Thursday, February 21, 2013

110 years ago: Kaiser Wilhelm II expresses his religious views

Much of the content of this post is taken from the book Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain by Geoffrey G. Field, published by Columbia University Press in 1981.

Theologians taking an increasingly liberal and allegorical view of the Bible, especially the Old Testament; a form of replacement theology; an identification of Christianity with the interests of one's own nation, and a mystical view of that nation and its leaders in God's unfolding plan--if those sound like things that are present in the early 21st century, they were also present in the early 20th century--in Germany.

As Germany's head of state from 1888-1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) was also the head of the nation's Lutheran church. In the early 1900s Kaiser Wilhelm became a great admirer of the ideas of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927), a native of England who had moved to Germany as a young man and had become a firm Germanophile. The book by Mr. Chamberlain that ttracted the admiration of the Kaiser was titled Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, published in Germany in 1899 and published in English in 1910 under the title The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.

Chamberlain's aim in the Foundations was to substantiate two fundamental convictions--that humanity was divided into distinct races which differed in their physical structure and mental and moral capacities, and that the struggle and interaction of these races was the main propelling force of history and the key to understanding cultural, political, and social development...His book was designed to show the Germanic or Teutonic race as the main architect of modern European civilization. (Field, p. 180).

So taken was the Kaiser with Mr. Chamberlain and his magnum opus that he wrote the following in a letter to Mr. Chamberlain on December 31, 1901 (Field, p. 253):

Truly, let us thank Him up there, that he still views us Germans with such favor; for God sent your book to the German people and you personally to me. You were chosen by Him to be my ally and I shall thank Him eternally that He did so...The German Michael is waking up and that is good for him, then he will be on the alert and will achieve something; and once he has begun to work he will accomplish more than anyone else...Once the Teutonic Catholics have been brought by you into the open conflict between Teutons and Catholics, that is "Romans," then they wil be "awakened" and will "know" that which the father confessors have been trying to hide from them--that they are being kept in humiliating subjection to "Rome" as an instrument against "Germany"...And now, for the New Year 1902, I wish God's blessing and Christ's strength to you my comrade-in-arms and ally in the struggle for the Teutons against Rome, Jerusalem etc. The feeling of fighting for a cause that is absolutely good and holy carries the guarantee of victory.
According to Professor Field (p. 253):

With good reason did one close aide of Wilhelm regret that "religion and mysticism are now playing an increasingly large part in the Emperor's speeches."

At the time that Mr. Chamberlain's book was attracting attention, a liberal view of the Bible was becoming more popular in Germany. In January 1902, an Assyriologist named Freidrich Delitzsch delivered an address to the German Oriental Society titled Babel und Bibel (Babylon and the Bible), in which he argued the cultural superiority of ancient Babylon over Israel, and that evidence from recent excavations at Nineveh and Babylon showed strong Babylonian influences over Israel. Mr. Delitzsch also argued that the monotheism of the Old Testament was largely borrowed from Babylonian sources. Kaiser Wilhelm invited Mr. Delitzsch to a private audience a month later and was shocked by the professor's rejection of the deity of Jesus Christ and the divine inspiration of the Old Testament (Field, p. 255).

While still professing to be a devout Lutheran, the Kaiser, under the influence of the ideas of Mr. Chamberlain, was gradually changing his religious views. A year after his original lecture, Mr. Delitzsch addressed the German Oriental Society, and criticized churches and schools for resisting "science" concerning the Old Testament. The Oriental Society's president, Admiral Hollmann, was sensitive to the criticism coming from Bible-believing Christians, and requested Kaiser Wilhelm's formal permission before publishing Professor Delitzsch's views in the society's bulletin. The Kaiser, who was having trouble clarifying his views, received a lengthy letter from Mr. Chamberlain, who argued that God's revelation in history was continuous and not limited to Israel, and that in the modern age, "Germany had a special mission: to rediscover and safeguard the vital essence of Christianity" (Field, p. 257).

