awkward similarities

so. i know this post is going to come off as way-inflamatory. really, that’s not my intention. i’m extremly hesitant to post these thoughts because i fear they will:
a. incite a vicious plethora of responses to me and about me, which i really don’t feel like wading through, and/or
b. be quickly and easily misunderstood as the liberal rantings of one of “those emergent types”.

but i visited the united states holocaust museum recently in washington, dc. i’d not been before, and had heard so much about it. it was really great, though my feet were dog-tired by the end and i was a bit whiney.

here’s the thought that kept jumping in front of me, even when i tried, repeatedly, to dodge it: there are so many awkward similarities between the nazi party’s tactics and the christian religious right’s tactics in current-day america.

now, let me stop right there and make some important disclaimers:
1. i’m not saying the religious right ARE nazis.
2. i’m not equating all conservative christians with the religious right. frankly, until very, very recently, i still considered myself a conservative christian (and i’m darn close to it still, in many areas — i’d now likely consider myself a moderate evangelical); but i’ve never seen myself as a part of the religious right. there are tens or hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of conservative christians who should not be unfairly labled as part of the religious right.
3. i’m not referring to racial cleansing or hatred. the only comparisons i’m going to refer to are tactical.
4. i’m was not intending to post this in such close proximity to the discussion about isreal and lebanon. i’d been planning this post for a week and a half, since having these thoughts in the holocaust museum. while there may be some connections, that’s not my intent.

the holocaust museum is divided into five levels — the basement being a cafe and such, and the main floor being a lobby, special exhibit and bookstore. visitors begin the actual tour on the top floor, and work their way back down. the top floor is the rise of the nazi party, the 3rd floor is mostly about the concentration camps and “the final solution”, and the 2nd floor moves into the final days and liberation from the camps. i’m bothering to explain this because this nagging comparison kept coming to my mind ONLY in the top floor — the rise to power.

here are a handful of things i noticed:

1. fear is a tool.
i was intrigued, learning about the rise of the nazi party in germany — while they were still considered the minority, the fringe wackos — how they used fear to both mobilize people and win people over to their agenda. they systematized the cultivation of fear, rather brilliantly, if one can use a word like that. as i was reading and experiencing this in the museum, i was bowled over by the similarities to much of what is happening in the american church right now. the constant use of war imagery (“we’re in a battle for a generation” or “we are on the brink of being the last christian generation in america”) and fear-based tactics are the dominant themes in much of the fundraising and publishing released into the (american) christian world these days. it’s not helpful. it seems to me, the only time jesus really talked about being fearful of the influence of “those people” was when he talked about religious leaders.

2. “popular culture is bad, and threatening our way of life.”
this is a varient on #1, really. but it was a massive message of the nazi party prior to their rise to power. they condemned other germans at this point (which became something of a moot point, and a message they stopped using, once they rose to power). the early nazi party spent much of their communication coin on pointing out (from their perspective) how their own country had become infiltrated with abborhant behavior and thinking, and that popular expressions in culture were threatening to extinguish the only things that were truly good about germans (and other aryans). this oppositional approach to culture is being consistently laid out by the marketers and fundraisers of the religious right in american also. what struck me (when thinking about this in the museum) was how selfish it is. even if ‘our way of life’ is being threatened (which i don’t believe), the jesus-approach would be to be missional into culture, not to spend all our effort drawing lines of demarcation, and retreating from culture. some might say that the religious right’s “engagement” in politics is missional, or at least, an effort to engage culture. but i don’t buy this when the effort is fueled by a desire that is ultimately self-serving.

3. “people who don’t believe like us are ruining our country, and threatening our way of life”
again, this is a variant on #1 and #2. but it moves beyond culture as an amorphous disembodied “thing” and toward a personal level. this was the primary message of the nazi party to other germans in their early years. hitler’s speaches were peppered with this language, as were the collateral materials printed by the nazi party. in our own setting, this connects with the (wrong-headed) notion that american is a christian country, and should be preserved as such — in order to protect our way of life (which, at the end of the day, means “my way of life”). i realize it’s a bit cliche to mention this, but real christianity (real, passionate, following of jesus christ) has never flourished in a christian country. jesus never encourages us to become the dominant thought-power or political leader, and certainly doesn’t encourage us to expunge those we don’t agree with from our midst.

