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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Silence" 2016 What Was Scorcese Thinking?



There used to be 200,000 Christians in Japan. In the seventeenth century, the Buddhist shogunate decided to eliminate them. Christians were tortured, starved, crucified, and wiped out by the Buddhists. Thank heaven Buddhism is such a tolerant religion. Otherwise it would be terrible to think what might have happened.

Martin Scorcese's film "Silence" depicts a slice of this history. Two priests, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, travel to Japan seeking to learn the fate of their fellow priest, played by Liam Neeson. Japanese Christians rush to the priests, eager to receive the sacraments of communion and confession.

The priests are set upon by Japanese Buddhists who starve and torture them. Occasionally there is some flapdoodle dialogue about whether or not Christianity belongs in Japan. You will receive no spiritual insights from this dialogue. It is lifeless and uninteresting. Ask any college sophomore to talk to you about Buddhism and Christianity and you will be more intrigued.

The movie is very slow. Events are depicted almost in real time, with no editing. As one reviewer said, "the movie starts in the 1500s and never ends." The torture is graphic and grotesque. There are decapitations, crucifixions, and drownings. The ending won't surprise anyone. The priests have no power. They are surrounded by people who are not only eager to torture them, but also to torture other people. The Buddhists tell the Christians, "We will only stop torturing these innocent Japanese people if you renounce Jesus."

What on earth was Martin Scorcese thinking? What is the point of this movie? Is Scorcese trying to get us to renounce something? The film sure feels like torture.

The movie questions whether or not Christianity "belongs" in Japan. It implies that Christianity does not belong in Japan. Here's the thing – people are being tortured. Under torture you'll say whatever the torturer wants you to say. You'll say that Trump won the popular vote. With the threat of torture hanging over the head of every character in the film, the debate is rather skewed.


Even as he appears to be belittling Christianity as an imperialist, colonizer's religion, Japanese Buddhism doesn't come off any better. The film consists of one scene after another of Japanese Buddhists torturing innocent people, coldly and gleefully. Not a great advertisement for Buddhism. Buddhism was also used by Imperial Japan during WW II. It's time we take a serious look at how Buddhism has been exploited to condone evil. 

"A Monster Calls" 2016 Weirdly Christophobic and Underdeveloped


"A Monster Calls" is a weirdly, distastefully Christophobic film.

Conor, an adorable little English boy (Lewis MacDougall) is very sad because he is bullied in school and his mother has cancer. His father lives in LA and is married to someone else and has another child. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) appears cold and controlling. Conor is artistic and he likes to escape from his sad life by drawing.

One night, Conor is visited by a talking tree (Liam Neeson). The tree promises to tell Conor stories that will help him with the burdens he faces in life.

That's pretty much all that happens in the film. The film doesn't go deep into the pain a child feels when he watches his mother go from being a bit pale to being bedridden and bald. It doesn't do much of anything with Conor's heartbreaking relationship with his absentee father. It doesn't delve into the complexities of bullying. Why do the bullies behave so badly? How can bullied kids change their situation? The film doesn't even ask these questions, never mind answer them. The film doesn't explore or articulate Conor's relationship to art. Conor is at the age when romantic love first rears its head. Conor cuddles in bed with his mom, but he doesn't seem to see or be seen by any romantic prospects.

The talking tree promises to tell Conor stories that will help him in life. The stories are animated and narrated by Neeson. The animation is lovely. It is pen and ink and watercolor. The watercolor splashes colorfully across the screen.

The thing is, the tree's stories suck. They are boring and pointless. There isn't much going on in this movie, and the stories, which are promised to be profound, are just painful to listen to.

I did cry watching this movie. I think you'd have to have a heart of stone not to cry watching a lad deal with such depressing life circumstances. But the film is so underdeveloped that I left the theater feeling unsatisfied.

The one thing the movie does do and does with great efficiency. The film bashes Christianity. Watching this movie, I had to ask myself, what is going on in England? Why does England hate Christianity so much? Why are Christophobic themes so prominent in English films, from the creepy clergyman Mr. Collins in every new iteration of "Pride and Prejudice" to this film, which opens with a scene of a church crumbling into the earth?

One of the stories the tree tells is about a bad bad bad bad English clergyman, maybe even as bad as Mr. Collins, who is disrespectful to an herbal healer. I mean, come on. The herbal healer gets revenge against the bad clergyman in a really vicious way, and the film celebrates that. To make everything crystal clear, in the animated portion, the clergyman is shown with a giant white cross on his bad bad very bad no good chest.

