Sometimes, there is an uneasy peace, or capitulation, between good and evil that threatens the moral identity of good. One such compromise was the agreement between Hitler's government and the Roman Catholic Church known as The Konkordat.
In 1933, Germany's newly elected Nazi government was consolidating power and preemptively silencing dissent. Oppression and threats were not the only ways to prevent protests. In fact, with regards to revered institutions, force or intimidation could have easily been counterproductive. So Hitler worked out a compromise with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. In exchange for loyalty oaths and promises not to oppose Nazi policies, many of which promised to eliminate diversity and democracy, Hitler's government promised peace and protection for practicing Catholics and exemption from military service for the clergy. An added incentive for the Roman Catholic Church here was that Pope Pius IV supported all who stood against Communism.
This agreement not only led to the horrifically tragic consolidation of power by Hitler, it led to a moral suicide by all Catholics who bought into Hitler's demonic visions of glory and power. Had it not been for this agreement, even if Hitler had succeeded, at least those in the Church could have had the opportunity to escape from participating, passively or actively, in some of the worst atrocities committed in history. Had there been no deal, practicing Catholics could have been led away from joining the Nazi's extreme Nationalism and resulting Holocaust by their spiritual shepherds. And if a significant number of German Catholics had refrained from joining the Nazis, perhaps history during the 1930's and 1940's could have been different.
Of course it is wrong to talk about the moral surrender of the Roman Catholic Church to Hitler that was part of the Konkordat without speaking about the failure of German Protestants. Protestants allowed themselves to be seduced by the significance promised in Hitler's German exceptionalism and thus allowed their church to be nationalized. Protestant protests to this nationalizing of the church were limited and shortsighted by a misguided focus on Church concerns only as demonstrated by the Barmen Declaration. Though that declaration rightly speaks against the Nazi infringement on Protestant religious liberties, because protesting German Protestants were concerned solely about their own religious concerns, the declaration made no mention of the welfare of those who were being persecuted by the Nazis.
So even in its protest against Nazi rule, the response of the German Christian churches was limited by a myopic awareness of Nazi rule. Only individual Christians, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke out on broader issues, such as how should the Church reach out to the victims of the Third Reich. Americans should be cognizant of the fact that Bonhoeffer had developed his sensitivity to the plight of the Jews from attending a Black church in America where the sermons combined an emphasis on both the Scriptures and social justice. Bonhoeffer saw some parallels between the plight of Blacks here with the suffering of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Thus he believed that for the Church to truly represent Christ, it must stand with the victims of the regime it was protesting.
Movements do not need to be as monstrous as Nazi Germany to merit opposition from the Church nor do victims need to suffer through a holocaust to morally mandate its support. If that was not the case, Nazism would serve as a minimum standard of evil. Thus, it is always time for Christians of every nation to examine their nation's practices and policies and to reach out to the victims. For my fellow Americans, I believe it is time to consider whether our current form of Capitalism merits both confrontation and support for its victims.
Why American Capitalism? Why not pick an easier target? After all, asking American Christians, especially conservative Christians, to oppose Capitalism is like asking them to protest against apple pie, baseball, football, hot dogs, and everything else we enjoyed while growing up. This is especially true for conservative American Christians because we have often been taught that American Capitalism is not just American, it is Christian. We have been taught that American Capitalism is based on the Protestant work ethic and pushes us to rely on God rather than on man--the State. In addition, babyboom Christians grew up with one of the most egalitarian economic boons in Capitalism's history. The time period between 1950 to the mid 1970's saw many Americans, from all economic classes, benefiting greatly from American Capitalism. Asking American Christians to oppose this Capitalism is like asking a baby to throw a tantrum when offered its mother's breast.
So why should we, American Christians, consider opposing something that has served us so well? One reason is that we do not want to repeat the sins of German Christians who lived in the Third Reich. They capitulated because of what they were getting out of the system but without regard what that system meant to others. Even many of those who joined the resistance did so solely out of a concern for themselves. So while we, American Christians who grew up in great prosperity, have enjoyed the fruits of American Capitalism, we have done so without any awareness of the price that others have had to pay for our Capitalism. What many Americans are unaware of is that the prosperity and freedom we associate with American Capitalism is not enjoyed by others who have been affected by the same. The success of our Capitalism is partially due to economic and/or political expansionism that has robbed others of their prosperity and rights. During the time period from 1950 to the mid 1970's, many of American Capitalism's victims were from other countries.
We should note that the above mentioned economic windfall did not occur in the same kind of Capitalistic system as the one we employ today. There were far more governmental controls over currency and the economy exercised by most countries during the period of prosperity. But since the mid 1970's, the control over the currency and economy was transferred to the private sector in an approach called Neoliberalism. Since the mid 1970's, income for most Americans has stagnated or decreased when adjusted for inflation. In addition, under Neoliberalism, we have seen an attack on labor, both by the government and the private sector, so that much of American manufacturing has been gutted. Our leading manufactured export are weapons which gives an ominous incentive to those seeking to increase their profits and for our country to try to balance our trade deficit.
In the meantime, much of the future that Marx envisioned for the Proletariat is coming true. Work is reduced to being a mere commodity on par with any raw material. This results in the constant state of flux that Capitalism always finds itself because the owner is constantly asking the worker "How much do you cost today?" So no worker, regardless of how cheaply they sell themselves, is secure in their job and all workers have become disposable along with their dependents and communities. The reduction of labor to being a mere commodity in an ownership culture obsessed with making the highest short-term profit seems to have erased any "Invisible Hand" once seen by Adam Smith. On top of that, when we add in Neoliberalism, which has eliminated the Visible Hand of government, nobody, who does not belong to a center of power and wealth, is safe.
