Copyright 1992 Freethought Today Reprinted with Permission Christian Roots Of The Holocaus

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Copyright 1992 Freethought Today Reprinted with Permission Christian Roots Of The Holocaust (Part 2) By Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. To summarize for newcomers, response is being made to the contention often heard from the clergy that most if not all the social ills that beset the world can be traced to the malignant presence of "secular humanists" ([one form of] atheists). As the ultimate example of the misery, tyranny, terror, immorality, and inhumanity that can result when atheism dominates a society the clergy point to Communist Russia. The accusers can't present any evidence to tie these abominations to atheism. Except for what were, as will be shown later, on-again, off-again attempts of the regime to stamp out religion, the horrors it committed (including all except a relatively small fraction of killings), had nothing whatever to do with its atheistic stand. In fact, as will be shown in due course, the Russian Orthodox Church, during long stretches of time, supported the political policies of the Soviet dictatorship without reservation. The clergy insist that the prevention or cure of degeneracy in the individual and decay in the society depend on the presence of Christianity. Innumerable assertions of this claim can be reproduced. Three will give their flavor. The Reverend Don Beltzer, in a widely distributed booklet, "America at the Brink", published by the General Council of Assemblies of God [the folks who brought us Jones Town and Rev. Jim Jones] and Revivaltime Media Ministries, reports that he personally directed the ultimate question about the destiny of the nation to none other than Dr. Billy Graham: "Dr. Graham, you know this nation of ours well. You have been a friend of our presidents for decades. You have preached in our great cities. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Americas' future? His face was 2 feet away, his eyes penetrating into mine [how much closer to oracular power and genius can you get?], and a mask of sadness briefly captured his famous countenance. He replied ever so softly, 'Unless there is a miracle of God's grace here, America is going to hell.'" The Reverend John Stott, one of the most prominent British clerics, now Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church in London, gave a sermon, "Christians: Salt and Light." Proclaiming that "Christians are fundamentally different from non-Christians," he joins Jesus in reminding them that they are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." He teaches that, as "salt," Christians are appointed to "permeate non-Christian society," and thus prevent its rotting, and, as "light," to dispel "the darkness of evil and sorrow." Being "salt" and "light," the Christians are qualified to battle "the growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, pornography, the diminishing respect for human life, and the increase in abortion." Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, a very aggressive and quite successful nationwide organization to get Christians, as Christians, more politically involved, is intended precisely to apply the Christian "therapy" to the ailing society through political power. He promises Christians: "We can turn our country back from its headlong plunge into chaos and moral decay. But only if we wake-up Christian America. That's the entire purpose of CHRISTIAN COALITION." It is easy to show that both propositions so dear to the clergy--that where atheism dominates, there can be only disaster and that in Christianity lies the remedy--are without substance. If it is easy, then why do the clergy not cease and desist from so doggedly putting them forth? Because they are committed to an ideology that is at war with proper reasoning, and they lack the skills required to critically analyze the faults that lurk in their loose, irresponsible talk. Consider the Soviet Union whose dictatorial political and social systems should be found repugnant by any secular humanist. The clergy insist that these systems are in fact due precisely to the atheism that allegedly infected the populace and reigned supreme in the land. The clergy are in error even regarding the elementary facts that are needed to support their premise. Atheism did not reign supreme in Communist Russia. More religious worship occurred there than the clergy here suppose. How can any regime, no matter how oppressive, wipe out religion privately indulged in? The Soviet government in time became more concerned with restricting institutionalized religion than with trying to eradicate every last vestige of worship, something they came to realize early on was not a feasible goal, leading them to make compromises. Though the rulers made efforts, sometimes very strenuous and even murderous efforts, to promote atheism and eliminate religion, they were far from successful. How unsuccessful they were should be obvious from the massive resurfacing of religion after the demise of the Communist regime. The clergy, out of ignorance, wrongly assume that there was a straight-line, unvarying, and unrelenting suppression of religion in Communist Russia. In fact the picture is strikingly different. There were alternating periods, sometimes lasting for decades, of relaxing and of strengthening anti-religious policies. The history in a nutshell: After the initial period of hostility to the Bolsheviks, the Church settled into a posture of neutrality (not opposition, but neutrality). Then there came periods when the Church pledged to give the regime its complete support in all political matters. One such period was in 1927 when the Church abandoned its policy of neutrality and committed itself to support the regime unconditionally in all political matters. In subsequent years, there were intervals of pressure against the Church interspersed with intervals of permissiveness. In 1943, the Church ratified a concordat which defined state/church relations for the next fifteen years. The Church was granted concessions