This film creeped me out. It uses the most poignant of life circumstances to bash Christianity. How exploitative and nasty.


On the plus side: Young actor Lewis MacDougall is beyond spectacular in this role. He gives one of the great child actor performances of all time. This kid, I hope, is going places. 

"Patriot's Day" 2016: An Efficient Littler Thriller that Takes No Risks


"Patriot's Day" is an efficient little thriller that recreates the events of April 15, 2013, when the Tsarnaev brothers detonated two bombs during the Boston Marathon. Mark Wahlberg stars as a police officer, but there is really no main character in this movie. It is more of a docudrama, moving from event to event, from one person affected by the bomb to the next. We are introduced to, and spend a few minutes with each of the victims, police officers, FBI agents, and unidentified interrogators. We visit in the Tsarnaev home previous to the bombing. We watch as the governor ponders the decision to shut the city down. We watch police go from house to house in Watertown, seeking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

It's all very suspenseful and interesting but the film made no lasting impact on me. "Patriot's Day" never takes any of the risks that might propel it into the territory of memorable art. It takes virtually no stand on the many questions this bombing prompts us to ask. The Tsarnaev family were immigrants. They applied for political asylum. They were, for all intents and purposes, Muslim refugees, though they were never given the "refugee" designation.

There is a debate going on around the world right now about what to do about Muslim refugees from war-torn regions, and whether or not taking in Muslim refugees is safe for the receiving country. "Patriot's Day" goes nowhere near this question.

There is also a debate about what to do about terrorists' family members. Noor Salman, the wife of the Orlando terrorist, was arrested on January 16, 2017. What about Katherine Russell, the widow of Tamerlane Tsarnaev? Before the bombing, Russell performed a google search of the rewards Islam offers to the wife of a dead Muslim terrorist. This is mentioned in the film. Russell is shown living in the same tiny apartment with the brothers, where they prepared the bomb. The film implies that she was aware of their plans. She is free and no charges have been brought against her.

The film depicts Russell being interrogated by a woman in a hijab. The suggestion is that America needs good Muslims to fight bad Muslims. In any case, the interrogator gets nothing out of Russell.

In addition to following police officers and other first responders, the film also follows the victims. The viewer is given a brief intro to young lovers whose legs must be amputated. Eight-year-old Catholic schoolboy Martin Richard was the youngest victim. The film does not show him alive. We see, rather, a cloth covering a very small body. We see the cloth rippling in the wind, and a police officer standing guard over the body till investigators can address the corpse without disturbing evidence. In fact the bomb tore Martin's little body apart. The damage was described at the trial. Martin Richard's beautiful face, in a photograph radiating young life, innocence and hope, is shown onscreen after the film concludes.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

"Hidden Figures": Inspirational, Starchy, and Skewed


"Hidden Figures" is an inspirational bio-pic about three real black women mathematicians who played a part in NASA. It's relentlessly wholesome and a bit starchy, but worth seeing for the history it presents.

Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, who calculated the flight trajectories for Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 moon flight. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the first black woman supervisor at NACA (later NASA). Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer. Kevin Costner plays the fictional Al Harrison, a composite boss figure. Kirsten Dunst is another composite figure, representing the mean white racist. Jim Parsons is, again, a composite figure, playing the mean white racist male version.

"Hidden Figures" shows its leads struggling against white racism. NASA was located in Langley, Virginia, which operated under Jim Crow. Johnson must run between buildings, often in pouring rain, in order to use the "colored" restroom. Her coworkers decline to drink coffee from the same pot she uses. White coworkers refer to the black women by their first names, while the black women refer to the whites as Mr or Miss and last name. In spite of all this, the women are able to achieve significant contributions to the space program, using their superior skills at mathematics.

The movie's thoroughgoing wholesome preachiness can make it a bit dull. The black people in the film are all perfect – beautiful, perfectly dressed, kind, rational, great parents. Not a single black character ever dresses poorly or loses her temper or swears or is impatient with children or makes a mistake. Such perfect people make for boring drama.

In recent years, Hollywood has caught much flak when it produces movies that show whites advancing black civil rights. "Mississippi Burning" was widely criticized for telling the true story of white contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Critics demanded films that depicted blacks as heroes and whites as bad guys. The historical reality is, though, that without white allies, Civil Rights would have been dead in the water.

