New religions 'ushered in' Nazi power;
University of Calgary anthropology Prof. Karla Poewe is completing a book, New Religions and the Nazis, for publication next year by the prestigious publisher Routledge.
"The new religions that developed in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s ushered in National Socialism and nurtured it," Poewe said.
"There were constant battles in the 1920s between Christians and the members these new religions, because they identified Christianity as a kind of Jewish imperialism. They wanted nothing to do with it, so they came up with their own version. They tried to build a genuine German religion."
Because the Nazis were "on the far right," as a nationalist movement, they tend to be misinterpreted as a more extreme version of Christian conservatism. But "they weren't trying to conserve anything," Poewe said. They were rather extreme radicals, trying to overthrow completely the 1,000-year tradition of German Christianity -- replacing the cross with the swastika.
"There's a big mistake in identifying National Socialism as a Christian movement," Poewe said.
"There was a Deutsche Christen movement, but they weren't Christian at all. They rejected the Old Testament, Jesus had to be an Aryan, they were hostile to St. Paul, and they emphasized (the Gospel of) St. Mark. They remained in the church, but rejected everything Christian like the Trinity. Christ was at best a good philosopher."
Poewe has been working in the German Federal Archives in Berlin and Koblenz since 1995, particularly researching former German missionary Jakob Wilhelm Hauer. Hauer worked in India until after the First World War, then became a professor of religion at the famous Tubingen University.
In the 1920s, Hauer founded the German Faith Movement (Deutsche Glaubensbewegung or DGB), mixing Nordic and Hindu religion with Germanic idealistic philosophy. This new religion was meant to express the essence of National Socialism and the New German Man, as found in the Schutz-Staffel -- the SS.
In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Germany was filled with youth movements called bunde, some of which, like the DGB, mutated into religious cults. Hauer is particularly interesting, Poewe said, because he sought the pagan roots of German religion in Hinduism. In pre-
history, the Aryans who invaded northern India were the same race as those who later became Germans. And Hauer found the warrior universe of the Bhagavad Gita particularly inspiring -- "it fed him the kind of moral relativism" he sought," Poewe said.
"The rejection of Christianity was due to the fact that it is universal, and they wanted something local" -- the Volkisch (folk) phenomenon. "They rejected the universalist. They wanted something with a historical-genetic-racial link to them," Poewe said.
"They also rejected Christian morality. They couldn't stand the Ten Commandments. They were totally against any categorical or timeless morality. They wanted something opportunistic, something that changed with the human circumstances."
This Volkisch movement was identical to what sociologist Colin Campbell, looking at western secularism, called the cultic millieu - - "a popular concoction of everything from pseudo-science to Christian elements, an extreme eclecticism," Poewe said.
The movement "took elements from the Christian religion, but it didn't mean they were Christian. They also took things from Hinduism, from Buddhism -- Tibetan Buddhism was particularly popular among the SS. From this they concocted a mythology that gave them a picture of the world that appealed to them. They wrote about it, novels, plays, poetry. It was very political, in some ways pantheistic."
Hauer's DGB bunde shared with National Socialism a tendency toward homoerotism. Hauer himself was permissibly heterosexual, but "homosexuality was very tolerated in these youth movements, and a high percentage of the SA and SS were homosexual or bisexual. People like to think that because Adolf Hitler murdered (SA leader) Ernst Rohm, who was homosexual, he was repressive of homosexuality. But that wasn't the case. It's a myth to think the Nazi movement was against homosexuality. Far from it; it wasn't sexually repressive at all," Poewe said.
Poewe is the wife of U of C religious studies professor Irving Hexham. Together, they study the emergence of what are called new religions, mixed from elements of the Abrahamic (Jewish-Christian- Muslim), the Yogic (Hindu-Buddhist) and modern philosophy. Hexham has specialized in new religions in Africa, while Poewe has worked on German new religions. She noted that former Nazis were prominent in the German New Age movement of the 1970s.
For her current research, Poewe stressed, she has been reading the literature of the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic. Now-trendy novelists like Thomas Mann were culturally irrelevant at that time. There were thousands of volkisch writers, "umpteen numbers of these writers," so popular they became millionaires.
"The question is, how were Germans persuaded to move toward National Socialism?" Poewe said.
"It's quite clear that the combination of the youth groups, these religious experiments and this literature became the volkisch phenomenon, the cultic millieu. This could then be harnessed by a party that was quite brutal and propagandistic in nature."