World War II: Religion


Figure 1.--The Four Freedoms or Four Essential Human Freedoms is a series of four oil paintings created by Norman Rockwell in 1943 in the middle of World War II. THis is the Freedom of Religion painting. Rockwell's Four Freedoms theme was derived from the President Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address (January 1941). "In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms." The address was delivered about a year before the Japanese carrier attack at Pearl HArbor brought America into World War II. The President's contention was that four essential human rights (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom From Want and Freedom From Fear) should be universally protected. The President and Promeminister Churchill incorporated the Four Freedoms into the Atlantic Charter (August 1941). And they were also incorporated into the charter of the United Nations after the War (1945).

While race was a major factor in World War II, religion played a more limited role. There were, however, some religious aspects of the War. Religion had played a major role in Western life since the Christianization of the Roman Empire. For many in the 19th and 20th century the separation of church and state was a major aspect of modernizing and creating a more just society. It thus came a shock that totalitarianism (Fascism and Communism), the most secular of political movements, were a rejection of Western civilization and a reversion to barbarity. Both sought to destroy religion and replace with a kind of state worship with religious trappings. Christianity in the West helped to develop and save democracy by carving out a space that was beyond the control of the modern secular state. [Burleigh] This is why both the the Communists and NAZIs targeted religion. There were religious leaders who cooperated with the NAZIs (most notably in Croatia, Romania, and Slovakia). German church leaders were often obsequious to the NAZIs who planed to replace Christianity with a state religion. Japan's state religion, Shintoism, was part of the cultural complex which led to Japanese militarism. The most vicious religious conflict was in Yugoslavia where the Catholic Croat Ustache waged war against the the Orthodox Serbs. Hitler made the destruction of the Jews a main German war objective, but the Holocaust was more of a racial than a religious onslaught. While church leaders were often willing to accommodate the NAZIs, there were individual churchmen who heroically resisted. The role of the papacy is a still debated aspect of the War. And the the devotion of individuals was a force to be reconvened with. Stalin after the NAZI invasion paused the atheism campaign to draw on support from the Church. Mussolini unlike Hitler did not attempt to destroy the Church. And in some occupied countries, especially Poland, the Church was a focal point of resistance. Islam was a minor factor in the War, and generally used to support the NAZIs in the Middle East, Balkans, and Soviet Union, an affinity that survived the War.

Religion and Western Civilization

Religion had played a major role in Western life since the Christianization of the Roman Empire.

Secularization

For many in the 19th and 20th century the separation of church and state was a major aspect of modernizing and creating a more just society. It thus came a shock that totalitarianism (Fascism and Communism), the most secular of political movements, were a rejection of Western civilization and a reversion to barbarity. Both sought to destroy religion and replace with a kind of state worship with religious trappings.

Targeting Christianity

Christianity in the West helped to develop and save democracy by carving out a space that was beyond the control of the modern secular state. [Burleigh] This is why both the the Communists and NAZIs targeted religion. There were religious leaders who cooperated with the NAZIs (most notably in Croatia, Romania, and Slovakia), but this was largely for nationlist not religious issues.

Individual Countries


America


Britain


France


Germany

German church leaders were often obsequious to the NAZIs who planed to replace Christianity with a state religion. Hitler decided to go slow with his as he pursued othrr priorities such as remilitaization and the persecution of Jews. Hitler made the destruction of the Jews a main German war objective, but the Holocaust was more of a racial than a religious onslaught. While German church leaders were often willing to accommodate the NAZIs, there were individual churchmen who heroically resisted.

Italy

The role of the papacy is a still debated aspect of the War. And the the devotion of individuals was a force to be reconvened with. Mussolini unlike Hitler did not attempt to destroy the Church. Pope Pius XI finally came to terms with the Italian state. He signed a concordat with Mussolini who then recognized the Vatican as an independant state. Pius is an often ovelooked pope, but he served at a criticl time in European history--the rise of the totalitarian states rejecting liberal democracy, capitlism, and relgion. And there were voices within the CHurch that wanted to cooperate wuth Fascism as a way of fighting Communism which wasc more opposed to the Church than Fascism. Pius' biographer writes, "Adolf Hitler saw the pope--a man whose army was nothing more than Scriptures--as a threat to his drive toward world domination. Closer to the Vatican, Benito Nussolini shared Hitlr's hatred of this troublesome 89-year old pope .... Pius XI had few allies at the Vatican. Most of the cardinals and bishopsaround the popepreferred the status quo. Many were appeasers and anti-Semites and some even secretly sided with Hitler and Mussolini. For that reason, the popr had reached beyond the Vatican, had identified and singled out arogressive American priest," [Eisner] That priest was John LaFarge, an American Jesuit. Pius read his book, Interracial Justice. LaFarge argued that 'facialism and nationalism were fundamentally the same." Pius called LaFarge to Rome where they workd on an encyclical condeming Nazism and anti-Semitism. Pius hoped that anebcy\lical would raise public support in Europe and America for resisting Hitkler and his Fascist allies. Conservative churchmwn were, however, inclined to appease Hitler and plotted to delay the encyclical, It wold be derailed by Pius' death (1939). [Eisner]

Japan

Japan's state religion, Shintoism, was part of the cultural complex which led to Japanese militarism. It was an imprtant compnent of Bushido.

Poland

In some occupied countries, especially Poland, the Church was a focal point of resistance.

Slovakia


Soviet Union

The Russian Revolution brought the Communists to power who promoted atheism (1917). Stalin persued a ruthless program to supress both the Orthodox Church and Islam. Under Stalin, the program was pursued with great vigor. The collectivization program and the Ukranian Famine significantly ubndermined the peasantry whivh had been a bastion of the Orthodox Church and traditions. Stalin pursued the atheism campaign with considerable brutality. The program had considerable success, but did not suceed in totally destroying religion. The campaign was largely suspended during World war II after the German invasion (1941). Stalin position the war effort as an egfgfort to save Mother Russia and Russian traditions. After Stalin's death, the atheism campaign was not suspened, but it was no longer brutally pursued. Aperson could get into trouble for teaching children about God, mostly people outside the family. And religious devotion was not good for aerson's career or even cess to higher education. Stalin after the NAZI invasion paused the atheism campaign to draw on support from the Church.

Yugosalvia

The most vicious religious conflict was in Yugoslavia where the Catholic Croat Ustache waged war against the the Orthodox Serbs.

Religions

World War II was a world war. Thus all of the world's great religions were involved to varying degrees in the War, especially Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Shinto a more limited relogion played an important role in Japan's march to war. Hitler launched a war against Jews upon seizing power. There were about 0.5 milliom Jews in Germany, many were able to escape. Thre were many more Jews located on Germany's borders, especially Poland and the Soviet Union, bith coutries target by Hitler for destruction. Islam was a minor factor in the War, and generally used to support the NAZIs in the Middle East, Balkans, and Soviet Union, an affinity that survived the War.

Sources

Eisner, Peter. The Pope's Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI's Campaign to Stop Hitler (2013), 304p.







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Created: 6:32 PM 4/27/2013
Last updated: 6:32 PM 4/27/2013