Ideological Incompatibility: The Forced Fusion of Nazism and Protestant Theology and Its Impact on Anti-Semitism in the Third Reich

By Eldridge, Stephen W. | International Social Science Review, Fall-Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Ideological Incompatibility: The Forced Fusion of Nazism and Protestant Theology and Its Impact on Anti-Semitism in the Third Reich


Eldridge, Stephen W., International Social Science Review


While Adolf Hitler's rise to power proved a rude awakening for many organizations in Weimar Germany, the upheaval it caused within the German Protestant Church is particularly noteworthy. Like a slithering snake, Nazi ideology crept into the very heart of German Protestantism. The church's traditional bonds of unity were torn asunder and the rich brotherhood established by Martin Luther was strained as never before. Although Nazi philosophy struck crippling blows at the organizational integrity of German Protestant churches, it was also responsible for a far more insidious danger. At stake during Hitler's tyranny was nothing less than the very fabric of German Reformation Christianity. Like a quickly replicating virus, National Socialism began to weave itself into the soul of Protestant theology, ultimately blurring the line between worship of nation and worship of God.

This study examines the unlikely combination of Protestant theology, religious/racial anti-Semitism, and Nazi ideology. While the vast majority of German Protestants were decent, well intentioned, God-fearing Christians, they were "acclimated" to accept the adulterated "Positive Christianity" so favorable to Nazi ideology. (1) As a consequence, they were predisposed to a collective ineffectualness in their efforts to protect the welfare of German Jews, both within the Protestant Church and without. The forces (or influences) that predisposed German Protestants to make only half-hearted efforts in defense of German Jews are somewhat understandable--although not excusable--when examined in context. First, the German public was swept up in an emotion-filled vision of resurrected national pride. When this great hope was promised to the masses through Hitler's National Socialism, the faith-based rationalism so prevalent in German Protestantism was consumed by this irresistible longing for national resurgence. Secondly, when one takes into account the history of anti-Semitism that has been a part of Christianity for over two millennia, German Protestants were susceptible to a latent anti-Semitism capable of producing apathy and misguided justification. When secular, racial anti-Semitic propaganda was openly infused into German culture, the collective Protestant psyche faced even greater ethical hurdles. Lastly, the anti-Semitic rhetoric of imminent Protestant scholars and German Protestants' national pride in Martin Luther cast a third strike against German Jews. By examining the theological and political maneuverings of the German Protestant Church, this study seeks to explain some of the key dimensions of this complex Protestant moral/political dilemma and its impact on German Jews.

To understand how the tenets of Protestantism could become tangled in Nazi ideology, one must first examine the intrinsic appeal that National Socialism held for the "average" citizen in Weimar Germany. During Hitler's rule, nearly all German citizens (ninety-five percent) considered themselves Christians. More than half (fifty-five percent) were Protestant. Thus, most Germans who welcomed Hitler's rise to power and witnessed his terror were self-professed Christians. Moreover, as in the days of Bismarck's Germany, German Protestants gravitated toward a brand of politics that was conservative, antidemocratic, and anticommunist. Like most Germans, they displayed an ardent nationalistic fervor in response to their country's capitulation at Versailles. The wounded nation yearned for redemption and sought deliverance from the perceived societal ills that the Weimar democracy had left in its wake. Such circumstances made a neatly packaged hybridized version of "Christian" National Socialism attractive to the average German citizen. (2)

The successful mixture and subsequent marketing of ideological principles separated by so great a chasm was nothing less than masterful. How does one reconcile the numerous Christian teachings on love and acceptance with the tenets of National Socialism? …

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