in return for which it again committed itself to unequivocally support the state in political affairs. William C. Fletcher, Professor and Director of Soviet and East European Studies and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, who is one of the closest students of the subject and has published numerous researches on the matter, has many interesting things to say about it. He makes reference, in the Journal of State and Church, to "the spectacular revival of religion during the latter fifties" in the Soviet Union. More than this, Fletcher says that if one can assume the correctness of the figures that went into his calculations, "the number of religious believers in the Soviet Union has not been reduced but has actually grown from some eighty to ninety million people in 1937 to perhaps one hundred fifteen million today [1980]." He tracked spans of time when the Orthodox Church and its officials were allied with the Communist government. The Church hierarchy helped the regime to establish control over the peoples (western Ukraine and the Baltic countries) brought into the Soviet orbit after World War II. Its influence was brought to bear even on non-Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe that came under Soviet domination, the Church urging non-Orthodox bodies (such as the national Catholic Churches) to accept the political situation. The Orthodox Church cooperated enthusiastically with the Soviet's "peace offensive" of the forties and fifties, a peace campaign that has been exposed as little more than a ploy to throw the West off guard. During World War II, to cite the findings of another authority, the Church was rehabilitated, it received many concessions, and, in fact, it hailed Stalin as "the divinely appointed leader of the nation." According to still another academic researcher, whose studies pertain to more recent years, in the seventies the Communist government revised its state/church regulations to favor the Orthodox and Baptist leadership. He surmises that this was a reward for their subservience: "These leaders have consistently supported the Kremlins domestic and international policies." So, it seems, after all, that Christianity was present in the very belly of "Godless Communism," and its heart beat fairly rhythmically. Yet, it was no antidote to the vile ways of an "evil empire." In fact, the Orthodox Church must bear part of the responsibility for doing much to help it on its way and support and perpetuate its tyrannical grip on people. The Baptists also helped. This is not the first or last time Christians are found willing to sell their souls. Let us use imperial Russia as a testing ground for the clergy's promise that where Christianity permeates society life is much more likely to be pleasing, since Christianity spells love, peace, joy, serene contentment, caring, sharing, humaneness, equal worth of everyone, bounteous good gifts, and everything else that's nice. Pre-Communist Russia was certainly thoroughly permeated by Christianity. It reigned in Russia for at least a thousand years before communism came on the scene. The religion played a vital role in the lives of the people, and the Orthodox Church was a dominant influence in many spheres. One historian, but not the only one, comments: "Peasants in particular embraced their religion wholeheartedly." Besides preparing "loyal subjects for the Tsar," the officially stated aim of education was preparing "loyal sons for the Orthodox Church." From 1700 to 1917 the central administration of the Church was made a department of the government and went under the name, "Holy Governing Synod." The Church officials and the priests received salaries and subsidies from the state. Numerous professors of Russian history can be brought forth to testify that the Church not only supported the autocratic government which ruled imperial Russia from beginning to end but provided a religious rationale for it also. Not to obey the czar was made a sin. Here is Professor Richard Pipes who writes that "students of the Orthodox faith in all primary and secondary schools were required to take courses in religion, usually taught by clergymen." He notes, in connection with this that the Church "condemned disobedience to [the czar] as a sin." Another historian: "The Church repaid her protectors by exercising all her great influence to support and sanction the Russian monarchy as the representative of God on earth." Another takes note of "the solicitude of the church hierarchy for the strengthening of absolutism." Still another points out that "the teaching of the Orthodox Church was inherently favorable to autocracy." Czar Alexander III, upon succeeding to the throne, heard, as did other czars, "the voice of God" ordering autocratic rule. Czars were elevated to quasi-divine status. According to the Orthodox Church, Russian rulers were "viceroys of God on earth." Under Nicholas I, the catechism used in schools and churches taught that God commands subjects "to obey from the inmost recess of the heart every authority, and particularly the Emperor." Question: "What example confirms this doctrine?" Response: "The example of Jesus Christ himself, who lived and died in allegiance to the Emperor of Rome, and especially submitted to the judgment which condemned him to death." There was no religious freedom in imperial Russia, and persecution of non-Orthodox faiths was common. At times profession of non-Orthodox dogma was looked upon as treason. One religious body was even prohibited from holding prayer meetings and the leaders of another were incarcerated and their followers subjected to cruel indignities and hounded by punitive expeditions. Under the law, only the Orthodox Church was allowed to proselytize. Conversion of an Orthodox to a dissenting faith was punishable by imprisonment or exile to Siberia. Dissenting religions were not allowed to build new houses of worship or to issue religious propaganda. The monarchy established an espionage system within the Church to ensure obedience, in addition to the secret agents which it deployed everywhere, just as Stalin did. Christian imperial