Thursday, September 29, 2011

"And if we occasionally speak of Baldur ..."

"In Christ, the embodiment of all manliness, we find all that we need. And if we occasionally speak of Baldur, our words always contain some joy, some satisfaction, that our pagan ancestors were already so Christian as to have an indication of Christ in this ideal figure."
[Dietrich Eckart, founding member of German Nazi Party]

• Inside an anti-Pagan hatchet-job

This post is prompted by a recent article by Brian Powell for MediaMatters.Org: "The Supremacy Cause: Inside The White Nationalist Movement."

Despite the specificity of its proximate inspiration, this essay actually digs deeply into the broad issue of the attitudes toward Christianity and Paganism found among certain elements of the racist right in 21st century American politics. What is shown below is that any apparent criticism of Christianity, or apparent sympathy for Paganism, found among far-right white-supremacist groups and publications (like the National Policy Institute, The Occidental Quarterly, American Renaissance, and Alternative Right) is not at all what it appears to be.

And speaking of things that are not as they appear: on the surface, at least at first, Brian Powell's MediaMatters article, referred to (and linked to) at the beginning of this post, presents itself as a fairly straight-forward bit of investigative reporting.

You see, Powell had registered for the first ever nationwide conference of a white nationalist group called the National Policy Institute (NPI). He attended the conference without revealing the fact that he was in fact there to expose the ideas and activities of an organization whose ideas and activities he, quite justifiably, loathes. "As a clean-cut white male, my presence wasn't suspicious and the other attendees assumed I shared their views. For my part, I let them assume, and I did my best to blend in."

So far, so good. But about two-thirds of the way into his article, Powell suddenly veers off on a 1000+ word tangent under the heading "By the Hammer of Thor", in which he insinuates that this racist organization is in some way connected with and/or influenced by Paganism. Ostensibly this little anti-Pagan rant by Powell was prompted by a chance encounter with some conference attendees who happened to be members of an American Heathen group known as the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA). (In this post I am using the words "Heathen" and "Pagan" interchangeably. "Heathen", or, to be precise, Heiden, is, after all, simply the German word for "Pagan".)

However, we find out that Powell never actually interrogated these Pagans about their religious beliefs or their organizational affiliations, because he did not want to blow his cover by asking a lot of questions. Instead, Powell admits that he only surmised, if it can even be called that, that they were members of the AFA after "craning my neck to watch them writing down information on their group for another young attendee". In fact, it is painfully obvious that all of the "information" about Heathenry and the AFA in Powell's article comes from a few minutes worth of googling, and not from anything that Powell learned at the NPI conference.

Incredibly, Powell made no effort to contact the AFA for an official response. Had he done so, he would have received confirmation that there were, indeed, a grand total of four AFA members who attended the conference as individuals without any official blessing from the ASA itself, as AFA leader Stephen McNallen later stated in a public response to Powell's article. Obtaining such a confirmation, or at least attempting to do so, seems like an obvious thing that any high-school journalism student would have done automatically, especially considering the fact that Powell thought it appropriate to devote about one fourth of a fairly long article (over 4000 words) to the supposed connection between racism and Heathenry.

Worse, though, is the fact that while Powell obsesses over his chance encounter with four Heathens at this conference, he completely ignores the very real connection between the National Policy Institute and Christianity.

• What Brian Powell doesn't know about the National Policy Institute
The National Policy Institute has ten guiding "Principles", the first of which is: "The West is a cultural compound of our Classical, Christian, and Germanic past."

The only religion mentioned in the "Principles" of the NPI is Christianity. Hmmm. What can we make of that? Perhaps we can gain more insight into the religious dimension of NPI's world-view by looking at the two men who co-authored their "Statement of Principles": William H. Regnery II and Samuel T. Francis.

Regnery is best known (to the extent that he is known at all) as the founder of the Charles Martel Society, which in turn is best known (to the extent that it is known at all) for it's flagship publication, The Occidental Quarterly (TOQ).

