Fringe religions helped propel rise of Nazis, author saysAll this comes dangerously close to what I am calling the German lack of a moral/ethical compass in my incessant rantings, doesn't it?
May 3, 2006
The German Faith Movement, an amalgamation of new age ideas and distorted Christian concepts, played a pivotal role in paving the way for the rise of National Socialism, or Nazism, in Weimar Germany, according to a new book by a University of Calgary anthropologist.
Karla Poewe, an emerita professor who, as a little girl growing up in wartime Germany was forced to flee her home, attempted to get into the minds of pre-war Germans by immersing herself in a variety of archival material. She looked at letters, diaries, lecture notes, popular literature, and newspaper and magazine articles, as well as the correspondence between leading intellectuals and religious leaders of the day.
She presents her findings about this neglected chapter in German history in New Religions and the Nazis, published earlier this year by Routledge.
“The question I want answered is, ‘Why did Germans support National Socialism in the first place? You can’t ask a thinking person born during the war not to go over that history themselves, but personal experience is not enough,” Poewe says. “You have to do the research.”
Poewe spent nearly 10 years on the project, painstakingly translating thousands of documents to maintain the nuances inherent in the language of the day. No other single study of the subject has as much source material behind it. She looked at archival documents that have largely been ignored by English speaking historians, as well as correspondence that has only recently become accessible to scholars without restrictions.
Although she doesn’t say so in her book, Poewe notes that many of the factors that contributed to Germany’s drift toward Nazism are apparent today in countries under the sway of Islamic fundamentalists. “You have large populations of disillusioned young men, sensitized to violence, who deliberately fuse radical religious and political ideologies. This is a frightening combination and potentially a force to be reckoned with,” she warns.
In the aftermath of the First World War, the defeated Germans increasingly saw capitalism, internationalism and “Jewish imperialism” as the principal hallmarks of their enemies, Poewe says. Christianity, too, was viewed suspiciously, with its roots in the Jewish world; revisionist theologians therefore rewrote the tradition: Christ was Aryan, not Jewish, they said, He was heroic, but not divine, and most of the Gospels were unreliable except for Mark, the oldest.
“One of the dangers of liberal Christianity, where all sorts of interpretations are permitted, is that it can easily slip into becoming a new religion,” Poewe says. “This is what happened. In a bid to rid Germany of what it saw as Jewish Christianity, several home-grown practices sprang up, including some that incorporated Icelandic and pre-Christian sagas, as well as ideas from German Idealism.
”Although initially these new religions were separate and disorganized entities, they eventually came under the umbrella of what was known as the German Faith Movement. Hitler saw in the German Faith Movement a mechanism for transmitting and reinforcing the National Socialist worldview; “He shaped its followers into a disciplined political force but dismissed its leaders later when they were no longer needed,” Poewe says.
Reading circles, which were small groups devoted to the study of books and ideas, were extremely popular at the time and one of the first avenues through which Germans began to pick up many of the philosophies of the new religions. “Many Germans were highly sophisticated,” Poewe says. “But in the end they were just human beings muddling about who made some really bad choices – choices that led to disaster.”
For the rest of the article with biographical details of that remarkable woman click HERE.
(Thanks and compliments go to my friend Alexa Duval from France!)