We are meditating on Evil and how it succeeds so often: how it is that Hitler prevailed in his malevolent dreams so successfully.
What forces were behind Hitler’s “success” in his lifetime? Paul Ricoeur, in his classic work, The Symbolism of Evil, addresses such questions in depth. He analyzes the first level of human evil as defilement and the fight against impurity.
In doing so he is also naming the first tenet of belief in Hitler’s religion: “Some are pure and other are impure; preserve yourself from all impurities. Non-Aryans are impure. Therefore do what it takes to rid yourself of non-Aryans. They have no rights anyway because they are defiled.”
This religious appeal on Hitler’s part helps explain his success: It was so profound in the sense that it appealed to a race that felt defiled, i.e., an uncommon self-loathing that followed on the defeat of the imperial German people in the World War I, as well as the guilty conscience of a pseudo-Christianity.
The question for today: Is a profound self-loathing also currently penetrating many in our society? Adrienne Rich has warned that patriarchy includes self-loathing which she calls a “fatalistic self-hatred.”
Is this why many powerful men and their powerful institutions of media as well as political partying are in denial about climate change and are actively committed to silencing the young (and others including Pope Francis) who call us to action? Is there a collective death wish in the air today? Is it born of species narcissism but also of patriarchy?
Just a week ago, while lecturing in Calgary, Canada, I met a woman whose teen age son attempted suicide. As I told her, she was not alone.
Suicides among the young are at all time highs today. While the older ones fret over how to increase their gains in the Wall Street game of roulette, the earth burns. The future is for sale. The young are afterthoughts.
Is a myth that immigrants are “impure” capable of seizing our souls again today? Or that people of dark skin? Or people who worship as Muslim? Or anyone who is not white or fully abled or does not identify as “Christian”(whatever that means in such a context)?
Truth is it has to be manifested as Jesus said: “By their fruits you will know them.”).
The signs of our times, which we are all obliged to pay attention to, would seem to be reminding us of the myth of defilement—a myth that propagated the Holocaust.
Hitler generated religions rites of purification that ranged from setting the Reichstag on fire to the bloodletting of young men sacrificed to the gods of war and nationalism to mass rituals and finally to the “Ultimate Solution”.
Scapegoating Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and other “defiled ones” was a rite of purification to rid him and his followers of their defilement. The murder of the Jews was a “magical ritual slaughter,” says James Rhodes in his study on The Hitler Movement.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 389f.
Banner Image: Speech of Nazi theologian Ludwig Müller after his formal inauguration as Bishop Reich in Berliner Dom, September 23, 1934. Muller speaks to followers of the Deutsche Christen (“Positive Christianity”) religious arm of Naziism. Photo by Georg Pahl, from the German Federal Archive, on Wikimedia Commons
Queries for Contemplation
Do you experience a sense of defilement alive and well in our times? What would be some examples of that? Does loss of a job arouse such a deep sense of failure? How does one cleanse that sense before it leads to self destruction (such as drug addictions) and horrendous projections onto others?
Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.