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Positive Christianity

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Positive Christianity

Flag of the German Christians, the movement associated with Positive Christianity
German Christians celebrating Luther-Day in Berlin in 1933, speech by bishop Hossenfelder

Positive Christianity (German: Positives Christentum) was a movement within Nazi Germany which blended ideas of racial purity and Nazi ideology with elements of Christianity. Hitler included use of the term in Article 24[1] of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform, stating "the Party represents the standpoint of Positive Christianity". Non-denominational, the term could be variously interpreted, but allayed fears among Germany's Christian majority as to the expressed hostility towards the established churches of large sections of the Nazi movement.[2] In 1937, Hans Kerrl, the Nazi Minister for Church Affairs, explained "Positive Christianity" as not "dependent upon the Apostle's Creed", nor in "faith in Christ as the son of God", upon which Christianity relied, but rather, as being represented by the Nazi Party: "The Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation", he said.[3] To accord with Nazi antisemitism, Positive Christianity advocates also sought to deny the Semitic origins of Christ and the Bible. In such elements Positive Christianity separated itself from Christianity and is considered apostasy by Catholics and Protestants.

Hitler himself was hostile to Christianity, and historians, including Mit brennender Sorge and elsewhere.

The official Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg played an important role in the development of "positive Christianity", which he conceived in discord with both Rome and the Protestant church, whom he called "negative Christianity".[5] Richard Steigmann-Gall queries whether this made Rosenberg a genuine anti-Christian.[6] Rosenberg conceived of Positive Christianity as a transitional faith and amid the failure of the regime's efforts to control Protestantism through the agency of the pro-Nazi "German Christians", Rosenberg, along with fellow radicals Robert Ley and Baldur von Schirach backed the neo-pagan "German Faith Movement", which more completely rejected Judeo-Christian conceptions of God.[7] During the war, Rosenberg drafted a plan for the future of religion in Germany which would see the "expulsion of the foreign Christian religions" and replacement of the Bible with Mein Kampf and the cross with the swastika in Nazified churches.[8]

Theological and doctrinal aspects

Adherents of Positive Christianity argued that traditional Christianity emphasized the passive rather than the active aspects of Judaism of his day. At various points in the Nazi regime, attempts were made to replace conventional Christianity with its "positive" alternative.

Positive Christianity differed from orthodox Christianity in that Positive Christianity:

  • Rejected the Jewish-written parts of the Bible (including the entire Old Testament)
  • Claimed "Aryanhood" and non-Jewishness for Christ
  • Promoted the political objective of national unity, to overcome confessional differences, to eliminate Catholicism, and to unite Protestantism into a single unitary Positive Christian church[9]

Origins of the idea

Steigmann-Gall traces the origins of Positive Christianity to Higher Criticism of the nineteenth century, with its emphasis on the distinction between the historical Jesus, and the divine Jesus of theology.[10] According to some schools of thought, the saviour-figure of orthodox Christianity was very different from the historical Galilean preacher. While many such scholars sought to place Jesus in the context of ancient Judaism, some writers reconstructed a historical Jesus who corresponded to racialist and anti-semitic ideology. In the writings of such anti-semites as Emile Burnouf, Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde, Jesus was redefined as an Aryan hero who struggled against Jews and Judaism. Consistent with their origins in Higher Criticism, such writers often either rejected or minimized the miraculous aspects of Gospel narratives, reducing the crucifixion to a tragic coda to Jesus's life rather than its prefigured culmination. Both Burnouf and Chamberlain argued that the population of Galilee was racially distinct from that of Judea. Lagarde insisted that German Christianity must become "national" in character.

Various historians credit the origins of "Positive Christianity" more to the political acumen and opportunism of the Nazi leadership. Leading Nazis like Himmler, Rosenberg, Bormann and Goebbels, backed by Hitler, were hostile to Christianity and ultimately planned to de-Christianize Germany.[8] However, Germany had been Christian for over a thousand years, and Hitler recognized the practical reality of the political significance of the Churches in Germany and determined that any moves against the churches must be made in stages. In the words of Paul Berben, "Positive Christianity" therefore came to be advocated as a "term that could be overlaid with any interpretation required, depending on the circumstances" and the party declared itself for religious freedom provided this liberty did not "endanger the State or clash with the views of the 'Germanic Race'".[11]

