Monday, December 05, 2005

Church and State in Nazi Germany

Since the forums Mainstream Baptists held last week on "Theologians Under Hitler," I've been interested in the relations between church and state in Nazi Germany. Here's a quote that I found in one of the many books on my bookshelf that I have not previously had time to read:

The former Socialist Weimar Republic had no religious interest, and stood for a separation of State and Church. . . .

The new National Socialist State gave up this indifferent neutrality towards the Church. . . . they believe it impossible . . . to leave religious education and influence entirely to the individual conscience, as was done in America, where experience shows that full individual religious liberty leads to such an estrangement between religion and culture that millions of children and adolescents have no longer the slightest knowledge of the elementary facts of Christian life and history, and where the State suffers from the lack of the moral influence in the education of its citizens. The National Socialist ideology recognizes the cultural value of religion, and appreciates the moral influence of the Christian Church as a means for uplifting the moral level of, and for unifying conflicting tendencies within, the nation.

Hitler himself has declared repeatedly that he believes in the religious and moral values of a 'positive Christianity,' and that he is 'willing to protect the two great Christian confessions in their rights, to prevent any interference in their doctrine, and to re-establish harmony between their duties and the claims and conceptions of the State.' Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsfuhrer of the elite of the National Socialist Party, in an address to the German peasants, quoted a kind of catechism for the members of his organization, according to which the question: 'Do you believe in a God?' has to be answered: 'Yes, I believe, and judge that a man who does not, is self-conceited, stupid, suffers from megalomania, and is not fit for us.' Minister Kerrl even goes so far as to say that a religious faith is the foundation of the State.

The 'Christian religion' has, therefore, in the opinion of the Party, a very definite and recognized place in the ideology of National Socialism. The State desires a close relation between culture and religion, but 'it cannot be a confessor, or decide in favour of one historical Church.' It is friendly in regard to religion, but neutral in regard to confessional distinctions. It protects and promotes Christianity as a whole, but grants full liberty to its members in regard to their confessional allegiance. The official definition of the State in Hitler's Mein Kampf, without mentioning religion, keeps itself open to the influences of higher spiritual and moral values; and other declarations invite the Churches to collaborate with the State for the full development of a free national culture.

Adolf Keller, Church and State on the European Continent (London: The Camelot Press, 1936), pp. 123-24.

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