As I was watching "Hidden Figures," I thought of the invisible white allies the film erased from its account. Virtually every white person the film's black women encounter is a hostile bigot or merely clueless (as is Costner's composite character). A Polish engineer, the real life Kazimierz Czarnecki, is shown in a seconds-long scene encouraging a black woman, but it is made clear that he is encouraging her because he is a foreigner and not American. In another seconds-long scene, astronaut John Glenn is shown going out of his way to be pleasant to the black women; Harrison pulls him away, as if to say, "Being nice to black people is not allowed at NASA."

I don't believe that African American women were invited into NASA, encouraged to get advanced degrees, and to spread their wings without white higher-ups deciding that NASA would challenge Jim Crow and play a part in the Civil Rights Movement. Those farsighted heroes, whoever they were, have been erased from this account.

Another aspect of the film is ironic. The movie wants the viewer to accept black women as thinkers. And yet it dresses two of its leads in the tightest of dresses and the highest of heels and the lushest of fake eyelashes. Even when at home, putting the kids to bed, the leads are picture perfect. Look at photos of the real Jackson, Vaughan, and Johnson. They were not hot models. They looked like mathematicians often look: a bit rumpled, with average attractiveness.

Yes yes we all know movies must have attractive leads. But Russel Crowe was allowed to look rumpled and nerdy in "A Beautiful Mind," about mathematician John Nash. No one forced him to wear a tight shirt that displayed his chest hair or his pecs. Even movies urging equality must resort to old fashioned, sexist objectification of women's bodies in order to bring in viewers.



"La La Land": Fun and Sweet but no Masterpiece


"La La Land" is a fun, sweet movie about two young artists, their attempt to establish their careers, and their love affair. It's enjoyable but not the masterpiece reviews insist it is.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a barrista and an aspiring actress. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist. They meet during a traffic jam, get together at a party, and go through the ups and downs of young people who are in love and who are also chasing artistic success.

"La La Land" is a musical. People sing and dance. That's fun. Neither Stone nor Gosling is a professional singer or dancer, so the singing and dancing are mediocre.

Mia and Sebastian go for a walk at night. Their walk is cinematically reminiscent of a walk that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse take in the 1953 movie musical, "Band Wagon" – to the tune of "Dancing in the Dark."

Just like Fred and Cyd, Mia and Seb begin their nighttime walk as bickering enemies, but during the dance they warm up to each other. They dance under trees and streetlights. The difference is that Gosling and Stone can't begin to match the magic that professional dancers like Astaire and Charisse conjure in their dance number. Gosling's voice is barely there.

In another scene, Stone sings what might have been a show-stopping number, a song about her free-spirited aunt who lived in Paris and went swimming in the River Seine. During this song, Stone wears a non-descript, baggy sweater and she barely moves. Stone is very compelling as an actress. As a singer, especially during this number, she falls flat.

Damien Chazelle's direction doesn't highlight the dance numbers as it might. The opening scene depicts an LA traffic jam. Passengers emerge from their cars and dance on the highway. They sing a lyric-dense song; you can't hear them over the music in order to make out the words. It's frustrating. Their movements are not flattered by Chazelle's camera.

Even so, I very much enjoyed "La La Land." Its strengths would have been evident whether anyone had been singing or not. "La La Land" brings home how hard it is for struggling artists to nurture healthy relationships. Mia and Sebastian live in poverty. At one point he looks at a water stain on the ceiling and despairs. They are crushed when their best efforts meet with failure. They are tempted to sell out. Their careers demand that they not be present for each other for months at a time. Mia and Sebastian let each other down.

"La La Land" drags after a bit. Stone and Gosling are virtually the only characters in the film. Their key interactions are repeated. "La La Land" redeemed itself, for me, in a final, fantasy sequence that was incredibly poignant and true and that was unlike anything else I'd ever seen in any other film. I'd recommend seeing "La La Land" for that sequence alone.



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year 2017

John Roberts Shipwrecked Mariners Society 
In the time of your life, live — so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness of death for yourself or any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. 

Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. 

Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. 

Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it. 

- William Saroyan

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Was Hitler a Christian? Was Nazism Christian?



This article appears at FrontPage Magazine here

Hitler is the trump card. Even if you hold a royal flush, if your opponent plays the Hitler card, you lose. Those arguing for Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition frequently fold when confronted by the mustachioed monster. Mention of Hitler is used to insist that we need to throw out the baby, throw out the bath water, and accept just about any alternative to Western Civilization as more peaceful, less genocidal, shinier and newer.

What is the genesis of Political Correctness? One good place to start seeking for that genesis is the West's horrified backlash against, and attempt to compensate for, Nazism.

