1940s >> >> no-435-november-1940

Religion, War and Nazism

The claim has sometimes been made that religion in the modern world is a unifying force rising above national barriers. The war has shown again how little truth there is in this. Catholics and Protestants and Mohammedans are to be found supporting both sides, and it is difficult to discover any important respect in which the members of any of the religions are marked off in outlook or actions from the rest of the population. Inside the Church of England and the Non-Conformist Churches there is the utmost diversity of opinion, following political or other non-religious divisions, from an anti-war or pacifist attitude to extremes of belligerency demanding wholesale slaughter of the German civilian population. Only small bodies such as the Quakers show more consistency.

The subordination of religious theories to the needs of the State at war is most noticeable in the Catholic Church, not, however, because it is essentially different, but because the Catholic Church claims to be an international organisation. Some of the defenders of the Pope and the Catholic Church have claimed that the Pope’s attitude is one of outright opposition to Nazism and Fascism, and that it is only because the Pope is bound by Treaty not to intervene in international affairs affecting Italy without the consent of the Italian Government, that reserve is maintained by the Vatican since Italy entered the war. That, of course, leaves the Vatican to defend the action of entering into such a Treaty, not to mention the difficulty of explaining why, if the Pope is opposed to Fascism and the war policy of the Italian Government, the Pope can receive 200 Italian army officers and say to them “we bless all you who serve the beloved fatherland with fealty and love.”—(News Chronicle, October 31st, 1940. Telegraphed report from Vatican City.)

What we do see is the State everywhere trying, with considerable success, to use religion and religious organisations for political and war purposes. If the Churches are everywhere ready to subordinate their beliefs to the needs of the State, this is only matched by the readiness of the politicians and political parties to sacrifice their own professed principles in order to make religion their handmaiden. Now that the Nazis have conquered territories containing some 50 million Catholics, in addition to the 21 million in Germany itself, it is reported (Sunday Express, October 20th, 1940), that Hitler, the erstwhile denouncer of religion in general, “is making frantic efforts to win the Vatican’s sympathies and induce the Holy See to change its attitude towards totalitarian policy.”

  The first sign of the Nazi change of policy was when, on Hitler’s orders. Catholic priests accompanying his armies were decorated.    This step has been followed by the despatch to Spain of an important delegation headed by Bishop Derning, of Osnabruck, and Bishop Preyssing, of Berlin. They have offered the Spanish Churches three wagon-loads of crosses, religious paintings and Church furniture collected in Germany. Valuable pieces offered by Hitler himself are included.
At almost the same time a new Catholic weekly paper has been launched with the title “The New Will.” It is edited by Bishop Razkowsky, of the army, whose father was one of Hindenburg’s sergeants. This weekly makes a great effort to emphasise that “Hitlerism is not as it was before.”
—(Sunday Express, October 20th, 1940.)

A little earlier the Times reported the following:—

    Most reliable sources in the Vatican city confirm a report which was first current about a fortnight ago that Pope Pius XII is about to issue a world-wide Encyclical warning all Roman Catholic believers against the continuously increasing peril of Communistic influences, which the Holy See is convinced are fast spreading throughout the world.
These Vatican sources assert emphatically that the Church is about to initiate a decisive campaign against what the Holy See considers the catastrophic expansion of Bolshevist ideology in consequence of the efforts of various Governments to induce Russia to enter the present world-conflict. Great Britain, it is pointed out, has been openly trying to persuade Russia to become her ally, and the United States, the Holy See fears, is also prepared to come to terms with Russia in order to settle favourably the Far East struggle against Japan.
On the other hand, the German-Russian pact has brought not only Germany but now also Italy and even Japan into the sphere of the pernicious Soviet influence. The Pope has grave fears that even the staunchest Roman Catholic country, Spain, may also fall a prey to the same course of developments. It is recalled how in the past year the geographical dominion of Soviet influence has widened to include half Poland, part of Finland, the Baltic States, Bessarabia, and north Bukovina.
—(The Times, October 8th, 1940.)

