1914-1918: "The War That Killed God": An Answer

"God with us" was the slogan that seems more than strange today and which many German soldiers who went to war a hundred years ago, were engraved in their padlock. This little reminiscence from the historical archive helps us to better understand how devastating World War I 1914-1918 was for religious beliefs and beliefs. Pastors and priests incited their young parishioners with trivial assurances that God was on the side of the particular nation to which they belonged. The backlash to church participation in the war, which claimed the lives of almost ten million people, including two million Germans, is still having an effect today.

The Roman Catholic theologian Gerhard Lohfink accurately described the aftermath: "That 1914 Christians enthusiastically went to war against Christians, baptized against the baptized, was in no way regarded as a work of destruction on the church ...". The Bishop of London had urged his parishioners to fight "for God and the Fatherland" as if God needed our help. In neutral Switzerland, the young pastor Karl Barth was shaken to the core in view of the fact that his seminarians readily responded to the battle cry "To the weapons!". In the prestigious journal, The Christian World, he protested, "It is most distressing for me to see warlike liveliness and Christian faith mingled in hopeless confusion."

"The Game of the Peoples"

Historians have revealed the direct and indirect causes of the conflict, which began in a small corner of the Balkans and then pulled in the great powers of Europe. The French journalist Raymond Aron summed this up in his work "The Century of Total War" on p. 16: "The growing tensions involved three main points of conflict: the rivalry between Austria and Russia in the Balkans, the Franco-German Morocco conflict and the arms race - at sea between Great Britain and Germany and on land under all powers. The last two reasons for the war had laid the groundwork for the situation; the former supplied the sparking spark.

Cultural historians get to the bottom of the causes even further. They are investigating seemingly elusive phenomena such as national pride and fears dormant deep inside, both of which are mostly reciprocal. The Düsseldorf historian Wolfgang J. Mommsen put this pressure in a nutshell: "It was a struggle between the different political and intellectual systems that formed the basis for this" (Imperial Germany 1867-1918 [German: 1867-1918 German Empire], P. 209). Certainly, it was not a state alone that reveled in 1914's national egotism and patriotism. The British noted with relaxed serenity that their royal navy commanded over a quarter of the globe in an empire in which the sun never sets. The French had turned Paris into a city where the Eiffel Tower witnessed the creative use of technology.

"Happy as God in France," said a German saying from that time. With their special "culture" and half a century of rigorously realized achievements, the Germans felt that they had a sense of superiority, as the historian Barbara Tachman put it:

"The Germans knew that they were the strongest military force in the world, as well as the most skilled merchants and the busiest bankers, advancing on all continents, both supporting the Turks in financing a railway route from Berlin to Baghdad and the Latin American trade itself bound; they knew that they represented a challenge to the British naval power, and in the intellectual field they were able to systematically structure every branch of knowledge according to the scientific principle. They deservedly held a world-dominating role (The Proud Tower, p. 331).

It stands out how often the term "pride" appears in analyzes of the civilized world before 1914, and it should not go unmentioned that not every biblical version reproduces the proverbial: "arrogance comes before the fall" but, for example, in the Lutheran bible of 1984 in the correct wording also means: "Whoever should perish, he will be proud" (Spr 16,18).

Not only houses, farms and the entire male population of many a small town should fall victim to the annihilation. The much larger wound inflicted on European culture should become the "death of God," as some have called it. Even though the number of churchgoers in Germany declined in the decades before 1914, and the practice of the Christian faith throughout Western Europe was practiced primarily in the form of "lip service," the belief in a benevolent God in many people dwindled due to the horrible Bloodshed in the trenches, which was reflected in carnage never seen before.

The challenges of modern times

As the writer Tyler Carrington noted in relation to Central Europe, the institution's institution was "ever retreating" after the 1920 years, and what is even worse, "today the number of worshipers is at an unprecedented low". Now it has not been that before 1914 the Golden Age of Faith could be mentioned. A series of profound interventions from the religious camp of the defenders of the historico-critical method had led to a steady process of erosion in the belief in a divine revelation. Even between 1835 and 1836, David Friedrich Strauss' The Life of Jesus, critically edited, had questioned the traditionally postulated divinity of Christ. Even the disinterested Albert Schweitzer had portrayed Jesus as a louder apocalyptic preacher in his 1906 published work History of Jesus' Life Research, but in the end he was more of a good person than God-man. However, this notion reached "the critical mass" only with the disillusionment and the sense of being betrayed, which millions of Germans and other Europeans became aware of after 1918. On the drawing board, unconventional models of thought gained the same contour as the psychology of Freud, Einstein's theory of relativity, Marxism-Leninism and above all Friedrich Nietzsche's misunderstood statement "God is dead, [...] and we killed him". Many survivors of the First World War seemed to feel that their foundations had been irretrievably shaken. The 1920ers ushered in the jazz era in America, but for the average German began a very bitter time in which he suffered from the defeat suffered and the economic collapse. 1922 tasted a loaf of bread 163 Mark, a price that culminated in 1923 Mark in 200.000.000 Mark.

