Saturday, July 26, 2008

Science in Chains

The effort of Hitler's National Socialism to co-opt the universities and bring them in line with Nazi ideology is a chilling reminder to all of us about the importance of academic freedom.

Bush's effort to silence the voice of research on global warming and stem cell technology and to foist upon the nation's school children abstinence rather than sex education and the pseudo-science of creationism and intelligent design would be lauded by Hitler - this is the way it's done. Truth be damned. Everything in service of the state and it's program.

I've been reading some material on renown Old Testament scholar, Gerhard von Rad, who taught during the war years at the University of Jena in Germany. During that period of time, National Socialism sought to de-Judaize the church.

Denying the Jewish ancestry of Jesus, the Nazi ideologists sought to eliminate such words as "hosanna" and "hallelujah" from church creeds and hymns, launching a full-scale attack on the Old Testament, claiming that Christians only need to know and study the New Testament.

Their purpose: rid the country of everything "Un-German in worship and confession; liberation from the Old Testament with its Jewish morality of profit and its stories of cattle traders and pimps" (Interpretation, July, 2008, p.241, in order to shape the faith in the image of National Socialism.

To read how easily so many theologians and pastors caved in brings to mind the ease with which the Christian right aligned itself with the Bush Administration and its policies, doing much the same thing Hitler did - all in the name of morality, preserving the well-being of the nation and its heritage, protecting families and children. The neo-cons and theo-cons would felt at home in Nazi Germany.

Though we all cherish freedom, history proves how easily frightened people will trade their freedom for security. Eric Fromm, having witnessed first-hand the rise of National Socialism and the "escape from freedom," details the trade-off. In an attempt to "control" life and build security, instincts lead toward:
  1. Authoritarianism: Fromm characterises the authoritarian personality as containing a sadist element and a masochist element. The authoritarian wishes to gain control over other people in a bid to impose some kind of order on the world, they also wish to submit to the control of some superior force which may come in the guise of a person or an abstract idea.
  2. Destructiveness: Although this bears a similarity to sadism, Fromm argues that the sadist wishes to gain control over something. A destructive personality wishes to destroy something it cannot bring under its control.
  3. Conformity: This process is seen when people unconsciously incorporate the normative beliefs and thought processes of their society and experience them as their own. This allows them to avoid genuine free thinking, which is likely to be anxiety provoking.
As I read the above, I couldn't help but think of Fundamentalist leaders like Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and John Hagee ... and political leaders like Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush and their sycophants, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

With only the fewest of students enrolling for his courses, and during the war years, not one doctoral student, Gerhard von Rad nonetheless held forth, building his work on the book of Deuteronomy, and standing firm on the point: we understand Jesus when we understand the Book of Deuteronomy, and when we understand Jesus, the church stands free, a servant of God rather than a minion of the state.

Von Rad, though entirely a man of his times, stood for academic freedom against the heavy hand of the state.

These days, the state is likely to buy a university with money rather than coerce it with guns. The allure of big money - government and corporate funding for research (too often in the service of national security and profit) is leading us down a pathway growing ever-darker. Sadly, our universities are playing into this by catering to a student body intent on fun and gain rather than learning and virtue. Even our private Christian colleges have succumbed to the allure of money by stacking their trustee boards with the wealthy, who are often members of right wing cabals.

This nation needs a terrific housecleaning ... and people of good will and intelligence, people of faith, have to see the attack on our freedom and character and, like von Rad, stand against it, to stem the tide, and bring about a better day.