Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Guilt and Responsibility

I have begun archival research for this semester's independent study on the genealogy of free religion in Germany. Already, I intend to rename the project German Unitarianisms, on account of the multiple strands and specificity of nomenclature enmeshed within this quilt of German liberal traditions.

Naturally, one of the first questions to surface revolves around the role of self-identified unitarian churches in the NSDAP: preaching the Good News of tolerance and human dignity, these congregations encountered head-on the greatest test of their ethical (and political) resiliency with the rise of a racist and exclusivist ideology under Hitler. I hesitate to offer a conclusive answer thus far as to the degree of involvement and accommodation, yet I did come across challenging and provocative confessions by Pfr. Clemens Taesler, then-pastor of the unitarische freireligioese Gemeinde in Frankfurt, Germany: his tangential participation in the NSDAP should be explained, he insists, in terms of his responsibility for his family's safety and concern about the dissolution of his congregation. Moreover, without his gestures towards the NSDAP, thousands of people would have had to suffer through the toughest periods without religious support ("hätten tausende von Menschen auf jeden religiösen Trost ... in der schwersten Zeit verzichten müssen").

While this explanation certainly does not amount to a clean absolution, it raises a profound issue: to whom is the minister responsible? Does a pastor's decision to appease a hate-filled ideology in the name of maintaining a fellowship of religious support necessarily stain him with guilt? When faced with the decision for abstract justice or concrete community, which does one choose?

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5 comments:

Captain Thomas R. Beall, USN (ret.) said...

This is a difficult issue but I personally believe that the answer to your question, "Does a pastor's decision to appease a hate-filled ideology in the name of maintaining a fellowship of religious support necessarily stain him with guilt?" is yes, it does. While I agree that it is important to hold a Congregation together in such challenging times, history demands more of us. If the German churches had taken a firmer stand earlier, history might have been different. Even if not, there example may have been an inspiration to us today. See my own blog entry: http://mypropheticimperative.blogspot.com/2009/08/it-was-necessary-to-keep-us-safe.html.

Robin Edgar said...

You may be opening a bigger can of worms than you realize Erik but I commend you for posting this question about the possible or actual involvement of German Unitarians with the Nazis as they are commonly called. Are you aware of the fact that German anti-racist groups and anti-fascist groups have been alleging for decades that the Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft was subverted by Nazi ideologues, including alleged former SS officers allegedly convicted of war crimes, and that these alleged Nazi ideologues held high level leadership positions in the Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft through the 1980s and even into the 1990s? Will you be dealing with the Bund Deutscher Unitarier splinter group formed by Sigrid Hunke? I certainly have been encouraging U*Us to engage in a genuinely free and responsible search for the truth and meaning of these disturbing allegations for years now and I am of course curious about the relations between German Unitarians during WWII and prior to it. I wish you luck with this endeavor. You may need it. . .

Erik Resly said...

I thank you both for your input and interest in this endeavor. My intent is not to retrospectively point fingers in righteous indignation, but to better comprehend the rich traditions of unitarian and free thinking churches in Germany and their responses in the face of overwhelming political and ideological pressure. I suspect that, like most histories, this one will be riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. Perhaps, by the end of this project, I will be better equipped to understand the strengths and weaknesses of liberal religion more broadly.

Robin Edgar said...

You're welcome Erik,

I first heard about allegations of Nazis within the ranks of German Unitarians early in this decade when a visiting member of the German Unitarians told me that he had similar problems to my own (discrimination and harassment by anti-religious "Humanist" U*Us) because Humanist "Nazis" in the DUR were interfering with his efforts to introduce a more spiritual approach. I wanted to learn more about this but lost contact with him because I was unable to get contact details from him. I ran pertinent searches for more info in the internet but did not find anything at the time. The subject of alleged Nazis in the Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft raised its ugly head again a year or so later when someone asked about these allegations in the Unitarian Universalist sections of Beliefnet. He provided the name of the Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft and when I Googled that along with the word Nazis a whole bunch of German language websites along with a small handful of English language pages came up revealing the aforementioned allegations about Nazi ideologues subverting the DUR from the late 1940s or early 1950s right into the 1980s and 1990s. How true these allegations are I cannot determine but they are disturbing enough to warrant further investigation.

When I pressed U*Us to look into these allegations about Nazis using the DUR as a front group most U*Us preferred to look 180 degrees the other way. . . I was repeatedly censored and suppressed in online forums and UUA email lists for raising this issue. In fact I was permanently banned from ALL UUA email lists soon after asking some specific questions about specific individuals named in these allegations on the ICUU email list. You might find my emails archived there although I have reason to believe that some of them may have been "memory holed". I doubt that you will find the list of detailed questions that apparently resulted in my permanent ban from UUA email lists there but let me know if you do. I am quite sure that I raised the subject on the anti-racist UU email list too.

:My intent is not to retrospectively point fingers in righteous indignation, but to better comprehend the rich traditions of unitarian and free thinking churches in Germany and their responses in the face of overwhelming political and ideological pressure.

Well you are obviously going to cover the period from the late 1920s or early 1930s to the mid 1940s. The question is will you go further than that and look into these allegations of post WWII subversion, or indeed just plain corruption, of the German Unitarian religious community? The German anti-fascist and anti-racist groups were alleging that Nazi ideologues were prominent leaders of the Deutsche Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft well into the 1980s and even the 1990s. Sigrid Hunke, who was one of the alleged Nazi ideologues, formed a splinter group called the Bund Deutscher Unitarier Religionsgemeinschaft in the late 1980s after an apparent schism of some sort.

BTW It turns out that the German word for Aryan is Arier so the German word for Unitarier conveniently suggests United Aryans in much the same way that one can make the wordplay UnitAryans.

:I suspect that, like most histories, this one will be riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.

Isn't that where, and indeed *why*, a free and *responsible* search for the truth and meaning of that history comes into play Erik?

Robin Edgar said...

Blogger forced me to split my response into two pieces -

:Perhaps, by the end of this project, I will be better equipped to understand the strengths and weaknesses of liberal religion more broadly.

I expect that you will Erik, especially if the allegations made by those German anti-racist and anti-fascist groups turn out to be even half true. I do encourage you to be diligent in your research about the relations between German Unitarians and Nazis before, during and after WWII. For the after WWII part you can't go too far wrong by running a Google search on -

Deutsche Unitarier Nazis

A Canadian university professor by the name of Karla Poewe wrote a book titled 'New Religions and the Nazis' which may prove to be of some use in this matter. Parts of it are available in Google Books.

Regards,

Robin Edgar