Hitler's Theologians: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emmanuel Hirsch
The Rise of Positive Muscular Christianity.
PBS broadcasted last Jan. 2006 on its affiliate stations the
Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emmanuel Hirsch"
based on a book by Robert P. Ericksen with the another title "Betrayal:
German Churches and the Holocaust " published by Yale University Press,
I found no comprehensive review of the film, but here is a fair review of Ericksen's theme along with another book, "Christian Faith in Dark Times: Theological Conflicts in the Shadow of Hitler" by Jack Forstman that researches the same theologians. Actually, Forstman deals better with the theological issues than Ericksen and so the reviewer recommends both books. But the Ericksen film is worth watching to. The film concludes that "Brutality is brutality, injustice is injustice, and violence is violence" even when justified by the Christian church. Also, the German Christian church was most responsible for the brutality toward the German Jews because its theologians use the authority of the church to rationalize anti-Semitism. Here is a summary of the three Nazi theologians:
Emanuel Hirsch, born on 14 June 1888, was Dean of Theology at
Goettingen University, 1933-1945. Hirsch role in Nazi Germany was to
combine the romantic concept of the German “Volk” with that of the
Christian. He announced a national German rebirth and compared the new
German society to the resurrection of Christ. Hirsch saw 1933 as a
"sunrise of divine goodness." His Volk Theology attempted to explain
Germany’s post WWI problems.
Unfortunately, Ericksen doesn’t explore in depth the meaning of this synthesis between the Germanic idea of “Volk” and “Christian.” This ideological merging is a critical component of the Nazi totalitarian state. A complete analysis of the Nazi concept of State can be found in Herbert Marcuse’s article on fascist ideology in “The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State” (1934) which can be found in his book “Negations” (Beacon Press, 1968). A central principle of totalitarian political theory is “Universalism.”
|‘Universalism’. A belief in an abstract
totality as ‘the true and the genuine’. It’s irrational, and its
connection with individuals is, therefore, mystified.
Specifically, the totality in fascism is ‘the folk’, a mystical
naturalistic entity ‘that is prior to all social differentiation
into classes interest groups etc.’ (cf ‘the community’)
Marcuse, Negations, Harmondsworth: Penguin University Books
|The whole is of primary importance over the member parts. The “Volk” is an organic, racial community. Volk provides a foundation of society and is “divinely willed” and so is prior, or natural to any artificially derived social system of society. This natural organic whole is a totality that defines the scope of all social relations and duties. This realm of divine totality is separate and even opposed to all rational planning and human engineering neutralizing all critical examination of the status quo. Marcuse writes,|
Hence all attempts are “a priori” discredited that would overcome the present anarchically conflicting strivings and needs of individuals and raise them to a true totality by means of a planned transformation of the social relations of production. Negations, p. 22.
|We can see this same ideological function in the Neo-Liberal
economic theory of the “natural market’ and how all interference
in the marketplace disturbs the equilibrium of “natural” market
forces; also the non-rational belief in Adam Smith’s invisible
hand that guides market supply and demand. Intervention and
human planning of society’s production apparatus are a priori
illegitimate, utopian, and doomed to failure. “Competition” is
the law of nature and society thus making existing monopolies
and elite classes ipso facto legitimate by their very existence.
The Volk concept justifies the creation of a “classless” society, but this is just the language of Capitalism at the stage of advanced Monopoly Capitalism to justify the current class structure.
A classless society…is the goal, but a
classless society on the basis of the and within the framework
of –the existing class society.
|In 1933 Paul Althaus spoke of Hitler's rise as "a
gift and miracle of God," and 1933 “the year of Grace…the Easter
moment.” He wrote “The German Hour of the Churches,” and
ideologically united Theology, Nationalism and the Church
resulting in a Nationalistic Deification of the State. Hitler
was equivalent to Martin Luther and even Christ himself. German
Christians were to become “Nationalistic Christians” and this
movement brought about the "Reich Church" and its "Deutsche
Christen theology." Germany was the new Israel. The churches
gloried in their patriotism, displayed national flags and
honored the war heroes. The Nazi Stormtroopers often married in
the Deutsche Church with the symbols of both Church and State.
Althaus believed the Christian church had become too feminine
and wanted instead a “muscular Christianity.” Those attracted to
this movement were strongly anti-intellectual and
Gerhard Kittel is a famous theologian and is well know among New Testament Greek scholars because Kittel edited the ten volume standard reference work used in New Testament Greek word studies, the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.” The NIV (New International Version) translators relied on this dictionary when translating the Bible. Kittel’s work on this dictionary started the same year he became Hitler’s apologist of anti-Semitism. What is also shocking is Kittel was an expert on Jewish and Christian religious history and cultural Biblicism and did not seem to be anti-Semitic before 1933 . Kittel framed the “Die Judenfrage” (The Jewish Problem) and argued that Judaism and Christianity were perverted by modernism and secularism. He said Jews were a threat and were “over represented” in the professions and advocated removal from German society. He blamed “Liberals” for tolerating Jews and so was responsible for the Jewish problem. He did not advocate extermination, migration, or assimilation, but instead recommended that Jews be given “Guest status” in Germany. Kittel distinguished the Old Testament ancient Jews from the modern “secular” Jews. This is how he justified attacking modern secular Jews in Germany and gave permission to be brutal to them. He claimed that his anti-Semitism was no harsher that Christ’s, and that God called him to deal with Germany’s Jewish problem. Hitler is the resurrection of Germany and the defeat of the Jews.
Christian Faith in Dark Times:
Theological Conflicts in the Shadow of Hitler.