It is obvious that if at a later stage the German capitalists find themselves in open conflict with the Russian Government, the “anti-Communist” line of the Vatican would be a very useful background for an attempt to form a new grouping of Powers against Russia.

Catholicism again plays its part in the imperialism of the Spanish capitalists so that Professor Allison Peers gives it the name “Catholic imperialism” (Manchester Guardian, August 8th, 1940). Some more discreet exponents of this imperialism might say that they were concerned only with defending “a spiritual and religious conception of civilisation,” but Professor Peers sceptically asks the question whether that is all General Franco meant when he declared “We have a will to empire.” The collapse of France opens the way to Spanish expansion in Africa, and the Spanish Press talks about “Tangier, Gibraltar, Casablanca, Algiers, Fez, Oran.”

Luther The First Nazi?

However, it is not by any means a question of British Protestants lining up against foreign Catholics and holding them responsible for the world’s troubles. On the contrary, several writers have sought to blame German protestantism and particularly Martin Luther for the Nazi creed. In a review of “French War Aims” (Denis Saurat, Methuen, Is.), the Manchester Guardian says: —

One of the most interesting of his discussions is on religion. He finds a chasm between the conception of Christianity held by Germany and that which subsists in the Western democracies. German Christianity from Luther to Karl Barth is based on the idea of predestination and of the election of special persons and nations as the chosen instruments of God. In the Western democracies Christianity implies the freedom of the individual soul.
—(Manchester Guardian, July 9th, 1940.)

The Very Rev. W. R. Inge is more explicit in his denunciation of Lutheranism. Writing on “German Frightfulness” in the Evening Standard (August 1st, 1940), he blames it all on the way the Lutherans reconciled the Christian’s adherence to the Sermon on the Mount with their acceptance of the State, “which includes among its institutions war, criminal justice, the acquisition of wealth, and, perhaps, slavery.”

The first compromise solution, he says, was that the Church said to its members you must do one or the other, either accept the State and all it implies or else retire to a monastery.

   The Christian conscience was never quite happy about this compromise, which was thought to be sanctioned by Christ’s words to the rich young man, “If thou wilt be perfect, sell all thou hast and follow me.” At the Reformation the prevailing view was that this double standard could not be accepted. ” We are all bound to obey the commands of Christ.
This left the old conflict between religious and secular ethics quite unsolved. Martin Luther made a new compromise, which has had disastrous consequences, not only for Germany, where his teaching was most popular, but for Europe generally. He taught that Christianity is a matter for the individual only, not for the State. The State is not only not bound by the teaching of Christ: it need not obey any moral principles at all.
This had been already accepted by Machiavelli, who found, truly enough, that petty States of divided Italy were absolutely unscrupulous. He coolly said that this was, in fact, the principle, or want of principle, on which Italian politics were conducted.
Ever since the time of Luther, this horrible doctrine has been openly taught in Germany by theologians, philosophers and historians.
I will quote two examples, one from Luther himself, the other from a modern Lutheran. “ The hand which bears the sword is no longer man’s hand but God’s. It is not man, but God, who hangs, breaks on the wheel, beheads, strangles, and makes wars.” So Luther found it consistent with his Christianity

to hound on the German princes to butcher the unlucky peasants who were in revolt against intolerable conditions.
My other quotation is from Naumann, who had a reputation as a theologian in modern Germany. “Both are necessary to life, the mailed fist and the hand of Jesus. Only upon this foundation is the higher morality of the Gospel to be realised. This sounds hard and cruel, but it seems to me to be soundly Lutheran.” I am afraid it is.

It will be understood that those who tried and still try to solve the above problem by juggling with morality and some supposed divine necessity of obedience to authority are in a hopeless tangle. They will never solve their problem.

Dean Inge goes on to quote a saying of Frederick the Great, which sums it all up in a manner more true than Inge himself appreciates. What Frederick said was this: —

  I take what I want, I can always find pedants to prove my rights.

There we can leave the matter. The ruling class everywhere take what they can and have little difficulty in getting professorial and parsonical pedants to prove their rights.

Edgar Hardcastle