From the Reformation to the Third Reich: Protestantism’s Impact on Western Culture – Part 6
The following is part six of a multi-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s fifth session
at the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young
|Click here for the introduction
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
|Click here for part five
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
The Rise of National Socialism and the Assault on Capitalism
It is my conviction that the anti-Semitism and, of course, the Holocaust directly related to anti-Semitism is what obscures the larger discussion about National Socialism. I know that the eradication of a specific genetic population really hits us where we live. We know that is the one thing we can never escape, and so when there is organized, government-driven hostility towards the genetics of our creation, that’s hard to get out of your head. But you must also remember the National Socialists wiped out almost an equal number of people who were not Jews. They wiped out pretty much anybody who they decided stood in their way of whatever their statist ambitions were.
Let us begin with the champion of all Germans, Martin Luther. Little-known to people who do not pay any attention, Luther wrote a book entitled, On the Jews and Their Lies. I want to give you a few excerpts out of the introduction.
“I had made up my mind to write no more about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that those miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book so that I might be found among those who oppose such poisonous activities of the Jews and who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them…
“We propose to discuss their arguments and boast and prove convincingly before God and the world, not before Jews for, as already said, they would accept this neither from Moses nor from the Messiah himself… To this end, we quote Moses in Genesis 17… When God instituted circumcision, he said, among other things, ‘Any uncircumcised male shall be cut off from his people.’ [Genesis 17:14 ]”
Now I want you to notice Luther’s stated purpose. “We propose to discuss their arguments and boast and prove convincingly before God and the world…” He is trying to make a specific intellectual rebuttal. This is a theological treatise, and this is important. There is a common myth, one of many around us, that Luther was somehow just misled, and these are just some vague ramblings. No. This is just as important in Luther’s mind as the Heidelberg Disputation. This is just as central to Lutheran thought as the rest of his doctrinal works.
As I said, it is often stated in his defense that Luther was a victim of long-held prejudices. He was merely reacting out of his horrible biases, that it is the unfortunate writing of an ignorant soul, that he can’t really be held responsible for the actions of people 400 years in the future. I contend this is all nonsense. Luther wrote this when he was 60, and this is after a long-considered development.
Notice in his first comment he said, “I made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them.” He had a long history of dealing with the Jewish people in his mind. So he writes this at last because he ultimately believes he must organize a defense for Christianity against the Jews. So those people who actually insist that Luther is somehow not culpable here are people who are trying to wipe out reality and rewrite history.
And really, it will take you about an hour and a half to two hours to wade through, but on its face, On the Jews and Their Lies is a theological treatise with the same intentions as Bondage of the Will and the Heidelberg Disputation. The notion that he should not be responsible for the actions of people 400 years later is nonsense. The fact of the matter is that everybody expects people to conform and to act according to Luther in theology. This is a fundamental expectation. You cannot pick and choose. You cannot tell me his doctrine is what everybody should do because of his orthodoxy and then in turn tell me that something he wrote with just as much theological impact is somehow irrelevant to people’s actions. Luther was a definer of his time. He was not a victim of his time. Luther is the intellectual plumb line for all things orthodoxy, and it is expected that people conform, and it is nonsense to assume that he should not be directly accountable.
He goes on to say,
“Shame on you, you damned Jews, that you dare to apply this earnest, glorious, comforting word of God so despicably on your mortal greedy belly and that you are not ashamed to display your greed so openly. You are not worthy of looking at the outside of the Bible, much less of reading it. You should read only the Bible that is found under the sow’s tail, and eat and drink the letters that drop from there.”
Do I really have to unscramble that? This is the kind of language you would find in an elementary school. Gooey poop and pee, really? Now, I didn’t say it was a great theological treatise, and I didn’t say he was a whiz kid of theological defense. I’m only telling you he intends this to be held this way. But I do want to notice the theme that gets lost among the distraction, and that is Luther’s preoccupation with the perception of Jewish “greed”. In this short paragraph there are two references to it; “greedy belly” and “that you display your greed so openly.” Keep that in mind as you consider this next quote.
“They curse us goyim (literally means ‘nations’ but is used as a pejorative for all non-Jews). In their synagogues and in their prayers, they wish us every misfortune. They rob us of our money and goods through their usury, and they play on us every wicked trick they can. And the worst of it is that they still claim to have done right and well, that is, to have done God a service. And they teach the doing of such things. No pagan ever acted thus. In fact, no one acts thus except the devil himself, or whomever he possesses, as he has possessed the Jews.”
