Friday, October 23, 2009

Baptist Battles: Richard Land and Richard Pierard

Richard Land, Ethics spokesperson for the SBC leadership, continues to spread lies about government health reform "death panels" and continues to equate theoretical government health care rationing with Nazism, although he refuses to equate current free market health care rationing as Nazism.

And now a battle has erupted between two Baptist Richards.

In the one corner, Richard Land, free market champion and anti-Obama crusader, seems oblivious to the fact the the Nazi movement was in large part a product of, and equated itself with, right-wing Christianity. Aligned with right-wing Christians, the Nazi Party advocated Christian Nationalism, sought to kill homosexuals, remove liberal intellectuals from universities, promote a pure Christian faith, join state with God, and enforce Christian morality consistent with Martin Luther's antisemitism.

In the other corner is Richard Pierard, renowned Baptist historian whose area of expertise is modern German history, particularly Nazism from 1933-1945. Pierard has lived and taught in Germany, and he denounced Richard Land's statements as bunk: "The effort to reform health care in the United States has absolutely nothing in common with the events of 70 years ago."

Who are we to believe? The Richard who is one of the most 25 influential Republicans in America and who claims to be an ethicist yet intentionally perpetuates lies about the British Health Care System and death panels that have long been proven to be lies (and turns to the cult leader Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times to prove the death panel lies are true)?

Or, are we to believe the Richard who is a Baptist historian and German historian and knows Nazi history, and recognizes lies for what they are?

Richard Land is now trying to dismiss Richard Pierard as an alarmist, while at the same time Land is using the First Amendment as a cover for his lies.

As Pierard notes, Land's lies have "brought reproach upon the good name of Baptists."

On the other hand, Land's ranking among the nation's 25 Most Influential Republicans may be moving upward, as he has squarely positioned himself as a loyal Right-Wing Republican rather than a truth-telling ethicist.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer said...

Mr. Gourley,

I saw your comments posted over at the blog of "the big daddy weave" and, as I wrote over there, I take an exception to your following comment:

“…the Nazi movement was in large part a product of, and equated itself with, right-wing Christianity.”

Robert Erickson in his book, Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch, published by Yale University Press, shows in detail that it was in fact the liberal theologians who were much more in support of the Third Reich than were conservative (or “right-wing” as you have called them - Bonhoeffer, especially, who was much, much more conservative than those mentioned by Erickson).

Those who rejected the authority of Scripture and who more closely held to theories of Higher Criticism were the Christians most likely to support the Nazi party.

Furthermore, several scholars and authors, including Bruce Walker, who wrote a layman’s-level piece in the “American Thinker” have shown quite conclusively that most of the Nazi leadership publically derided Christianity (though I wouldn't argue with the linked book that there were many who claimed the name of Christ who were Nazi leaders), especially its views on human sinfulness and the Deity of Christ.

So to claim that the Nazi movement was "in large part a product of" “right-wing” Christianity in such a way as to associate them with conservative American Christians (especially in regard to theology) is a gross (and may I say dishonest) mischaracterization.

I did follow your link to Richard Steigmann-Gall's book, and though I confess I have not read it, I did take time to peruse the reviews. It becomes clear reading these that many of the reviewers agree that Steigmann-Gall does show that those who held to liberal theological views are indeed those who are most likely to be Nazi Christians.

As to your argument regarding the alignment of "right-wing Christians" and the Nazis on moral issues such as homosexuality, you are correct that there are similar views. However, that argument is a logical fallacy.

For example, we would agree with Osama Bin Laden that adultery is wrong. However, you cannot equate our beliefs with those of Bin Laden, since they come from two very different sources of authority and they manifest themselves in two different ways, with very different consequences for breaking such laws.

No Evangelical Baptist Christian, (and certainly not Richard Land) is calling for the death of homosexuals, thus to equate them with Nazis on this point is fallacious.

I do hope you will reconsider your comments and correct them in light of the Bible's teaching on bearing false witness.

Bruce Gourley said...