Historian Derek Hastings has written about the Catholic roots in the nationalistic, and disaffacted Catholic circles of Munich, of the explicit endorsement of 'positive Christianity' in the Nazi party Program. This group helped to shape its tenets, suspicious as they were of both Ultramontanism and Political Catholicism.[12]

In Mein Kampf, Hitler reassured his readers that both Christian denominations (Catholicism and Protestantism) were valid bases for the German people, provided the Churches did not intervene in State affairs. In private Hitler scorned Christianity to his friends, but when out campaigning for power in Germany, he publicly made statements in favour of the religion.[11] "The most persuasive explanation of these statements", wrote Laurence Rees, "is that Hitler, as a politician, simply recognised the practical reality of the world he inhabited... Had Hitler distanced himself or his movement too much from Christianity it is all but impossible to see how he could ever have been successful in a free election. Thus his relationship in public to Christianity - indeed his relationship to religion in general - was opportunistic. There is no evidence that Hitler himself, in his personal life, ever expressed any individual belief in the basic tenets of the Christian church".[13]

Positive Christianity in Nazi ideology

Positive Christianity was highly supported by the Nazi movement, which promoted its ideals in its journals Der Stürmer and Völkischer Beobachter, both of which stressed the "Nordic" character of Jesus. However, the party was careful to stress that positive Christianity was not intended to be a third confession, nor to contradict the traditional theologies of established churches. As early as 1920 the Nazis proclaimed in their 25-point program that the "Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us".[14] Despite this, a number of Nazis openly challenged the established churches.

Hanns Kerrl (center). As Reichsminister of Church Affairs, he described Hitler as the "herald of a new revelation" and said that "Positive Christianity" was not dependent on the Apostle's Creed or belief in Christ as the son of God.[3]
Alfred Rosenberg, was "the Fuehrer's Delegate for the Entire Intellectual and Philosophical Education and Instruction for the National Socialist Party". A proponent of "Positive Christianity", he planned the "extermination of the foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany", and for the Bible and Christian cross to be replaced with Mein Kampf and the swastika.[3]

Alfred Rosenberg, editor of Völkischer Beobachter, wrote The Myth of the Twentieth Century, in which he argued that the Catholic and Protestant churches had distorted Christianity in such a way that the "heroic" and "Germanic" aspects of Jesus's life had been ignored. For Rosenberg, positive Christianity was a transitional ideology that would pave the way to build a new fully racialist faith.[15] Instead of the cross, its symbol was the orb of the sun in the form of a sun cross and in principle it was the elevation of the Nordic race, a rejection of divine revelation, and the promotion of a German god.[16] For Rosenberg the Aryan-Nordic race was divine, and god was in the blood and its culture was the kingdom of heaven, in contrast the Jewish race was evil and it was a satanic counter race against the divine Aryan-Nordic race.[17] Adolf Hitler approved of the work,[16] but distanced himself from Rosenberg's more radical ideas, wishing to retain the support of the conservative Christian electorate and social elite, but he emphasized the desirability of positive Christianity.

As an aspect of [19] Muller's heretical views against St Paul and the Semitic origins of Christ and the Bible quickly alienated sections of the Protestant church. Pastor Martin Niemöller responded with the Pastors' Emergency League which re-affirmed the Bible. The movement grew into the Confessing Church, from which some clergymen opposed the Nazi regime.[18]

Ludwig Müller was elected the first Reichsbischof of the new Reichskirche (so-called German Evangelical Church) in September 1933. However, the German Christians' theological initiatives[20] met with resistance from many pastors, most notably Niemöller, whose Pastors' Emergency League was supported by nearly 40 percent of the Evangelical pastors.[21][22] Following this failure, Hitler backtracked on attempts to directly nazify the churches and became disinterested in supporting the "German Christians".[18]

The German Faith Movement founded by Jakob Wilhelm Hauer adopted a more thoroughly Aryanized form of the ideology, claiming to represent the essence of the "Protestant" spirit by mixing aspects of Christianity with ideas derived from "Aryan" religions such as Vedic Hinduism and "Aryo"-Persian religiosity (Manicheanism, etc.). They attempted to separate Nazi officials from church affiliations, banning nativity plays and calling for an end to daily prayers in schools.

