The Great Scandal: Christianity’s Role in the Rise of the Nazis

The Great Scandal: Christianity’s Role in the Rise of the Nazis

A growing body of scholarly research, some based on careful analysis of Nazi records, is clarifying this complex history.[2] It reveals a convoluted pattern of religious and moral failure in which atheism and the nonreligious played little role, except as victims of the Nazis and their allies. In contrast, Christianity had the capacity to stop Nazism before it came to power, and to reduce or moderate its practices afterwards, but repeatedly failed to do so because the principal churches were complicit with—indeed, in the pay of—the Nazis.

Most German Christians supported the Reich; many continued to do so in the face of mounting evidence that the dictatorship was depraved and murderously cruel. Elsewhere in Europe the story was often the same. Only with Christianity’s forbearance and frequent cooperation could fascistic movements gain majority support in Christian nations. European fascism was the fruit of a Christian culture. Millions of Christians actively supported these notorious regimes. Thousands participated in their atrocities.

What, in God’s name, were they thinking?

Before we can consider the Nazis, we need to examine the historical and cultural religious context that would give rise to them.

Christian Foundations

Early Christian sects promoted loyalty to authoritarian rulers so long they were not intolerably anti-Christian or, worse, atheistic. Christian anti-Semitism sprang from one of the church’s first efforts to forge an accommodation with power. Reinterpreting the Gospels to shift blame for the Crucifixion from the Romans to the Jews (the “Christ killer” story) courted favor with Rome, an early example of Christian complicity for political purposes. Added energy came from Christians’ anger over most Jews’ refusal to convert.[3]

Christian anti-Semitism was only intermittently violent, but when violence occurred it was devastating. The first outright extermination of Jews occurred in 414 c.e. It would have innumerable successors, the worst nearly genocidal in scope. At standard rates of population growth, Diaspora Jewry should now number in the hundreds of millions. That there are only an estimated 13 million Jews in the world[4] is largely the result of Christian violence and forced conversion.[5]

via churchandstate The Great Scandal: Christianity’s Role in the Rise of the Nazis