In the early twentieth century, society's best and the brightest, including US presidents, The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly, Ivy League Universities and Congress accepted scientific racism. This Darwin-inspired worldview placed Nordic people at the pinnacle of human evolution. Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger advised abortion and sterilization for less-evolved humans. Carl Brigham invented intelligence tests, the ancestors of the SAT, that proved Polish immigrants incapable of education. Madison Grant, cofounder of the Bronx Zoo and board member at the Museum of Natural History, recommended elimination of the unfit. Hitler dubbed Grant's 1916 book Passing of the Great Race his "Bible." At the Nuremberg Trials, Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth, would blame another publication from America's scientific racism era, Henry Ford's The International Jew, for his becoming an anti-Semite.

Grant and Lothrop Stoddard positioned their scientific racism in opposition to Christianity. Racism was supported by science, they insisted. Christianity was absurd, and its championing of the oppressed weakened society. 

What happened? How did a society that had been excessively arrogant a hundred years ago become a society that expresses Politically Correct self-condemnation and shame today? World War II happened.

Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Tamerlane, the fourteenth-century "Sword of Islam," killed five percent of the world's population. There are two important differences between other notorious genocides and Nazism. We read of Tamerlane's mountains of skulls, his 1398 massacre of a hundred thousand infidels in Delhi, and his burying alive four thousand Armenian Christians in the name of Islam, but we do not witness these horrors. Hollywood directors did not film the eighteen million prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. Hollywood directors like Alfred Hitchcock and George Stevens did participate in documentation of Nazi concentration camps. We don't just read about Nazi horrors; we see them in documentary footage produced by experts.

There is a second important difference between the Holocaust and other horrors. Russia with its serfs, czars, and commissars, perennial enemy of Bond films; China, land of foot-binders and dog-eaters: they are alien to us. The Nazis are us. Germany was democratic, secular, capitalist, educated and industrialized. Beethoven, Einstein, Thomas Mann, hot dogs, hamburgers, Christmas trees: all German. More Americans trace their ancestry back to Germany than to any other country. English is a Germanic language.

Americans watching film footage of Nazis horrors felt shattered in a way that reading of a fourteenth-century massacre of Hindus by a Muslim could never shatter them. We in the West have looked at Nazi crimes and said, "There is something wrong with us. We must change."

If quality X is associated with Hitler, we want to reject quality X. Hitler was a vegetarian; if someone wanted to prove that Hitler did what he did because he was a vegetarian, we might reject vegetarianism. This "logic" is fodder for jokes: "Do you drink water? So did Hitler!" an internet meme mock accuses.

It is exactly because the Hitler card is played against Western Civilization that everyone ought to read Richard Weikart's new book, Hitler's Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. The book's substance justifies Weikart's clam that it is "the most extensive to date in the English language" on its topic. Weikart makes the case that Hitler's God was a Darwin-inspired, non-personal, pantheistic deity exacting a pitiless survival-of-the-fittest-through-struggle morality. Neither Hitler nor Nazism were Christian, and the elimination of Christianity was certainly one of the long-term goals of Nazism. Previous canonical scholars have asserted part or all of Weikart's main thesis; thus, his book should not be controversial.

Certainly when Nazism was arising, its flamboyant flirtations with Neo-Paganism and its attacks on Christianity were so obvious that in 1942, Polish-Jewish artist Artur Szyk depicted Hitler as the anti-Christ. Nazism declared itself a break with the Judeo-Christian tradition, obedient to science in a way that Christianity could never be, and a return to Pagan values rooted in one's natal blood and soil. In his 1930 book The Myth of the Twentieth Century, Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared the "collapse" of all that had come before and a "new dawn" and "new faith" a "new light" a "new mission:" "blood and blood, race and race, folk and folk." "That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life." Goebbels wrote in his novel Michael of "demolishing his old faith world." "The churches have failed. Totally failed. Millions await a new religion."

The Third Reich flag is one of the most famous and in-your-face graphic designs in history: red field, white disc, black swastika. Dating back at least 11,000 years, the swastika is a near universal Pagan symbol for eternity, representing the path of the sun in the sky. TIME film critic Richard Corliss called the Hitler of Leni Riefenstahl's infamous 1935 film, Triumph of the Will, a "Wagnerian deity." Riefenstahl's 1938 film Olympia, documenting the 1936 Berlin Olympics, opens with a lengthy homage to Ancient Greece and Rome. Marble gods appear to spring to life in the bodies of German athletes. This homage makes clear that Nazism plans to skip over the inconvenient rise of Christianity and resurrect virile Pagan virtues. Hitler regarded pre-Christian Rome as humanity's high point. The Luftwaffe bombed Coventry's 14th century cathedral to a ruin, but Hitler would not allow Athens to be bombed.