Influenced by Mr. Chamberlain's letter, the Kaiser wrote his reply to Admiral Hollmann on February 15, 1903. Quoting Professor Field (pp. 257-258):

Wilhelm's letter to Hollman endeavored to harmonize these ideas with a somewhat more orthodox position; the result was confusing, but illustrative of the intellectual transition he was making. He reproached Delitzsch for his polemical style and for disturbing the faith of many contemporaries, and went on to discuss two forms of revelation--"historical" and "purely religious, preparing the way for the future Messiah." The first was almost pure Chamberlain: there was a continuous revelation in history in figures like Hammurabi (the hero of Delitzsch), Homer, Charlemagne, Luther, Shakespeare, Goethe, Kant, and Kaiser Wilhelm I. For the sake of orthodoxy he added Abraham and Moses to the list. God, Wilhelm claimed, guided mankind's advance by "donating" to nations the great intellects of the world; he also "revealed himself differently to the different races according to their position and rank in the scale of civilization." With his description of the second, "more religious," form of revelation, Wilhelm attempted to draw closer to orthodox Protestants and fulfill his obligations as head of the church. Here he declared that a single thread of revelation ran from Abraham and Moses, through the Prophets and the Psalmists to Christ himself. Abraham's race was portrayed as "ever trying to hold fast to their monotheism" under repeated and heavy pressures, and protected by God until the heralded Messiah appeared. In the latter parts of the letter, however, Wilhelm returned to Chamberlain, borrowing ideas and extracting whole phrases to argue that sections of the Old Testament were historical and "did not reveal God's word." Their value was symbolic only. From his constant repetition of the word "perhaps," it seems that Wilhelm both sensed his own underlying confusion and wished somehow to soften the contrast between himself and Protestant orthodoxy. Nonetheless he pressed on with a Chamberlain-style conclusion reaffirming faith in the "one and only God," recognizing that modern research would alter perceptions of the Old Testament and predicting (in words drawn from Chamberlain) "that much of the nimbus of the chosen people [the Jews] will thereby disappear.

Published on February 19, 1903, the Kaiser's letter caused an uproar. Some conservative circles saw it as marking a breach with...liberal Protestant theology, although they disapproved of the new direction Wilhelm had taken. Very few contemporaries suspected the influence of Chamberlain...
For all his influence over the Kaiser's letter, Mr. Chamberlain took exception to much of it, denying that Abraham was a historical figure at all and objecting to the idea that Abraham was a herald of Christ. Mr. Chamberlain also disputed that the Jews had developed a true monotheism (Field, p. 259).

Again quoting Professor Field (pp. 259-260):

Under Chamberlain's guidance Wilhelm's opinions gradually shifted from Lutheranism to a racist Germanic Christianity; the Hollmann letter marks a stage in this journey. Moreover, the unrelenting hostility toward Catholicism and Judaism that fills this correspondence offers a vivid illustration of how closely the German state was identified with Protestantism and how deeply ingrained was repugnance to genuine religious pluralism in the highest circles of the land.

The humiliation of defeat in war and the social disintegration of the Reich in 1918 reinforced the worst racial fears of Wilhelm and Chamberlain. In its last decade their correspondence moved in that strange paranoid world of collapsed empires, Bolsehvik terror, Jewish and Freemason conspiracies, and secret hopes for a new crusade against the forces of racial decay and materialism that is so characteristic of the writings and letters of the extreme right in the postwar era. Wilhelm blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat, his own exile, and the Weimar Republic, and accepted the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as an accurate description of their unwavering conspiratorial resolve. His letters, very disjointed in thought, violent in rhetoric, and punctuated by scores of exclamation marks, reveal a mind derailed, a fertile intelligence brought--on the subjects of race and religion at least--to the borders of insanity. He continued to read Chamberlain and was enthralled by Mensch und Gott in 1921. By this time he had abandoned Abraham and the Old Testament altogether--his world, like that of Chamberlain, was one massive struggle, a vast theodicy of German and Jew.
Mr. Chamberlain became an early and enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, especially after Mr. Hitler paid a visit to Mr. Chamberlain, then in failing health, at his home in Bayreuth in 1923. Although he was a man of the Second Reich, Mr. Chamberlain is often thought of as a spiritual father of the Third Reich, and the Nazis paid tribute to his influence on his death. Mr. Hitler paid a last visit to Mr. Chamberlain shortly before his passing, and attended his funeral (as did Prince August Wilhelm, son of the former Kaiser) (Field, pp. 432-445).

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