The association of Nazism with Christian Nationalism (right-wing Christianity) is well-documented, as even Ericksen (for the record, you spelled his name wrong) notes. Althaus, Hirsch, and Kittel (all supporters of Nazism) were Christian nationalists who advocated traditional Christian values and opposed Western liberalism. They advocated a manly Christianity, not the type of "soft" Christianity advocated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. As Ericksen states it, "These three theologians saw themselves and were seen by others as genuine Christians acting upon genuine Christian impulses." (See pages 199ff)

On the opposite side of the Christian Nationalists/pro-Nazis Althaus, Hirsch, and Kittel, and opposing Nazism, were Barth, Bultmann, and Tillich, all theological and political liberals, and all opposed to Hitler and Nazism.

You note in your comment that you have read limited literature on the relationship between Christian Nationalism (right-wing Christianity) and Nazism, and even then your reading of Ericksen seems ill-informed.

My guess is that you are interpreting my use of "right-wing Christianity" with positions regarding biblical inerrancy (you use the phrase "biblical authority"). My argument (see my original post) equates right-wing Christianity with Christian Nationalism, an inherently conservative political and religious position (whether in Nazi Germany or contemporary America).

But let's focus on your concept of conservative and liberal based on biblical authority. You are going to have a hard time arguing that Barth, Bultmann, and Tillich were not liberals, whether in terms of scriptural authority or Christian Nationalism. None believed in biblical inerrancy, and all welcomed a social gospel (focusing on social justice).

In fact, even Bonhoeffer denied biblical inerrancy and advocated a social gospel, and thus was a liberal by your standards of biblical authority. Many of today's right-wing Christians and theological fundamentalists consider Bonhoeffer a heretic. In "The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon: Portraits of a Protestant Saint," Stephen R. Haynes examines the phenomenon of some modern conservative evangelicals embracing the man who denied biblical authority and embraced a social gospel. But he also notes that many recognize his theological liberalism, and cites criticisms of Bonhoeffer as being "a practical atheist and a religious humanist who denied virtually every cardinal doctrine of the historic Christian faith." (See page 93)

Finally, in order to flesh out your reading of Nazism and Christianity, at a minimum you should read Steigmann-Gull and Bernard Green's "European Baptists and the Third Reich."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said...

Mr. Gourley,

I believe you are playing some semantic games here in addressing my concerns.

First, your initial claim is that "the Nazi movement was in large part a product of, and equated itself with, right-wing Christianity", yet you still haven't defended this, you just apply the logical fallacy of Appeal to Authority by citing Ericksen.

Yet in appealing to Ericksen, you state that he says, "These three theologians saw themselves and were seen by others as genuine Christians acting upon genuine Christian impulses."

How is that a definitive statement that these men were in any way similar to current Conservative Evangelicals?

Couldn't the same thing be said about Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, and Bonhoeffer?

How then is that "right-wing"?

Third, you claim that I am mistaking "right-wing politics" with "right-wing theology" particularly in regard to Biblical authority and claim that I am actually speaking of inerrancy (a word I never used - nor even asserted), yet you are the one that asserts the link with "right-wing Christianity".

If you had only meant politically, then why did you add the term Christianity? Why not simply claim that the Nazi movement was similar in positions to right-wing politicians or advocates?

Here you far overstate your case and you fail to deal with my argument concerning aligned viewpoints (in reference to Osama Bin Laden and adultery).

Fourth, you seem to skirt the obvious problem in addressing the views of the Bible of Barth, Bultmann and Tillich, yet not those of Kittel, Hirsch, and Althaus. How were the first four's views of the Bible materially different from a conservative/liberal standpoint than the latter four's?

In order to make your initial claim, you would have to establish this point clearly.

Bruce Gourley said...


First, I take you at your word that you are not an advocate of inerrancy. No problem.

Secondly, you need to read the literature regarding the tight link between Christian Nationalism and Nazism in 1930s and early 1940s Germany. That the two were intertwined is historical fact. I've already given you some reading suggestions, including specific references, but you seem disinterested in educating yourself concerning this matter.

Finally, Osama Bin Laden and adultery bear no relation to this discussion.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer said...

Mr. Gourley,

First, I never said whether I was or wasn't an advocate of inerrancy. That you read into my post "inerrancy" for "Biblical authority" was certainly problematic, and you have still failed to respond with any new arguments that in any way dispute what I wrote regarding that.

