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Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3. 
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Post Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
Sam Harris shows us how deeply implicated the Catholic church was during Nazi Germany's rise to domination. The involvement consisted of the influence of the church's age-old doctrines promoting hatred of Jews, and its total acquiescence to the crimes the Nazis perpetrated. All this is plenty bad enough, but it doesn't make the statement incorrect that Naziism was a secular political movement. Harris believes it was a religious movement. Faith in propositions about God, the afterlife, etc. didn't fuel the Nazis, IMO.

The indigenous peoples of the New World were decimated by Europeans whose religion told them that these people, uncoverted, didn't deserve the same regard as white people. Yet the conquering of the western lands, with the killing of many of its people, can't be attributed primarily to faith. This seems roughly parallel to the situation in Germany. Harris is reaching a bit too far here.



Sun Nov 21, 2010 9:14 pm
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
I agree, although as you point out the hatred of Jews did have a religious history. But he overstates the case to say this is one of the consequences of the Catholic faith. Ironically, Christians will point to the Nazis and say this is what you get with atheism, a charge that makes even less sense.



Sun Nov 21, 2010 9:39 pm
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
It was not any of the current religions which drove the nazi's, but they certainly acted with magical thinking at their backs. Magical thinking is the basis on which religion exists, and though the holocaust was not a christian pursuit (german church complicity aside), it was certainly a form of cult thinking.

Can it really be argued that adherents to nazi tenets of faith were not acting with religious zeal?

Nothing but a habit of ignoring the facts, and making up new ones, or relying on unjustified belief could have lead to that disaster.


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In the absence of God, I found Man.
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Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.


Sun Nov 21, 2010 11:40 pm
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
johnson1010 wrote:
Can it really be argued that adherents to nazi tenets of faith were not acting with religious zeal?


So it was a faith-based movement of a different kind. People going along with a movement without thinking. I could almost be talking about the Tea Party.

This question frequently comes up in online debates. Hitler was an atheist or Hitler was a Christian. Naziism was a political movement, but was fed by a quasi-religious zeal.


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Mon Nov 22, 2010 7:37 am
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
What I'm trying to do is hold Harris to his terms, which means that he needs to show that faith, in particular, is at the core of any movement or is a direct cause of events. I think we water down the meaning of "religious" when we use it for any situation in which people show zeal or devotion. This works both ways in the religion argument. You hear people say that believing in God can't be any different from the way people make gods out of money or the stock market or even science. This maneuver is just a sloppy use of analogy in my view. There is something much different about faith-based religion that being a believer in the free market, for example, lacks.

The argument that Naziism was a religion ends up by letting faith off the hook. If the Nazis, the communists under Lenin and Stalin, and the communists under Mao had instituted religious regimes, as is claimed by Harris and others, then we have to move our target away from faith altogether. We have to say that it's ideology that captures the real meaning of "religious" and is the problem, whether it's a secular or religious ideology. Maybe we should in fact consider whether that makes more sense, even though ideology makes a much less satisfying target. But it's a change that Harris doesn't seem ready to agree with.



Mon Nov 22, 2010 8:23 am
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
I've always held the opinion that it is ideological. Any ideology which is exclusionary, including many religions, nationalism, racism, and even sexism.

Any ideology that contrasts a difference between two humans fits the bill. We do have differences, indeed. But an ideology that exploits them in one form or another is inherently immoral. Religion has in many cases codified exclusionary principles. It is a convenient and often accurate culprit in conflicts.



Mon Nov 22, 2010 4:51 pm
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
I agree that ideology is what fosters intolerance which often leads to violence. And though religion is usually mixed up in it, I still don't think it's as simple as Harris makes it out to be. In the case of Naziism, I think Harris is right that anti-Semitism fueled the fire, but even so this was largely a political movement. And the Inquisition, which Wright covers in the first part of this chapter, is often used as Exhibit A against religion. But if you consider that the Roman Catholic Church was as much, if not more, of a political body, you can argue that the brutality against human beings had as much a political basis as religious. Likewise, the Spanish conquistadors massacred Native Americans because they were in the way, not because they weren't Christians (though religion was used as the justification for it). It seems to me that religion is so intertwined in our culture, that you can't single it out as the sole cause of our hatred towards one another.

As such, it seems to me that attacking religion may be the bullseye for the wrong target. As Johnson says all the time, it's magical thinking that is at the root of an awful lot of stupidity in our world. Harris' own argument in the next chapter seems to support to this idea.