4. shows of strength provide courage where courage is lacking.
when the then-young nazi party realized that the majority of germans thought they were an odd fringe group, they were proactive in showing their growing strength, though marches and rallies. this show of strength brought a sense of movement, and brought ‘courage’ to those who were waffling. the nazi ranks grew exponentially during this period. there was almost a sense that “if that many people are part of this, it can’t be competely wrong — in fact, maybe it’s right.” our rallies on the steps of governmental steps and our million-man marches may have the same apparently-positive affect of fostering courage. but it’s not the route to courage given to us by the bible, or by jesus. those approaches are more acts of zeolotry than acts of passion for jesus (see scot mcknight’s fascinating multi-part posting on zeolotry). courage — biblical courage — is not something we drum up in ourselves. gaining courage — to have a full heart (from the french and latin roots of the word) — is a contrite and humble process of asking god to fill our hearts, asking god to be our source of courage.

5. the primary task becomes about defining who’s “in” and who’s “out” by whether or not they exist in our boundaried set of beliefs.
the early nazi party (again, this became somewhat of a moot point after their rise to power) were brilliant at systematizing detailed descriptions of who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. they developed detailed charts of family trees and partial acceptability, based on heredity. they developed photographic charts that ‘proved’ the undesireable ‘outs’ based on size of nose and forehead, among other things. of course, there’s nothing quite so blatant in our context. we’re much more subtle about it – more sophisticated. we write books about why we can’t have fellowship with other christians because they don’t believe exactly as we do. we spend inordinate amounts of time and effort refining and clarifying and arguing our propositional statements of belief, and communicate that it would be wrong to associate with others until you completely know and completely agree with their statement of belief. we spend more of our time and effort (in the american religious right) explaining who and what we are not, clarifying why we’re more right and pure then ‘them’. and we’ve become obsessed with boundary marking, rather than stacking hands on core essentials.

and a parallel in government’s response to both groups:

6. keep them close, give them some power, in order to control them.
this was so interesting to me. i hadn’t been aware of the final steps in hitler’s rise to power, and had never quite understood how he (and the nazi party) got to complete power. for the few who, like i was, are unaware of these final steps: the moderate president of germany thought hitler was a nut, and thought the nazi platform was misguided. but his advisors encouraged him along the lines of the old adage “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. the president decided it would be easier to control hitler by giving him a position of partial-power. so he appointed him chancellor of germany, a somewhat ill-defined role that was a bit more ceremonial than not. but this was a huge miscalculation of how much power hitler and the nazi party had already garnered. within months (weeks?) of hitler’s appointment as chancellor, those in parliament (or whatever it was called) from the nazi party had taken over power of the real government. they quickly moved to outlaw all other policital parties. and in a shockingly short span of time moved germany to a totalitarian state. parallels to our context? well, there are certainly many christians in america (myself included) who are surprised by the clout of the religious right. much of their ‘power’ in controlling the republican party is based on an assumption (right or wrong — i’d like to think it’s wrong, but i’m not sure) that they have the ability to control a significant-enough segment of the american voters to control those who are elected. so one of our only two feasible political parties has been co-opted by “keep them close” thinking. i think this is highly dangerous for all of us — including for the religious right. there is no example in history (that i’m aware of) where a religiously uniform group dominating the political scene of a country has been a good thing for the country, or for the very people who aspouse the views of the religiously uniform group.

so. this ‘observational rant’ has gone on long enough. i haven’t been very helpful in suggesting alternatives, i admit. these are merely thoughts that came to me when touring a museum.

37 thoughts on “awkward similarities”

  1. I’m with you. There is a lot of fear-mongering among the Christian right. And I think you are dead on. Unfortunately, when people feel that the world they have “created” is being over-taken by “young guns” they feel like they only way they can regain control is by fear-mongering.

    I’m sick of hearing how homosexual marriage is a threat to the American family. I am sick of hearing people react against the emergent movement. I am sick of all of that stuff… in fact the only way I keep from screaming about it is doing the only thing that will combat it… ignoring it.

  2. Marko…

    I have always been uncomfortable with the “Religious Right” or ultra-conservative Christians, or whatever name you want to choose.

