In the course of this summer, I have been working on an article exploring the relationship between the Nordic/Norse/Germanic Pagan movement Asatru and the German Nazi regime. Because certain members of the Nazi party like Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler made use of old Germanic folklore, myths and symbols to promote Nazi ideas of racial and cultural superiority, it has often been assumed that all those who express a serious spiritual interest in Nordic or Germanic mythology and pre-Christian traditions "must" also be Nazis or fascists. My original inspiration to undertake this project was my acquaintance with many modern-day Norse Pagans (also called Heathens) who completely reject and deeply resent the idea that their beautiful spiritual tradition from ancient Europe has anything to do with the completely modern form of militarized political insanity that was Nazism. I expected to write a quick study exposing the superficiality of the Nazis' appropriation of Germanic Paganism and the absurdity of associating modern-day Norse/Germanic Pagans with Nazism, but my research took some unexpected turns that I find quite troubling and worth sharing.
My exploration of the Nazi period essentially confirmed my earlier view that Nazi usage of Pagan myths, symbols and traditions tended to be quite superficial, mainly oriented toward "proving" the greatness of the Aryan-Germanic race, as was the main thrust of Nazi culture and propaganda. What was surprising was discovering how very Christian many Nazis were, whether we talk about leading figures like Hitler and Goebbels or the rank and file. Though the Nazis did end up persecuting many Christians who refused to cooperate with them, this should not be taken as a sign that the Nazi were "anti-Christian" or rejected Christianity. Not at all! Most Nazis, including Hitler and Goebbels, saw their horrific regime as the logical extension of pro-German-nationalist forms of German Protestantism and the long-running anti-Semitism within both Catholicism and Protestantism. And, while the Nazi attempt to take over and reformulate Christianity in an ultra-German, anti-Semitic manner may be seen as a perversion of Christianity, it must be acknowledged that this perversion was well-rooted in certain forms of Christianity long before Adolf came along. Two books I would strongly recommend in this regard are "The Holy Reich" by Richard Steigmann-gall, and "A History of Catholic Antisemitism" by Robert Michael.
My other surprise was finding out that there are indeed a certain number of modern-day Norse Pagan/Asatru/Heathen groups that embrace ideas of racial superiority that are somewhat Nazi-like. Some of these are openly neo-Nazi, and the question then arises as to whether these are really "Pagans" at all or just Nazis posing as Pagans and manipulating Pagan symbolism, mythology and traditions much as the original Nazis did. I think the truth is that today, while many, and probably the majority of modern-day Norse Pagans completely reject Nazism and its attendant racism and anti-Semitism, there is a certain minority of Norse Pagans who inhabit a belief system that either slightly echoes, or even openly endorses, Nazi attitudes and ideas about race and related issues. My Asatru friends who completely reject all such racism and fascism will have to be vigilant in rejecting and refuting this line of thinking, as it has not gone away, it is still out there.
Returning to the theme of Nazified Christianity, I feel there are very disturbing parallels with modern American politics. Just as Nazi Christians had an unshakable conviction that Germany was a chosen nation especially beloved by God and Jesus, and that Germans had a natural right, if not an obligation, to conquer Europe in the name of Reich and God, I see some conservative Christians in the USA as centering their view of the world around a similar blend of nationalism, militarism, racism and religious conviction. The fear and hatred that is shown to Muslims, to immigrants, to foreigners, all the while saluting the flag and praising Jesus, is something that I think is very frightening. Substitute "America #1" for "Aryan Master Race," and anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant attitudes for the Nazis' anti-Semitism, though anti-Semitism is not entirely lacking here either, and you will see that there is a extremely noxious brew cooking here.
As a supporter of modern Paganism, I am concerned that this ugly mood could also end up being turned against Pagans, for being "un-American," un-Christian," etc. I call on all my Pagan friends to be alert in the months ahead.
On the less disturbing and more inspiring side, my research also exposed how the Nazis really could not find much in the ancient sources of Germanic myth and folklore to support their views of racism and anti-Semitism. When one goes back to the sources, the evidence is very clear: Norse Paganism is not a race-based form of spirituality. The old texts speak of tribal affiliations and upholding personal honor, but there is nothing about race. The gods themselves are known to consort with others such as giants! So, those who want to use Germanic Paganism, Asatru or Heathenry to make a case for racial hatred do not have firm ground to stand on. This is a good thing to note and be proud of.