Secondly, Christian Nationalism does not equate to "right-wing" Christianity. You certainly should know this. I realize that many attempt to equate the two, but true Christian nationalists (those who desire to set up a theocracy in America) are very few in number and absolutely do not represent the views of conservative Evangelical Christians in this country.

Third, as I stated above the idea that the "Nazi movement was in large part a product of, and equated itself with, right-wing Christianity" is what I am most in disagreement with you over.

It seems with your latest comment, you are backing away from seriousl defending this, as you now simply assert that Christian Nationalism and the Nazi movement were "intertwined". That is a far cry from the accusation you make in your original post. And yet still you haven't shown how materially different the views of the "right-wing" Christians were as opposed to other Christians - (as in Bultmann, Barth, etc. verses Althaus, Kittel, and Hirsch).

As I noted, you haven't quoted one statement from Steigmann-Gall's book that proves this. You simply linked it. And as I stated above, from just perusing the reviews of the book on Amazon's site, there seems to be nothing stated by the reviewers that backs up this claim. Can you substantiate your bold statement with any clear material from the author?

Additionally, you haven't attempted to deal with my material - that of Ericksen or Bruce Walker.

Also, you say that Osama Bin Laden and adultery have nothing to do with this discussion, yet you ingore the logical conclusion your argument must take if you are to assert that holding the same moral stands requires one to hold to the same ethical and political positions. The example I gave is but one that shows your logic to be flawed in this area.

Finally, you can point me to resources all you want, but this is simply another fallacy of Appeal to Authority, yet this one even more vague, since you haven't even shown your sources to agree with your assumption. You don't seem to be able to support your statement. If I am mistaken, then please defend it based on what these men have written.

Bruce Gourley said...

Let's see where we are in this discussion:

* I have demonstrated that the German theologians you cited as opposing Hitler were theological liberals in the same vein as Barth, Tillich and Bonhoeffer.

* You fail to acknowledge the historical fact of the broad and close ties of German Christians to Nazism (of course, refusing to read the historical evidence allows you to do so; not to mention your misrepresentation of Ericksen). The answer lies in Hitler's appropriation of Luther and the heritage of Germany Christianity with national identity (this is what we refer to as Christian nationalism ... the fusing of Christianity to national identity, expressed in politics).

* We can discuss why some theological liberal Christians chose to support Hitler and some did not, if you wish. Stated another way, why did some theological liberal Christians "buy into" the inherently conservative national socialism of the Nazis? Ericksen argues they rationalized their way into such support.

* As for traditional middle of the road Christians, like German Baptists, the choice was also one of rationalization: facing a choice of siding with conservative nationalism socialism positioned as the religio-political heritage of Martin Luther (Christian nationalism) ... or the liberal communists (atheists) advancing from the East ... siding with Nazism was deemed the better choice. (See the Green volume). Many other more conservative Christians simply offered little hesitation to affirm national socialism, reflective of the long-standing European heritage of church-state ties (to which Baptists were opposed, of course, leading to a terrible conundrum regarding Hitler).

* In America today, we have a religious right-wing movement which is focused, to varying degrees, on fusing a certain expression of Christianity into our national identity in order to relegate unbelievers to a secondary state of affairs in politics and law. See, for example. As noted in my original blog post, the same anti-homosexual, anti-liberal, Christian nationalist socially conservative agenda (minus calls for killing) that the Nazis used to rally Christians to their cause, today's religious right in America is utilizing to rally support for their crusade to enact laws favoring certain persons over other persons.

* Also, I gather that you want to argue Hitler was a liberal, rather than a conservative. If you've read Hitler much at all, however, you know that he clearly considered himself to be both a (Christian) religious and political conservative. But in case you've not read many of Hitler's speeches and writings, excerpts from a few relevant ones are quoted here: (scroll down to the third post).

* Finally, I have not claimed that "holding the same moral stands requires one to hold to the same ethical and political positions" as you charge. You have built a straw man. So if you wish to continue your rabbit chase concerning Osama bid Laden and adultery ... enjoy yourself.

Bruce Gourley said...

Hmmm ...

The first full paragraph in my comment directly about should read:

* I have demonstrated that the German theologians you cited as supporting (not opposing) Hitler were theological liberals in the same vein as Barth, Tillich and Bonhoeffer.