Nazi Neo-Paganism was a lived experienced that bonded followers to one another and inspired them to reject their own reason and adopt the group's morality. Historian Manfred Gailus wrote that Nazi religiosity was felt as "a mass experience, cult, ritual, as highly symbolic and sacred actions in the context of a novel NS annual calendar of festivals and celebrations of life." "The whole country was as if under a kind of a spell," reported Brunhilde Pomsel, Goebbels' secretary, in 2016.

Living, nocturnal swastikas constituted of thousands of marchers carrying torches high aloft, the Blutfahne ceremony, in which a new swastika was consecrated through physical contact with a flag bearing Nazi blood, or the roll call for the martyrs of the Beer Hall Putsch: Nazis were diabolically clever at creating rituals that erased the past and sucked the participant into a new ethic. These rituals intoxicate audiences, even today. The London Times called Olympia "visually ravishing." The spectacle, the camaraderie, the meaning, order and self-discipline, the loss of self and sacrificial surrender to a moving historical wave: watching Nazi spectacle, one is both moved and one is horrified by being moved. We are not immune to fascism's appeal.

Nazi Neo-Paganism was inscribed into material culture including grave markers, jewelry and clothing. The SS insignia is in fact two runes: the doppelte Siegrune. Runes were letters of an ancient Germanic alphabet used in divination and magic. During the Nazi era, an extra key was added to German typewriters to make possible the typing of the double sieg rune with one stroke. The hagal rune was used at weddings to symbolize unshakeable faith in Nazism. The todesrune replaced the Christian cross in death notices and grave markers.

Nazi ritual inserted itself into spaces previously occupied by Christianity. Speer's "Cathedral of Light," created with anti-aircraft searchlights, was a new kind of church. The swastika was paraded through the streets at the center of a simulated monstrance – the golden container of the Eucharist. In classrooms, crucifixes were removed and replaced with Hitler's photo. Hitler youth meetings were held on Sunday morning to make it impossible to attend church. Hitler youth sang "We need no Christian virtue. We follow not Christ but Horst Wessel." "This [Nazi] cult cycle competed with the traditional Christian cycle," writes Gailus.

Nazism's targeting of Christianity, like its Neo-Pagan spectacles, was also obvious to the nervously watching world. By 1937, 12,000 Catholic priests had been persecuted by the Nazi regime. The Dachau concentration camp established a priests' barracks for clergy in 1940. Catholic presses were closed. Catholic dissidents were murdered during the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. In 1935, seven hundred pastors of the Confessing Church were arrested. Catholic schools were disbanded. One of the first and one of the few wartime Hollywood films to address concentration camps was titled The Seventh Cross. The film's title suggests American awareness of Nazism's anti-Christian stance.

In short, it's hardly a leap to refer to Nazism as anti-Christian and Neo-Pagan.

Why, then, is Weikart's book so essential?

Because Hitler is the trump card, and cultural warriors want badly to play him.

Recent years have seen a new trend in publishing about the Holocaust. Authors link Nazism to Christianity. Richard Steigmann-Gall's 2004 The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945 is one such book.

The Holy Reich states that "Christianity did not constitute a barrier to Nazism." And that Nazi Germany was waging "a war in the name of Christianity." Steigmann-Gall quotes John 16:2 "Whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God." This verse appears to support Steigmann-Gall's insistence that Nazis were Christians murdering in obedience to unambiguous Biblical commands to do so. An Amazon reviewer says that Holy Reich convinced him that "the Nazis were inspired by Jesus' message as delivered by the New Testament."

New Atheists also play the Hitler card. The Richard Dawkins Foundation hosts a piece by Michael Sherlock stating "Hitler was a Christian … Christianity played a pivotal part in the heinous atrocities [committed by Hitler's] Christian Nazi Party." In his last interview, Christopher Hitchens insisted that 1930s fascism was equivalent to an "extreme-right Catholic party." Atheist actor Stephen Fry attributed the Holocaust to right-wing Polish Catholics.

Are recent revisionist histories and New Atheist proselytizers correct? Was Hitler Christian? Was Nazism? No. And that "no" matters a lot.