    I hadn’t been able to put into words why – or, really get others to see what I was seeing – which (minus the comparison to the early Nazi party) is pretty similar to what you’re seeing.

    Basically a few of your points. In particular, numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5. Scare people into Christianity (if you don’t accept Christ you’re going to hell.) Culture is bad (oh I don’t watch that it’s just full of immorality!) If you’re not Christian – you’re not American… and yes – my (un)favorite – Since you don’t believe like I do – I can’t associate with you.

    Thank you for talking about these and not being afraid to do so!

    Well Done.

  3. are you saying the religious right are nazi’s??? j/k

    i too resonate with the fear tactics…i think of some Christian radio here as well.

    I also understand the #2&3, as i just heard someone pray about the “moral slide” our country is going down, etc…

    another side note: does anyone know what the church was doing during this…part of this 1930’s-40’s time period (from what i understand) was for the church a tought time. some voices (Barth and othes) sounded alarm, but didn’t many just support the polotics?

    thanks for being willing to throw ideas like this out there…really helpful to think through.

  4. No flames here and a lot of great points. It’s really getting me thinking. I just hope people read the disclaimers that you aren’t lumping “everyone” together!

  5. i know i kind of already said this, but i want to say it again, based on some of the wonderful comments here:
    i am NOT slamming conservative christians. i still consider myself a moderate evangelical. and i highly value my deep freindships with many very conservative christians. i value their passion and commitment. my post is not about conservative christians. it’s a cautionary observation about political tactics.

  6. Apart from the fact I agree with pretty much everything in your post, what I like about it is that you had the nuts to post it. What a legend.

  7. A good post Marko. I’ve been thinking recently about how we still try to use behavior modification (fear based) instead of helping someone be transformed by the Holy Spirit (love based).

  8. While I do not disagree with most of your post, I don’t find it revealing either. It seems to me almost every “group” uses these tactics to try and gain support for their ways of thinking. The left uses the same tactics as the right. Everything from healthcare to global warming to pro-choice/women’s rights to caring about a minority are all promoted with fear. Most of the tactics you list can be seen in all of the liberal causes above much the same way as the religious right uses them for their causes. It is not so much an indictment of either side using “Nazi tactics” but just an observation of what has been found to be effective in promoting a groups beliefs.

    Where I do disagree with you is with your statement -“i realize it’s a bit cliche to mention this, but real christianity (real, passionate, following of jesus christ) has never flourished in a christian country.” I really believe the United States before we eliminated prayer/God from our schools in 1963/64 (and slowly removing God from everything else over the last 40 years) was a great example of a primarily Christian country that flourished for almost 200 years. It should be noted that there really was no need for the “religious right” before then because most everyone had the same values and we were a much more moral country. If you look at graphs of teen pregnancy , divorce, drug and alcohol problems, etc from the 20th century they are all flat for much of the century and begin to spike when we started to remove God from everything. I would almost say the opposite is true the primarily Christian US flourished until it stopped being primarily Christian. This is not to say that I believe we need to go back and be a primarily Christian country, just go back to being a country where we are free to be Christian.

    Sorry – I guess I got a little long winded there.

    -eric

  9. I believe that all the moral filth of today in our culture was (to some extent) present in our country prior to the 1960’s. If our media was as developed and we had TV’s and newspapers back in the 1800’s, the same kind of bad things would be reported. Sin is not a new thing, and a Christian culture (by itself) cannot stop it.

    Christians in politics is a good thing. But when we start to muddle the message of Christ and make it about power and control, we loose the message of love. I’m not saying that Jesus wasn’t political, because he was – he was in fact very subversive with some of the things he said/did. What I am saying that Jesus’ motives were to reconcile, love and heal – not to dominate, control, and conquer.

    Good thoughts Marko, I got me thinking – that’s for sure.

  10. in responce to Eric (with a “c”), i don’t really agree with your idea that America flourished as a Christian country for 200 years or so (until the elimination of prayer from schools).

