Friday, January 20, 2012

Hitler Revisioned: A Strange Way of Demonizing One's Opponents

Adolf Hitler seems to be making a political comeback of sorts: in the past several years, conservative politicians, media personalities and Baptists have increasingly invoked the F├╝hrers name in denouncing their opponents.

In 2009, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, caused an uproar when he denounced Health Care reform by accusing President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders of attempting to do "precisely what the Nazis did."

In 2010, Delaware Republican Glen Urquhart blamed Hitler for church state separation: "Do you know, where does this phrase 'separation of church and state' come from? It was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. …The exact phrase 'separation of Church and State' came out of Adolf Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends tlk about the separation of Church and State, ask them why they're Nazis.” (Not only did Hitler not make such a statement, but he supported the marriage of church and state. Baptists, of course, were the earliest champions of church state separation. Which makes me wonder if Urquhart considers Baptists to be Nazis?)

Not to be outdone, Newt Gingrich (current Republican presidential candidate) in 2010 declared Obama, Democrats and liberalism (lumped together as the “secular socialist machine”) "as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did." In addition, media superstars Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have repeatedly equated Obama to Hitler.

This month, Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, equated the convictions of America’s Religious Right as similar to that of Hitler’s opponents. George’s statement was in reference to a 2009 document entitled “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” a conservative rallying cry against abortion and homosexuality and for traditional (Western) marriage. Crafters of the Manhattan Declaration point to the 1934 “Theological Declaration of Barmen” (written by Karl Barth) as inspiration for the Manhattan Declaration.

Also this month, popular conservative evangelical author Andy Andrews released a new volume entitled, How do You Kill 11 Million People? Andrews equates the current political climate in America with that of Nazi Germany, warning that if American citizens continue to believe the lies of national politicians, a similar fate may await America. While not explicitly calling out politicians by name, Andrews is pitching his book by making the rounds of Right-wing talk shows and fundamentalist Baptist congregations.

Historically, the growing conservative rage against perceived Hitler-like opponents is a bit strange. During the 1930s and early 1940s, many political conservatives in America -- including the early Christian Right -- in opposition to both Franklin D. Roosevelt and communism, embraced fascism and Nazism, a story well documented by Allan J. Lichtman in White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement. William Loyd Allen, in an essay entitled “How Baptists Assessed Hitler,” documents how even some Baptists in America praised Hitler.

Strange also is the argument that the 1934 Barmen Declaration, authored by a theologian whom modern Christian conservative consider to be a liberal, is a reflection of the 21st century agenda of the Religious Right. The Barmen declaration was a statement against church state entanglement, a position that America’s Religious Right supports (indeed, evangelical conservatives largely view church state separation as anathema, if not heresy). And while there was much discussion of conservative Christianity, abortion and homosexuality during Germany’s Nazi years, much of the rhetoric came from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, which proudly wore the label of Christian Nationalism and mandated conservative religious and family values.

In a 1933 radio speech, Adolf Hitler publicly stated his intention to elevate “Christianity as the basis of our [Germany’s] morality, and the family as the nucleus of our nation and our state.

Hitler’s view of the family was that women must be subject to their husbands. In a 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women’s League he declared, "If the man's world is said to be the State . . . her world is her husband, her family, her children and her home . . . What the man gives in courage on the battlefield, the woman gives in eternal self-sacrifice, in eternal pain and suffering. Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people.... It is not true ... that respect depends on the overlapping of the spheres of activity of the sexes; this respect demands that neither sex should try to do that which belongs to the sphere of the other."

Of abortion, Adolf Hitler declared: "Nazi ideals demand that the practice of abortion ... shall be exterminated with a strong hand. Women inflamed by Marxist propaganda claim the right to bear children only when they desire.” He also insisted that "the use of contraceptives [by Aryan women] means a violation of nature, a degradation of womanhood, motherhood, and love." In the 1930s, the Nazis outlawed contraceptives and closed all birth control clinics. In 1943, as the Nazis were seeking to conquer Europe, the Nazi Party mandated the death penalty for abortion providers.

As to homosexuality, in the early 1930s the Nazi Party began a systematic campaign of imprisoning and/or killing all homosexuals in Germany. The Gestapo on April 4, 1938 issued an order to consign convicted homosexuals to concentration camps. Altogether, the Nazis arrested over 100,000 homosexual males, most of whom served time in prison and/or concentration camps. Nazi prison guards systematically sought to cure imprisoned homosexuals of their “disease.”

The Nazi Party’s status as Germany’s Religious Right leads to the question of who resisted Hitler and the Nazis? In short, many liberal and secular scholars, as well as moderate to liberal Christian leaders, opposed the Christian Nationalist Nazi agenda. In his quest to eradicate abortion, homosexuality and secularism, Hitler did his best to purge from public life liberal scholars, politicians, religious figures and civil servants.

In short, not only did America’s early Religious Right applaud Hitler and Nazism, but today’s Religious Right seems (albeit not intentionally) to be following the same playbook that the Nazi Party utilized in order to establish (in Hitler’s words) “Christianity as the basis of our morality”: force women to be subjugated to men, criminalize abortion providers and eradicate the practice of abortion, and persecute homosexuals.

Fortunately, today’s rhetoric is not as strident as the Religious Right agenda of Germany’s Nazi Party. In addition, the American system of democracy guards against religious extremism of any stripe silencing opponents and subverting the nation in such a manner as did Germany’s Nazi Party.