None of us are Ancient Greek Pagans, but it would matter to us if Ancient Greece were misrepresented, because Ancient Greece is our roots. It matters to non-Christians when Christianity is represented as inherently genocidal and sadistic, because Christianity is one of the foundations of Western Civilization. When presidents insist that Islamic terror is merely payback for crimes committed by Christian Crusaders against inoffensive practitioners of the Religion of Peace, that matters. When universities teach that the only place Jews could thrive in pre-modern Europe was the "paradise" of "tolerant" "Golden Age" Al-Andalus, that matters. When social engineers declare that our Founding Fathers' understanding of the right to life or the concept of marriage are merely waste products of a benighted worldview, that matters. When atheist ethicists like Peter Singer tell us that parents should be allowed to murder their own children, that matters. When Michael Shermer and Steven Pinker produce well-reviewed books that insist that as time passes evolution makes mankind more secular and more ethical, that matters.

It always matters when a scorched-earth Utopian comes along and says, "Everything about the past is corrupt, and everyone who came before us was a fool. Let's erase the past and start fresh with a blank slate." "Pure" people who offer this menu item tend to rack up large body counts. Christianity's impact on Western Civilization is one baby and one basin of bath water we cannot allow to be falsified. The hero we need in this battle in the culture war is Richard Weikart.

Weikart points out that anyone who, as Hitchens does, quotes Hitler as if his every word were scrupulously true is naïve at best and consciously lying at worst. Hitler was a ruthless opportunist. Hitler's 1938 insistence that the Sudetenland was "the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe" was one of the most notorious and consequential lies in history. Hitler mentions God in Mein Kampf; New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens insist that these mentions prove that Hitler was a Christian.

Let's get real. Hitler mentioned God for two reasons: he was playing to his audience, and he was couching his own beliefs in language his followers would naively swallow. Hitler recognized that most Germans were Christian and that overt expression of his own contempt for Christianity would unnecessarily alienate people he wanted to keep on his team. Weikart makes this point abundantly clear with ample and unambiguous quotes from Hitler speaking with trusted intimates like Albert Speer, Martin Bormann, and Joseph Goebbels.

When Nazis did praise "Christianity" or "Jesus," they were invoking an invented version of each, a version exclusive to Nazism, a version that Nazis themselves jettisoned when it ceased to serve their purposes. The Nazi Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. He performed no miracles. He was a violent, armed, blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan warrior against Jewish capitalism. Jews crucified him for this and he died, period. His death saved no one.

The Bible records that Jesus was the divine son of God. He performed miracles. Jesus was Jewish, the Temple was Jewish, and Jesus' milieu was Jewish. Romans crucified him. Jesus chose not to fight back, but went like a lamb to slaughter. He rose from the dead, thus saving mankind. His opponent was not capitalism but original sin. Hitler denounced these beliefs as a "Jewish plot" to destroy the Ancient Pagan world. In any case, by 1940, Nazism's so-called "Positive Christianity" was abandoned as a failed scheme.

When Hitler mentioned God, this is what he meant: the laws of nature reward unquestioning loyalty to one's own breed and constant struggle to the death with outsiders and inferior specimens. God – in the form of natural cause and effect – rewards those who struggle for their own folk. This struggle is so ruthless that Germans ought to have many children in order that the bulk of them die, preserving the most fit. Hitler guestimated that killing seventy to eighty percent of German babies would result in an improved species.

The Lebensborn program mass produced German babies through breeding SS men with unwed women. Also, Nazis kidnapped tens of thousands of Polish children who showed what the Nazis assessed as Aryan traits. Kidnapped children were tested. If tests showed these children to be undesirable, they were killed in Auschwitz. If tests proved that they exhibited authentic Nordic traits, they were forcibly Germanized. Discipline of these kidnapped children was harsh. In one instance, institutionalized children undergoing Germanization were required to watch an SS man use a butcher's ax to decapitate a misbehaving twelve-year-old Polish boy.

Conversely, 400,000 Germans with illnesses like epilepsy, alcoholism and depression were sterilized. Aktion T-4 murdered 200,000 handicapped Germans. The doctors and nurses who carried out these killings began the program by murdering German newborns and children under three years old.

Nazi mass-murder began with German babies and ended in an orgy of suicides. "We spoke about committing suicide as other people talk about fashions," reported Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. Suicidal Nazis often took entire families with them. Magda Goebbels rejected offers of escape. Rather, she fed her own six children cyanide before killing herself.

If Weikart is correct, what to make of all the new books identifying Nazism with Christianity? An Amazon reviewer called The Holy Reich "The most important study on Nazism. Ever." Is that Amazon reviewer wrong? Yes, he is wrong.

