Monday, September 17, 2007

Cardinal shocks Germans with "Nazi" term

We read:

"A German cardinal has sparked outrage by warning that modern culture is at risk of descending into "degeneracy", a term which is taboo due to its close connection to the Nazis.

It is the second time in a week that a prominent figure has drawn fire for alluding to subjects linked to the Nazi era, highlighting how sensitive Germans still are - more than 60 years after the collapse of Hitler's regime.

Joachim Meisner, archbishop of the western city of Cologne, made a broad attack on modern culture in a speech to inaugurate a local museum on Friday. "When culture is disconnected from divine reverence, the cult descends into ritualism and culture degenerates. It loses its centre," he said.

The term 'degeneracy' is barely uttered these days in Germany. Hitler's Nazis used the concept to describe art and culture which failed to conform to their tastes. "I am shocked that the term "degenerate" is still used, I thought that was history in Germany," former North Rhine-Westphalia minister Michael Vesper said.

"Art is free and should not be pocketed by anyone. Anyone, like Cardinal Meisner, who is prepared to reject art which does not fit into his own pigeonhole of thought ... is stoking a dangerous fire," he told Express newspaper.


So I guess you are not allowed to say that the culture has degenerated from what it was. I certainly think the educational system has degenerated and that is a large part of culture. So I guess that makes me a Nazi. But is it Nazi to want kids to be able to read and write when they leave school?

It's interesting that the Cardinal talked about culture and his critics seem to be talking about art. That probably arises because the term "Kunst und Kultur" (art and culture) is a very common one in German. Germans reflexly team the two concepts. That does however seem as narrow-minded as his Eminence is accused of being.

The German term translated as "degenerate" is entartet and is probably a bit stronger than "degenerate". It means something like "emptied of what it is supposed to be". I personally think that is a good description of the Episcopal Church, for instance. It is certainly a mockery of a Christian church. And a lot of Episcopalians think that too.

And the Cardinal's view of modern Germany may not be too far off the mark anyway. Note what an Australian travel writer recently wrote about Nuremburg:

"Strolling down the broad granite-paved Great Road, I was overtaken by a young inline skater wired for music. Had Adolf Hitler seen him cruise past mindless graffiti, discarded drink cans and a decrepit landscape, he would have gone ballistic."

Regardless of what Hitler might or might not have thought of it, it is not a pretty picture. If it is a generally true picture, Germany clearly has degenerated.