Category Archives: Religion

“Our Civil Rights Have no Dependency on Our Religious Opinions…” Celebrating the 233rd Anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this day, 233 years ago, the the legislature of the Commonwealth Of Virginia ratified a law written by Thomas Jefferson. It was the precursor to the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses Of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is the antithesis of, and the antidote to all theocratic movements, to include contemporary Christian Nationalism and it’s close cousin Christian Dominionism, or as it is sometimes called Seven Mountains Theology.

Jefferson, James Madison, and their Virginia Baptist ally, John Leland understood the threat to a republic such as ours posed by religious theocrats of any type, to include Christians.

The Virginia statute was necessitated by militant Anglicans who desired to re-establish themselves as the state religion in Virginia and had gone about using physical violence against various dissenters, especially Virginia’s Baptist minority. It is fascinating, in a frightening and grotesque sense of the word to see Virginia Baptists like Jerry Falwell Jr., and other Evangelical leaders of the Free Church tradition interpreting Religious Freedom in a manner similar to the Anglicans of Virginia in the 1780s, or in the manner of all Christians who follow the path of Constantine.

Such was the warning of the great Southern Baptist Pastor and seminary president George Truett, who wrote:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The Virginia Statute stood in complete opposition to theocratic minded Americans then, and now. The statute which I post below in its entirety is must reading for anyone who thinks that they understand what the founders of the United States believed about religious liberty:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Please, take some time to let those words sink in, especially if you think that religious liberty is only for people of your favorite religion, or the one that you belong to. The fact is, that those who established religious liberty in the United States, many of them like John Leland, professing Christians, did not think that religious liberty was for the powerful, or those who wanted to dominate others on the basis of religion wedded to government and political power.

Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

With that I bid you a good night.

Until tomorrow and another day of Trump’s Evangelical supported Shutdown,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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2019: The Coming Disorder and a Spark that Cannot be Extinguished

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln noted:

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

It is good to remember Lincoln’s words in times of turmoils. I do, and they bring me great motivation to work, believe, and fight for justice, truth, and the belief in a spark of goodness in humanity which enables me to believe the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fact that those words come from a time of tumult, yet in a time where men were beginning to wrestle with and proclaim principles of the Enlightenment matters much to me, especially in times like we live today, where that principle is being attacked and undermined by the American President.

That being said, I believe that 2019 will be remembered in history as a time great turmoil, upheaval, and probably usher in a new epoch of war, economic, and ecological disaster. We may again be witnesses to genocide that leaders of governments fail to take the necessary actions to stop.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as a historian I to look at the world through how human beings, governments, and businesses behave in times of crisis. In fact, human beings are the singular constant in history and in crisis human beings don’t always live up to our ideals.

When major powers and international systems of order break down, or collapse for whatever reason, instability, disorder, and primordial hatreds based on nationalism, religion, and racism rise. A vacuum is created, filled by other powers, but not without some element of travail. Edmond Taylor wrote in his classic “The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Order, 1905-1922:

“The collapse of the great supranational — or at least supraparochial — authorities and the dissolution of long-accepted Imperial bonds released upon Europe a fearsome flood of conflicting national ambitions, of inflamed minority particularisms, of historic (sometimes almost prehistoric) irredentisms, of irreconcilable social aspirations and of rival political fanaticisms.

The impending collapse of the old order today can be seen in a return to a more isolationist policy by the United States, rising populist, nationalist, and ethnocentric movements in Europe which are threatening the existence of the European Union. Those include Brexit, ethnic nationalism mixed with a bit of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Poland, and great strains in France and Germany between right and left wing populist movements.

The common thread is the center which was the key to so much social progress, democracy, economic growth and stability, scientific advancement, and international security is giving way. There are many reasons for this, on the American side going back to the imperialist overreach of the George W. Bush administration, the inconsistent and detached method of the Obama administration towards the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, following that, and now the decidedly inconsistent, often irresponsible, and irreconcilable policies of isolationism and militarism.

