Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Perils of Mixing Religion and Politics

From today's New York Times:
FRITZ STERN, a refugee from Hitler's Germany and a leading scholar of European history, startled several of his listeners when he warned in a speech about the danger posed in this country by the rise of the Christian right. In his address in November, just after he received a prize presented by the German foreign minister, he told his audience that Hitler saw himself as "the instrument of providence" and fused his "racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity."

"Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics," he said of prewar Germany, "but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas."

Dr. Stern's speech, given during a ceremony at which he got the prize from the Leo Baeck Institute, a center focused on German Jewish history, was certainly provocative. The fascism of Nazi Germany belongs to a world so horrendous it often seems to defy the possibility of repetition or analogy. But Dr. Stern, 78, the author of books like "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology" and university professor emeritus at Columbia University, has devoted a lifetime to analyzing how the Nazi barbarity became possible. He stops short of calling the Christian right fascist but his decision to draw parallels, especially in the uses of propaganda, was controversial.

"When I saw the speech my eyes lit up," said John R. MacArthur, whose book "Second Front" examines wartime propaganda. "The comparison between the propagandistic manipulation and uses of Christianity, then and now, is hidden in plain sight. No one will talk about it. No one wants to look at it." Warning From a Student of Democracy's Collapse

Very interesting article. The Times requires registration, but it's worth the trouble, and free.


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