Saturday, 9 December 2006

Peter Hitchens Stimulates Debate, Abuse

Pootling around the non-socialist blogosphere this morning, I noticed that Peter Hitchens has posted something which has led to thoughtful debate as well as mindless abuse. It is the subject of Intelligent Design teaching in schools. I have a simple view on this: it might well be worth teaching in philosophy, RE or even PSHE: but as a science topic it is completely out of place. It is interesting to note that some people, despite apparently having masses of evidence to back up their views choose not to cite it.

One of the commentors makes this point:

... the atrocities of the Nazis and Communists were carried out in the name of political beliefs of fascism and communism, not atheism-- I'm sure that all communists or fascists aren't atheists.

I tend to think it goes with the terrority for communists: the position of fascists is more equivocal. Having just finished Richard J Evans's The Third Reich in Power, I find it difficult to believe that the Nazis as a whole possessed a genuine faith in a supernatural being, since they invested so much of that power and authority in themselves. Some Nazis of course were keen on the occult and paganism, but it was mainly to demonstrate the ancient beauty and strength of the German people. Himmler's views on religion, like on everything else, were completely barking: but it's hardly a way of saying that fascism was religious. Hitler himself sometimes talked of God, and I think the Supreme Deity is mentioned in the SS oath; for Hitler it was a sort of mythic sense in which he saw himself joining the Germanic gods in Valhalla at the end of time, or maybe he only meant it in a metaphorical sense. Nevertheless the role of religious belief is more ambiguous in Nazi Germany than in Soviet Russia. Not to mention the ancient role of Christianity in preparing the ground for the holocaust.

The poster is right in his comment that the atrocities of communism and so on were carried out in the name of politics. There were of course, atrocities carried out specifically against religious belief by atheists, because of atheism, especially in the USSR and Maoist China. Following on from Norm on atheism, it is also clearly rubbish that Stalin's atrocities were religiously inspired or came from his time in the seminary rather than his years of street fighting and conspiring, not to mention his wide Marxist reading. What the USSR and China and, I think, Nazi Germany, show, is that atheism, despite the claims of Richard Dawkins, is totally compatible with mass murder and utter disrespect for life. His position is that belief in an afterlife is more likely to make you lose respect for this one, while the history of the Twentieth Century shows that the reverse certainly applies: knowing that life is pointless means it is fine to waste it. Atheism is certainly making it easier for our leading bioethicists and medics to argue for disabled babies to be killed, for wider abortion provision, and for more euthanasia. Since life itself has no inherent property of meaning, there is no reason to make heroic efforts to save it; the pointless existence of suffering is what must be destroyed. I'm not saying this view is wholly uncompassionate, just that it demonstrates how when human life appears unable to create its own meaning, the lack of inherent meaning means that it can be more easily ended. Yet we hold fast to the abolition of the death penalty- probably because, again, it causes suffering; and it's suffering that we are not prepared to endure. For mainly compassionate reasons, I'm sure.


beepbeepitsme said...

If you believe in the ancient germanic gods, or the christian god, or a pantheistic interpretation of god - the fact still remains - you are NOT an atheist.

The Tin Drummer said...

Yes, I'd agree with that of course. My question is solely to what extent these beliefs were actually held by the Nazis - and I'm not convinced that Hitler, for one, had any supernatural beliefs at all. I think that, like in so much else, he projected his beliefs about himself onto the world around him. For him, talk of the gods or even paganism, was just a way of aggrandizing himself. But that's just my speculation.

Thanks for dropping by, by the way.

beepbeepitsme said...

There's lots of info about Hitler preserved in his speeches, writings etc, which certainly suggest that if he wasn't a christian, he did talk about being a believer a lot.

But regardless of whether he WAS a christian, germnay WAS full of christians. Germany, at the time was probably the most christianized nation in europe for the time period.

So, his speeches did appeal to those who considered themselves christian, and nazi soldiers were buried with full christian services, right down to the christian crosses on their graves.

The Tin Drummer said...

Yes, I'd agree with much of that. Germany was not a "christian" nation though, it was sharply divided into Protestant and Catholic. The Catholics had been on the receiving end of Bismarck in the 1870s and were less likely to identify with German nationalism. Indeed the Catholic Centre Party,though it agreed to dissolve itself in 1933, had some people in key posts after that time, many of whom remained antithetical to Nazism. Protestantism went well with German patriotism of different kinds and was more closely associated with the nation itself. There was not really all that much "christian" unity between them. The Nazis signed a Concordat with the Catholic Church but much low level persecution and annoyance followed: children were encouraged and in some areas their parents bullied by the authorities to go to non-denominational schools, and churches were occasionally vandalised. The Nazis also tried to Co-opt Christian belief with the German Christian movement.

