Friday, December 02, 2005

Philosophy Friday: The Nazi Religion

Having been home sick most of this week with the non-avian flu, I had the chance to catch up on one of my favorite channels, the Discovery Times network. One of the documentaries I caught has really had me thinking. It was called Nazis: The Occult Conspiracy and it spoke in great detail about the religious aspects of the Nazi movement. Given that Nazi Germany is often cited by theists as an example of how destructive an atheist government is, I thought this was a topic needing more examination. It is with some trepidation that I do so, given the antagonistic nature of the subject matter, but I firmly believe that the realities of the Nazi era are not discussed often or intelligently enough.

The documentary explains how Himmler formed the SS as part of his Aryen Race project, to put forward again the religious ideal of a "pure blood" that ran common to the German people. Hitler and his henchmen brought forth a new telling of Nordic and Germanic mythology coupled with extravagant pageantry, in an attempt to both unite the people of Germany under a new faith and to replace the peaceful social conventions of Christianity. This new Nazi faith was indoctrinated into both men and women at a very young age, delineating separate rolls for each as the progenitors of this master race.

Let's take a look at some of the characteristics of this Nazi faith.

A belief in racial superiority, as expressed in the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan race.

This is probably the one area of the Nazi religion that most lay-people recognize most readily. Those exhibiting such characteristics were encouraged to breed as often as possible. Himmler went to so far as to have the law changed so that members of the SS in Germany could legally have more than one wife. Also, children matching the Aryan paradigm were often kidnapped from other countries under Nazi control and placed in SS households (the documentary cites 200,000 children from Poland alone were treated thus). This racial blood religion culminated in the belief that not only should the "master race" be propagated for its superiority, but other races should be openly opposed and finally eliminated. Due to a pervasive atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Europe at that time, the tragic target of opportunity became the Jews.

A belief in the state as superior to the individual.

This part of the Nazi faith was indoctrinated at a very young age, particularly among young men who were to be the fighting force of the Third Reich. The role of the German state was to be the paragon of human society, and the civil rights of the individual, especially if non-Aryan, were starkly curtailed towards this end. This resulted in almost limitless police-state power, one of the hallmarks of totalitarianism and fascism. This fanatical devotion to the state also led to the belief that laying down one's life for the aims of the state was the noblest sort of death. Hitler and the Nazis worked diligently to promote the heroism of those fallen in service to the Fatherland, even holding grand holidays and pageants to celebrate such.

A belief in Hitler as a messianic leader.

The documentary played part of a school primer for grade school children that had sing-alongs about how wise and powerful Hitler was and how great it would be to both live and die for him. It was quite bloodcurdling to watch little moon-faced Aryen children singing their religious devotions to the worst genocidal madman in modern history. Such an approach to messianic devotion was instituted by the Nazis as a complement to the religious beliefs of many Germans. Most were Christians; a mixture of Protestant and Catholic with some Eastern Orthodox in certain areas. A new faith, wrought from the belief in German superiority with a messianic figure as glorious leader, meshed well with the messianic Christian faith of the common people. Operas by Wagner helped to echo this sentiment by coupling the nobility of Christian virtue to the Aryan blood religion of the Nazi party.

A belief in military service and military endeavors as the most noble of human undertakings.

This is a tricky area of the Nazi religion to examine, given the primacy of belief in the military in the United States today. Hitler put forth a re-birth of the notion of the noble warrior, going so far as to commission a portrait of himself dressed as a Germanic knight. Military service in Nazi Germany was required for all adult males, and death in a military campaign was celebrated as the noblest of ends. The documentary had a former member of the Hitler Youth describing how one of their pledges involved demanding the right to die for the Fatherland, as though such right had been denied previously. The Nazis made liberal use of veterans from World War I to help instill fanatical devotion into the young men of the Hitler Youth. This newly revived warrior mythology translated easily into a coupling of the state and the military into one unit. Thus the seeds for the second World War were planted.

