BOOKS: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
SACRED CAUSES: The Clash of Religion and Politics, by Michael Burleigh
, September 15, 2007
Christendom's deadliest foesSACRED CAUSES:
The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror,
by Michael Burleigh,
(New York: HarperCollins)
Hardcover: 576 pages
Rec. price: AUD$49.99Here at last is a broad-ranging overview and assessment of religion and its encounter with the 20th century's bloody tormenters.
Michael Burleigh's Sacred Causes
is the first such major survey to emerge since Anthony Rhodes's The Vatican in the Age of Dictators (1922-1945
), released in 1973, which had a narrower focus and necessarily considered a briefer period.
Burleigh admits having difficulty pinning down precisely how this follow-up to his forerunner, Earthly Powers: Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War
(2006) should be characterised.
"This is not a history of Christianity, of which there are many, nor a history of modern times, of which Paul Johnson has already written an outstanding example," Burleigh says.
"Rather, the book operates in the middle ground between them, where culture, ideas, politics and religious faith meet in a space for which I cannot find a satisfactory label. Perhaps one should not try."
Perhaps not. Nevertheless, despite problems with specifying his subject precisely, he persevered with this difficult-to-define area of relations between religion and fanatical mass political activity.Sacred Causes
is essentially a study of bloodthirsty ideologies and their pagan blueprints for lands that have long been the hub of Christendom: Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy.
European civilisation, after its suicidal 1914-18 war, immediately encountered a series of murderous totalitarian movements that inflicted total war, mass emigration, forcible population transfers, man-made famines, destruction of cities - London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Warsaw, Dresden and Stalingrad, to name half-a-dozen - and genocide.
Unlike the 1914-18 war, Europe's second 20th-century conflict was essentially an onslaught upon civilians as well as upon their traditional beliefs.
What this means is that one of the great unrecognised wonders of the 20th century is that Europe actually reached the year 1999 more or less intact, despite being afflicted by bloodthirsty Communism, Nazism and Fascism with their combined onslaught upon Christianity.Killer ideologies
Each killer ideology reached out far beyond normal political endeavour. Each proselytised, and each promoted special ceremonies - "holy" days, their own literature, festivals, heroes and an array of demonised foes, religion being high on their list. Each of them regimented society and militarised youth.
Burleigh portrays Europe's all-encompassing killer ideologies as huge eruptions that neither the churches nor society could possibly ignore. Each had to be engaged, diplomatically, politically and often militarily, as well as at parish and diocesan levels, and in everyday life, be this in the workplace, school, or in daily civic intercourse.
Not even emigrating to the United States or Australia, as many sought and did, meant evading their impact, since Hitler's East Asian ally, militarised Japan, was also on the march.
Engagement inevitably meant that the Vatican, the Papacy, and eventually clerics, scholars, literary figures, and artists, were confronted.
Western literature has thus been largely moulded, for good - as with George Orwell's writings especially - and for bad by those encounters.
The first of the ideologies was implanted by Lenin into backward Russia and Ukraine, across Europe's eastern perimeter, from where Lenin and his comrades sought to impose it upon the entire European peninsular, including Scandinavia.
Almost contemporaneously, Adolf Hitler's "brown Bolshevism" emerged and territorially expanded, with plebiscites and Anschlusses, well before he teamed-up with Lenin's successor, Josef Stalin, to carve up Eastern Europe so each could remould it according to their respective atheistic blueprints.
"On the eve of the Bolshevik coup d'état
, the Orthodox Church claimed 100 million adherents, 200,000 priests and monks 75,000 primary schools, 57 seminaries and four university-level academies, not to speak of thousands of hospitals, old people's homes and orphanages," Burleigh writes.
"Within a few years, the institutional structures were swept away, the churches were desolated, vandalised or put to secular use. Many of the clergy were imprisoned or shot; appropriately enough, the first concentration camp of the gulag was opened in a monastery in Arctic regions."
It was precisely this that was set to become Europe's fate after 1920, which explains the Red Army's invasion of newly-emerged Poland that year.
And that's what would have come to pass after Hitler's defeat in 1945 had not the military forces of the United States, Great Britain and the latter's global empire stepped on to the continent at Normandy in 1944 and penetrated well east of the Rhine.