    If you ask White males from certain European countries (usually protestants), then it may have been a great place to live. But take a look at US history from the perspective of almost any other ethnicity or even from the perspective of women (or children in some instances) and it is a whole different story. Here you find a US history that is filled with slavery, racism of all kinds, sexism, genocide, and explotation of child workers to name a few things. I don’t think of any of this as the hallmarks of a “christian nation”. and yet all of this is apart of our history here in the US.

    although i agree that certain things have gotten worse in our country as of recent decades, other things have improved dramatically. i like the way Erik (with a “k”) put things…helpful i think.

  11. Paul,
    If you want the best book on the theologians and churches during Hitler’s rise to power, see Erickson, Theologians Under Hitler. It can make you sick.

    Barth was not the primary voice; he was in Switzerland. The major voice was Bonhoeffer. There were others, like the Catholic Dietrich von Hildebrand.

  12. Certainly some thoughts worth pondering. Fear is a highly effective tool, but its users are hardly just the right. Those on the left (politically and theologically) are quite good at dispensing some fear now and then.

    And certainly many on the left theologically do their share of popculture-bashing, only their focus is on the greed, consumerism side of the culture.

    I’d go so far as to argue that your observations are relevant to BOTH extremes, left and right. Both have a tendency to push out those who disagree and attempt to create a B&W view of the world. They use different issues and different themes and different words and different colors, but in the end, an extreme is an extreme.

  13. Saw this blog post today on Salon and thought that Speaker Hastert’s comments played to the “popular culture is bad & ruining our way of life” point.

    The House of Representatives this afternoon voted down a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, just like the Senate did last month and the House did back in 2004. Undeterred, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Republicans would “continue to fight” because the institution of marriage is “under attack by activist judges across the nation.” We’re not sure which “activist judges” he means; in the past few weeks, judges in New York, Nebraska and Georgia have issued decisions approving prohibitions on gay marriage, and a court in Tennessee cleared the way for a gay marriage ban to get to the ballot in that state.

    Another friend submitted the thought that “Progressives often think of themselves as superior to “other” Christians (ethically but most especially intellectually), but they don’t really traffic in fear, demonize culture, etc. I think the point that CAN be made is that politics (and here from both sides) DO use similar tactics. However, I think the larger point here is that spiritually/religiously, is this the way to act on Jesus’ behalf? Or should we hold ourselves to a higher standard? The point is NOT that progressives are doing it right, just that they aren’t doing it wrong in this way (we have our own special brand of wrongness, it seems to me).

  14. randy (and others) — agree that both the left and the right use fear tactics. the difference in this case is that the religious left have no power, while the religious right continue a rise to power. that’s why i was struck by some of the awkward similarities to the tactics used by the nazi party during their rise to power.

  15. Marko, Were you expecting me to respond or something. Because you said Randy and Others, yet I have not wrote anything about this post. I agree with some of what you say in this post, just not all. As for the left not having the power, true they do not own the legistlative or executive branches, it is not like the right far out number the left. It is pretty close, and listening to some political “experts”, this could change come November.

    Not to get people going on something else, I think Adam up above mentioned about how he was tired of hearing about Gay Marriage bans…is this because you are for gay marriage or because it is in the news CONSTANTLY.

  16. Sigh. The left has no power? Give me a break. Do you know what has been going on in the courts?

    You know, the “Religious Right” really hasn’t accomplished all that much. BTW, I agree with your critique that too much time has been wasted on political outcomes. Too often, conservatives have been focused on making the pagans behave when in reality, we shouldn’t expect them to behave much differently. On the other hand, we also have to balance how society regulates itself because every law is an expression of someone’s morality. (Mark: I sure hope you see the same tendencies in Jim Wallis and his group in the way they try to push their political agenda).

    But, rather than comparing them to Nazis or the tactics used by Nazis, maybe you should just consider (1) they are your Christian brother/sister and (2) they’re just trying to contextualize the gospel.

    And the reason the right may be rising to power? I’ll suggest that it’s going to continue because the left is more likely to abort their future. There have been some studies that have suggested that.

  17. It’s difficult not to read this as just another “liberal ranting of one of those Emergent types” when everything Marko says is equally applicable to the Liberal Left. Anyone read a PFAW or Americans United newsletter lately? Hysterical fulminations about how a vast, right-wing conspiracy (people who don’t believe like us) is attempting to destroy our way of life. “True” Americans must show their contempt for this tyranny by protesting, by dogging their Senators into action, by marching in the streets (showing their strength). All because the “Religious Right” doesn’t think like “us.” We vs. They.