A rejuvenated Russia is rushing to fill the void in the Middle East as well as working to destabilize its neighbors, Europe, and even the United States. The Chinese are attempting to make gains in other areas and to drive the United States out of Asia by using every element of national power: diplomacy, information, military might, and economics, while the United States following the Trump Administration’s withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and subsequent punishing tariffs that are hurting allies and Americans more than China the United States is now at a decided disadvantage in Asia.

I could go on, and could go into details on the causes of the current situation but they are many. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the collapse of an order that we have known most of our lives. While many people might be uneasy, most don’t view things in terms of history, in many cases because the events that led to the establishment of the current order are too distant and the witnesses to those times are few, and dying off. People today seldom study history, and even worse no longer know people, including family members who remember what happened to remind them of it.

That was quite similar to the situation in 1914. Europe had been at relative peace for a century. With the exception of the French Republic, most of Europe was still ruled by monarchies with rather limited democratic participation, if any. Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The Proud Tower: A Portrait Of the World Before the War, 1890-1914:

“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, “With emotion, to the man I used to be.”

I believe that 2019 will the a year of multiple crises and the further erosion, if not collapse of the old order. What will come I do not know, but I expect that at the minimum it will be unsettling and disruptive, if not catastrophic. That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist, it means that I study history. Provided that humanity does not find a way to destroy itself, we will recover. It may not be pretty and it certainly will not be the same as it was, but we will recover.

Walter Lord wrote about this his book on American in the early Twentieth Century The Good Years: 1900-1914. In the book he wrote about how things changed for Americans as Europe plunged into war. The effects of the war were soon felt in the United States though it would not enter the war until 1917. Lord wrote:

Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.

Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.

So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”

Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.

There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.

Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.

The truth is, even in the midst of crises that the spark that enables people to believe, to hope, and to labor for a better future where the possibilities of peace, justice, freedom, and progress can be realized.

2019 will likely be a very difficult year, a year of change and turbulence, and truthfully it will probably be just the beginning; but unless finds a way to destroy itself, it will not be the end.

So, unless I get a hair up my ass to write something else before midnight, I wish you a Happy New Year, and all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Christmas Day Will Always be, Just as long as We have We” Everything I Know Really About Christmas comes from Peanuts and the Grinch

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a Priest, and I am actually a pretty learned theologian as well as a historian. I am probably a better historian than theologian, in fact on of my Deans at the Joint Forces Staff College said that I was “a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” But the fact is that as learned as I am of the theology of the Incarnation and how important that is to real Christian theology. The Incarnation not about creating some kind of Christian theocracy in order to usher in the Kingdom of God, instead it is about a God that chooses to become fully human, to be born of a woman, and to endure the death of a criminal, despised and rejected by the types of people that theocracy minded “Christian leaders” emulate in thought, word, and deed.

With that being said I will not bore you with an essay citing historical references, Scripture, or quotations of theologians, pastors, and historians much more learned, and for that matter probably better Christians than me. So, please, if you feel the need to criticize my theology, feel free, but please, have the decency to arrange to do that over a beer or your favorite tasty beverage later, don’t ruin your Christmas or mine to do that, there are plenty of other days to do just that take a deep breath whether you are a Christian Fundamentalist, a Traditionalist Catholic, a militant Atheist, or whatever.

But here’s the deal. The truth is when all is said and done I learned ever that I need to know about Christmas from Merry Christmas Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.

To me it is fascinating because Schulz, who brought us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts Gang for half a century was a Christian who battled depression and faith, yet his classic animated cartoon of Christmas which was released in 1965 has probably reached more people with the Christmas message than any great preacher of the past century or more.

The decision to include the speech by Linus was controversial, because of the expressly religious implications, by Schulz insisted that it be reatained.

I saw it for the first time when it was released in 1965, and now 53 years later it retains its freshness and innocence.

 Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!

Linus: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Likewise, I think that Dr. Seuss, who was Jewish, may very well have done the same in his story about the Grinch.