"It is a truism to say that people of faith have created almost everything of value in our world, because nearly every person who has ever swung a hammer or trimmed a sail has been a devout member of one or another religious culture. There has been simply no one else to do the job. We can also say that every human achievement prior to the twentieth century was accomplished by men and women who were perfectly ignorant of the molecular basis for life. Does this suggest that a nineteenth-century view of biology would have been worth maintaining? There is no telling what our world would now be like had some great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East." (109)

So it doesn't make sense to me to single out religion as the sole cause of all Evil. It makes more sense to condemn unreason in all of its many permutations. Certainly, religion with its claims of divine revelation and promises of eternal life has undermined reason for thousands of years, but science is a relatively new phenomenon. Religion has been around since the dawn of time.


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Mon Nov 22, 2010 8:33 pm
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
Yes, Nazism was primarily a religious cult. The idea of the thousand year reich saw Hitler as the millennial messiah, like the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Nazi slogan Ein Volk Ein Reich Ein Fuhrer (one people one country one leader) came directly from the Christian slogan One Church One Faith One Lord and the line at Ephesians 4.5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Nazi anti-semitism was grounded in the idea that the Jews killed Christ. The swastika is an ancient Indian religious symbol. The emotional power of Nazism arose from the fear of godless communism. The Nazi pact with the Vatican was based on the recognition that the church saw communism as the greater evil. Hitler's ecstatic performances at mass rallies were all about kindling spiritual fervour and devotion. His book Mein Kampf (my struggle) presents Hitler's mission as a sort of spiritual cleansing. Nazi doctrines of racial purity were based in a religious bigotry about cultural essences.

All these motifs are a sick perversion of authentic spirituality. They were enabled by magical thinking. The steady drift away from evidence over centuries allowed a culture to emerge where evidence was a matter of indifference. The paradox was that Germany was at the same time the most enlightened and the most bestial people on earth. The same is somewhat true today for the USA, except that the death wish has been sublimated into nuclear weapons and indifference towards the impact of human life on our planetary future.



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Nov 23, 2010 4:29 am, edited 2 times in total.



Tue Nov 23, 2010 4:23 am
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
geo wrote:
So it doesn't make sense to me to single out religion as the sole cause of all Evil. It makes more sense to condemn unreason in all of its many permutations. Certainly, religion with its claims of divine revelation and promises of eternal life has undermined reason for thousands of years, but science is a relatively new phenomenon. Religion has been around since the dawn of time.

I agree that unreason is probably a better target than what I tentatively suggested: ideology. Thinking about it some, I realized that ideology is inevitable, everybody has one. It's just that the word has acquired a wholly negative connotation (though not reflected in my dictionary). We now prefer "worldview," but this is not any different from ideology.

A caution I'd want to put in about condemning unreason is that it's too easy to use this as an accusation in the political realm. Because we all have ideas and views we firmly believe are right, that is, reasonable, we naturally may see opposing ideas as wrong or unreasonable. In calling, say, the Tea Party a source of unreason, we might not be surmounting our own biases. Or we might be reacting to just an element of unreason in the Tea party movement and branding the whole thing based on this sample. Susan Jacoby tried to characterize an entire era of American history as an age of unreason and got herself all tangled up and this reader hopelessly confused.

I think Harris is on solidest ground when he focuses his criticism on religious faith as commonly understood. Faith is pretty much by definition about unreason, so there is less potential for dispute. As he says, faith is saying that you know things you can't possibly know. This gives a degree of separation between the unreason of faith and unreason as alleged in political debate.

To Robert Tulip: Naziism and some enactments of communism appear to be similar to religious movements, but I suggest that we have a good word that fits the striving for complete power over citizens, whether the ideology is this-wordly or otherworldly: totalitarianism. That word, however, doesn't apply to the U. S. any more than it automatically applies to any superpower.



Last edited by DWill on Tue Nov 23, 2010 9:55 am, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Nov 23, 2010 9:43 am
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
Someone just recommended this book to me. He said, "We are constantly buffeted by the winds of belief, religion and ideology and Hoffer succinctly discusses these issues."

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer.

http://www.amazon.com/True-Believer-Tho ... f=lh_ni_t_

It looks interesting.


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Wed Nov 24, 2010 8:39 am
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Post Re: Was Naziism a faith movement? Chapter 3.
geo wrote:
Someone just recommended this book to me. He said, "We are constantly buffeted by the winds of belief, religion and ideology and Hoffer succinctly discusses these issues."

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer.

http://www.amazon.com/True-Believer-Tho ... f=lh_ni_t_

It looks interesting.

It is interesting. It's a small book that I read a number of years ago. It's concentrated, though, very tightly written. I just dug out my copy of it and am looking at it.



Wed Nov 24, 2010 10:58 pm
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