By 1934, the Confessing Church had declared itself the legitimate Protestant Church of Germany. Despite his closeness to Hitler, Müller had failed to unite Protestantism in a single Nazi-dominated Church. In 1935 the Nazis arrested 700 Confessing pastors. Müller resigned. To instigate a new effort at coordinating the Protestant churches, Hitler appointed another friend, Hans Kerrl to the position of Minister for Church Affairs. A relative moderate, Kerrl initially had some success in this regard, but amid continuing protests by the Confessing Church against Nazi policies, he accused churchmen of failing to appreciate the Nazi doctrine of "Race, blood and soil" and gave the following explanation of the Nazi conception of "Positive Christianity", telling a group of submissive clergy:[23]

Demise

The Nazi policy of interference in Protestantism did not achieve its aims. A majority of German Protestants sided neither with the "German Christians", nor with the Confessing Church. Both groups also faced significant internal disagreements and division. Mary Fulbrook wrote in her history of Germany:[24]

With the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945, positive Christianity as a movement fell into obscurity. However it continues to be espoused by some Christian Identity groups.[25]

See also

Further reading

Notes

  1. ^ NSDAP Party Programm. February 24, 1920, Point 24: "We demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral senses of the Germanic race. The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: The good of the state before the good of the individual." Quoted in Robert Michael and Philip Rosen (2007). Dictionary of Antisemitism from the Earliest Times to the Present Lanham: Scarecrow Press, p. 321.
  2. ^ a b Laurence Rees; The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler; Ebury Press; 2012; p135.
  3. ^ a b c William L. Shirer; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Secker & Warburg; London; 1960; p238-9
  4. ^ Paul Berben; Dachau: The Official History 1933-1945; Norfolk Press; London; 1975; ISBN 0-85211-009-X; pp. 139-141
  5. ^ "Alfred Rosenberg". Jewish Virtual Library (American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise). Retrieved 2008-05-07. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Pierre Aycoberry; The Social History of the Third Reich; The New Press; New York; 1999; p191
  8. ^ a b William L. Shirer; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Secker & Warburg; London; 1960; p240
  9. ^ Steigmann-Gall, Richard (2003). The Holy Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 13-51.
  10. ^ Steigmann-Gall, Richard (2003). The Holy Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 8, 33.
  11. ^ a b Paul Berben; Dachau: The Official History 1933-1945; Norfolk Press; London; 1975; ISBN 0-85211-009-X; p. 138
  12. ^ Hastings, 'Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism', chapters one and two; Ericksen, 'Complicity in the Holocaust', p.50
  13. ^ Laurence Rees; The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler; Ebury Press; 2012; p135.
  14. ^ Michael, Robert and Philip Rosen (2007). Dictionary of Antisemitism from the Earliest Times to the Present Lanham: Scarecrow Press, p. 321.
  15. ^ Spicer, Kevin (2007). Antisemitism, Christian ambivalence, and the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 301.
  16. ^ a b Joseph Biesinger (1 January 2006). Germany: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present. Infobase Publishing. pp. 629–.  
  17. ^ Hans Maier; Michael Schäfer (24 December 2007). Totalitarianism and Political Religions, Volume II: Concepts for the Comparison Of Dictatorships. Psychology Press. pp. 219–.  
  18. ^ a b c Ian Kershaw; Hitler a Biography; 2008 Edn; WW Norton & Company; London; p.295-297
  19. ^ William L. Shirer; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Secker & Warburg; London; 1960; pp.234-238
  20. ^ These pro-Nazi initiatives included the introduction of the Aryan paragraph, which would exclude converted Jews, and the attempt to dispense with the Old Testament in church services.
  21. ^ Overy, Richard James (2004). The dictators: Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 283–284.  
  22. ^ Stackelberg, Roderick (2007). The Routledge Companion to Nazi Germany. Routledge.  
  23. ^ William L. Shirer; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Secker & Warburg; London; 1960; pp.238-239
  24. ^ Mary Fulbrook; The Fontana History of Germany 1918-1990 The Divided Nation; Fontana Press; 1991, p.81
  25. ^ Downey, Mark (2009). "Kinsman Redeemer Church: Positive Christianity." . Retrieved 12-7-2011.
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