I think of the last part of the Grinch and think about these words:

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

I know, kind of simplistic and ecumenical. But I have learned so much about Christmas and the Incarnation from others, of course many are Christians, but I have also learned from Jews, Muslims, and others. So for all of my friends and readers I simply repeat the words of Dr Seuss. Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer… Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we…

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Silent Night at 200: A Song Of Hope

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It will soon be Christmas and instead of the government shutdown or the depraved and irresponsible actions of President Trump, I am going to focus on Christmas, particularly musical expressions, as well as meditations about my own faith journey as well as the experience of soldiers during the holidays.

In the midst of everything happening in Washington D.C. and the potential crises that could plunge the world into war in the coming months it still is important to focus on the holidays. Since I am a Christian I share about Christmas without any shame, even as I respect and honor other people’s traditions and expressions of faith.

So here is a post about the song Silent Night. 

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Stille Nacht Autograph in the Hand of Joseph Mohr

In 1816 a young Austrian Catholic Priest in a small parish near Salzburg penned the lyrics to a hymn that even in the midst of war can bind people together. Father Joseph Mohr after moving to another parish in Oberndorf took those lyrics to Franz Gruber a nearby schoolmaster and organist. Mohr asked Gruber to put the words to music, specifically with a guitar accompaniment. Together the performed the song at Oberndorf’s parish church’s Vigil Mass on December 24th 1818.

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There are a number of fanciful apocryphal stories about why the song was written and performed on the guitar, including one about the bellows of the church organ having been eaten by mice, but these are akin to sensationalist tabloid journalism. The simple truth is that Mohr sought out Gruber to arrange the song for guitar to be sung by two people accompanied by a choir for that Christmas Vigil Mass.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund
, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

 The song rapidly grew in popularity and spread quickly in Europe. A traveling Austrian singing group, the Rainer family performed it in front of Austrian Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I.

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They also gave its first American performance in New York outside the famed Trinity Church in 1839. I continued to grow in popularity and was translated into many languages, now numbering about 140.

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The American Episcopalian Bishop John Freeman Young translated it into English in 1863. It is his version that is most used today in English speaking lands today. A website called the Silent Night Web http://silentnight.web.za has 227 versions of the song in 142 languages on its site.

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Silent night, Holy night

 All is calm, all is bright

‘Round yon virgin , mother and child

Holy infant so, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

The song is one that always takes me back to a very simple faith and an event that by all accounts is not explainable by logic. Karl Barth, perhaps the most influential theologians in the history Of the Christian faith wrote:

”The nativity mystery “conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary”, means, that God became human, truly human out of his own grace. The miracle of the existence of Jesus , his “climbing down of God” is: Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary! Here is a human being, the Virgin Mary, and as he comes from God, Jesus comes also from this human being. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.”

Silent Night is the most simple and profound hymn of the incarnation and because of its simplicity it has become a song that points to an end of war, an end of suffering, and the beginning of new life.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Father Mohr refused to profit from his song and donated his proceeds to care for the elderly and educate children in the parishes and towns he served. He died in 1848.

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I find that the song will bring me to tears fast than almost any song. It is one that I have sung in English, German and French. In my travels as a military Chaplain have used on every Christmas Eucharist celebration that I have done, including at two lonely COPS in Iraq, COP South and COP North on the Syrian Border in Al Anbar Province. Likewise I have celebrated joint ecumenical Christmas services with German military chaplains and civilian clergy. Last Friday I did that again for the members of the German NATO contingent at my chapel.