Russia was one of the most bellicose nations in history. In its modern history, during the reign of only one czar, who was on the throne a relatively short time, was the country not involved in a major war. Anti-Semitism was rife in imperial Russia, and its victims were subjected to flagrant abuse and discrimination. Jews were assessed special taxes not demanded from others. Attempts were made to forcefully convert them. Jewish children were baptized against their parents' wishes. Yehuda Bauer, who holds a professorship in Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, reports that under Czar Nicholas I Jewish "children younger than twelve were forcibly taken [kidnapped] from their homes and sent to strict schools, where most of those who survived --many did not-- were forced to abandon their Jewishness." Quotas permitted only an insignificant proportion to attend educational institutions at all levels. They were confined to certain areas. Their occupational choices were restricted. They [Jews] could not employ Christians except with the permission of the police. They were kept out of the professions. They were not allowed to acquire real estate except in the Pale of Settlement (Jewish quarters). They could not own agrarian land or live in rural areas. When Czarist Russia is mentioned, "pogroms" is triggered in the mind. One historian describes what they are: "A pogrom consisted of mobs thronging into Jewish parts of town breaking into houses and shops, looting, beating, raping, burning and killing inhabitants." After Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, waves of some of the worst pogroms occurred over a period of several years, spreading to two hundred cities, though the assassin was not Jewish. In the early 1900s there were outbreaks of barbaric pogroms. The New Encyclopedia Britannica is authority for the claim that "the Church and the tsarist authorities went so far as to condone and even encourage some pogroms against the Jews." How did the devout Christian masses fare in this thoroughly Christian society and one lacking any visible atheism? Life couldn't be worse. Ninety per cent of the people were peasants, most of them serfs, a status little better than slavery. "By the beginning of the nineteenth century the structure of serfdom was complete," one historian writes, "and its profounder results were active until 1917." A small book can be filled with summary statements by historians of Russia depicting the condition of the masses. Professor Graham Stephenson: "The peasantry was Russia. They paid nearly all the taxes, they provided all the food, they were the hordes of domestic servants, they died in the wars, they starved frequently and suffered always." Professor I. Michael Aronson: "For the most part ... the so-called masses ... lived impoverished, primitive, and brutalized lives. Professor John Stipp: At least from the mid-1400s on the masses of Russia lived in circumstances that were unbelievable ... The masses were so lacking the refinements of human qualities that they were often referred to in nineteenth century Russian literature as 'dead souls'." "The nobles had complete power over the serfs", is a truism that can be found in many histories of imperial Russia. They could extract any kind of labor from the serfs; hire them out to work for others; send them away from the land without their families; order them to marry or not marry; transform them into household servants; compel them to provide any kind of personal service; lash them for misdeeds; get them, if incorrigible, drafted into the army for twenty-five years or sent to Siberia by the authorities; impose on them any dues in money or labor; throw out of the village the aged and the sick; seize their movable goods at will. The murder of one's serfs was prohibited by law, but, by law, serfs were not allowed to complain to the officials about their lords. Murders of serfs frequently occurred and went unpunished. Would anyone be uninformed or foolish enough to say or imply that life was better where Christianity reigned supreme in pre-Communist Russia than it was in "Atheist (?) Russia?" Richard C. Halverson, Chaplain of the United States Senate, is. In a vacuous attack on atheists, he said, as reported in these pages recently, that "Atheism has no room for human rights" (the context was his reference to Communist Russia). By implication, he has to be indicating that human rights will prevail where theism does. Why did he not know that in imperial Russia, where Christianity played a central role in peoples lives and the Church had great influence, human rights were virtually unknown? Why did he not research the subject in the Library of Congress to which he has ready access before recklessly uttering his insulting and inflammatory nonsense? Because the skills of intellectual and critical inquiry required for the task are not within his ken. It was reported in a previous column that dealt with him, that he said, "The most important thing I do is pray. It would be accurate to say I'm preoccupied with it." He would be doing a more socially useful thing if he would stop praying and devote the time saved to reading about the horrors that can be laid at the door of the faith he is nevertheless willing to support. Ponder the enormity of the intellectual bankruptcy it takes for Halverson, who supports an ideology one of the basic tenets of which is that those who do not subscribe to it ought to be horribly punished and finally destroyed, pointing an accusing finger at secular humanists --among the strongest supporters of human rights-- as being in disfavor of them. Part 3 will demonstrate how Christianity inspired and supported one of the worst of these horrors: the Nazi Holocaust. Michael Hakeem, Ph.D., is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. He and his wife Helen are members of the Foundations Executive Council and are regular volunteers at Freethought Hall. (This article ran in the November, 1992 issue of Freethought Today, the newspaper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701.)


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