Is Collaboration with a (Violent) Totalitarian Power a Sin and the Vice (Or Even a Moral Crime) of the Church?

Catholic bishops attend a Nazi rally

This important photo from the historical archives shows how conformist the Church is in relation to those who have absolute – totalitarian power over human society in a particular historical moment. Still, conformists have “wise” justifications of their conformism; the most widespread among them is the use of “absolute goodness” of their association with god through religion as explaining and even endorsing the collaboration with power regardless of how inhumane and antidemocratic it is. This justification of collaboration with a totalitarian power sounds like this: If Church will not collaborate and it will be destroyed as a result – it is people who will suffer because then they will not be protected by God’s consolation and encouragement; it is to keep God closer to people that Church must exist regardless of what political system rules over the population. What this “argument” ignores is that people can carry god in their souls and hearts and receive consolation through the internal rapport with the sacred value and that many other symbols of sacred reality exist beside organized religion with its numerous flaws easily discernable in history. In other words, the clergy overestimate the importance of organized religion just because they are the prestigious part of it. They axiomatically identify religion with god and by doing this usurp and trap god by proclaiming one among others path to god as the only one. They invented the license for communication with god and sell it to millions of people with every generation.

Religious believers are prone to regard their particular path to the sacred as incomparably worthier than any other religion can offer. But so is any totalitarian system under the icon-flag of its ideological belief that totalitarian people tend to consider as superior in comparison with any other ideology in the world.

When people today think of fascism (of German Nazism, for example) they think about it in a strictly ideological terms, they dress it in SS uniform, they imagine it with Hitler’s mustache or Himmler’s spectacles. But fascism is deeper than its ideology – it is a psychological and behavioral phenomenon (as religion is much more than the content of its teachings). Fascism is an authoritarian/totalitarian mask, into which the face of a group of people who are afraid of other, dissimilar people, is transformed when they feel that their values and way of life are threatened by the otherness of others who come “too close” to “our” collective identity.

At the first glance, some religions oppose our proneness to deny others the right to exist with their otherness, but in reality they exactly justifying our intolerance in a condition that we misbehave and sin not for our personal gains but in the name of our god. Under god-through-church/mosque/synagogue/temple authority we, humans, are going through drastic change in how we understand our life – now how we behave become of our secondary importance, only what we believe in is considered really important – the loyalty to our god and religious authorities. Now we can do all the immoral things (including murder and torture) for the sake of our transcendent ideals just because these ideals belong to a higher realm than human existence in a “fallen” world. We “fell” exactly in a “moment” when we are “reborn” under “god’s guidance” – before our immorality was our immorality, but now it becomes the mark of the “fallenness” of our world redeemed by the fact that we are ready to misbehave if it promotes the glory of our god and religion, the interests of our religious cause.

Let’s turn to Catholic Bishops in the “noble” company of the Nazi officials – by their presence on Nazi rally they are supporting anti-Christian feelings and deeds of the Nazis in exchange for protection and support of the religion by the Nazi power. But something makes them feel not completely, not entirely at home in this mutual arrangement. Take a more attentive look at how the Bishops give the Nazi salute – they are, obviously doing it but simultaneously as if not. Compare the proud un-ambiguity of saluting on part of Goebbels and the other Nazis with the timidity and the air of uncertainty of the saluting gesture of the Bishops. One on the left closes his eyes (as if to be taken as a blind who doesn’t know where he is brought) – the sign of a semi-conscious shame. The Bishop to his right has his right arm up ok but without the needed bravado, and the grimace of his mouth is called that of “eating shit” (as if he hoped that the excrement will fall from his mouth back to the world).

Why do the poor Bishops expose themselves to this humiliating necessity of having to pretend loyalty to the Nazi regime? Why if you believe in Nazism as a necessary defense of Christianity (from the communist atheism) to give the Nazi salute is so unpleasant? The reason, of course, is not the obvious immorality of Nazi ideology and behavior. The brutality of Nazism is not why our Bishops force themselves to give salute to Hitler who is in this very moment when the photo was taken was passing by encircled by the solemnity and mass enthusiasm. The reason, it seems, is the situation of a double loyalty the Bishops find themselves in. They are already loyal to the absoluteness of the church, and they feel bad that on this occasion they will look, as if they are betraying their church as unconditional, absolute, the only leader. Their “hesitation” to show their dedication to Nazism is in no way determined by the totalitarian nature of Nazism but not much less totalitarian nature of the Catholic Church (that demands as unconditional loyalty to its doctrine as Nazism to the Nazi doctrine). In other words, they are loyal to the Church in transcendent realm, but they are loyal to Nazism inside the “fallen world”, the factual life. This dichotomy between the two worlds makes it possible for them to be loyal simultaneously to two opposite powers. The loyalty to Nazism is for them not as substantial as that to the Church. Their not wholehearted enthusiasm during saluting becomes, as if, the measure of their ultimate dedication to the Church, a measure of incompatibility between the ontological value of the two realms they simultaneously occupy. The partially fake Nazi salute of our Bishops is a sign of their theological disrespect for the area of human life (where Nazism is in charge) – for them to lie a little bit here is not a problem, is not a violation of their transcendent dedication. Truth is for the transcendent area, and not applicable to the immanent realm of life.

So, the Bishops understand very well the difference between them and the Nazis – it is, according to their view, an “objective” difference between Christianity as a religion and Nazism as secular ideology and movement. It is the difference between (transcendent) essence and (immanent) form of their (totalitarian) belief in one superior ideology for everybody in the world, between more “philosophical” and “spiritual” aspect of belief, and its “applied” and “existential” aspect (during the life time of human individual the transcendent sometimes needs some help from the immanent). The partnership between religious and secular ideology is a part of the historical destiny of both. Bishops’ Nazi salute is natural as soon as behavior inside life is considered unnatural. Their behavior is unnaturally natural and cannot be judged by the secular legal or moral court. It is exactly this ambiguity that is expressed in the ambivalence of our Bishops’ Nazi salute we observe in this photo. Their saluting to Hitler is unnatural for their transcendent (super-existential) self, and natural for their living ego located inside historical process. In trickiness of this very traditional differentiation between the two – our bishops are spiritually “ahead” and technically “behind” of “naïve” secular concept of what is right and what is wrong. The same problem of “spiritual” vs. “secular” “interpretation” of the guilty/not guilty moral verdict we can see in covering up by Catholic Church the molestation of pre-adolescent and adolescent boys by the Catholic priests that continues already for more than twenty centuries. Catholic priests, according to the logic of the Catholic Church, are guilty of molestation only inside secular frame of reference, but not guilty by the superior – transcendental criterion. That’s why molestation will continue, and nobody will be able to do anything about it – can the humans rule over the transcendent? – It could be sin of pride/hubris/superbia.