    C’mon, Marko. Certainly no one should mistake the Political Right with the Kingdom of God, but in choosing to associate Nazi methodology with only religious conservatives, you’ve tipped your “liberal emergent” hand.

  18. I find your post interesting. I think as others have said it can be used from both sides of the fence. Infact, I heard similar recitations from my uncle about what he heard about Bill Clinton and Nazi Germany similarities 8 years or so ago.

    It initially creates a visceral reaction in me for two reasons. One, its a little too trendy. And two, I get tired of everyone, however loosely, getting compared to nazis when they are disagreed with.

    I disagree with you as well that the left does not have power. Infact, most conservatives would argue that the left controls print and network television media (and CNN). From a conservative perspective, it is California and the Northeast that have all the power and all the money…and the religious right is just standing up for what a large number of people in America believe and have been silenced.

    In truth, if the last four elections are any indicator, our nation is pretty evenly divided. Which is why religion and politics is such a visible and volitile issue these days.

  19. everyone keeps talking about the “left” having no power. but it seems that marko isn’t talking about the “left” but the “religious left”. big difference i would think. the religious left seems to have very little power and voice out there, while the religious right obviously has quite a bit…

    what do you all think? is religious left and the “left” the same??

  20. Right on, Marko. The Barmen Declaration (signed by Karl Barth and other objecting theologians) has almost as much relevance for American Christians today as it did when it was written. I advise everyone to check it out.

  21. rob c, johnh, stan and others: i completely agree that fear tactics are (unfortunately) used all over the place, by people and groups of all ideologies. i truly wish it weren’t so. AND, there is nothing in this post that even remotely implies that the right does this and the left doesn’t. again (as i’ve said in an earlier comment) — my post was merely thoughts that came to me when thinking about the tactics used during the nazi rise to power, and how the religious right (politically, not necessarily referring to conservative christians) have used many of the same tactics in their rise to power. i didn’t include the religious left (and their use of at least some of the same tactics), because i do not believe they have risen to any level of effectual power in america.

    stan: call me names if you like, but anyone who actually KNOWS me would not put a “liberal emergent” label on me. if i had noticed some awkward similarities between the early nazi party (again, in their tactics, not their ideology) and the religious left, would you label me a hyper-conservative?

    tactics, folks. this post was merely about tactics and the rise to power.

  22. This has been fun.

    I hope you dont mistake disagreement and argument for a lack of support for what you have written.

    You should check out
    The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greggory Boyd

  23. Yo creo que que todo moviento socio-politico religioso tiende a utilizar la amenaza y el temor como herramienta de persuacion. Desde los mas malevolos hasta los mas divinos cuando entran en el terreno de lo humano y lo politico dejando lo espiritual tenderan de una manera natural a la persuacion via la amenaza y el temor.Somos negativos por naturaleza y por ejemplo en ves de tratar de persuadir a nuestros jovenes a la castidad y la virginida via las consecuencias negativas, deberiamos hacerlo via lo positivo de la Gloria y Honra que da el mantenerse casto y virgen hasta el dia del matrimonio…

    Yeah, I know is in Spanish but hey, you may find a good translator somewere.

  24. Hello Marko.

    I have been reading this post from Germany, where as an American I have been living for most of my life. I can see some of you major points in this post, some of which I agree with, some not. Some points are pretty simplistic, but this is not my point. May I add some additional points?

    1. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP was largely an effect of the great depression of the 20s and the financial burden placed on the German people after WW I.

    2. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP was also largely an effect of the unaffectiveness of the liberal and democratic German political parties. Their dumbness (not reading Hitlers “Mein Kampf”) and lameness are IMO also one of the reasons that Auschwitz and Dachau were possible. Democracy failed.

    3. The liberal church was silent. Democratic christians were silent. Mostly conservative christians (e.g. catholic groups) were the ones that protested and resisted Hitler, not liberals. We here have pictures of evangelical liberal lutheran Pastors wearing swasticas on their robes. These were the Brian McLarens of their time.

    Please be thankful for your American fundamentalist brothers – even if you disagree with them. They’re surely not Nazis (as you’ve already written) and are not even at the least comparable.

    Danny

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