Having explored some of the similarities between Animal Farm and Mormonism this post shall continue in the same vein and compare Mormonism to the Nazi Party. The genesis of this comparison came from a friend who sent me a copy of Deseret News on the 9th of December 1933 when a article titled ‘Mormonism in the new Germany’ appeared. The report states that “a number of interesting parallels can be seen between the church and some of the ideas and policies of the National Socialists.” It has also been treated recently in a blog post that I found researching more on the article. Here I hope to explore some of these parallels made in this article and in response to the blog post.
The relationship between the National Socialists (or Nazi party) and the church has always been problematic. In many ways, the difficulties relate to how a global church integrates itself into a diverse political spectrum throughout the world, dealing with the tension between local government (that may be totalitarian in some areas) and living the global gospel. This article shows the difficulty in linking politics and religion, and the dangers that may arise from any such attempt.
National Socialism and the Church
Dale Clark points out that in Nazi Germany many religions were banned from practising their faith. Under the Nazis, Mormons were exempt from this restriction. He suggests that religious freedom is a privilege reserved only for Mormons. It’s okay for others to be banned as long as we aren’t.
Secondly, he links Hitler’s adherence to the word of wisdom as a symptom of his exemplary nature. Clark then extolls Hitler’s prowess and physical fitness as examples of his success as a leader when he says that the “ two colourful leaders of the new Germany, in their gigantic struggle for political supremacy have needed capable bodies and clear brains and have trained like athletes.”
According to Clark, it was the word of wisdom that gave them such clear brains and bodies to orchestrate the rise of Nazism. We often use successes as evidence to bolster our religious claims; the rise in prosperity and the improvement of Germany was linked as evidence of the greatness of universal gospel principles.
In both the Deseret news article and an article in the Millenial Star they mention the introduction of a day in which Germans fasted and donated their money to a good cause. As the Millenial Star said:
‘It is indeed singular that a comparison of the details of the two systems of organized fasting shows them to be so nearly identical. Perhaps that part of the message of the Restored Gospel may have been directly or indirectly the inspiration and the model for the new scheme adopted by the German Government—perhaps not. But evident, at least, is the fact that consciously or unconsciously, the people of the world are discovering that the Lord’s way is best. The leaven of the Gospel is spreading.’
It is uncomfortable to hear Mormons talk of Hitler and Nazi Germany in such glowing terms. One blog post theorised: “I wonder if the Nazis controlled or edited what Clark submitted from Germany. The alternative is even worse to comprehend.” It is almost absurd to think that the German Government (propaganda machine or not) was too concerned about what a provincial newspaper in western America was going to publicise about it. To understand why he would think that Hitler was good is more important and gives us an understanding of why we should be cautious in how we attempt to bridge politics and religion. It is easy to condemn people from the past for their ignorance. It was not evident at the time that Hitler was a monster, and we should not comdemn Dale Clark for not predicting this just because we have the benefit of hindsight.
Interestingly, at that time, America advocated of the very same policies that were being implemented by the Nazi party, as the first country to implement a large scale eugenic programme. As a leading eugenist said to his colleagues upon returning to California after a visit to Germany:
“You will be interested to know that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought.”
The American influence made what Hitler was doing more palatable to people such as Clark. The Aryan ideal of a white, blonde haired, and blue eyed male was one that was cultivated by Californian eugenicists decades before Hitler. It should also be remembered that the writer of this article certainly isn’t alone in his support of Hitler as many companies were working with the Nazi Party, the notable examples being Coca Cola, IBM and Ford.
Nazis and Missionary Work
In an interesting study of the Missionaries reaction to Nazi germany we find that while some were critical of Hitler, many were not. As one of the missionaries recalled:
“When we came home [from our missions], we loved the German people. We didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing. We liked Hitler. We would just eat up articles where some of his news people were showing how the pioneers were organized into groups. They were tying our LDS history into kicking the Germans out of their colonies in Africa. We used it for material to disseminate the gospel.”
Another attempt to use Nazism for missionary work was seen in the increased access to genealogical documents in Germany. As Dale Clark points out “Now, due to the importance given to the racial question, and the almost necessity of proving that one’s grandmother was not a Jewess, the old record books have been dusted off and stand ready and waiting for use.” He frames this as a perfect opportunity for LDS genealogists to get access to the records! Looking back it seems morally suspect to use this for our religious advantage, and again highlights the difficulty in linking political policy with God’s plan for redeeming the dead which the article implicitly does.
Politics and religion: never shall the two meet
Clearly the reporter and the missionaries who made these comments were unaware of the significance of Hitler’s rise to power or the events that they rejoiced in and saw as a benefit to the church. To us it seems remarkable that the burning of books or mistreatment of Jews or eugenics were not obvious signs that something wrong was happening in Germany.
There is a danger that in looking to the past, we may exaggerate the significance of a piece of evidence. This article cannot be assumed to be representative of the church at the time. We generally do not take every article, even if published by Deseret News, as representing the church’s official stance. This article is simply a wonderful demonstration of the reason care should be used when trying to legitimise political actions by linking them to religious aims.
As the rise and fall of Nazi Germany shows, the popularity of political parties is never stable. Now that Hitler has been exposed as a genocidal dictator the willingness of some to link his actions with gospel principles casts the church in a poor light. This should remind us to be cautious when tying any political system, act or policy in with religious principles. When the political wind changes, we can be left in the awkward position of looking like we supported a now outdated and flawed system.
We often seek to legitimise our own political stance through a religious lens. The anti-communist rhetoric that was thrown around by church leaders during the 1960’s and 70’s is evidence of this. It was not enough that communism was seen as a flawed political ideology; it had to be perceived as a satanic doctrine that was antithetical to the tenets of the gospel. However, another reading of the gospel could come down in favour of a communal system as the divinely ordained system. The link between communism (or any political system) and satanic attacks on agency (or any religious principle) depends upon a specific interpretation of both the gospel and a very specific political ideology. If one thinks differently about either the gospel or has a differently nuanced political ideology, the bridge between them starts to crumble. This is a cautionary tale about attaching political leaders, parties, policies and systems to any religious principle. We will always run the risk of it coming back to haunt us.
- What relationship do you think should be between politics and religion?
- Is the relationship between the church and the Nazi party problematic? Why?
- Can religion be used to justify and legitimise what political views we hold?