Beyond the entirely paranoid ramblings up here, again what is the theme? What is he really criticizing the Jews for? Their money, their wealth, their prosperity. He calls it greed. That’s designed to condemn it. But what he’s really upset about is that they have prosperity and he does not. Notice the theme of this next quote.
“So we, the German Christians, are even at fault in not avenging all the innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for 300 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. We, German Christians, are at fault for not slaying them. Rather, we allow them to live freely in our midst despite their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying and defaming. We protect and shield their synagogues, houses, life, and property. In this way we make them lazy and secure and encourage them to fleece us bodily of our money and goods, as well as to mock and deride us, with a view to finally overcoming us, killing us all for such great sin and robbing us all of our property. Now tell me whether they do not have every reason to be the enemies of us accursed Goyim, to curse us and to strive for our final complete and eternal ruin.”
Now I’ve spent a little bit of time searching through history, and I cannot remember any Jewish incursion to oppress the German people. I can think of no place in history where the Jews were pillaging and plundering their way to wealth. I’m being a little facetious here, but the point is I do not know where Luther gets all this. But I do want you to notice again the fundamental theme. Luther thinks that Jewish wealth and greed is a problem. With this in mind, it makes abundant sense why Adolf Hitler could say this:
“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
This is from page 65 in my copy of Mein Kampf. Now, it is important to note that even in its original inception, no one objected to Hitler’s thoughts published in Mein Kampf. No one in the Christian Church thought this was a strange thing to say. There was no appreciable theological objection to Hitler equating defending himself against the Jews with being the work of the Lord and it necessarily being a Christian ideal. So what you are actually seeing here, as we roll from Luther to Hitler, is that a theologically-founded anti-Semitism was in fact considered Christian orthodoxy for most of Church history. The Christian orthodox position is what shaped how the Germans created their legislation, and this is well-documented.
Here is a guy by the name of Kirche Bischof (which is German for “church bishop”). He makes this comment in June 1933:
“If anyone can lay claim to God’s help, then it is Hitler, for without God’s benevolent, fatherly hand, without his blessing, the nation would not be where it stands today. It is an unbelievable miracle that God has bestowed on our people,”
The “unbelievable miracle” being Adolf Hitler.
Germany’s population was roughly 65 million people in 1930. I want you to notice this next quote from a pastor by the name of Mathias K. This was an interview after the war, and I want you to notice how he describes his mindset and the mindset of the German people.
“Part of my childhood memories is how the cattle were driven past my parents’ home to the cattle market. Those who had control of the cattle were the Jews. In every village it was the Jews who had the trade and traffic in their hands, and they had the cattle business, the grain train, and they had the general store where you could buy everything. The farmers had simply become slaves of the Jews, and they never got anywhere. The Jewish question ate away at those in the countryside.
“All that hatred sat deeply within the people. Strong anti-Semitic concerns were already there. It’s not at all the case that Herr Goebbels invented all of it. Rather the entire ideology and also the rhetoric were there. The Nazis had only to take it and carry it to its conclusion.
“So one can’t overlook the fact that when 1933 came and there were not a few good Christians who had no objection at all if the Jews got pushed back a bit. They didn’t start with concentration camps; it began with propaganda. But people said, ‘Oh, the cheeky Jews, let them get what is coming to them.’”
Again, I want you to notice the theme. The Lutherans equated their poverty with Jewish prosperity. They specifically resented Jewish prosperity. Jew meant prosperous. It meant upper class. This is the root of their hatred.
Here is another quote from a guy by the name of Erich Koch. He was the president of the provincial Protestant Church – actually, the president of the provincial Protestant Church synod, which means he was actually pretty important. I’m trying to think of an American variation, maybe like being the head of the Moral Majority or the Southern Baptist Convention. There will be somebody of that stature within the church.
“Externally, much has changed. But in our church the world of Christ according to the doctrine of Luther remains…Righteousness, truth and love should guide us, but not only at the level of charity but also in the joyful and active struggles for our Protestant confession of faith.”
He also said, and this is after the war in court records,
“I held the view that the Nazi idea had to develop from basic Prussian Protestant attitude and from Luther’s unfinished reformation.”
Now here’s the punch line. Erich Koch ultimately decides to resign his position as president of the synod, and he became one of the leading men to kill thousands of Jews and political dissidents, and he helped to enslave the remaining Slavic population.
This is the cover from a pamphlet called “The Cross and the Swastika.” It was created by a small church group in some Prussian province by Gerhard Hahn, president of the provincial church council. Here’s what he said:
“The cross of Christ and the swastika do not need to oppose each other. They must not do so, but rather they could and should stand together. One should not dominate the other, but rather each should maintain its own meaning and significance.
