The New Nazism

Hundreds of neo-Nazis, sporting black leather jackets and swastikas, recently convened at a military cemetery to commemorate the death of their World War II heroes: Nazi soldiers and SS troops. The news media are wringing their hands over the revival of Nazism. But what should Christians make of it? To some extent, it's simple teenage rebellion. One German high school teacher said, "I go into my class to teach about the Holocaust, and the students mock me by giving the Heil Hitler salute." Yet if you ask the students what it means, most don't even know. All they care about is flaunting a social taboo. And yet, like most movements, this one harbors an inner core that is dead serious. Serious enough to mount violent attacks on foreigners. Serious enough to be responsible for sixteen deaths this year. Its slogan is "Germany for the Germans!" Polls show that a disturbing number of Germans quietly agree with the slogan. You see, the philosophy underlying Nazism is really not so alien to the way many modern people think. Nazism arose as a result of the Enlightenment and what it called the Rights of Man. Until that time, human rights in Western civilization rested on the Bible, on the belief that we are all equal before the Creator. But as Christianity was rolled back, people tried to find a new basis for rights. Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, says the assertion of the Rights of Man "meant nothing more nor less than that from then on Man, and not God's command . . . should be the source of Law." But what is man that he should possess all these wonderful rights by the bare fact of his existence? Apart from God, the Rights of Man dangle in the in air without any basis. So into the vacuum rushed all sorts of ideologies. Nazism tried to lay a basis in race. Hitler's motto was that right and wrong are defined by what's good for the German people. Marxism tried to fill the vacuum with class structure. Lenin's motto was that right and wrong are defined by what's good for the proletariat—represented, of course, by the Communist party. And come to think of it, don't we hear echoes of the same thinking in some of our own radical movements here at home? Some minorities and feminists define right and wrong by what's good for their own race or gender groups. Hannah Arendt, who is of Jewish background, sees clearly what is at stake. Any time you take away transcendent rights based on God's authority, she says, right and wrong become relative. What counts as good becomes what's good for me or my group. So when you see people shaking their heads over the neo-Nazis in Germany, gently help them to see the beam that may be in their own eye. Ask them: How do you define right and wrong? Do you define it as what's good for me? For my family? For my country? If so, then we are really no different from the skinheads who just want what's good for Germany. There will be no lasting solution to neo-Nazism (or any other ism) until we are willing to commit ourselves to a transcendent definition of what is good. Until we are willing once again to base human rights and dignity on the Creator.


Chuck Colson


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