“The people will more readily forgive the mistakes made by a Government – which, as often as not, by the way, escape their notice – than any evidence of hesitancy or lack of assurance…However one lives, whatever one does or undertakes, one is invariably exposed to the danger of making mistakes. And so, what, indeed, would become of the individual and of the community, if those in whom authority was vested were paralyzed by fear of a possible error, and refused to take the decisions that were called for?”
- Adolf Hitler, 15 May 1942 (ed. Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Table Talk)
It is important to oligarchs and dictators that their political religion be shared by the masses. The Cult of Personality is an important ingredient in any successful dictatorship. Adolf Hitler pushed the religion of National Socialism. Republicans push the religion of fundamentalist Christianity. As important, or more important perhaps than the masses, are the military forces of a country.
We have looked here before at the ways in which fundamentalist theology has been introduced into America’s armed forces. Hitler did the same with National Socialism, commenting in December 1941 that,
“Anyone can do the little job of direction operations in war. The task of the Commander-in-Chief is to educate the Army to be National Socialist. I do not know any Army general who can do this in the way that I want it done. I have therefore decided to take over command of the Army.”
Believers are a dangerous breed. Believers tend to believe that the end justifies the means. When it comes to a contest of Bible and Constitution, for example, the Bible tends to win. For National Socialism, loyalty to the state religion was more important than loyalty to the country. “Mein Ehre heißt Treue” the belt buckles of the SS said: “My Honor is Loyalty.” Hitler wrote that himself.
And he meant it.
The National Socialist tent was a very small one. There was no room for political heresy. Hitler was relentless on this point. Alfred Rosenberg found this out by publishing The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a polemical monstrosity that nobody could read, including Hitler, who called it “stuff nobody can understand.” There was also the problem of the book’s pseudo-religious tone, which didn’t sit well with the man who invented National Socialism. There could not be shades of National Socialism: there could only be one National Socialism and it was what Hitler said it was.
This is similar to orthodox Christianity. If Hitler’s National Socialism was tied to Mein Kampf, his political manifesto, orthodox Christianity became tied to the Nicene Creed. If you did not accept the Nicene Creed, you could not be a Christian, and for centuries this was the final arbiter of heresy. In the same way, the Republican Party has moved towards a purity standard, a very narrow understanding of what it means to be Republican. Moderate Republicans have found to their cost what this means. They have been hounded from office, one after another, been usurped in primaries by more extremist Tea Party candidates, and in the case of moderates like Senators Olympia Snow(R-ME) or Dick Lugar (R-IN) face likely challenges from extremist candidates in their states in 2012.
In Olympia Snow’s case, a new survey by Public Policy Polling shows that only 27 percent of Maine voters think qualifies as a Republican. Worse, thirty-three percent say she should be a Democrat, and 34 percent say she should be called an independent. She won’t face a concentration camp for her political apostasy, but she could see her political career ended, at least until the fascist threat has receded.
Believers are dangerous. People want to believe, an archaeologist once said. The problem is, once they believe, they stop thinking. You can’t argue with a believer. As the third-century Pagan philosopher Porphyry lamented, “it is easier to write words on water than try to use argument on a Christian.” This is as true of Republicans and Tea Partiers. Any disagreement is an attack on a belief system; not a dispute about facts, but a dispute about beliefs. Disagreement, even failure to agree, is persecution.
These are symptoms of a condition known as extremism, which is “any ideology taken to its extreme interpretation and enacted in an absolute sense that allowed no compromise with practical considerations or accommodation with the world.” As Michael Geddis explains, “[e]xtremist discourse in religion as in other contexts, valued above all zeal and authenticity in the pursuit of its cause, and strove for a total and perfect expression of its values. Those who temporized, compromised, tried to balance competing priorities or to see more than one side of an issue, it condemned as ‘hypocrites’.”
It is all too easy to become convinced you are acting in God’s name, enacting his will, not your own. Atrocity is a logical result, repeated often throughout the past twenty centuries, not only by religious fanatics, but ideological fanatics, like Hitler and his National Socialist movement.
Another point in common between Hitler and the early Christian extremists is the sense that they were a worldview “shaped by martyrdom and persecution.” Like the Christians, the Nazis valued martyrs to the cause, Horst Wessel and others. Many Christian saints, for example Rabbula, fifth century bishop of Edessa, were as much thugs as Horst Wessel. The Nazis portrayed Horst Wessel as a pure Aryan hero; the Christians presented Rabbula as a pure Christian hero. The truth was, the former was a petty Brownshirt thug and the latter, as Jan Willem Drivers observes,
[N]ot the model bishop as presented by the Vita Rabbulae, but a fanatical Christian who persecuted all those who had other ideas, such as diophysites and other heretics, as well as Jews.
It is no surprise perhaps that Rabbula was a friend of Cyril of Alexandria, the man ultimately responsible for the brutal murder of Pagan philosopher and mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria.
It is no accident that the Nazis had the SS and that the Church had the Teutonic Knights and the Knights Templar and other religious fighting orders: they are symptoms of the same disease.
It didn’t matter what atrocities these men and men like them committed; what mattered was their devotion to the cause, their purity of belief. Their honor was their loyalty to the cause. Mein Ehre heißt Treue.
The problem with this worldview is that persecution doesn’t have to be actual – real persecution does not have to exist, and often isn’t, for the persecution belief to take hold. As Geddis explains, “some claimed to suffer it [persecution] simply because they were forced to tolerate the continued existence of pagans and heretics.” This is analogous to the view of modern Republicans, who feel the same with regards to homosexuals and feminists and liberals and atheists and others. It’s not rational, but belief by definition owes nothing to rationality of thought.
I don’t “believe” in evolution. Evolution is science; it is based on empirical evidence and probabilities of certainty centered around observation. Likewise, people don’t “believe” the sun is going to rise in the east. It does. We know this because of repeated tests of the theory; it has yet to rise in the west, or fail to rise at all. Nobody is fanatical about these things. But about things they are uncertain of, they do become fanatical.
Accepting people who don’t share this belief is a problem for believers. Tolerance is a form of repression to them. Geddis calls it “repressive tolerance” – being forced to practice tolerance. As Pope Benedict has written in his book Truth and Tolerance (2003), Truth trumps tolerance. It must. It is not right, these believers say, that “truth be forced to live on equal terms with falsehood.”
We see this today in the Republican and Tea Parties. It isn’t enough that liberals are wrong. They, by the fact of their “wrongness” are also anti-American, anti-God, and need to be eradicated like an unpleasant bacillus. It isn’t that Republican religion is better or more right – there are no shades of gray – it is that only the Republican religion is right, and therefore, all others wrong. And if they are wrong they must be destroyed or eliminated.
“There is no crime for those who have Christ,” the fifth century Egyptian monk Shenoute said. To that we might add the words of Conservative activist Alan Caruba, who, in a column entitled “America’s Gay White House” called President Obama’s DOMA decision an act of “societal suicide.”
Tolerance is societal suicide. It was a very Hitler-like thing for Mr. Caruba to say, and we should thank him for making the stakes clear as we struggle to preserve the gospel of liberty against the forces of Christofascism.
 Michael Geddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire (University of California Press, 2005), 5.
 Geddis, 6.
 Geddis, 6.
 Jan Willem Drijvers, “The Protonike Legend, the Doctrina Addai and Bishop Rabbula of Edessa,” Vigiliae Christianae 51 (1997), 298-315
 Geddis, 6.