Archpriest Alexander Novopashin explains that international freedom of religion “as it is understood in America” is a theory created by Adolf Hitler to destroy Russia.
by Massimo Introvigne
Almost every day, a new argument is advanced by the Russian anti-cult organizations to support the aggression against Ukraine and slander the Ukrainian government, the United States, and the West in general. Readers of Bitter Winter should by now be familiar with Archpriest Alexander Novopashin, the deputy of famous Russian anti-cultist Alexander Dvorkin as leader of the national anti-cult umbrella organization Russian Association of Centers for Religious and Cultic Studies (РАЦИРС/RATsIRS), which is connected with the European anti-cult federation FECRIS (despite unconfirmed theories that RATsIRS has been expelled from FECRIS, Novopashin’ s website still mentions it is FECRIS’ Russian affiliate).
Last week, “with the blessing of His Eminence Nikodim, Metropolitan of Novosibirsk and Berdsk and at the invitation of Bishop Mstislav of Tikhvin and Lodeynopolsk,” Novopashin “met with teachers, security officials, administration officials, Orthodox clergy and leaders of youth organizations, commissions for minors and their protection, departments for youth policy, culture and sports, public organizations of the cities of Tikhvin, Lodeynoye Pole, Vsevolozhsk, Podporozhye, Pikalevo, Boksitogorsk, Issad village, Volkhov district,” in what is still called the Leningrad Oblast (although its main city, Leningrad, went back to its old name of St. Petersburg in 1991).
Novopashin reiterated that “Nazism and Satanism are one and the same” and that the fight for the “denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine” is a fight against Satanism.
This is vintage Novopashin, and would not deserve further attention, had not the FECRIS archpriest also presented a bizarre theory connecting religious liberty with Adolf Hitler.
Novopashin explained that when Russia cracks down on “cults” such as “the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” “the US State Department immediately intervenes and begins to demand the respect of religious freedom in the way it is understood in America. And in the United States, they believe that international religious freedom is the most important factor in the internal security of the United States, as President Obama openly declared in 2008. Therefore, limiting the activities of destructive cults and radical groups in Russia is detrimental to US national security. And no matter what cult, no matter what its origin, the main thing is that it destabilizes the situation [of Russia] and introduces division, and therefore it is suitable for carrying out foreign policy tasks.”
This modern “American” notion of international religious freedom, Novopashin claims, was actually invented by Adolf Hitler. To prove this theory, which perhaps raises eyebrows even among his Russian audiences, the archpriest quotes a Russian edition, published in Smolensk in 1998, of Hitler’s “Tischgespräche” (Table Talks) edited by the Führer’s one-time stenographer, attorney Henry Picker.
The text is a collection of notes, taken by different Nazi officers, of private conversations with Hitler between 1941 and 1944. After World War II, it went under different editions, and was always controversial among historians. Particularly, Hitler’s alleged remarks about religion are regarded as apocryphal by several leading scholars of Nazism, and perhaps reflecting more the ideas of Picker and others who edited the manuscripts.
Translators have also been often accused of mistranslating the German original, to which one should always revert—and even the authenticity of this text, in the sense of reporting Hitler’s real words in private conversations, is dubious. I have not seen the Russian translation quoted by Novopashin, and have no reasons to doubt he quotes it correctly.
Hitler would have said, speaking of Russia, that “It is in our interests that each village should have its own sect, developing its own idea of God. Even if in this way a cult of sorcerers arises in individual villages, as, say, among the Negroes or Indians, we should only welcome this, because this will increase the number of destructive moments on Russian territory. Every nation needs a religion or an ideology. Preserving and supporting the Orthodox Church is unreasonable, since it will again turn into an organization of national unity.”
This is not what Hitler allegedly said according to the German edition of the “Tischgespräche.” There, we read at page 215 of the 1976 edition (Seewald, Stuttgart), generally regarded as the most reliable, that according to words attributed to Hitler after the German conquest of Russia “the creation of unified churches for large parts of the Russian territory should be prevented. It could even be in our interest if each village had its own sect, which develops its own ideas of God. Even if in this way magic cults were to form in individual villages, as among the Negroes and Indians, we could only welcome this, because it would only increase the number of divisive moments in the Russian area. Hitler noted with particular annoyance that the Russian Orthodox Church unitedly and emphatically stood up for the defense of the ‘Holy Russian Fatherland,’ spurred on the spirit of resistance everywhere at the front and at home, immediately deposed and excommunicated the few bishops who collaborated with Germany, and even gave the atheistic Soviet leadership a tank brigade (‘Alexander Nevsky’) from church funds. Hitler, though, would have liked to have in his own Germany a ‘national church’ in the style of the Russian-Orthodox one.”
Novopashin obviously uses the quote in 2022 within a broader context of Russian propaganda, mostly created for the benefits of Russians themselves, which tries to present the war on the Ukrainian “Nazis” as a remake of the Patriotic War against Hitler. However, how Hitler’s alleged words are used adds a further manipulation. Assuming he really said something similar, Hitler was not interested in the “destructive” role of “cults,” and certainly was not referring to theories similar to the Dvorkin-Novopashin-FECRIS ideology of “destructive cults.”
What he would welcome in a conquered Russia would be a religion that would be “divisive” (“trennende,” which is wrongly translated as “разрушающих,” “destructive”), countering the nationalistic role of the Russian Orthodox Church demonstrated by the attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate during the war.
In a way, Hitler admired this attitude. He was “annoyed” when he had to confront it in Russia, where it created problems for Germany, but would gladly have in Germany a “national church” loyal to the state similar to the Russian Orthodox Church. On the other hand, Hitler should have realized that the national organization of the Russian Orthodox Church had already been largely disarticulated by Stalin himself, before the short-lived attempt to resurrect it and put it at the service of the war against Germany.
The reference to the “magic cults” that may arise in Russian villages, again if the text is genuine, would confirm Hitler’s low and racist opinion of Russian peasants, regarded as similar to Africans and Native Americans (for him, obviously this was not a compliment). But it has nothing to do with organizing “cults” such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Church of Scientology (which are not the “village cults” somebody like Hitler might have found described in the works of German anthropologists) and implanting them in Russia in the name of religious liberty.
No, Hitler did not invent the contemporary American notion of international religious liberty. American theories of religious liberty date back to the 18th century and Hitler certainly did not agree with them. Rather than promoting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he sent them to concentration camps, where more than 1,000 of them died.
What the “Tischgespräche” attribute to Hitler is the idea that most Russian Orthodox Church leaders would support the Russian authorities and wars, no matter who would be in power and even if he was a cynical and bloody dictator such as Stalin. Or Putin, we may add. While today the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for the Russian victory in the Patriotic War is often exaggerated for propaganda purposes, at least on the Patriarchate’s readiness to side with dictators in the name of Russian nationalism, Hitler, or whoever wrote the words attributed to him in the “Tischgespräche,” was right.