It is a simple and humble song. It is performed the world over by the great and small, the famous and the unknown. It is a song that in two world wars has stopped the violence as opposing soldiers paused to sing it together each in their own language. This happened during the Christmas Truce truce of 1914 as well as in 1944 along the Western Front during the Battle of the Bulge.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbGZ7T5EHpQ

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On Tuesday as people gather for Christmas Eve Sunday and when they gather for Christmas Day services the song will be sung around the world. In lands where war rages the song will be sung. It is my hope that someday that war will be no more and the tiny child spoken of in this humble hymn will understand the incredible grace of the message spoken by the Angels as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” (American Standard Version)

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Justice and Life as an Exercise in Exceptions: Faith in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. Our founders realized how easily it could happen, they warned about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted. In fact, his followers are for more dangerous thanTrump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Padre Steve+

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The Nazi Battle Against the Churches: Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg, Part Three

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier in the week I began to write about the Nuremberg Trials and the opening statement of the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. The first section was comprised his general remarks. The second dealt with the Nazi war against free organized labor. The third section presented here was the shortest part of his opening statement. It deals with the Nazi battle against the Churches.

Jackson lays out his argument to show how this was directed with the aim of suppressing or corrupting all competing institutions of power in the state that could potentially become centers of resistance. Likewise, he builds up this to show the attempt to remove any moderating influence that could stand against its plans for aggressive warfare and genocide.

The division of the German State Church into the Evangelical Church (Lutheran and Reformed) and Roman Catholicism was a Problem for the Nazis. They desired a coordination of religion under their rule. The Protestant and Catholic state churches of Germany were potential rivals for the soul of the citizenry of the Third Reich. They ran schools, universities, hospitals, benevolent organizations, published influential newspapers, and had their own political parties and labor organizations.

German Protestantism since the day of Martin Luther was linked to German nationalism and seen by the Nazis as the ideal vehicle to build upon. The Catholic Church which was predominant in Bavaria and was strong in the other states of southern and western Germany. It was not very strong in the north, especially Prussia where in the 1800s Otto Von Bismarck persecuted the Catholic Church through the Külturkampf. Like Bismarck, Hitler, though Catholic himself viewed the Church as less than fully committed to the Reich because of its allegiance to Rome, which Hitler and many other Nazis considered to be a foreign power.

Likewise, other Nazi leaders of Catholic background realized the power of the Church and its institutions, and even stood in awe of them. Heinrich Himmler would pattern his SS indoctrination upon the Jesuits. The former Catholics included Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Himmler’s number two man, Reinhard Heydrich. Richard Evans wrote in his book The Third Reich in Power:

Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, reacted against a strict Catholic upbringing with a hatred of the Church that can only be called fanatical. In 1936, Heydrich classified the Jews and the Catholic Church, acting above all through political institutions such the Centre Party, as the two principal enemies of Nazism. As an international body, he argued, the Catholic Church was necessarily subversive of the racial and spiritual integrity of the German people. Moreover, the Catholics, unlike the Protestants, had been largely represented by a single political party, the Centre, whose voters, again unlike those of most other parties, had mostly remained loyal and resisted the appeal of Nazism during the elections of the early 1930s. Much of the blame for this could be laid in the Nazis’ view at the feet of the clergy, who had preached vehemently against the Nazi Party, in many cases ruled that Catholics could not join it, and strongly urged their congregations to continue voting for the Centre or its Bavarian equivalent, the Bavarian People’s Party. For many if not most leading Nazis, therefore, it was vitally important to reduce the Catholic Church in Germany as quickly as possible to total subservience to the regime. (Third Reich In Power pp. 234-235)

The average church member was not the physical target of their attacks, instead the Nazis worked at, and quite often were very successful at weaning away many of the faithful from anything more that perfunctory and traditional displays of religion. Even there the Nazis did their best to supplant holidays such as Christmas and Easter with Nazi themes and ideology.

The battle for the Party was to deprive the Churches of their social and political power, and for the most part they were successful in their campaign. They suppressed church political parties and newspapers, labor unions, youth organizations. The latter were dissolved and replaced by the Reich Labor Front, and the Hitler Youth. Church schools were eventually closed by 1939 and religious education in public vocational schools was reduced to very small amounts of time with the teaching becoming more in line with Nazi racial ideology and anti-semitism.

