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Creationist Cults

From: Stephen F. Schaffner
To: All Msg #41, Jan-07-93 03:36PM
Subject: Churches and Hitler. Was: Will the -REAL- Christians please s

Organization: Stanford Linear Accelerator Center From: sschaff@roc.SLAC.Stanford.EDU (Stephen F. Schaffner) Message-ID: <C0IC93.DMF@unixhub.slac.stanford.edu> Newsgroups: sci.skeptic,alt.atheism

A number of statements have been made in this thread on the subject of the churches' attitudes towards Hitler; these have led me to do a little reading on the subject to find out what actually happened. There is a vast literature in this field (isn't there always?), and I don't claim to have looked at more than two or three books (principally _The German Churches under Hitler_, by Ernst Helmreich, and _The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust_, edited by Franklin Littell and Hubert Locke). In addition, I've only had time to look at the Protestant churches so far. My first conclusion is that the issue is complicated (which is also usually the case). Thus, you can find "official" pro-Nazi pronouncements like this one from the Reich Church Council:

. . . we admonish and ask the Evangelical congregations to support with prayer, loyalty and obedience Volk, Reich, and Fuhrer. We said yes to the National Socialist creation of a nation on the basis of race, blood, and soil. We say yes to the will for freedom, national honor, and social sacrifice, even to the surrender of life for the community of the people. We recognize in this the God-given reality of our German nation.

In the same year (1936), on the other hand, you can find other statements, also claiming to speak for the church, like this one from a letter that the Second Provisional Directory of the Confessing Church (about which more later) wrote to Hitler:

When blood, folk, race, and honor are accorded the place of eternal values, the Evangelical Christian, by the first commandment, is forced to deny this evaluation. When the Aryan person is glorified, God's word testifies to the sinfulness of all men; when within the concepts of National Socialist Weltanschauung an anti-Semitism is forced on Jews which demands hatred of the Jews, there stands opposed to this the Christian command of love your neighbor.

The main reason for this confusion is that from 1934 (at least) on, the large Protestant churches (the Lutheran and Reformed "Land", i.e. provincial, churches) were disrupted by a power struggle between pro- and anti-Nazi factions (the "Church Struggle" referred to in the title above); further confusing matters, Hitler was attempting at the same time to bring the churches under a unified, national administration (under the control of the pro-Nazi faction, of course). The anti-Nazi faction(s) refused to recognize some or all of the new administrative entities as legitimate. Since the struggle was carried out within the confines of the churches, there is no single entity that one can look to for "the" official church position. The council that issued the first statement above, for example, was appointed by the government.

A brief summary of events:

1933: Hitler comes to power. Most churchmen were either silent or welcomed the new regime, which promised both to restore order and protect Christian values (Hitler himself, by the way, was apparantly completely indifferent to religious matters). Nobody seems to have cared much about the Nazis' anti-Semitism.

1933-1935: In opposition to a growing movement within the churches (the "German Christians") that combined Christianity and Naziism in both belief and practice, the Confessing Church was organized; the latter rejected German Christianity as a perversion of Christianity. The only number I've run across regarding the popularity of the German Christian movement is from a provincial church election, in which they won 1/3 of the vote. The estimate I've seen for the strength of the Confessing Church is that it involved 1/3 of German pastors. The laity seem more likely to have been involved in the former, the better-known church leaders and theologians in the latter. The struggle in this stage was entirely within the church, with Hitler interfering only modestly. 1935-1938: Hitler changed course and began actively attacking the Confessing Church; 500 were sent to concentration camps in 1937, the peak year of the attack. The estimate I've seen is that a total of 500 pastors and church leaders died in camps, out of roughly 18,000 total (for comparison, ~1800 died in action in the war).

1938-1945: The "church struggle" fizzled. With the church organization effectively taken over by the state, and lacking any theological tradition of opposing the state, the vast majority of clergymen did not make the transition to active resistence to the state. The one notable exception was Dietrich Bonheoffer, the well-known young theologian who had returned to Germany from abroad in order to work against the Nazis. He was eventually executed by the Gestapo for his part in the attempt on Hitler's life.

On only one issue, apart from church government, did the churches directly oppose the government. Both Protestant and Roman Catholic officials strongly protested the on-going Nazi program of "euthanasia" of the insane, the mentally handicapped and epileptics. They received wide-spread public support in their effort, and the government did in fact drastically curtail the program (which had already killed ~70,000).

Two observations:

1) However feeble their opposition, the churches were the only important institutions in German society to resist control by the Nazi state. In particular, political parties, unions and universities all submitted without significant protest.

2) On the other hand, to the extent that the churches did resist Hitler, they did so largely for the defense of their theology and independence (i.e. in behalf of the perceived interests of their congregations), not on humanitarian grounds. In particular, early attacks on anti-Semitism by the church were almost non-existent. Even the Confessing Church recognized only late and gradually that they had a responsibility to speak out on behalf of non-Christians. The only institutional exception seems to have been the German Baptists (a small group), who in 1934 approved the following statement at the Fifth Congress of the Baptist World Alliance:

This Congress deplores and condemns as a violation of the law of God, the Heavenly Father, all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward colored people, or toward subject races in any part of the world.

The statement went on to urge "respect for human personality regardless of race". It is perhaps relevant that Baptists, unlike Lutherans, have traditionally had a strong emphasis on the separation of church and state (which emphasis has recently begun to change in the U.S., by the way).

Within the Confessing Church movement, again only Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to have recognized early the magnitude of the evil involved. In an earlier post, someone asked about confessions of guilt on the part of the church. There were a number of such official statements after the war, but I will quote Bonhoeffer's words, written in 1940:

The Church confesses . . . her timidity, her evasiveness, her dangerous concessions. She has often been untrue to her office of guardianship and to her office of comfort. And through this she has often denied to the outcast and to the despised the compassion which she owes them. She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven. She has failed to speak the right word in the right way and at the right time. She has not resisted to the uttermost the apostasy of the faith, and she has brought upon herself the guilt of the godlessness of the masses.

The Church confesses that she has taken in vain the name of Jesus Christ, for she has been ashamed of this name before the world and she has not striven forcefully enough against the misuse of this name for an evil purpose. She has stood by while violence and wrong were being committed under cover of this name. . . .

The Church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred and murder, and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenceless brothers of Jesus Christ.

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Steve Schaffner sschaff@unixhub.slac.stanford.edu


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