Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Cross and the Swastika


You know I've said before that the Nazi relationship with organised religions that weren't Jewish was quite complex and at times weirdly tolerant. But its with the Christian churches within German that the relationship with God really got weird.

Nowadays in the age of the internet there are two sides to the issue of Hitler's faith, certain quite dishonest Christians claim he was an atheist and they really have no evidence for that. On the other hand you have dishonest atheists claiming he was a devout Catholic. They have some evidence at least, the references to God in Mein Kampf and the Concordat between the Nazi party and German Catholic Church, but what they forget is that not only was this a political arrangement between NSDAP and the Zentrum party (Catholic) but much more importantly that Hitler broke the Concordat, he destroy all Catholic organisations just like all other non Nazi groups and was quite happy to lock up Catholic priests and Bishops in the concentration camps:

Dachau became the camp where 2,720 clergymen were sent, including 2,579 Catholic Priests. The priests at Dachau were separated from the other prisoners and housed together in several barrack buildings in the rear of the camp. There were 1,780 Polish priests and 447 German priests at Dachau. Of the 1,034 priests who died in the camp, 868 were Polish and 94 were German.
Personally speaking I find Hitler's religious views if any to be completely irrelevant, what interests me is the attitude of the Nazi regime as a whole. And for me the most interesting part was the Nazi regimes attempt to co-opt and control the many Protestant churches in German. The main thrust of this policy was the establishment of an umbrella organisation The German Evangelical Church, more commonly known as the National Reich Church (NRC).  

At first glance it doesn't seem to exceptional, the Nazi's were a Totalitarian regime so it makes sense that they'd which to keep a tight leash on anything capable of independent organisation even if that organising is unlikely to be overtly hostile.

But the really interesting and strange thing is in how this organisation grew into an experiment into creating a "Pure" Church for the new German state. Not content to keep priests and bishops on message they started trying to build a church to replace the old Protestant ones and fill them with Nazi Iconography and a crusader like mindset. Most infamously replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf (or giving them an equal place) and the Crucifix with the Sword and Swastika.

The experiment was effectively a failure, the only attendants were already committed Nazi's and the party seems to have lost interest quite quickly by 1937. But they didn't half arse this, they really put a lot of thought and effort into building this Nazi church. They had a Reichs Bishop Ludwig Muller. Muller a little known pastor whom joined the Nazi's in 1931.

And the foundations for this theological nightmare were laid down and could easily have been revived after the war with renewed interest. Here's the 30 point program of the National Reich Church written I believe by Alfred Rosenberg.

Reading them all together makes me wonder how this National Reich Church could even be called a Church if they were all put into practice, it starts quite obvious outline the role of the NRC as a tool of control and propaganda, but it keeps on going to gut all recognisable aspects of Christianity.

1. The National Reich's Church of Germany categorically claims the exclusive right and the exclusive power to control all churches within the borders of the Reich; it declares these to be national churches:

2. The German people must not serve the National Reich Church. The National Reich Church is absolutely and exclusively in the service of but one doctrine: race and nation.

3. The field of activity of the National Reich Church will expand to the limits of Germany's territorial and colonial possessions.

4. The National Reich Church does not force any German to seek membership therein. The Church will do everything within its power to secure the adherence of every German soul. Other churches or similar communities and unions particularly such as are under international control or management cannot and shall not be tolerated in Germany.*

5. The National Reich Church is determined to exterminate irrevocably and by every means the strange and foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany in the ill-omened year 800.

6. The existing churches may not be architecturally altered, as they represent the property of the German nation, German culture and to a certain extent the historical development of the nation. As property of the German nation, they are not only to be valued but to be preserved.

7. The National Reich Church has no scribes, pastors, chaplains or priests but National Reich orators are to speak in them.**

8. National Reich Church services are held only in the evening and not in the morning. These services are to take place on Saturday's with solemn illumination.

9. In the National Reich Church German men and women, German youths and girls will acknowledge God and his eternal works.