Hitler and his cronies retained a view that ultimately Christian belief was an impediment to full national socialist understanding: and his speeches appealed to people as patriots, nationalists, and broken lower middle class artisans and shopkeepers. his appeal was not that he or anyone else in the movement was Christian.

The main religious problem or ambiguity for me in Nazi Germany is not whether Nazism was welcomed by a Christian nation (it wasn't - it was a complex process in which religious belief was only a part); but to what extent Christianity of all kinds had prepared the ground for the Nazis through its ancient antisemitism. I think that "quite well" is probably the answer.

Spain and Portugal were probably more religious than Germany in 1933, hence anticlericalism was a major factor in the Spanish Civil War.

But the relationship between eschatological Nazism and many aspects of Christian belief is interesting and well worth exploring.

beepbeepitsme said...

My point is that Germany was not a nation of atheists, agnostics, muslims, hindus or buddhists. It was a nation of people who by overwhelming majority considered themselves to be christians. They may not have been christians who agreed with each other on all aspects of doctrine, but which "christian nation" does?

But the appeal to each german's sense of christianity was more than enough for the german people to vote for hitler and to believe that he was doing the will of god.

The nazis, individaully, were predominately christian. They may not have been christians who agreed with each other concerning every aspect of dogma or doctrine, but they had an abiding faith in god and christianity.

And frankly, I am sick of american christian apologists who want to rewrite history so that they can attempt to divorce themselves from the history of christianity.

The Tin Drummer said...

Well I'm afraid that just isn't the case. the Germans did not accept Nazism because they saw it as a nice bit of Christian politics: it had nothing to do with that at all, and everything to do with the dire state of Germany and Europe in 1933. Your point does seem now to be that Christian belief was somehow compatible. This is rubbish, which is why the Nazis, as I pointed out, tried to cop-opt belief, destroy it, undermine it, and so on. And no, most of the top Nazis were not practising Christians, whatever they said in their speeches. Some of them had been, like Heydrich, but had quit the church before or during the 1930s. As I've pointed out, the antisemitism was there, but otherwise it had very little to do with Christianity. Reference to God and belief were almost certainly just to get the churches on side and to persuade people that although the rhetoric sounded harsh he must have been ok after all. Besides of which, as I attempted to explain earlier, talk of destiny, God, belief, and so on, especially in the hands of practised demagogues, is nebulous and interchangeable, and should not be taken to imply belief (any more than Stalin believed in Mother Russia in his war time appeals to it).

I'm neither American, nor an apologist. And I'M sick of self righteous atheists trying to make belief in God responsible for all the evil under the sun. It's not. Nazism was a complex social phenomenon. It's not the case that "christian" Germany, a totally non-existent homogeneous body, somehow welcomed Nazism as an extension of itself. It _was_ a specifically German phenomenon, but that was because of that country's history, philosophy, and recent political problems (some of the Nazis' policies in the 30s were continuations of Weimar govt's policies).

So - as Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot were atheists, can I now argue that atheism is without doubt responsible for the terrible crimes of communism, and that I'm sick of atheist apologists trying to rewrite the history of atheism?

The Tin Drummer said...

and besides of which the Nazis never achieved a working majority in free elections in Germany. So a good 50% of this christian country remained unpersuaded, even if they hadn't been terrified into submission by the SA.

The Tin Drummer said...

And by way of a final word on the subject:

"millions of Catholics opposed it or remained relatively immune. Millions of Protestants, including many of the most committed, did not. Millions more people resisted its ideological blandishments despite haveing grown up in the atheistic and anticlerical traditions of the German labour movment."

Richard J Evans "The Third Reich in Power" (p259)

It's a complicated, difficult subject: but the rise to power of the NSDAP is _not_ the responsbility of the conflicting, mutually antagonistic Christian religions of the time.

beep said...

The nazi party was not an athesitic party regardless of what evans, as a christian apologist 50 years later has to say on the subject.

The nazi party had ist origins in the christian worker's party.

beepbeepitsme @

The Tin Drummer said...

Well, you've just dismissed Europe's leading 3rd Reich scholar out of hand.

That's time, gentlemen, please.