So, who was Charles Martel? His rise to power as the ruler of the Franks in the eighth century has been described by Princeton University historian Peter Brown (in his The Rise of Western Christendom) as "the greatest political revolution to occur in western Europe since the passing of the Roman empire." Brown goes on to say:
"The unprecedented coagulation of military power in the hands of the Frankish aristocracy who supported Charles Martel; the replacement of the Merovingian kings of Francia by a new, 'Carolingian' royal dynasty; the absorption by the Franks of large areas of central and northern Europe, from modern Holland to Saxony; the Europe-wide conquests of Charlemagne [Martel's grandson] ... these developments engulfed the Christian populations of much of continental Europe in a kingdom of truly 'imperial' dimensions, known to us as the Carolingian [or Frankish] empire. Regional 'micro-Christendoms' survived. But at the top of a victorious society, dominated by the Franks, their various representatives came together, for the very first time, to create what they considered to be the only true 'Christendom' that mattered."
[p. 378]
Martel and his Carolingian successors constantly expanded their theocratic empire by waging Holy War on all non-Christians, and even on those who weren't considered the right kind of Christian. Those against whom the Carolingians wielded the Sword of the Lord included the Islamic Emirate of Cordoba, the Pagans of Saxony and Frisia, and also the Lombards of Italy (who, while nominally Christian, were uncompromising enemies of the Pope and quite possible crypto-Pagans). Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote the following (in his massive A History of the Expansion of Christianity) concerning the violent nature of the spread of Christianity under Charles Martel and the Carolingians, with special attention to the Heathens who resisted Christianization most stubbornly: the Saxons:
"As we have suggested, the conversion of the Saxons was achieved by a combination of armed force and the zeal of missionaries. So far as we know, never before had the adherence of any people to the Christian faith been brought about by quite so drastic a use of the mailed fist and with so much blood-letting among reluctant pagans. The completion of conversion of the entire Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries, accomplished though it had been under the urge of imperial legislation, had probably not entailed the killing of as many non-Christians as did the winning of this comparatively small area in North-western Germany [Saxony]. It was the first but not the last instance in which acceptance of baptism and of the Christian name was induced by a liberal application of the sword. We shall find the procedure repeated again and again in the thousand years between the eighth and the nineteenth century. We shall see it usually as part of the process of the conquest of one people by another -- invaders and conquerors employing the Church and its agents as one of their tools."
[pp. 104-105]
So, it is Charles Martel and the dynasty of marauding medieval theocratic warlords founded by him who truly embody the First Principle of the National Policy Institute: "a cultural compound of our Classical, Christian, and Germanic past". The court language of the Carolingians was the classical language of Latin, their religion was Christianity, and they themselves were Germanic.

But what about the other author of the National Policy Institute's "Statement of Principles"? That would be none other than Samuel T. Francis. Francis, who died in 2005, was also closely associate with another bunch of fascistic white-supremacists: The Council of Conservative Citizens. In fact, Francis was the author of the CCC's own "Statement of Principles", which contains fourteen principles. Principle Number One is:
"We believe that the United States of America is a Christian country, that its people are a Christian people, and that its government and public leaders at all levels must reflect Christian beliefs and values. We therefore oppose all efforts to deny or weaken the Christian heritage of the United States, including the unconstitutional prohibitions of prayers and other religious expression in schools and other public institutions."
Such are the "principles" of the National Policy Institute. Obviously, no self-respecting Heathen would be caught dead in such company!

But wait, there's more. In fact, once one gets started, it's hard to know where to stop in listing all the things we don't find out about the NPI in Brian Powell's 4000+ word article that promises to take us "inside the white nationalist movement".

We've already talked about Regnery and Francis. Here is some background information on two of the other featured speakers at the NPI conference attended by Powell as part of his "investigation":

James Edwards was not only a featured speaker at the NPI meeting on September 10, he was also one of three NPI representatives who held a press conference the previous day (at the National Press Club) to announce NPI's proposed "victory plan" for the Republican Party in 2012 based on the catchy slogan, "Win White America". The title of their plan is "The Majority Strategy", and the "majority" in question is actually what the NPI calls "America’s historic majority—namely, European Christians." Powell also doesn't tell us that Edwards once described (in 2007) infamous Klan leader David Duke as "a Christian man above reproach". Nor are we told that Edwards made that statement during his weekly radio show, which is broadcast from a Christian radio station, or that Edwards got his start in politics working for Catholic arch-conservative Pat Buchanan.

Peter Brimelow was another featured speaker at the National Policy Institute's September 10 meeting, and he also just happens to be the man behind the annually recurring evangelical rallying cry: "The War on Christmas". Brimelow has been beating the "War on Christmas" drum since the 1990's. In addition to coining the term in the first place, he has aggressively promoted his brainchild with a religious fervor that has managed to alienate even many conservatives. The National Review, for example, dropped out of the anti-"War on Christmas" campaign when its editorship passed from John O'Sullivan to Richard Lowry in 1997 (on Christmas Eve, as a matter of fact). But the FOX network, and Bill O'Reilly in particular, have been enthusiastic supporters of Brimelow's meme. Even before the "War on Christmas" campaign got underway, Brimelow wrote in his 1995 anti-immigration book, Alien Nation, that it is "nothing less than the plain truth" to describe the United States as a "Christian nation", and that this is "not in the least incompatible with a secular state." Brimelow also approvingly (and misleadingly) quoted from Thomas Paine to the effect that "we claim brotherhood with every European Christian." (After the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Paine revealed what he had previously hidden from public view in the interests, as he saw it, of the Revolutionary cause: that not only was he himself no Christian, but that he held the lowest possible opinion of "this thing called Christianity".)