Even though the more left-leaning Weimar Republic (1919-1933) strove for a certain order, millions were seized by the nihilistic face of the war, which Erich Maria Remarque did not trace in his work in the West. Soldiers on home leave were devastated by the divergence of what was being spread about the war away from the front and the reality they had shown them in the form of rats, lice, shell funnels, cannibalism, and the shooting of prisoners of war. "Rumors were spread that our attacks were accompanied by musical sounds and that the war was a long delusion of song and victory for us [...] We only knew the truth about the war; because it stood before our eyes "(quoted from Ferguson, The War of the World, p. 119).

In effect, despite their surrender, the Germans, despite the conditions imposed by US President Woodrow Wilson, had to accept an army of occupation, burdened with reparations of 56 billion dollars, and the loss of vast territories in Eastern Europe (and not least most of its colonies ) and threatened by street battles of communist groups. President Wilson's comment on the peace treaty, which the Germans had to sign 1919, said he would not sign him if he were German. British statesman Winston Churchill prophesied, "This is not peace, it's a 20 year long truce." How right he was!

The faith in the retreat

Faith had to accept enormous setbacks in these post-war years. Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), carrier of the Iron Cross and later captured by the Nazis, saw in the 1920 years "years of darkness". At that time, most German Protestants belonged to 28 churches of the Lutheran or Reformed Church, a few to the Baptists and the Methodists. Martin Luther had been a strong proponent of obedience to the political authorities, almost at all costs. Until the formation of the nation state in the Bismarck era in the 1860s, the princes and monarchs exercised control over the churches on German soil. This created optimal conditions for a fatal nominalism in the general public. While world-renowned theologians discussed elusive subject areas of theology, worship in Germany followed largely the liturgical routine, and ecclesiastical anti-Semitism was commonplace. The German correspondent William L. Shirer reported on the religious divisions after the First World War:

Even the Weimar Republic was an abomination to most Protestant pastors; not only because it led to the deposition of kings and princes, but also because it owed its support mainly to Catholics and Socialists. "The fact that Chancellor Adolf Hitler 1933 signed a concordat with the Vatican shows how superficial large parts of German Christianity had become , We can sense the alienation tendencies between the Christian faith and the people, when we realize that such outstanding church personalities as Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) were the exception to the rule. In works such as his sequel, Bonhoeffer highlighted the weaknesses of the churches as organizations that, in his opinion, did not convey any real message regarding the fears of the people of Germany in the 20. Century to offer more. "Where faith survived," writes historian Scott Jersak, "he could no longer rely on the voice of a church seeking to divinely legitimize such [unbridled] bloodshed [as 1914-1918]." He added, "The kingdom God neither stands for empty utopian optimism nor for a slipped retreat into a guarded refuge. " The German theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965), who was forced to leave Germany 1933 after serving as a chaplain in the First World War, realized that the German churches had largely been silenced or meaningless. They could not have persuaded the people and governments to take on responsibility and change in a clear voice. "Not used to high-altitude flights, we were torn into the depths," he wrote later with regard to Hitler and the Third Reich (1933-1945). As we have seen, the challenges of modern times have always been at work. It took the horror and confusion of a grueling world war to bring its full effect to fruition.

Dead or alive?

Therefore, the devastating consequences of the "war that killed God" and not only in Germany. The church support of Hitler contributed to the fact that it came to an even worse horror, the Second World War. In this context, it should be noted that God was still alive for those who trusted him. A youth named Jürgen Moltmann had to witness how the life of many of his classmates was wiped out by high school in the terrible bombing of Hamburg. This experience eventually led to a revival of his faith, as he wrote:

"I sat 1945 as a prisoner of war in a camp in Belgium. The German Reich had collapsed. German culture had been dealt the death blow with Auschwitz. My hometown of Hamburg was in ruins, and in myself it did not look any different. I felt abandoned by God and the people and stifled my adolescent hopes [...] In this situation, an American pastor gave me a Bible and I began to read it. "

When Moltmann accidentally came upon the biblical passage quoted in Jesus' outcry on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" (Mt 27,46), he began to better understand the message of the Christian message. As he states, "I understood that this Jesus is the divine brother in our suffering. He gives the prisoner and the abandoned hope. He is the one who redeems us from the guilt that depresses us and deprives us of any future prospects [...] I had the guts to choose the whole thing at one point, the life one was perhaps ready for To end. Since then, this early communion with Jesus, the brother of suffering, has never failed me "(Who is Christ for us today ?, p. 2-3).

In hundreds of books, articles and lectures Jürgen Moltmann assures that God is not dead after all, that he lives on in the spirit emanating from his son, the one whom Christians call Jesus Christ. How impressive that even a hundred years after the so-called "war that killed God", people still find their way through the perils and turmoils of our time in Jesus Christ.

by Neil Earle


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