Volume > Issue > Are the Dark Clouds of Persecution Beginning to Gather?

Are the Dark Clouds of Persecution Beginning to Gather?

CONSIDERATION OF A HISTORIC PARALLEL

By F. Douglas Kneibert | July-August 2009
F. Douglas Kneibert is a retired newspaper editor and a 1999 convert from Protestantism. He writes from Sedalia, Missouri.

Mention the words “persecution of the Catholic Church” and eyes begin to roll. What persecution? Are churches in the West being burned, priests being hunted down, and believers being thrown into prison? Obviously, no. But those are the wrong questions. In Western democratic societies, persecution seldom bursts forth on the scene full-blown. It’s more likely to come in steadily escalating phases, often disguised as something else — even as something good. Might we be in the early stages of just such a progression?

To speak of persecution of a religious minority is to be directed to Holocaust studies, which constitute the most exhaustive historical examination we have of how democratic civil and religious rights can be undermined and lost in a remarkably short timespan. The manner in which this process unfolded may have something to say to the Catholic Church today. Obviously, there are vast differences between Germany of the early 1930s and the U.S. today. But there are also some unsettling similarities.

It hardly bears repeating that Germany in the early 20th century was heir to a rich cultural heritage that was far removed from its barbaric origins. Or so many thought. The Constitution of the Weimar Republic, out of which the Third Reich emerged, granted civil and religious rights to its citizens in conformity with the European norm at the time.

Although Germany had a long history of hostility toward the Jews, the first stage of the process that led directly to Hitler’s “final solution” was centered in the popular culture during the waning days of the Weimar Republic and the early years of the Nazi regime, which assumed power in 1933. A virulent anti-Semitism found its voice in the media, in books, in motion pictures, and even in children’s literature. When it came to demonizing the Jew, Adolf Hitler had literally written the book with Mein Kampf.

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