• "The Christian Question"

Clearly, then, when it comes to religion there can be no question of any hostility toward Christianity on the part of the National Policy Institute, and in fact they are if anything decidedly pro-Christian. It is nevertheless the case that one does find a surprising level of interest in a certain sort of "Paganism" (if it can really be called that, which is doubtful as we shall see) among some of the leading figures of the NPI. The true story of Paganism and the NPI is significantly more subtle and interesting than anything one might glean from Brian Powell's sophomoric hatchet-job.

Let's go back now to Samuel T. Francis, the "grand old man" of the NPI, whose attitudes toward Christianity and Paganism are quite a bit more nuanced, it turns out, than the impression one gets from either the blustering bible-thumping tone taken in the Council of Conservative Citizens' "Statement of Principles" (authored by Francis, see above), or from lurid intimations about "The Hammer of Thor" in Brian Powell's article. In fact, in the pages of the very first issue of The Occidental Quarterly, Samuel T. Francis expressed a qualified ambivalence toward modern Christianity while simultaneously expressing a somewhat wistful appreciation of (his own distorted idea of) "Paganism".

In TOQ volume 1, number 1 (Fall 2001), we find the article in question under the intriguing title "The Christian Question". This turns out to be a review by Francis of a 1996 book by James C. Russell: The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. But before looking at what Francis had to say about Russell's book, lets look at Russell's own ideas about "the Germanization of Christianity".

James C. Russell was good enough to write a follow-up essay after the glowing review given to his book by Francis, and that essay appeared in the very next issue of TOQ: "The Western Contribution to World History" (here is a link to a pdf of the article). In that article, Russell celebrates the great achievements of the classical Greeks and Romans, while lamenting the fact that while they both, or so claims Russell, started out as culturally "homogeneous" they both fell into the error of "multiculturalism", thus leading to their declines and downfalls. After which the West languished until the eighth century when the Moors threatened to overrun Europe. It was now time for Europe to do or die. And this is precisely where Charles Martel and his Original Carolingian Gangstaz come in.

According to Russell, the Carolingian dynasty represented a newly "Germanized" Christianity that was now able to stand up for White Europe (aka "Christendom") and defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. Here is how Russell puts it in his own words:
Early Christianity had found fertile ground for its message of individual salvation among the alienated, heterogeneous, urban inhabitants of the declining Roman Empire. Later, in the Early Middle Ages when Christian missionaries sought to convert the Germanic and Celtic peoples, it became apparent that for Christianity to be accepted by a more cohesive, homogeneous, pastoral-warrior society, it needed to appeal to the different concerns of that society. Hence, Early Medieval Christianity appealed to matters of group survival such as victory in battle, healthy families, and abundant crops and livestock. Germanic Christianity addressed these pre-Christian folk-religious concerns through local patron saints and clergy and their holy relics. In an apparent attempt to convert the Saxons who had been persecuted by Charlemagne, an adaptation of the New Testament known as the Heliand was composed in Old Saxon. It portrayed Christ and his apostles as a Germanic warrior-band. Eventually a Middle Eastern salvation religion was transformed into a European folk religion and Christianity became more closely identified with Europe, especially with the emergence of the notion of “Christendom.”

Early Medieval Christianity provided a spiritual impetus and a source of solidarity that are likely to have contributed toward European victories over invading forces. The bond between religious and temporal spheres increased under Charles Martel’s Carolingian descendants. They tended to view Christianity as the religion of a Roman Empire which they admired and sought to reconstruct. The application of religious fervor toward Western military exploits is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in a twelfth-century treatise of St. Bernard of Clairveaux entitled, In Praise of the New Knighthood. Written as an exhortation to the Knights Templar and other Crusaders, it distinguishes between fighting for “empty glory” or “earthly possessions” and fighting to assert Euro-Christian dominance in the Holy Land where Euro-Christian pilgrims and shrines had been attacked.

Recalling the existing medieval nexus between European self-identity and Christendom the following words of St. Bernard may be interpreted as a religious rationalization, if not an encouragement to assertively defend Western interests. Bernard writes:
The knights of Christ may safely fight the battles of their Lord, fearing neither sin if they smite the enemy, nor danger at their own death; since to inflict death or to die for Christ is no sin, but rather, an abundant claim to glory.... The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and die yet more confidently, for he serves Christ when he strikes, and serves himself when he falls.
There is nothing original in Russell's contention that Christianity became more violent as it became Europeanized (or "Germanized" as Russell would have it). This is right out of Kenneth Scott Latourette's A History of the Expansion of Christianity (referred to above), which was first published half a decade before Russell's book. However, it turns out that both Latourette and Russell were wrong in that they both characterized this as not just a change in outward behavior, but as a radical shift in the attitude of Christianity toward violence.

