is a good example of that we should take a look at and reconsider, and I have personally taken to referring to Yahweh by *name* rather than with the anti-pagan title "God".

Language is a crucial aspect of societal mores and not only reflects but also influences. I remember reading an interesting study on the warping of Germanic languages towards portraying women as lesser beings after Christianization as well.

We lost some important words around that time that I think we would do well to bring back, even if only in pagan circles for now.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Neorxnawang: "I have personally taken to referring to Yahweh by *name* rather than with the anti-pagan title 'God'."

I think that is a very good practice. I usually refer to "Jehovah", or "the (Judeo-) Christian 'God'".

Nick Ritter said...

Neorxnawang: The linguistic issues you bring up are, I think quite important, and are considered to be so generally in Theodism. We certainly do revive some of this older vocabulary, as a way of bringing our thinking more in line with pre-Christian Germanic thinking. For that reason, among others, we also use early Germanic languages for liturgical reasons.