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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