On Native Ground
START TAKING THE THEOCRATS SERIOU.S.LY
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The nexus of evangelical Christianity and Republican politics is a force that is transforming the United States, and not for the better.
As someone who firmly believes that church and state should be separate entities, I find it disgusting that GOP, in the minds of some Republicans, now stands for God's Own Party.
This implies, of course, that Democrats are tools of Satan.
But the biggest question I have regarding Christian Republicans is how does one claim to be a good Christian and still follow a political party that is very selective about which parts of the Bible it follows?
The answer might be found in a recently-released documentary, "Theologians Under Hitler," produced by Methodist Pastor Steven Martin. It will be aired on public television in the coming weeks.
The film is based on the 1985 book of the same name by Robert Ericksen. It looks at three prominent German Protestant theologians - Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emmanuel Hirsch - and how their writings were used to legitimize the Nazi Party during its rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s.
In an interview in June, Martin said he hopes the film "opens up the discussion to talk about what it means to be uniquely Christian in the world today. And I think that is the most crucial discussion we can have today in the church."
That's because, as Martin put it, "pastors are trying to lead some civil discussion of Christianity in context of a divided country and what it means to be a Christian in context of a divided society. This program gives you a very safe environment to do it."
While discussing current events from the pulpit is problematic, Martin said "you can talk about history."
And this is history worth discussing. To talk about how German churches helped Adolf Hitler come to power, you have to talk about how church and state became one in Germany.
In the aftermath of World War I, when Germany was a beaten, exhausted nation, a new vision of Christianity started to emerge. It was a vision that championed a nationalist agenda. The idea of the resurrection of Germany merged with the image of the resurrection of Christ. It was a seductive image, especially when one considers the depth of Christian faith in Germany and its attractiveness as a antidote to a chaotic modern world.
The German Christian movement was the result. The Nazi swastika started to appear on church altars. The idea of volk espoused by Hirsch - a united, racially pure Germany - tapped into the long-simmering anti-semitism of Germans. It didn't take much of a leap to equate the elimination of Jews with the fulfillment of God's plan.
What made it possible was theologians such as Kittel, who advocated for a Christianity divorced from its Jewish roots, or Althaus, who linked Hirsch's volk and Hitler's ideas together in his writings. Given the respect that people have for church leaders, having people like Kittel, Althaus and Hirsch supporting Hitler made Nazism respectable.
Martin's film doesn't mention present-day politics. It doesn't need to. A viewer of the film with even the slightest bit of knowledge regarding today's Republican Party can see how the combination of church and state perverts both church and state.
Radical clerics such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson certainly don't have the intellectual status of an Althaus or Hirsch. But they most certainly are influencing political thought as their German counterparts did in the 1930s. They have succeeded in making their version of evangelical Christianity as the official religion of the Republican Party. All other faiths need not apply. They want a theocracy, one volk under one churchified state.
That's why the Founding Fathers made sure separation of church and state was put into the Constitution. They had enough knowledge of the religious extremists of their era to know that no faith or religious sect should be allowed to dominate a free people.
But the present-day Christian Right doesn't see it that way. Like the German church of the 1930s, they see our open, secular society and the principles of the Enlightenment it was based upon as evil, and see the people who believe in these principles as evil.
Too many liberals don't take the prospect of a fundamentalist theocracy seriously, or think that the Christian Right and its followers can reasoned with. Unfortunately, reason is an impossibility when dealing with people who openly seek your destruction in the name of the God they believe in.
This nation is lurching toward theocracy and we need to understand what happens when church and state become one. The evangelicals who believe that God chose George W. Bush to be President will probably not see Martin's film. But for everyone else who believes that religion and politics shouldn't mix, especially in light of what happens when they do, this film is a must.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more
than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He
can be reached at email@example.com. More information about
"Theologians Under Hitler" can be found at www.vitalvisuals.com.