What is a hypothesis that explores the religion-state relationship between Nazi Germany and Catholics. In particular looking at the concordat and the encyclical, and the evidence of a religion-...

What is a hypothesis that explores the religion-state relationship between Nazi Germany and Catholics. In particular looking at the concordat and the encyclical, and the evidence of a religion- state relationship whitin Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church. 

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The relationship of Nazism to religion is complicated.  The personification of Nazism, of course, was Adolf Hitler, the architect of perhaps the blackest period in human history.  Much, of course, has been written about Hitler’s life, and Hitler himself put his thoughts to paper with the publication of Mein Kampf (My Struggle), much of which references, usually obliquely, the role of religion, or the absence thereof, in the life of the common man.  For instance, in writing Mein Kampf, Hitler devoted considerable time (he was literally “doing time” at the time he wrote, imprisoned as he was at Landsberg prison), to discussions of the economic and social factors leading to the decline of humanity.  Describing the travails of the average German man and this hypothetical person’s neglect of duty and family, Hitler adds, “Then when he finally comes home, maybe on the Sunday or the Monday, having parted with his last shillings and pence, pitiable scenes follow, scenes that cry out for God's mercy.”

This sentiment is repeated throughout much of Hitler’s book.  References to God and to divine Providence occur with considerable frequency, as in the following passages:

“To-day I fervidly thank Providence for having sent me to such a school. There I could not refuse to take an interest in matters that did not please me. This school soon taught me a profound lesson.”

“To watch that process of progressive disintegration was a tragic and at the same time an instructive experience. The execution of history's decree was carried out in thousands of details. The fact that great numbers of people went about blindfolded amid the manifest signs of dissolution only proves that the gods had decreed the destruction of Austria. I do not wish to dwell on details because that would lie outside the scope of this book.”

“We thank God that the inner spirit of our German democracy will of itself prevent the chance careerist, who may be intellectually worthless and a moral twister, from coming by devious ways to a position in which he may govern his fellow-citizens.”

Finally, Hitler places “religion and morals” within the context of the decline of civilization, the direct result, he suggests of economic conditions in Austria and Germany:

“Here nothing good is said of human nature as a whole and every institution, from the school to the government, is reviled. Whether religion and morals are concerned or the State and the social order, it is all the same; they are all scoffed at. . . He leads the same kind of life which was exemplified for him by his father during his childhood. He loiters about and comes home at all hours. He now even black-guards that broken-hearted being who gave him birth. He curses God and the world and finally ends up in a House of Correction for young people. There he gets the final polish.”

These quotes from Mein Kampf, while reflective of the views held by the author of matters of religions, however, are not necessarily reflective of the relationship of Nazism to religion.  Hitler’s principle concerns when writing his tract were less about the importance of theological matters than about the importance of morals (as he saw them) and discipline in the conduct of everyday life.  God is an abstract concept associated with morality and manners, but there was little about Hitler that reflected a deeper commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  As a political leader, in fact, Hitler’s relationship to organized religion was strained and complicated.  Raised by a Catholic mother and baptized and confirmed despite the atheistic leanings of his father, Hitler matured as an adult with a decidedly agnostic orientation reflecting the influences of both parents.  Hitler understood that religion was a powerful force and that it would be a serious strategic mistake to alienate practitioners of Christianity.  He needed to recruit Germans who would respond to his appeals for racial purity and for the kind of discipline needed to build what he envisioned as a “Thousand Year Reich,” and that required appealing to peoples’ basic sense of religious duty.  Christianity was a convenient foil in his determined efforts at ridding Europe of its Jewish population, and depicting Jews in the context of the death of Jesus provided a politically useful weapon in firing the emotions of a heavily Christian populace. 

Hitler’s rise to power and his reign as chancellor and “Fuhrer” was characterized by a continuous balancing act involving the need to secure the support of religious leaders while keeping himself and his movement insulated from any kind of theological penetration.  It was all political.  Joseph Goebbels, one of the highest ranking Nazis and its chief propagandist – a very important role in a political system founded on the requirement to inculcate in its followers a fervid belief in its own innate superiority and in the legitimacy of a campaign to eradicate others – wrote in his diaries that “[t]he Fuhrer passionately rejects any notion of founding a religion.  He has no intention of becoming a priest.  His sole, exclusive role is that of a politician.” [See The Goebbels Diaries, 1939-1941, http://books.google.com/books?id=Z-1nAAAAMAAJ&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=priest]. 

Similarly, Albert Speer, Nazi Germany’s principle architect and one of Hitler’s closest confidants, wrote in his memoirs of Hitler’s relationship to religion and the entirely agnostic, political approach he adopted towards the Church.  Speer noted that Hitler encouraged Goering and Goebbels to remain officially members of the Catholic Church, and that “he too would remain a member of the Catholic Church, he said, although he had no real attachment to it.  And, in fact, he remained in the Catholic Church until his suicide.”  In his discussion of Hitler and religion, Speer references an anecdote from a meeting Hitler attended with a visiting delegation of Arabs:

“Hitler had been much impressed by a scrap of history he had learned from a delegation of distinguished Arabs.  When the Mohammedans attempted to penetrate beyond France into Central Europe during the eighth century, his visitors had told him, they had been driven back at the Battle of Tours.  Had the Arabs won this battle, the world be Mohammedan today.  For theirs was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to that faith.  The Germanic people would have become heirs to that religion.  Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament.”

Further, according to Speer, Hitler respected Islam and the Japanese religious belief system precisely because of their martial elements, as opposed to Christianity, “with its meekness and flabbiness.”

[See Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0684829495/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_3?pf_rd_p=1944687542&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B000OFU7XQ&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1E3DMDKF74Y5NFAT0KK2

In short, to reiterate, Nazism’s relationship to religion was one entirely one of practical, if inherently cynical politics.  Christianity was both a force with which to reckon if not properly stroked, and an instrument with which to agitate against inferior races (i.e., Jews and Slavs) that posed an existential threat to Aryan purity.

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