An important argument behind the Republican drive for "faith-based programs" and religiously motivated public services is the idea that purely secular programs and services lack the appropriate values and morals to be very successful; churches, which have traditionally provided these services, also provide the values people need. This is not the first time such arguments have been made.
In The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945, Richard Steigmann-Gall writes:
In June 1933 [Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick] denounced the expansion of public, secular welfare during Weimar, which confessional organizations had resented as an invasion and secularization of their domain. Emphasizing that welfare could never do without a Christian sense of charity and love of neighbor, Frick promised that church organizations would be called on to help build the new Volksgemeinschaft. That same month, Göring issued a similar statement, proclaiming that the Nazi State should seek active cooperation with Christian welfare organizations.
This really isn’t very different from something that could have been written recently in America. Imagine:
In June 2003 Faith Czar Jim Towey denounced the expansion of public, secular welfare during Democratic administrations, which conservative Christian organizations had resented as an example of “militant secularism” and invasion of their domain. Emphasizing that welfare could never do without a Christian sense of charity and love of neighbor, Towey promised that church organizations would be called on to help build the new national community. That same month, Dick Cheney issued a similar statement, proclaiming that the Republican State should seek active cooperation with Christian welfare organizations.
That really didn’t take much re-writing. All I needed to do was replace a couple of names, re-word a couple of phrases that don’t apply exactly right to America, and I have a new quote which almost no would have questioned as genuine. So what? Does this mean anything?
Well, it’s not evidence that Republicans are Nazis, if that’s what you are wondering. It’s certainly evidence that the Nazi Party was not as anti-religious and militantly secular as many seem to believe — they were at least as religious as the GOP is today. Some may argue that this was all just rhetoric designed to placate voters, but don’t some make the same argument about the GOP? Either way, the comparison is apt.
It’s also a point of evidence about how totalitarian, fascist regimes work hard to integrate religion into their agenda because religion is such an important part of people’s lives. When people believe that one political party embodies all religious values and as representing the nation’s religion, then it’s harder for people to see how that same party is political rather than religious — it’s harder for them to see it’s flaws, corruption, errors, etc. Religion is a good way to rally people behind you, so political parties naturally reach out to popular religion as much as possible.
You’d think that, eventually, religious people would start to get wise and figure this out — both on a personal and a historical level. You’d think that they’d eventually start to resist such pandering and the political corruption of their religious beliefs. Some always do, obviously — some resisted in Germany and didn’t fall for what the Nazis did. More seem to fall for it than not, however.
There’s a sucker born ever minute, and part of the problem might be religion itself. After all, it’s not as though most religious leaders actively promote skepticism, critical thinking, doubt, and questioning in their followers. Instead, they promote faith in authority figures. That’s very fertile ground for authoritarian politicians looking to use religion for political purposes and authoritarian religious figures looking to impose their religion by force..