In 2007 and 2013, The Journal of Contemporary History published several scholars' critiques of The Holy Reich. These scholars include Manfred Gailus, Irving Hexham, Ernst Piper, and Samuel Koehne. These scholars make the following points about The Holy Reich. The book includes numerous errors of fact, including, in one instance, misspelling one historical figure's name three different ways. "So considerable is the catalogue of skewed and distorted constructions and misinterpretations, of factual errors and slapdash work that I cannot pass over them without comment," complained Manfred Gailus.

There's more. Steigmann-Gall does not refer to pertinent scholarship, and he cherry-picks quotes that support his thesis, and leaves out material, often from the same source, that contradicts his thesis. Steigmann-Gall never addresses why Christians resisted Nazism while citing Christianity as their motive for that resistance.

Historian Ernst Piper simply states that "the contention that National Socialism was a profoundly anti-Christian movement endured for so long not because it was convenient for researchers not to prove otherwise but because it is a fact." Samuel Koehne dismisses Holy Reich in similarly global terms.

As mentioned above, Steigmann-Gall quotes Christian scripture in a way that implies that the Bible orders Christians to murder Jews. It doesn't. That quote is about early Christians being martyred for their faith.

Most readers will remain completely unaware of scholarly detractors from Steigmann-Gall's work. Most readers will see a book entitled Holy Reich, view its cover photo of Hitler under a cross, and decide that yes, Nazism was Christian.

In Hitler's Religion, Richard Weikart takes Steigmann-Gall on repeatedly. In a telling passage, Weikart reveals some hidden truths about Steigmann-Gall's deceptive cover for Holy Reich. The cover depicts Hitler exiting a church. A brightly lit cross appears to spring from Hitler's head.  

Not so fast, Weikart warns. He reveals that the 1932 photograph was used in the 1933 propaganda pamphlet Hitler as No One Knows Him. Under it appeared the caption, "Hitler, the supposed 'heretic' leaving the Marinekirche [sic]." (Alas the Nazi pamphlet even misspelled the name of the church. The correct spelling is Marienkirche.) The photo's original caption is telling. It reveals that Christians were condemning Hitler as a "heretic," and that that criticism was causing damage. Nazis realized that they needed to sell him as a Christian. The cover of Hitler as No One Knows Him is a hideously awkward shot of Hitler casually lounging in an alpine meadow, a dog next to him. No intelligent person would accept this warm and cuddly Hitler at face value, nor should anyone uncritically embrace Hitler in the doorway of a church. Indeed, in the 1938 version of the pamphlet, the cross has been airbrushed out of the photo. The caption has been changed. The 1938 caption reads, "after sightseeing in the historic Marinekirche [sic]." By that time, Nazis were closer to abandoning the pretense that they were Christian, and more willing to signal that to them, Christianity was ready to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Jews and Christians are important allies in the culture wars. An artificial construction of Nazism as Christian should not be a roadblock to our alliance. To anyone tempted to support this fallacy, please consider.

Understanding genocide as something Westerners, Christians, or white people do hampers our understanding of genocide as a phenomenon. In 1969, anthropologist Christy Turner began presenting evidence of a genocide of Anasazi by Toltecs in the Four Corners area. Toltecs mass-murdered Anasazi, and then ate their flesh. This genocide took place a thousand years ago, before Columbus arrived. Native Americans and Turner's fellow anthropologists were scandalized and refused to believe his irrefutable forensic evidence. Many insist that genocide was strictly a practice of European Christians, and they insist on denying that this Native American genocide ever took place.

Christophobes allege that only two thousand years of uninterrupted hatred could cause humans to commit genocide. There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides were not preceded by millennia of training. We need to acknowledge that humans commit genocide even without thousands of years of rehearsal.

Second, anti-Semitism is a pathology. Like TB and plague, it spreads and retreats with historical circumstances. Christians have not practiced two thousand years of hate. There have been periods and regions when Christians were anti-Semitic, others when they were philosemitic, and still others when they were more or less indifferent. To understand genocide, we must understand temporary and local conditions that facilitate hatred.

Understanding anti-Semitism as a purely Christian phenomenon forces us to ignore the Roman, Pagan persecution of Jews of 70 AD, arguably the most cataclysmic persecution Jews endured before the Holocaust. Roman Pagans drove Jews out of Jerusalem and into diaspora, ending Temple Judaism and beginning rabbinical Judaism, and contributed to a massive drop in the world population of Jews, a population drop from which Jews did not recover for centuries. Roman Pagans renamed Judea "Palestine" in order to erase even the memory of Jews ever having lived there. We can't understand Pagan anti-Semitism, Islamic anti-Semitism, or left-wing anti-Semitism on today's campuses if we insist that anti-Semitism is a Christian monopoly.