10. The National Reich Church irrevocably strives for complete union with the state. It must obey the state as one of its servants. As such, it demands that all landed possessions of all churches and religious denominations be handed over to the state. It forbids that in future churches should secure ownership of even the smallest piece of German soil or that such be ever given back to them. Not the churches conquer and cultivate land and soil but exclusively the German nation, the German state.***

11. National Reich Church orators may never be those who today emphasize with all tricks and cunning verbally and in writing the necessity of maintaining and teaching of Christianity in Germany; they not only lie to themselves but also the German nation, goaded by their love of the positions they hold and the sweet bread they eat.

12. National Reich Church orators hold office, government officials under Civil Service rules.

13. The National Reich Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany as well as the publication of Sunday papers, pamphlets, publications and books of a religious nature.****

14. The National Reich Church has to take severe measures in order to prevent the Bible and other christian publications being imported into Germany.

15. The National Reich Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Fuhrer's "Mein Kampf" is the greatest of all documents. It is conscious that this book contains and embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation.

16. The National Reich Church has made it its sacred duty to use all its energy to popularize the coeternal "Mein Kampf" and to let every German live and complete his life according to this book.

17. The National Reich Church demands that further editions of this book, whatever form they may take, be in content and pagination exactly similar to the present popular edition.*****

18. The National Reich Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but "Mein Kampf", which is to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book, and to the left of the altar a sword.

20. The National Reich Church speakers must during church services propound this book to the congregation to the best of their knowledge and ability.

21. The National Reich Church does not acknowledge forgiveness of sins. It represents the standpoint which it will always proclaim that a sin once committed will be ruthlessly punished by the honorable and indestructible laws of nature and punishment will follow during the sinner's lifetime.******

22. The National Reich Church repudiates the christening of German children, particularly the christening with water and the Holy Ghost.

23. The parents of a child (or if a new born child) must only take the German oath before the altar which is worded as follows: The man: "In the name of God I take this Holy oath that I the father of this child, and my wife, are of proven Aryan descent. As a father, I agree to bring up this child in the German spirit and as a member of the German race". The women: "In the name of God I take this Holy oath that I (name) bore my husband a child and that I its mother am of proven Aryan descent. As a mother, I swear to bring up this child in the German spirit and as a member of the German race". The German diploma can only be issued to newly born children on the strength of the German oath.

24. The National Reich Church abolishes confirmation and religious education as well as the communion the religious preparation for the communion. The educational institutions are and remain the family, the schools, the German youth, the Hitler youth, and the Union of German girls.

25. In order that school graduation of our German youth be given an especially solemn character, all churches must put themselves at the disposal of German youth, the Hitler youth and the Union of German girls on the day of the state's youth which will be on the Friday before Easter. On this day the leaders of these organizations exclusively may speak.

26. The marriage ceremony of German men and women will consist of taking an oath of faithfulness and placing the right hand on the sword. There will not be any unworthy kneeling in National Reich Church ceremonies.

27. The National Reich Church declares the tenth day before Whit Sunday to be the national holiday of the German family.

28. The National Reich Church rejects the customary day of prayer and atonement. It demands that this be transferred to the holiday commemorating the laying of the foundation stone of the National Reich Church.

29. The National Reich Church will not tolerate the establishment of any new clerical religious insignia.

30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels within the Reich and its colonies and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol of Germany the "Hakenkreuz" (swastika).

*It should be remembered that both the Jehovah's Witnesses and small Mormon population were also deemed dangerous and sent to extermination camps.

** Loyal Nazi party members instead of a separate clergy. Confirmed in point 12.

*** Basically an attempt to break the financial backs of churches to make sure they are dependent on the Nazi state

**** Yes the NRC wants the bible to be suppressed, this is because it found most versions of the bible to be Pacifist and didn't want alternative version to contradict its edited more militant message.

***** 15, 16, 17, and 19 make it clear (as if it were ever in doubt) that the NRC main task is to be another platform for Nazi propaganda.

****** I shouldn't be surprised but I wasn't expecting a threat to be written into a Churches founding principle.


Despite the almost surreal weirdness the NRC does give us crystal clear example of the dangers of State religions and the role theologians can play in pushing explicit political ideology. It's easy to laugh and write off this bizarre experiment but there are plenty of cases of this kind of thing - minus the Nazi specifics- being successful. Iran, Saudi Arabia, even the mild Church of England. So its something that warrants being treated seriously.

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