Religio-Fascism of Entartete Kunst


Photo by D.H. Richardson — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

There they go again.

Whatever happened to the Cardinal rule that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it? Or, why does a Cardinal have to build up his faith by knocking down the life of others? The answers are to be to found in only the most recent example of religio-fascism.

As covered in our Fest News section this week, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the seventy-three year old archbishop of Cologne, tagged art of today as “degenerate” in his speech at the Kolumba Archdiocese Art Museum on September 14, 2007. (Yes, 2007, not 1937.)

“When culture becomes disconnected from religion, from the worship of God, religion becomes ritualism and the culture becomes degenerate,” Cardinal Meisner said with the full force of religious authority and political clarity in emphasizing “Entartete Kunst.” No need for a timid echo of the Nazi ministering to culture; this was appallingly rather straight and to the point.

As the furor erupted, the Cardinal chose the well trodden path of apology via “taken out of context.” Writing to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Meisner “regrets very much that this vocabulary, in a shortened quotation taken out of context, led to misunderstandings.” Later in a radio interview, he supported his choice expression by arguing that “when art and religion are separated both are damaged.” Still later, he went on to clarify that what he really meant to emphasize was that art must glorify God. Oh. I feel so much better, now.

In addition to resurrecting Nazi ideology, Cardinal Meisner also has an easy ability to demean other religions through his art criticism. In speaking about a recent art work of glass by Gerhard Richter for Cologne Cathedral, Cardinal Meisner said that it could just as well belong in a mosque. Oh. It’s not that art, to be art, must glorify God. Art, to be art, must glorify Cardinal Meisner’s God. Don’t you feel much better, now?

Obviously, Cardinal Meisner’s brand of religio-fascism is not unique to his Catholicism nor to his country. Although, when a German leader purposely reaches back to entartete kunst the echo of mass murder is all too readily heard, loud and clear.

So much of the world’s culture has its foundations in a spiritual conversation — humans attempting to communicate with something larger than ourselves, and to confront what we don’t understand.

Given the rich tradition of art and the church, why must a religious figure use his pulpit to threaten rather than celebrate? Surely, he is not teaching theology. He is only playing politics.

- Bill Reichblum

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