Many conservative theists of today often cite Nazi Germany as an example of the dangers inherent in an atheist form of government. Clearly, however, an historical view of the Third Reich shows it a culture drenched in religious fervor and pageantry. The Christian beliefs of the Germans were largely subverted or shunted aside in favor of the Aryan blood religion, backed by the noble warrior mythos of the Nazi leaders. This religious fanaticism was driven by a faith in the supremacy of the German people and the military might of the German state. It's raising up of Hitler as a messianic figure to be worshipped by the German people substituted a man for God, but was no less a metaphysical faith for that distinction.

There was also nothing humanist nor morally relative about the ethical underpinnings of the Nazi faith, either. Many modern theists use Nazi Germany as an example of the failings of humanist moralism compared to religious dogma, a comparison which the truth of Nazi Germany simply belies. An absolute belief in the superiority of the state and the Aryan race led to a society of social restrictions no less religious in nature than anything found in the Bible. The source may have appeared secular, but the results were a religious indoctrination exploited to terrifying effect by Hitler and the Nazis.

From an atheist perspective, the moral relativism question is really a moot issue. God is a contrivance of the human mind, as is any system of morality and thus, trying to pin the charge of lesser morality on a secular source is meaningless. The Bible was conceived by men in this estimation, as were all faiths and moral beliefs. Thus, Nazi Germany does not stand as an example of the failings of secular humanism and moral relativism over religious absolutism. Morality is always relative, whether recognized as such on its face or assigned arbitrarily to an absolute source. If no such source exists outside of human contrivance, as atheism contends, then the absolutes of religious dogma hold no more compelling morality than the philosophy of modern day moralists.

The final point I'll make about the documentary itself was the bone-chilling creepiness of much of the propaganda footage from the Third Reich. What made it so frightening was it's similarity to much of what we see in the United States today in terms of social beliefs and particularly the unhealthy worship of military might engaged in by too many Americans. It's a common belief among conservatives that Nazism was either an anomaly of Germany or, as is the case when they need a dire enemy to justify military action, a foreign social disease. What is never discussed or considered is the possibility that such could ever happen in the United States, though history shows that many Americans were not terribly ill-disposed towards fascism in Germany prior to the Holocaust being revealed (and sadly even some after). As Bush himself has noted: a dictatorship is easier. There are many conservatives that are openly in favor of less human and civil rights in the country, either in the name of moral propriety or national security. It's a frightening prospect, given how Hitler and the Nazis were able to pervert many of those same conservative ideologies into one of the greatest horrors in human history.

Very frightening, indeed.


Anonymous said...

I saw that television special as well; hey just something I noticed you misspelled Aryan, the first word of the second line in the second paragraph.

Also I think you're a little hast comparing the United States ’ fighting forces to the military machine of the Third Reich. I suppose its all perspective but the Bush administration isn't trying to take the world by conquest. If that was his master plan he seems to be behind schedule.

Our fighting men and women have not been indoctrinated at birth by such mentions that glorify death on the battlefield for 'their' Fatherland. (The United States)

I suppose it's the unquestionable nature developed by our home grown social engineering or what I like to call propaganda that makes Nazis a personification of evil that leaves a bad taste to any comparison drawn to their culture.

Anonymous said...

Hey !

Im studying Modern History at school and as part of my special study (essay) I have chosen to persue "Nazism and Religion".

I was just wondering if there is any way I can buy or get hold of the documentary ?

Thanks =)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, one last thing.

If you can help me please email me:

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why I'm commenting. If I told you how I got to your blog, just the winding trail of random internet-ness and blind clicking I suppose. Anyway, good on you for having a blog. I had one. It did well, and then I flunked out of the blogosphere.

Bush was a douche, but so are people who liken our recent presidents to Hitler. Be careful. YOUR President is getting it now, and you surely do not like that analogy do you? I guess I came to say that. Oh, and to tell you, I like your blog, but you gotta spice it up. I almost fell asleep. Although, I haven't had any caffeine this morning yet, so maybe it wasn't you.
Also...I really like the one dude saying, "You misspelled_________ " and then he IMMEDIATELY misspells a word. Karma is so fun.

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