Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Religion and political freedom

Michael Barone has been reading this summer and, at the US News site, reviews several of his choices. One of them seemed particularly appropriate to the concerns often addressed at this site:
Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror. Burleigh is a British historian who has written on 20th-century Germany; he also wrote Earthly Powers: Religion and Politics in Europe From the French Revolution to the Great War (to which Sacred Causes is a sequel). Burleigh paints a vivid picture of a demoralized Europe after the horrors of the "Great War," as it was then called, and shows how the totalitarian regimes of Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler created "political religions." He highlights the strong statements and considerable actions of the Catholic Church against persecution of the Jews. Pius XI, the pope from 1922 to 1939, vividly denounced persecution in Mexico and Soviet Russia and in 1937 issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, written in German, which denounced Nazi doctrines and actions, and made sure that copies were smuggled into Germany. This encyclical was prompted and written by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939. Burleigh doesn't make the point, but the fact that Pacelli chose to take his predecessor's papal name suggests a ringing endorsement of his policies. Catholic leaders had to take account of the fact that the dictators had physical power over their followers and the institutional church, and Burleigh notes that they did not do everything we might want them to have done against totalitarianism. But, as he also points out, the Protestant churches of Germany, with only a very few exceptions, did very much less. They cooperated with and gave legitimacy to the Nazi regime. It's an interesting question why scholars who have been harshly critical of the Catholic Church seem to have little or no interest in the record of the Protestant churches.

Burleigh's larger point is that churches and religion have often been forces for freedom and against domination by totalitarian regimes. ....
Summer Book Review - Michael Barone (usnews.com)

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