“The cross of Christ points towards heaven and admonishes us. Remember that you are Christian people carried by the eternal love of the heavenly Father, free through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, sanctified by the power of God’s Spirit.
“The swastika, however, points to the world as a divine creation and admonishes us. Remember that you are German, born in German territory to parents of German blood, filled with the German spirit and essence formed according to German nature.”
He goes on to say later in the pamphlet:
“The cross of Christ and the swastika must have a positive relationship!
“The church must affirm without reservation Adolf Hitler’s total state, the last bulwark against the Satan of Bolshevism. It should not be forgotten that had it not been for Hitler, we would have long since sunk into Bolshevism and probably would no longer have churches and ministers.
“The church must affirm without reservation the Fuhrer of the National Socialists, Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of the German Reich. He expects the church to help build the Third Reich… It is the task of the Church to create and provide this foundation.”
There is no question in the mind of the Evangelical Lutheran Church that there is a synonymous action. The National Socialists and the church are only divisions in name. They are not divisions in fact. And this is very important for me to point out. The presumption is that somehow the Church was set apart and all this was done to them. This is historical error of the first order. And when I say Evangelical Lutheran Church, if you look at the Lutheran Church here in the United States, we are talking about a denomination with virtually no difference in doctrinal distinctions. The rudiments of Lutheran orthodoxy then are the rudiments of Lutheran orthodoxy today.
So let us ask the question. What causes this kind of devotion? Let us briefly explore the idea that Christians are led astray. There are three variations of this: Hitler was possessed. It was the devil. It was satanic delusion. I have heard this objection a few times, and this is one of those objections that – I’ll be blunt – you shouldn’t utter this in public. And here’s why. If there are Christians that would like to advance this excuse, I’m going to suggest that you should be quiet. You must understand what you’re really saying.
Of the 65 million people in the Germany, 40 million people named themselves “Lutheran.” So if Christians can be deceived by the devil on so massive a scale, Christians should be banned from all political action because their judgment is nonexistent. If you are going to blame this on the devil, delusion, mass delusion, mass hysteria, and say it is confined specifically to Lutheran Christians, then the logical assumption is that Lutheran Christians have no business around anything important.
Blaming mass action on demonic forces makes the governing force of man’s mind malevolent ghosts. If the devil can corrupt Christian epistemology, then the solution is to make sure Christians are kept far away from all the important decisions. There should be no Christian in the White House near the atomic nuclear button. And I guarantee you, if you want to offer this up, and you want to continue to advocate this as something that should be genuinely accepted in public, and you want to reasonably make this case, what will happen by offering this argument in public is going to guarantee that eventually legislation will be passed to prevent Christianity from being part of any public discussion.
Now here’s a variation on the same argument. I call it a kind of “Stephen Spielberg” defense. Remember in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was the maniacal Nazi who wanted to find Ark of the Covenant because he wanted to gain absolute power. Here, it was the idea that the Nazis led the world astray because Hitler was obsessed with cultic doctrines. So, if Hitler had not had an obsession with cultic doctrines and held to real Christian doctrines, the Nazis would not have done these things. Well, first of all, this still means that Christians were incompetent to grasp the truth. In other words, they saw what was happening, they heard what Adolf Hitler said, and they still could not grasp what the man was saying. This, of course, still speaks to Christian epistemological incompetence.
But I want to make a secondary point, and it has to do with the source of moral action. I know that this gets to people because, as of right now, most Christians are under the expectation that the last best hope for human morality is Christianity. The Neo-Calvinist movement has set themselves up as the source of this last great hope. Without them, the United States is doomed to total moral chaos, and the reason they say this is because the Bible says thou shalt not whatever. That the Bible is the actual source of morality. And I know why people say that, but what you are really saying is that the source of morality is located in a metaphysical otherworld.
Now here’s the problem. The moment you open the door to the source of morality being in an otherworld, you have severed morality from this earth, and you have no control of what walks back through the door that leads to this otherworld. If the Christian God is the source of morality, then why can it not be the Muslim god or the Hindu god? If morality is merely the product of a transcendent religious world, then the entire spectrum of the transcendent religious world is available. But by simply repeating the mantra of “The Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says,” Christians think that they are going to somehow gain traction.
The easiest way to defeat this argument is to say, “So what?” It is ultimately no argument, and at its root, it ultimately severs man from morality. If there is no reason to be moral, then man has no means to be moral. This is exactly historic Calvinist teaching, that because there is this transcendent world, this heavenly realm, and man is metaphysically corrupt, he cannot do good anyhow.
