Over the last year I’ve been re-reading the responses of “confessing Christians” like Barth, Bonhöffer, and Niemöller to the Nazi threat. Now I’m turning my attention to Paul Tillich. He had been an Army chaplain in World War 1, and he was an early and vocal critic of Nazi power and antisemitism.
I came across a volume of his “wartime radio broadcasts into Nazi Germany.” They are powerful–and so much more down to earth and clear than what I remembered of his philosophical writings. These are not for an academic audience but for the people of Germany. They are grounded in solid philosophy and theology, but are meant to be prophetic warnings, to stir Christian people to radical obedience to Christ and opposition to the Nazis.
He professes his love for Germany (something the editor says the American government couldn’t understand). But he hates everything about the Nazi power grab, and their murderous regime. He criticizes fellow Christians who were silent about Nazi antisemitism, silent about their abuse of power until it affected the church.
His writings struck me as strangely relevant to today. Read these clippings in the light of current events–maybe you will be struck as I was.
The cross is opposed to “holiness of nation, race, blood and power.”
“Tillich’s great distance from the Confessing Church in his rejection of Nazism derived from two aspects of his theological life. First, he was closely associated with Jewish friends, intellectuals, and causes. Second. his theology was political. The Confessing Church, at Barmen and later, was relatively apolitical and concerned primarily about the freedom of the church. For Tillich, Nazism was not to be submitted to even in matters of the state; it was to be defeated. Christianity was grounded in and depended on its Jewish roots, and to be anti-Jewish was to be antiChristian. The Nazi fight with Judaism was of the movement’s essence, necessary to the blood-bound folk paganism of Nazism.”
The real issue in the struggle between prophetic religion, whether Judaism or Christianity, and Naziism, is a human question, “whether human beings should remain bound to their limited space, to blood and to nation, or if the meaning and value of human existence is to reach out over such boundedness to a realm beyond nation and beyond every limited space.”
“Love breaks out of the prison of individualism and nationalist stupidity. Love goes to another person, even one with a different language or of a different race, and returns from him richer.”
“Freedom in spirit, bondage in life: this contradiction rests as a curse over German history. Protestantism has not been able to defeat this curse. The freedom of a Christian person–the right, in the name of God, to protest against ungodly authorities–was surrendered in favor of subjugation to a new tyranny, that of doctrine. And the freedom of a Christian person was not understood as political freedom. The godly right to protest against ungodly political authorities was never recognized. As diabolical as they may be, even the diabolical is ordered by God, if it proceeds in the name of the government …”
“German Protestants … offered resistance only when the church itself was being attacked.”
“The belief in justice is not only indestructible in the depth of the human heart; it is also borne by religion. Every higher religion has had gods whose special, holy task it was to give laws and protect justice. But nowhere is the thought of justice more closely connected with the idea of God than in the religion of the prophets. For them, God is first, and above all, the God of justice. The unjust judges who pervert justice in accordance with the will of the ruling powers, the king who despotically misuses his power against his subjects and takes from them what is their due, the official who decides arbitrarily and not in accordance with justice- they all were placed under divine judgment and repudiated by the prophets with powerful words. God’s holiness takes effect in his justice, and no one is more repugnant to him than the one who destroys justice. That is certainly one of the bases for the present rulers’ hatred for the Old Testament. Whoever destroys justice is an enemy of the God of the prophets, and this God is his enemy because he is the God of justice, the true God.”
“A nation that is undignified–because it has come to be without justice–sees in another nation the strange, the hostile, a power that must be met with power, but not a person who must be met as a person, that is, whose rights must be acknowledged, as one desires to have one’s own rights acknowledged.”
“No religion has grasped and established the reverence for the sick and weak as deeply as has Christianity. The cynical cruelty and indifference of your present leaders toward everyone who is weak and sick is connected most closely with their lack of understanding in respect to the religious dimension of our life.”
“Reverence for the troubled and burdened has no place in the hearts of your present leaders, and they don’t want it to hold a place in your hearts.”
“Power that is not united with justice is only apparently power and is, in reality, the deepest powerlessness; and justice that possesses no outward power is only apparently powerless but is, in reality, an invincible power.”
“Power should protect life, by protecting the rights and being that every living thing has.”