In stark contrast to the view of Latourette and Russell, contemporary (or nearly contemporary) sources that celebrate the hack-n-slashery of the Carolingians never give any indication that they considered the religiously inspired rampaging of Martel & Co. as something new under the sun. In fact, there simply was no change in the Christian attitude toward violence during the Middle Ages, for Christians had always not only accepted, but enthusiastically pursued violence, so long as that violence was in the name of Christ. What changed in the eighth century, rather, was the dramatic increase in the military and political means at Christianity's disposal, enabling Christians to more forcefully act out their (always present) violent tendencies. As Christianity became more powerful, due to the rise of an efficiently organized, militarily and financially well-endowed, and territorially ever expanding Christian state in the heart of Europe, Christianity became ever more violent in its actions in direct proportion to its increasing capacity to meet out violence. No attitude adjustment, or "Germanization" was necessary.

This point is addressed at some length by Lawrence G. Duggan in his paper "Compulsion and Conversion from Yahweh to Charlemagne", which appears as the third chapter in the 1997 scholarly anthology "Varieties of religious conversion in the Middle Ages" edited by James Muldoon (googlebooks link). In that paper, Duggan points out the contradiction between, on the one hand, Latourette's claim that the Carolingians were "the first but not the last" Christians to employ "a liberal application of the sword", and, on the other hand, Latourette's observation that "the methods employed in the conversion of the Saxons were so natural and logical an outgrowth of the policies of Charlemagne's predecessors that few [if any at all] seem to have been shocked." [The quotes are taken from pages 103 and 106 of the online version of Latourette here, which is volume II of "A History of the Expansion of Christianity", published in 1938 by Harper and Brothers.] In addition to Latourette, Duggan reviews several other eminent historians who have similarly failed to properly recognize that the "liberal application of the sword" in the name of the Lord during the Carolingian period was a continuation of the pattern of religious violence that can be seamlessly traced back at least three centuries prior to the birth of Martel, to the time when Gratian was the Roman Emperor, and Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan.

To drive home his point Duggan tells a story concerning King Ethelbert of Kent (560-616), who had allowed Christian missionaries to proselytize in his Kingdom, but who at first was personally disinclined to abandon Paganism, for he saw no reason to "forsake those beliefs which I and the whole English race have held so long." Eventually, though, Ethelbert was won over to the new religion, although he continued to allow his subjects the freedom to choose for themselves when and if they wished to convert, for he felt that "the service of Christ was voluntary and ought not to be compulsory." But when Pope Gregory was informed of Ethelbert's approach, he chastised the King, exhorting him to set aside his scruples and to "hasten to extend the Christian faith among the people who are subject to you. Increase your righteous zeal for their conversion; suppress the worship of idols; overthrow their buildings and shrines." The Holy Father further commanded the King to bring about the conversion of his English subjects "by exhorting them, terrifying, enticing, and correcting them."

I will have more to say (in Part Two Three) about the very obvious flaws in Russell's version of the history of Christianity, but now it is time to find out what Samuel T. Francis had to say about the supposed "Germanization of Christianity". In Francis' views, Russell had succeeded in proving the existence of three distinct stages in the historical process of Christianity's progress and eventual decline:

1. Originally, Christianity was otherworldly and multicultural, and it mainly appealed to the poor and the downtrodden.
2. Then Christianity became "Germanized", thus transforming it into a nationalist ideology that appealed to the elites, especially warriors and rulers.
3. But now in modern times Christianity has begun to degenerate back to the "slave mentality" (in Nietzschean phraseology) of it's multicultural roots.

In Francis' own words:
The early Christianity that the Germans encountered contained a good many universalist tendencies, adapted and reinforced by the disintegrating social fabric and deracinated peoples of the late empire. But thanks to Germanization, those elements were soon suppressed or muted and what we know as the historical Christianity of the medieval era offered a religion, ethic, and world-view that supported what we today know as “conservative values”—social hierarchy, loyalty to tribe and place (blood and soil), world-acceptance rather than world-rejection, and an ethic that values heroism and military sacrifice. In being “Germanized,” Christianity was essentially reinvented as the dynamic faith that animated European civilization for a thousand years and more.
The take-home lesson here is that it is no coincidence that William H. Regnery II, the Fuhrer behind both the National Policy Institute and the Occidental Quarterly, is the founder of the Charles Martel Society. And it is no coincidence that Regnery's mentor, Samuel T. Francis, was a great admirer of the historical period of Christianity when its naturally violent proclivities were given free rein. For people like Regnery and Francis, the only problem with Christianity today is that it is no longer as overtly and viciously intolerant and violent as it was back in the good old "Germanized" days.

continue to part two: Yet More on Pagans, Christians, and White Supremacists in the 21st Century