They Didn’t Like Cole Porter’s Jazz and Negroes Either

The recent story about the woes that Christliche Gemeinde Köln has had with the German government brings up a lot deeper memories than just of a Christian church under persecution of a godless government (although this certainly is a problem here.)

It is worth noting that modernity–the thing that comes before post-modernity everybody talks about today–was born in Germany in the years between unification and the First World War.  It pushed Christianity out of the way not so much by attacking it but making it look irrelevant to the excitement of the changing times.  In the end the destabilising effect that it had on Germany resulted in two world wars.  It also resulted in many of the characteristics of our culture today, especially the culture of death.

Part of that modernity is primitivism.  Inscribed above the Reichstag (where the German Bundestag meets today after reunification) is the phrase, "DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE"–the German People.  That ineffable quantity–with all of the implications of racial purity and a heroic past–fuelled the Germans through those world wars, especially the second one.  Now one can argue that the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is God’s answer to primitivism.  While "civilised" Christianity got rolled in places such as Germany, France and the UK, full gospel Christianity has swept the world, as TEC is finding out the hard way.

Having invoked primitivistic imagery in places like Nurenberg, the Germans are doubtless sensitive to the possibilities of primitivism.  But they first need to cut the knee-jerk reactions like this and take a more sensible look at things.

To start with, it’s one thing to exercise exuberance in a church setting and quite another on the battlefield.  It’s the same problem we have with people who equate "fundamentalist" Christianity with Islam.  There’s a difference between being prepared to die for what one believes in and to kill for it.  Germany today, like all of Europe, needs some fuel of some kind to present a counter to Islamicists, but beating down people like in this church isn’t going to do it.

But beyond this is pride of authorship.  Europeans may blush at their own forays into primitivism but importing them from the U.S. is beyond the pale.  It’s the same as it was in the 1920’s, after World War I had shattered European civilisation, probably beyond repair.  Sergei Diaghilev, who created the Ballets Russes with their own modern primitivism, shuddered at the thought of "Cole Porter because of his jazz and his Negroes…It’s dreadful."  We strongly suspect that, if the pastor of this church wasn’t American, they wouldn’t be in the kind of trouble they are.

The Germans need to realise that those who dance in church didn’t either start a world war or bring down the World Trade Centre.  But they just might derail those that did.

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