The Protestant Church mostly fell in line with a minority in opposition known as the Confessing Church. Even so the Protestant opposition for the most part limited its opposition to the Nazis to the infringements against the church, not the nationalism or Nazi war aims. Richard Evans wrote:

The co-ordination of the Protestant Church was driven forward, among other factors, by the appointment of the lawyer August Jäger as State Commissioner for the Evangelical Churches in Prussia. Jäger declared that Hitler was completing what Luther had begun. They were ‘working together for the salvation of the German race’. Jesus represented ‘a flaring-up of the Nordic species in the midst of a world tortured by symptoms of degeneracy’. In conformity with the ‘leadership principle’, Jäger dissolved all elected bodies in the Prussian Church and replaced many existing officials with German Christians. Meanwhile, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller had taken over the administrative headquarters of the Evangelical Church with the aid of a band of stormtroopers. By September, pressure was growing within the Reich Church to dismiss all Jews from Church employment. Much of the pressure came from ordinary pastors. Prominent here were young pastors from lower-middle-class backgrounds or non-academic families, men for whom war service had often been a life-defining experience, and racially conscious pastors from areas near Germany’s eastern borders for whom Protestantism represented German culture against the Catholicism of the Poles or the Orthodox faith of the Russians. Such men desired a Church militant based on the aggressive propagation of the Gospel, a crusading Church whose members were soldiers for Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through its involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion. The traditional Pietist emphasis on sin and repentance, which dwelt on images of Christ’s suffering and transfiguration, was anathema to such men. They demanded instead an image of Christ that would set a heroic example for German men in the world of the here and now. For them, Hitler took on the mantle of a national redeemer who would bring about the rechristianization of society along with its national reawakening. (Third Reich in Power pp. 224-225)

The Nazified and nationalistic German Protestants, led by these clergy paint a striking image very similar to conservative American Evangelical Christians who echo many of the same theological themes, and who have in many cases elevated President Donald Trump into a redeemer and nearly messianic figure.

Jackson continued his opening statement at Nuremberg dealing with this toward the middle of the day on November 21st 1945. These are his words:

The Nazi Party was always predominantly anti-Christian by ideology. But we who believe in freedom of conscience and of religion base no charge of criminality on anybody’s ideology. It is not because the Nazis themselves were irreligious or pagan, but because they persecuted others of the Christian faith that they became guilty of crime, and it is because the persecution was a step in the preparation for aggressive warfare that the offence becomes one of international consequence. To remove every moderating influence among the German people and to put its population on a total war footing, the conspirators devised and carried out a systematic and relentless repression of all Christian sects and churches.

We will ask you to convict the Nazis on their own evidence, Martin Bormann in June 1941 issued a secret decree on the relation of Christianity and National Socialism. The decree provided:

“For the first time in German history the Fuehrer consciously and completely has the leadership of the people in his own hand. With the Party, its components, and attached units, the Fuehrer has created for himself, and thereby for the German Reich leadership, an instrument which makes him independent of the church. All influences which might impair or damage the leadership of the people exercised by the Fuehrer with the help of the N.S.D.A.P. must be eliminated. More and more the people must be separated from the churches and their organs, the pastors. Of course, the churches must and will, seen from their viewpoint, defend themselves against this loss of power. But never again must an influence on leadership of the people be yielded to the churches. This influence must be broken completely and finally. Only the Reich government, and by its direction the Party, its components, and attached units, have a right to leadership of the people. Just as the deleterious influence of astrologers, seers, and other fakers are eliminated and suppressed by the State, so must the possibility of church influence also be totally removed. Not until this has happened does the State leadership have influence on the individual citizens. Not until then are the people and Reich secure in their existence for all the future” (D-75).