Before that there had been the likelihood of the Hitler option being imposed from the Atlantic to the Urals with 100 millions Slavs, and several million Jews among them, destined to be either murdered or expelled into western Siberia as Hitler's and Heinrich Himmler's top secret Generalplan Ost
had laid down.
In other words, whichever ideology eventually came to dominate Europe the outcome would have essentially been the same: "a new Dark Age", as so aptly described by Winston Churchill in a House of Commons speech.
"If we can stand up to him [Hitler], all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands," Churchill said.
"But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'."Rabidly anticlerical
Burleigh writes: "Hitler was rabidly anticlerical, rarely missing an opportunity to make snide and vulgar comments, in private, about the pope, priests and pastors: 'The biretta! The mere sight of one of those aberrations in cassocks makes me wild!'
"The clergy were 'black bugs'…. He regarded the clergy of both major Christian denominations as devious, effeminate, hypocritical and venal…. Hitler believed that he had a special relationship with God and Providence."
Elsewhere Burleigh writes: "Hitler and his propagandists created a 'Fuhrer
-cult', often relying on venerable tropes of the ruler-ruled relationship, which became the focal point of a regime of commemorations and celebrations that blurred party and state, and subtly incorporated such rivals as the Christian calendar….
"The inner-worldly Nazi Church had 'Blood' as the centre of its creed. Then came the carriers of the Blood - the Volk
- followed by the Soil that sustained them - Blut und Boden
being the favoured slogan - and then the Reich which gave the People political form and the Fuhrer embodied and represented them.
"The holiest symbol was the swastika flag, or rather the blood-stained swastika carried on 9 November 1923 [the Beer Hall putsch
], which Hitler used to consecrate lesser flags by rubbing them together."
Nor are Italy's bellicose Benito Mussolini and Mexico's bloody revolution forgotten, although their proselytising wasn't as virulent as that of "red and brown Bolshevism".
Burleigh highlights many of Europe's farsighted heroes, men of letters, Christian partisans, post-World War II Christian Democrats such as Alcide de Gaspari, to name one, and Achille Ratti (Pius XI, 1922-39) and Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII, 1939-58).
Both, especially Pius XI, who so avidly promoted Catholic Action worldwide to help ensure a new Dark Age never descended upon mankind, were hugely influenced by "the anticlerical atrocities that took place in Russia, Spain and Mexico - what Pius XI called the 'terrible triangle'."
Pius XI is credited with "the most penetrating intellectual demolitions of Nazism - in the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge [With deep anxiety]
" which, unlike most encyclicals, wasn't written in Latin, but German.
It had been secretly smuggled into Hitler's Reich with 120,000 copies distributed in the Münster diocese alone.
Although not publicised in the tightly-controlled Reich media, the Nazi Party's newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter,
attacked it, saying it was from the "Jew-God and His Deputy in Rome".
Himmler's SS publication, Das Schwarze Korps
, said it was "the most incredible of Pius XI's pastoral letters; every sentence in it was an insult to the New Germany".
Even before World War II ended, Pius XII and the Church were publicly attacked to the point of Moscow hiring "a professional anti-religious slanderer, Mikhail Markovich Sheinmann, to smear the reputation of the Pope, an approach subsequently elaborated by the left-wing German playwright Rolf Hochhuth in his 1963 play, The Deputy
, which still influences uninformed views of Pius XII".
Bolshevising post-1945 Eastern Europe presented Stalin's various policing agencies and local puppets with formidable problems for a variety of reasons, not least because Christianity had managed to survive the war.
Burleigh recognises the role of Polish-born Pope John Paul II in helping topple Eastern Europe's post-Stalinist order in his homeland, and presents a rare and detailed account of the role of the German Democratic Republic (GDR)'s eight Protestant denominations in the demise of that Soviet satellite in 1989.
Amongst other things, this little-known story confirms that the Communist fears that religion was an ever-present threat to their order were valid.
"During the early 1980s the churches became key sites where heterogeneous ecological and peace activists could meet, for any other gatherings of more than half a dozen people required the state's permission," Burleigh says.
"Churches also had the advantages of possessing telephones with long-distance facilities, enabling contacts to be forced across the GDR, although there was always the risk of there being three callers on the same line."
Perhaps it's because 20th-century Europe survived so many bloodthirsty tormentors that Burleigh says he's an optimist. But he's been careful to add that he is unlike the extreme optimist, Dr Pangloss, in Voltaire's Candide