Monday, December 3, 2018

The Gospel According to Dr. Goebbels

“What does Christianity mean today? National Socialism is a religion. All we lack is a religious genius capable of uprooting outmoded religious practices and putting new ones in their place. We lack traditions and ritual. One day soon, National Socialism will be the religion of all Germans. My party is my church, and I believe I serve the Lord best if I do his will and liberate my oppressed people from the fetters of slavery. That is my gospel.”  From his diary on Oct 16, 1928.[1]

Goebbels first asks about Christianity in his day. The main problem is its outmoded rituals, so a religious reformer is needed to put new ones in their place. National Socialism, Goebbels’ “church,” has the potential to become the latest incarnation or reform of Christianity in his day if traditions and rituals could only be added by a “religious genius,” or reformer.
In referring to “the Lord,” Goebbels reveals himself as a theist and willing to do God’s will. Although Goebbels does not mention Jesus explicitly, liberation theology is clearly evinced in Goebbels’ interpretation of God’s will as liberating the oppressed (German) people from slavery. The sort he had in mind is most likely economic, for the World War I reparations being paid at the time by Germany were causing unemployment there. Like liberation theology, the economic structure itself wherein Germany was being made to pay reparations, is not only unfair, but also against God’s will. If only God’s will could be known so concretely as to be evinced in certain socio-economic structures that are presumably “sacred.” Goebbels was assuming he knew about God than he could as a finite being. This criticism applies to believers in liberation theology more generally too.
In Goebbels’ case, the assumption of God’s will being to liberate Germans from their economic poverty strangely co-existed with the assumption—presumably also part of God’s will—that Slavs, Jews, and homosexuals should be exterminated as if from natural laws that God had established. Some Christians in the last quarter of the twentieth century had no problem believing infallibly in sacred economic (e.g., the rich and poor being less unequal) and social (e.g., anti-prejudicial) structures, just as Goebbels’ had had his beliefs in God’s will being just as concrete. In both cases, the Kingdom of God was confined to earthly terms, whereas Jesus of the canonical gospels preaches of a kingdom within and giving to Caesar what is his. In other words, liberation theology errs in neglecting Jesus’s point that the Kingdom of God is not of this earth. Ignoring this point allows ideological agendas to gain more authority and force than is deserved and merited. The notion that some ideologies are better than others morally speaking is doubtlessly true, but even the best can easily become encased in self-idolatry. When such idolatry hits the sordid ideologies, the result can literally be quite dangerous.
In short, applying religious belief to economics, politics, and social structures give certain of the latter too much certainty and force at the expense of self-critique. The want of a check on the ego and its designs amplified to divine plans renders partisan platforms as sacred, and thus others as evil. The resulting imbalance is itself unstable, and yet it is entombed in ideology-made-sacred (and evil). Dr. Goebel could have been a lot less certain of the religious sanctioning of his economic and social ideologies—which would have required humility. Similarly, resisting the temptation to put God’s stamp on liberation theology by rendering certain political, social, and economic structures as inherently sacred requires a good dose of humility as well as a recognition of the sheer distance between God’s kingdom and even human finite creatures. We should not presume too much about ourselves in relation to God, including revelation.  

For quite another version of Christian leadership than that of Dr. Goebbels, see "Christianized Leadership in Business," available at Amazon. On the distinction between religion and ethics applied to leadership, see "Spiritual Leadership in Business."

1. “The Goebbels Experiment” (2005). Film.