America's Konkordat, which was primarily established between American conservative Protestantism and the current centers of wealth and power, makes many American Christians, especially conservative ones, impotent in his or her society. For not only do American Christians fail to challenge the wealthy regarding their victimization of their workers, they blame the victims for their destitution for daring to challenge authority by making demands of the employers. This current blaming of the American work force would be akin to the Churches in Nazi Germany blaming the Jews for their sufferings. Of course, this is said recognizing the difference in the severity of suffering between the two groups.
If American Christians were to be faithful to the Gospel, not only would they be preaching a message of repentance to those who profit by impoverishing others, they would stand with the victims of our economic system. We can stand with the victims of American Capitalism by sharing what we have and by demanding that changes be made to reverse the hopeless future that many of the unemployed realistically have.
To those apologists for American Capitalism, please inform the rest of us about the promise our Capitalism offers to the unskilled laborers, the vast number of unemployed who live in our cities, and even to the college educated specialists who have lost their technical jobs? The last job recovery estimate made was that 40% of those who lost their jobs would never get them back. With the manufacturing sector having already be reduced, there are fewer and fewer places for displaced workers to go to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." What is to become of these workers? And what will become of our country if that 40% figure was accurate or an underestimate?
There are differences between America's Konkordat and the Konkordat of 1933 made in Nazi Germany. With America's Konkordat, the agreement is an informal agreement made between Protestants and the centers of power and wealth in Capitalism; Nazi Germany's Konkordat was a formal agreement made between the Roman Catholic Church and the government. We should also again note the vast difference in the severity of suffering between the Jews, Communists, Socialists, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and others who were singled out for atrocities by the Nazis and the sufferings of many American workers. Yet, we should note that unless we want to establish that the suffering of those who were persecuted in the Holocaust provides a minimum standard for intolerable suffering, we should acknowledge the severe suffering of those who have lost their jobs and cannot find any opportunities to reverse their fortunes. They too are being oppressed by having job prospects denied from them so that those who are either already wealthy and powerful or who seek to become more wealthy can hoard wealth.
But despite those differences, severely disturbing similarities exist as well. Many American Christians are too preoccupied with power, wealth, and their own personal welfare to both acknowledge that there Capitalist system is abusive and to stand with its victims. In addition, many American Christians, like most of the German Protestants who opposed the Nazis, have dropped out of the real world of the suffering of others by being solely concerned about Church or Christian issues. Also, some teachings of the Church push American Christians into the camp of the wealthy and powerful. For example, because of what many American Christians have been taught about role of authority in both the Church and the State, they are reluctant to challenge the authority of those who run the system whether that source of authority is in the private or public sectors. We should only note that obedience to authority was strongly emphasized in the German churches before the Nazis came to power.
American Christians who seek the "abundant life" are reluctant to challenge centers of wealth. This is partly because many American Christians have their hearts set on joining such a center or they have pinned their hopes on the wealthy and powerful by hoping to ride in on their coattails. But there are religious reasons why American Christians are reluctant to challenge centers of wealth. For one thing, American Christians, especially conservative ones, see economic success as implying God's approval on one's endeavors--part of the Protestant Work Ethic. As a close friend of mine said when defending American Capitalism, America has produced the most wealth and given its citizens the most freedom of any country in history. But there are problems with this apologetic. For one thing, all great empires that have attained great power and wealth for its citizens. Rome was such and example. Even Hitler's Germany could say that prior to the turning point of the war when they lost the battle for Stalingrad that their policies made Germany wealthy and free. What is conveniently ignored in these empires are the personal costs to those who have suffered because of the empire's success? Romans often benefited when Rome conquered a new territory. But what was the plight of the conquered? The same can be said of America. Many, but not enough, Americans have benefited from America's economy and empire. But how did Americans suffer because of America's policies and how many countries were oppressed as we overthrew their governments only to replace them with dictators or forced economic policies on them? Is it Christian to ignore actions that benefit me but oppress others? This issue is difficult for Christians who have been taught about the Protestant Work Ethic and Capitalism.
There is another path that we American Christians can can choose in response to American Capitalism. Rather than maintain the current American Konkordat with Capitalism, we could follow the directions provided by Nazi dissident and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he told the German Church how it should respond to oppression. First, Bonhoeffer told the Church that it was to confront those who are being oppressive. At this point we should note that in doing so, we would be imitating the OT prophets. Second, he told the Church that it sould stand with those who are oppressed. This is what King Josiah did in the OT. As Jeremiah reminded Josiah's son that doing so is what it means to "know" God (Jeremiah 22:15-16). Third, he said that the Church could resist by interfering with the system.
What Bonhoeffer challenged Christians to do in Nazi Germany was to be concerned about more than their own immediate issues. They were also to be concerned about others, particularly those who were suffering. There are plenty of commands and examples from the Scriptures that support his challenge. The question for American Christians is whether they will repeat the mistakes from the past, such as those made by many Christians who lived in Nazi Germany, or will the be ministers for Jesus?
1. The Theological Declaration Of Barmen, http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/barmen.htm
2. The Konkordat, http://www.concordatwatch.eu/showkb.php?org_id=858&kb_header_id=752&kb_id=1211
3. Hopes And Prospects by Noam Chomsky
4. The DVD Bonhoeffer, Produced by Journey Films
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10