And how the Party had been securing the Reich from Christian influence will be proved by such items as this teletype from the Gestapo, Berlin, to the Gestapo Nuremburg, on 24th July, 1938. Let us hear from their own account of events in Rottenburg:

“The Party, on 23rd July, 1939, from 2100 carried out the third demonstration against Bishop Sproll. Participants, about 2,500-3,000, were brought in from outside by bus, etc. The Rottenburg populace again did not participate in the demonstration. This town took rather a hostile attitude to the demonstrations. The action got completely out of hand of the Party Member responsible for it. The demonstrators stormed the palace, beat in the gates and doors. About 150 to 200 people forced their way into the palace, searched the rooms, threw files out of the windows, and rummaged through the beds in the rooms of the palace. One bed was ignited. Before the fire got to the other objects or equipment in the rooms and the palace, the flaming bed was throw from the window and the fire extinguished. The Bishop was with Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg, and the ladies and gentlemen of his menage in the chapel at prayer. About 25 to 30 pressed into this chapel and molested those present. Bishop Groeber was taken for Bishop Sproll. He was grabbed by the robe and dragged back and forth, Finally the intruders realised that Bishop Groeber was not the one they were seeking. They could then be persuaded to leave the building. After the evacuation of the palace by the demonstrators I had an interview with Archbishop Groeber, who left Rottenburg in the night. Groeber wants to turn to the Fuehrer and Reich Minister of the Interior Dr. Frick anew. On the course of the action, the damage done, as well as the homage of the Rottenburg populace beginning today for the Bishop, I shall immediately hand in a full report, after I begin suppressing counter mass meetings. In case the Fuehrer has instructions to give in this matter, I request that these be transmitted most quickly.” (848-PS).

Alfred Rosenberg Nazi Ideologist and Reich Minister for Occupied Territories

Later, defendant Rosenberg wrote to Bormann reviewing the proposal of Herrl as Church minister to place the Protestant Church under State tutelage and proclaim Hitler its supreme head. Rosenberg was opposed, hinting that Naziism was to suppress the Christian Church completely after the war.

The persecution of all pacifist and dissenting sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Pentecostal Association, was peculiarly relentless and cruel. The policy toward the Evangelical Churches, however, was to use their influence for the Nazi’s own purposes. In September, 1933, Muller was appointed the Fuehrer’s representative with power to deal with the “affairs of the Evangelical Church” in its relations to the State. Eventually, steps were taken to create a Reich Bishop vested with power to control this Church. A long conflict followed, Pastor Niemoller was sent to a concentration camp, and extended interference with the internal discipline and administration of the Churches occurred.

A most intense drive was directed against the Roman Catholic Church. After a strategic Concordat with the Holy See, signed in July, 1933, in Rome, which never was observed by the Nazi Party, a long and persistent persecution of the Catholic Church, its priesthood and its members, was carried out. Church Schools and educational institutions were suppressed or subjected to requirements of Nazi teaching inconsistent with the Christian faith. The property of the Church was confiscated and inspired vandalism directed against the Church property was left unpunished. Religious instruction was impeded and the exercise of religion made difficult. Priests and bishops were laid upon, riots were stimulated to harass them, and many were sent to concentration camps.

After occupation of foreign soil, these persecutions went on with greater vigour than ever. We will present to you from the files of the Vatican the earnest protests made by the Vatican to Ribbentrop summarising the persecutions to which the priesthood and the Church had been subjected in this Twentieth Century under the Nazi regime. Ribbentrop never answered them. He could not deny. He dared not justify.

I now come to “Crimes against the Jews.”

THE PRESIDENT: We shall now take our noon recess. (A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn for fifteen minutes at half past three and then continue until half past four.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I was about to take up the “Crimes Committed Against the Jews.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Open the Gates…” Berlin’s Neue Synagogue on Oranienburg Straße

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are spending our last night in Berlin after a rather quiet day which included a visit with Dr. Rink, the Bishop of the German Evangelische military chaplain service. We spent an our and a half with his and his chief spokesman at his office. I should have gotten some pictures of us and the offices but forgot because it was such an interesting visit. We will be leaving in the morning which is a holiday, the Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or day of German Unity which celebrates the official reunification of Germany in 1990. The preparations here are quite extensive with much of the area around the Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag blocked off for events and an already large police presence.