So at the end of the day, the Christian doctrine ultimately condemns man to the exact same place as antinomianism does. Antinomianism says that there are no laws man is morally obligated to keep. The doctrine of pervasive depravity is effectively the same thing. The nature of man’s depravity is so vast he cannot keep the law. He cannot be moral. We are in exactly the same place. Ostensibly, Christianity is not advancing morality, and we see the prime example in National Socialist Germany.
Next I would like to actually address the assumption that the people just did not know what Hitler and the Nazis were going to do. Let me first reiterate that there really was no practical distinction between the Church and the National Socialist Party. It does not matter whether Hitler or Goebbels or any of the rest of those guys actually had a statement of orthodoxy in and of themselves. That is irrelevant. The point is that whatever the people heard from the leadership, they saw no conflict within their Christianity. This is crucial.
In 1925, the social malcontent, out-of-work painter, and a ham-fisted scribbler wrote a book about his struggles while cooling his heels in the clink. The miles and miles of rambling prose revealed a mind filled with logical conundrums, philosophical plagiarism, and dead-end German phrases. The book correctly received a cool reception, and from the few that waded through the tedious, often bellicose rants, the “Fuhrer of the Beer Hall Putsch” was a joke rat in an Austrian-Jewish punch line.
The book, of course, was Mein Kampf, and its author was Adolf Hitler. The book was not well-written. Having read it myself, I can tell you it is not compelling. On occasion you’ll run across something that is kind of cool. Since I do not speak German I cannot testify to this first-hand, but some commentators have observed that there are some sections of it in German they cannot translate because it makes no sense even in German, so it has no ability to be translated into any other language.
There are many historically inaccurate details. Hitler was fond of quoting contemporary thinkers but often quotes them inaccurately or draws erroneous conclusions. He is given to long passages that are devoid of reality. There are quite a few of those. Despite all these shortcomings, however, it sold roughly 240,000 copies by 1933, about the time he was voted chancellor.
After he was elected chancellor, Mein Kampf was a wedding gift to every newlywed couple and every soldier. By 1942, 10 million copies were in print, available to a total population of people in excess of 65 million. His ideas were not a secret. There is no way anyone could have honestly said, “I don’t know what this man is about.” He was not a master communicator. He did not have some massive Svengali-like hypnosis or Criss Angel ability to compel you to think things. I read the book, and never once was I compelled to utter, “Sieg heil,” not once.
The error behind assuming that it was Hitler’s force of personality that did this leads people to ignore the ideology. It leads people to equate tyranny with the flamboyant and the charismatic. Political action is not sustained by personality. It is always ideology. Ideology is philosophy turned into political action. There was nothing unclear about Hitler’s program.
Adolf was a shrewd judge of political actions and adversaries. He told everyone what he thought and how the political program should progress. He detailed re-armament in spite of the Treaty of Versailles, territorial expansion in spite of the Treaty of Versailles, the abolition of democracy, which at that time would have been the Weimar Republic, and a commitment to socialism.
He believed in the German state. He believed that the people born of the German blood were property of the German State. He believed in eugenics and the elimination of the Jewish threat. Now mind you, the bulk of Germany believed in eugenics, but the specific application to Jews had not manifested yet. The Final Solution hung out there, but no one ever really objected.
He detailed his contempt for the Catholic Church, because he knew German Catholics were not German first. He knew they were Catholics first, and since he knew he could never influence Rome, he knew he could never dominate them. Since he could never dominate Rome, he knew he would never have access to their minds.
But for all of its failure, what Mein Kampf revealed was threefold:
- It was a crystal clear picture. It was a detailed blueprint for National Socialism.
- It showed a man who had an amazing capacity to size up his political adversaries and allies.
- Above all, it showed that he was a man who believed it was moral to build the first and exploit the second with impunity.
And this is the bottom line. The political ideal, the social ideal, the government ideal was no secret. It was available for anyone paying attention. And the people did pay attention, and they agreed. And that is the point. The people of Germany voted to put Hitler in power. And that’s because they saw no fundamental distinction between what they believed as Christians and his specific policies.
There was no mass delusion. There were no demonic forces. There was no fiendishly clever super secret plot. The German people willingly, openly, purposely took action in accord with National Socialism. From the least to the greatest, they voted for a man who pledged lies in service to despotism, and the Lutheran Church insisted that Hitler was God’s man to protect the people.
So what was the appeal of the National Socialist Party? Before I can explain the answer to that question, I have to lay one more foundation. I have to talk to you about a dirty word in America. I have to talk to you about capitalism. But that will be in the next article.
To be continued…
|Click here for the introduction
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
|Click here for part five
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
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