Falsely identifying Nazism as a Christian phenomenon prevents us from understanding Nazism. Sam Harris, in his "Atheist Manifesto," writes, "The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity." Harris insists, without support, that the Vatican perpetuated the blood libel "as late as 1914." Harris doesn't mention that popes, going back at least to the thirteenth century, took the lead in repeatedly and emphatically condemning blood libel.

I have three questions for Sam Harris. First, why did the Nazis themselves explicitly reject what you say? Again and again Nazis said that any anti-Jewish statements in Christianity were wrong, because they were about theological disagreements, not blood. Nazis did cite exactly the Darwin-inspired, race justifications that Weikart quotes at length. Read the actual words of scientific racists and Nazis, from Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant to Heinrich Himmler. Again and again, you will discover them speaking words that New Atheists themselves speak: "Christianity is absurd and unproven and it causes us to err through sentimentality. Science alone represents objective truth." Christians have confronted and atoned for Christians' failures. When will New Atheists acknowledge that their approach contributed to genocide?

Nazis didn't murder only Jews. Nazis murdered three million Soviet POWs, and caused the death of an estimated 13.7 million Soviet civilians. In justifying their crimes against Jews, Slavs, and others, Nazis cited identical race-based justifications.  

In speeches to his men, Heinrich Himmler offered a new ethic that justified the murder of Christian Slavs and Jews. Himmler said, "In Poland in weather forty degrees below zero, where we had to haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, where we had to have the toughness – you should hear this but also forget it again immediately – to shoot thousands of leading Poles … The proud soldier says, 'My God, why do I have to do that, this ridiculous job here!' – It is much easier to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions, or to haul away people…

One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.

Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished."

I ask Sam Harris, if, as you say, the crematoria that incinerated Jews were constructed of Christian ideas, what about the crematoria that incinerated German children culled as evolutionarily unfit, or the Polish Catholics identified as Germans' enemies in Nazism's "survival of the fittest" morality?

It is undeniable that Nazism focused on Jews in a way that it did not focus on others, and that Nazis murdered almost six million Jews, or sixty percent of the world population. This is exceptional and is deservedly treated as exceptional. It is also true that anti-Semitism has been a plague in Christianity, and that Christians must never shirk the struggle against anti-Semitism. We all know that most Germans, including Germans who committed atrocities, identified as Christian. All these facts demand and receive massive attention. I have only praise for books like Robert P. Erickson's Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany that demonstrate how Germany's best and brightest, from university professors to theologians, abandoned their core values. There's a difference between saying that Christians distorted their faith to support Nazism and saying that Nazism is Christian.

Every semester I ask my university students what group the Nazis mass murdered first and last, even after they surrendered to the Allies. "Nazis murdered Jews first," my students respond. No. Communists. No. Homosexuals. No.

When I tell them it was handicapped Germans, they are dumbstruck and unbelieving. They have no pattern into which to fit this fact. They have been taught that Nazism is a function of Christianity, and a damning blot on Western Civilization. They have not been taught about how Nazi anti-Semitism fits into a Darwin-inspired, Neo-Pagan, nationalist worldview.

My students don't know that Hitler expressed genocidal intent for Poles: "I have placed my death-head formation in readiness … with orders to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language." Poles were shot by Einsatzgruppen. Approximately two million non-Jewish Polish civilians were murdered. Auschwitz was initially created, and run for its first 18 months, as a center of internment of Poles. Poles were tortured, dispossessed, and the subject of medical experimentation. Polish bodies were turned into soap. Between 1.5 and 3 million Poles were conscripted into forced labor. Almost twenty percent of Polish priests were murdered.

Even as the advancing, victorious Red Army was within sight of soon-to-be-defeated Germans, even as the Allies advanced from the west, German soldiers went building to building in Warsaw, killing civilians with flamethrowers, targeting churches, museums, and libraries. Himmler ordered, "The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth … No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation." There was no military reason for this. Sam Harris' "explanation" that Christianity is responsible for Nazism is revealed as patently inadequate when one considers what Nazi Germany did to Catholic Poles, or the German handicapped, or Soviet POWs, or Romani.

Richard Weikart's explanation works.


Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete