Modern Fascism by Gene Edward Veith – Lecture notes (4)

The ultimate goal of the Nazis was to eliminate not only the Jews but the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its transcendent God and transcendent ethics. They sought to replace it with either a paganized Christianity or a revival of ancient mythological consciousness. To this end, the German Christian movement took shape. Making use of the current theological scholarship and placing itself in the mainstream of modern theology, the German Christian movement sought to synthesize fascism and Christianity.”

“The “Church Struggle” between the syncretists and the confessionalists during the Nazi regime was a pivotal and defining moment for the Christian faith in the modern era. Should Christianity be redefined along the lines of prevailing intellectual and cultural trends? Or should it maintain its commitment to transcendent doctrines and transcendent ethics as mediated in the Hebraic scriptures? Nazism forced theologians, pastors, and laypeople to choose which model of Christianity they would follow. Those who agreed to syncretism could enjoy power and influence. Those who held to confessionalism and its implications faced arrest by the Gestapo.”

“The German Christian movement, as described by a church historian, “articulated a highly politicized and secularized theology that subverted scripture and the inherited Lutheran and Reformed confessions with führer-worship, German völkischness, and explicitly racial anti-Semitism”. Theologians, church officials, and pastors were its theorists and its leaders. The movement was not a conspiracy by the Nazi party, but a genuine theological movement within the church.”

“The state Protestant church, known as the German Evangelical Church, was an amalgam of Lutheran, Reformed, and United congregations. They all received “church taxes” as collected by the state and were united in an official bureaucratic structure. Once Hitler was in power, the German Christians took control of the machinery of the state church.

“The German Christians, however, in gaining control of the major Protestant religious institution, could proceed with the Nazification of the church.”

“The Confessing Church was organized to combat the German Christian movement. The name Confessing alluded to the Confessions of the church, the historical Christian doctrines collected, for example, in the Lutheran Book of Concord. Whether they had been conservative, liberal, or followers of the new dialectical theology, the Christians who opposed Hitler and the fascist worldview did so by reemphasizing the classical doctrines of the church. “In this struggle under the attacks of ‘German Christian’ doctrines,” writes one scholar, “they experienced an amazing rediscovery of the Reformation Confessions. And in this act of confession an unexpected partnership with the so-called former liberals and orthodox positivists emerged.” The Confessing Christians were those who held to a doctrinal, transcendent, and thus for the Nazis a “Jewish” Christianity against the syncretic, this-worldly, and paganized religion of the German Christians.”

The German Christian theologians predictably denounced the confessional movement as being “narrow”and “fundamentalist.” Cajus Fabricius marshalled 19th-century liberal scholarship with its focus upon an experiential and undogmatic religion to attack the Confessionalists. Perhaps the most formidable and sophisticated of the pro-Nazi theologians—and the most extreme in his commitment to fascism—was Emanuel Hirsch, a dialectical theologian. Considered “a major figure in twentieth-century German theology,” Hirsch was “rooted in the existentialism that marked the best theologians of his generation.” Like other modernist theologians, Hirsch taught that the resurrection of Christ was only a spiritual vision. The Easter narratives were later additions to the New Testament. The idea of a physical resurrection distorts Christianity by focusing attention to the hereafter rather than to the present. He criticized Christians who try to separate Christianity from culture. He stressed the importance of community in the Christian life.”

Hitler maintained his membership in the Catholic Church and ordered top officials such as Göring and Goebbels, against their will, to stay on the rolls of their churches. To party insiders, he was more open, describing how “after difficult inner struggles I had freed myself of my remaining childhood religious conceptions. I feel as refreshed now as a foal on a meadow.” Hitler, having solved the “Jewish problem” planned to solve the “church problem” after the war: “The war is going to be over. The last great task of our age will be to solve the church problem. It is only then that the nation will be wholly secure…. When I was young, my position was: Dynamite. It was only later that I understood that this sort of thing cannot be rushed. It must rot away like a gangrened member. The point that must be reached is to have the pulpits filled with none but boobs, and the congregations with none but little old women. The healthy young people are with us”. While the leadership was ordered to stay on the church rolls for the time being, rank-and-file party members were encouraged to withdraw from their churches.”

“As the Nazi party solidified its control and particularly with the outbreak of the war, the attempts to suppress and to replace the church became more overt. Church presses, including those that published the Bible, were shut down. Religious education was curtailed, and much church property was confiscated. The Nazi party began scheduling its meetings and rallies—including compulsory Hitler Youth gatherings—on Sunday mornings. Not only was the party thus directly competing with church attendance, it was making itself a substitute for the church. Weddings and funeral services could be held apart from the church, using Nazi rituals. Efforts were made to substitute Hitler Youth dedication services for the rite of Confirmation. The Hitler Youth organization was a means of rebuilding society afresh by indoctrinating the next generation into the new order. One of the most dubious achievements of the German Christians was to merge the church’s youth group, the Evangelical Youth Organization, with the Hitler Youth.”

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