This afternoon I took a walk around the district that our hotel, the Hotel Dietrich Bonhoeffer Haus is located. Not far from it is Berlin’s Neue Synagogue, the restored frontal portion of a building dedicated in 1866 by Berlin’s Jewish community. Among those present at the dedication was Otto Von Bismarck, the the Minister President of Prussia prior to the Unification of Germany in 1870.

It was a massive structure that could hold over 3000 worshippers and its Moorish architecture and resemblance to the Alhambra in the Spanish city of Grenada. It was one of the first large buildings to be of iron construction. It is a beautiful structure with its great golden dome topped by a Star of David flanked by two smaller domes.

In addition to its place as a center of worship it was a center of Berlin’s largely assimilated and liberal Jewish community. Berlin was the center of the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah in Germany, and Prussian Jews enjoyed full citizenship and civil rights going back to 1850. The movement emphasized secularism and equality. Prominent Jewish citizens included Albert Einstein, as well as theater and film director Max Reinhardt; composer, music theorist, writer, and painter Arnold Schoenberg, composer Kurt Weill, who is famous for his song Mac the Knife which was popularized in the United States first by Louis Armstrong and then Bobby Darin; and painter Max Liebermann, who was President of the Prussian Academy of Arts until the Nazi takeover in 1933. Additionally, Louis (Lazarus) Lewendowski the highly acclaimed liturgical composer and musician who put his imprint on much Jewish liturgical music used around the world today.

It was used for public concerts and it hand an organ and a mixed choir thanks to Lewendowski, making it a part of a distinctly western and liberal strain of Judaism. In 1929, Einstein performed a renowned violin concert in it.

When the Nazis seized power in 1933 the repression of Berlin’s Jewish community began. Jews lost their citizenship, their employment in the Civil Service and military, membership in professional organizations, and suffered many other humiliations and persecution. As a result many Jews left Germany. Einstein, Schoenberg, Reinhardt, and Weill all fled to the United States. Liebermann died of a heart attack in 1935. He lived near the Brandenburger Tor and reported said as Nazi Stormtroopers marched through it celebrating their takeover of the government: “Ich kann gar nicht soviel fressen, wie ich kotzen möchte.” (“I could not possibly eat as much as I would like to throw up.”)

Despite Nazi repression the Synagogue continued to operate and became a center for Jewish relief efforts. It was one of the few synagogues spared destruction during the Kristallnacht terror organized by Joseph Goebbels on November 9th 1938. A group of Nazis broke into the synagogue, vandalized the Torah scrolls, and attempted to set fire to the building. A Berlin Police Lieutenant named Wilhelm Krützfeld took action and ordered the mob to disperse because the building was a protected historical building. To make his point he drew his pistol and threatened the vandals. His actions allowed the Feuerwehr to arrive and ensured that the building was not burned. Krützfeld reported his actions and only received a verbal reprimand from the Nazi Police President Graf Helldorf who had played a major role in the organization of Kristallnacht. Krützfeld and members of his precinct also helped Jews with identity papers and warned them of Gestapo raids. He was transferred in 1940 and because he could no longer serve the Nazi state requested retirement due to health reasons in 1943. Following the war in 1945 he returned to active police service and died in 1953. his superior, Helldorf, became a part of the anti-Hitler conspiracy and was condemned to death by Roland Freisler and the Volksgericht in 1944.

The synagogue remained active until 1940 when it was ordered closed and taken over by the Wehrmacht which desecrated it and turned it into a warehouse for uniform supplies. It was badly damaged by allied air raids during the war and the main sanctuary was burned out and heavily damaged. The Ruins of the main sanctuary and the main dome were demolished in 1955 with the Jewish community meeting next door to the ruin.

In 1988 on the 50th year anniversary of Kristallnacht the process to restore it as a Jewish cultural center began and it reopened in 1993. The restoration only comprised the front section of the building, but in 1995 the Reformed Jewish community of Berlin was reestablished in it. Today it functions as a synagogue, a cultural center, and a museum.

If you come to Berlin you need to see it.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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