It is long past time to end the use of Nazi and holocaust analogies regarding legal abortion and contraception in the United States. The practice substitutes a weak, inflammatory analogy for substantive disagreement. It elevates the most cynical kind of demagoguery over respect for constitutional democracy. It is abusive towards the the religious views of those for whom abortion can be a moral choice, which includes most of organized Judaism. What's more, the Anti-Defamation League has repeatedly denounced such uses as a further abuse of the victims of the Nazi holocaust itself.
What is remarkable to me is that some of those who engage in this also claim to embrace civility in public life, and do not seem to see any inconsistency in their approach.
The most dramatic example was when Rick Warren hosted a 2008 presidential candidate forum in the sanctuary of his church featuring Barack Obama and John McCain. Warren opened and closed the nationally televised event by appealing for people who politically disagree to treat each other civilly. But Warren managed to squeeze into his conversation with McCain the idea that many evangelicals consider abortion to be a holocaust. ("I'm prolife," smiled John McCain. No holocaust enabler he!) But lest anyone hold out the idea that Warren meant a generic holocaust and was not making a Nazi analogy, consider that the next day, Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News and World Report asked him about the point.
If they (Evangelicals, among whom Warren counts himself) think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust, and for them it would like if I'm Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. I don't care how right he is on everything else, it's a deal breaker for me. I'm not going to vote for a Holocaust denier....This brings us to a rising star on the Religious Right who also recently made an unfair and unsupported Nazi analogy. But he really, really ought to know better, as journalist (and Talk to Action contributor) Greg Metzger makes clear.
The perp this time is Eric Metaxas, a biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian known for his stand against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Metzger reports that Metaxas compares the federal requirement that contraception be covered in employer provided health insurance packages "to unnamed laws passed in the early stages of Hitler’s rise to power, that it is putting the United States on a similar course to the horrors of Nazi Germany and that it is therefore incumbent upon Christians in America to view the struggle against the HHS Mandate as Bonhoeffer viewed the struggle against Nazism at its earliest stages."
Metaxas has been saying such things on national television and in other prominent venues.
So let's summarize. A biographer of anti-Nazi hero Bonhoeffer claims, providing no evidence, that a minor albeit controversial provision of a government insurance regulation, is like laws promulgated in the early years of the Nazi era, and the struggle against it carries the implied moral equivalence to Bonhoeffer's Christian struggle against the Nazis.
Oh yeah, and Metzger also reports that "Among Eric Metaxas’ many virtues is his professed commitment to Christian civility." Metzger avers, however:
It seems to me that if citizens are going to accuse their duly elected leaders of complicity in horrors comparable to those that launched the Nazi regime then civility would demand that they explain their charges with the care and scholarship that they warrant. Certainly this was Bonhoeffer’s method of operation. He put teeth to his charges against the Nazi regime and did not rely on hyperbole and media sloganeering alone in his resistance to their laws.It is remarkable to me how public figures like Warren and Metaxas whose careers are based on the idea that values matter; that the words we use and how we use them reflect those values; and that words and how we use them are the crucible for the values of civil discourse -- can so openly and flagrantly betray those values. Even more remarkable to me is that they pretty much get away with it.
But let's (briefly) go with the idea that requiring employers to include contraception coverage in insurance packages is an evil in the same league as the Nazi holocaust, and that President Obama in this scenario is Hitler and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is, say Adolph Eichmann. That would make those of us who elect Democratic pols and support the contraception regulation, Nazi collaborators.
It would be tempting to think that this is taking the analogy a bridge too far. I wish I could say that it is, but I think that bridge has long been crossed. Whether there is any going back, I really don't know.
There is a point where analogy can become or merge with the underlying belief, and these can be difficult to untangle, even if someone wants to: Particularly when a political analogy morphs into a metaphor for the very definition of one's purpose in life and the lives of all other people of good will. (Suffice to say that there can be grave dangers when people come to believe their own propaganda.)
Indeed, Warren and Mataxas's views are far from exceptional in the increasingly unhinged view of many on the Religious Right generally, and the anti-abortion movement in particular. In their view, we are all indeed collaborators in heinous evil (and the agenda of evil is not limited to contraception regs). If the trend holds, it may be just a matter of time before we learn how Metaxas and his rabble of Bonhoeffer wannabes intend to address the Nazi regime and the collaborators among us.
Metaxas recently said:
“This [the HHS Mandate debate] is so oddly similar to where Bonhoeffer found himself” in the early stages of Nazi Germany. “If we don’t fight now, if we don’t really use our bullets now, we will have no fight five years from now…it’s the millimeter that is that line which we cross. I’m sorry to say that I see these parallels, I really wish I didn’t…We are getting a second chance…so we don’t make the same mistakes and go down the same road.”Things might be different if the likes of Metaxas and Warren ever realize what they have done and step-up to undo the damage, and to lead their people in fresh and more constructive directions. But whether they do or not, new leaders pop up all the time in all sectors of society. Let's hope that sufficient people of conscience soon rise to the occasion.