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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Metaxas Mantra (UPDATE)

Some of my Catholic readers may not be familiar with Eric Metaxas, and some others who are may not know just how committed Metaxas is to defining the HHS Mandate as a  monstrous attack on religious freedoms. Since I only have referenced a tweet he made last weekend I may have left the impression that I am overdoing his stance. Make no mistake--for Metaxas this is a singularly awful moment in American religious history and one on par with the beginnings of the Nazi Regime in Germany. He has shared these opinions widely and regularly, including the appearance on MSNBC pictured on this page. He is an activist with an unusually wide reach and his historiography is therefore of real significance to the ongoing debate, and we owe it to the quality of that debate to challenge Metaxas on statements like this given at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC: “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.”

This is the kind of urgency that Metaxas brings to this issue and it is the kind of historical framework he places it in. That framework justifies, as he puts it, "using our bullets now"--meaning engage in arguments with a tenacity and an aggressiveness and a sense of full campaign mode that skips over historical questions like these:

1) Which Nazi laws in particular do you compare the HHS Mandate to?
2) How were the Nazis redefining the definition of religious organizations as the HHS Mandate does and which I and others disagree with? If the issue is one of religious freedom, as you regularly insist it is, then which religious freedom were the Nazis infringing on and how does that compare to the HHS Mandate?
3) When a person invokes Bonhoffer as a parallel it is bringing with it the fact that he ended up being killed in a concentration camp during the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews and millions of other people. Explain a scenario in which the HHS Mandate, in a time frame similar to the rise of Nazi Germany and the unleashing of the Holocaust, brings about a comparable historical event?
4) The HHS Mandate fails to expand religious freedom exemption beyond houses of worship and other narrowly defined religious organizations. At other times in American history the government has gone way beyond this type of restriction and actively repressed religious expression, most notably with the Slave Codes of the 1830s. How exactly is the HHS Mandate a more singular threat to religious liberty than those laws? Is there really even a comparison.

Eric Metaxas puts himself forward as an authority on religious freedom and religious history. He is regularly making statements putting the HHS Mandate on par with early Nazi German actions and worse than any other American historical example of restrictions on religious liberty. Why aren't more people calling him on this? At the very least, doesn't he owe the Obama Administration more of an explanation as to why he thinks what it is doing is like Nazi Germany and worse than the Slave Codes active persecution of African American Churches? Is this the kind of rhetoric we can expect more of as the Fortnight For Freedom takes shape?

{This post was updated to include the MSNBC video}

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