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Guard Your Soul Lest You Forget: the Relevance Of the Holocaust Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I took a few days of leave for the first time in months so that Judy and I could visit friends in the Washington D.C. area. Since Wednesday ended with me being called back in to work to deal with the workplace suicide of a young sailor stationed at one of the units on our base it was needed.

It is nice because the expectations that we have of each other are simply to enjoy the time together without expecting them to entertain us. Judy does crafts with Melissa, all of us talk, sometimes we play card games or watch television or a movies while our seven combined Papillon dogs hang out and play.

So yesterday I drove over to the nearest Metro station and went down to the Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. In Germany I have been to the Dachau and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The museum is important and despite having been to places shown in it and knowing more about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust than the vast majority of Americans, I found myself overwhelmed at times as I walked slowly through the exhibits. Many I recognized, knew about, or had been to, but that did not make them any less emotionally difficult to see. But there were others that drove home why this museum is so important in our day and time.

I think that the one that hit me the hardest was the pictorial Tower of Faces from the Polish shtetl of Ejszyszki. That town was home to some 4,000 Jews and the pictures had been taken over the preceding decade by local photographers. They were pictures of everyday family and community life; men, women, children at work, at play, at rest. Worshipping, working, studying, the old and the young, the well off and the poor, the religious and those not as religious at all phase of life captured in photos for eternity. For 3500 of them their lives ended on September 21st 1941 when the Nazis rounded up the Jews at their Synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur and executed them by firing squad in mass graves at the town’s Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Only 29 of those who survived that day lived through the war. That Jewish community had existed for 900 years and was exterminated in a matter of hours.

I looked at those pictures and I could not get over all of those innocent lives cut short. Each face was the picture of an individual or individuals, families, friends, schoolmates. They were not abstract numbers or statistics but real flesh and blood people like you and me. They had hopes and dreams, but because they were Jews they were exterminated, like nearly six million other Jews who also were real people with hopes and dreams that would be destroyed by the Nazi racial war. Of course the Nazis targeted others, but none with the relentless anti-Semitic racial hatred propagated by Nazi ideology. Thus they condoned and executed by people who would have ordinarily have been considered upstanding and moral citizens. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

But then this is not abnormal as the great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

The problem is that what happened during the Holocaust and to the people of the shtetl of Ejszyszki is not just an aberration, it is all too much a part of human nature; even that of people who call themselves Christians like those who exterminated the Jewish people of Ejszyszki. It is not simply an artifact of history that we can ignore. It can happen again and if we are not careful it will happen again. The spirit of the ideology that allowed normal law abiding people to massacre millions of people, either up close and personal like at Ejszyszki or in death factories like Soribor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz is still alive today in Russia, Europe, and even in the United States. Of course it exists elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. But I think that it is most frightening when it exists in the nations which claim to be inheritors of Christian civilization or the enlightenment, especially among the people who claim the words of the Declaration of Independence 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.”

Honesty when I see the President of the United States and his most devoted followers follow the script of the Nazis and other race supremacists I get concerned and I remember the words of historian Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

As for people who might be neighbors, coworkers or even friends today who for whatever reason either support, dismiss, or ignore the peril of the racial, ideological, and religious animus of the modern authoritarians and anti-Semites I can only recall the words of Yale historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Today I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment from entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again and the choices that all of us if it happens in our time will have to make.

I’ll leave you with the warning of Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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At the Dock of Justice: Nuremberg at 70

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On October 1st 1946, twenty-one Nazi leaders waited in the dock in Saal 6oo (Courtroom 600) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg to hear the pronouncement of the verdict and their sentences on the charges of war crimes.

Just a week ago during our most recent trip to Germany I stood next to that same defendant’s dock where Hermann Goering and twenty other men sat, and then rose to hear the verdicts of the Tribunal. Goering and ten compatriots, Governor General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank, Minister of the Interior and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia Dr.Wilhelm Frick, General Alfred Jodl, SS General and head Reichs Main Sucurity Office Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Regional Leader of Thuringia, and head of Slave Labor programs, Fritz Sauckel,  Dr. Arthur Seyess-Inquart, Reichskommissar of occupied Netherlands, and Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and publisher of the Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer. Party Secretary Martin Bormann was sentenced to death in abstentia as the Allies believed that he may had escaped Berlin after Hitler’s death. It has since been discovered that he died in the attempt.

Others were sentenced to varying prison terms. Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, 10 years, Minister of Economics, Dr. Walter Funk, life in prison, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, life in prison, Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, 15 years, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, life in prison, Head of the Hitler Youth, and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, 20 years, Armaments Minister, Albert Speer, 20 years in prison.

Three men were acquitted: Hans Fritzsche of the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. Hjalmar Schlacht pre-war head of the Reichsbank, and Economics Minister, Franz von Papen, and Vice Chancellor, Ambassador to Austria and later Turkey.

Robert Ley, head of the Reich Labor Front was not tried as he committed suicide in his cell the day following his indictment. Neither was Gustave Krupp, C.E.O. of the Krupp industrial firm and armaments manufacturer who was too sick to go to trial.

Following the trials of the major war criminals, eleven more trials were held, including the Doctor’s Trial, a General’s Trial, also known as the Hostage Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial.

To stand in that room where such evidence was presented and powerful testimony given was humbling. To see where learned men, powerful, and even respected men, who had so willingly sacrificed any trace of personal honor and morality, men who aided and abetted a regime which committed the most heinous crimes committed by a civilized “Christian” nation in history left me silent. I have studied these trials since I was in college over 35 years ago. My primary professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler was an interpreter at the trials.

Since that time I have continued to study them and today as I see the rise of Right Wing movements in Europe, as well as the United States, movements which have at their core many of the same beliefs and principles held by Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the men who stood trial at Nuremberg I find myself frightened.

This is especially so in the United States where Donald Trump has made repeated policy statements limiting civil rights and freedom of speech, limiting the role of the courts, curtailing freedom of the press, favoring one religion above others, curtailing the legal and civil rights of whole groups of people, expelling millions of people, banning whole groups of other people entry into the country, promising to rid the government of his opponents, to fire military leaders who disagree with him in mass, to commit the military to use methods that are condemned as war crimes, war crimes such as were prosecuted by the United States and her Allies at Nuremberg.

To make matters more frightening, many of Trump’s supporters see no problem with this and are often shown on video threatening opponents, advocating even more extreme and violent measures than Trump himself. They justify their proposed polices by saying that these measures are to “protect the country,” and to Make America Great Again.”

But at what price?

In Judgement at Nuremberg, the film version of the Judges’ Trial, Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Heywood. In the scene at which the verdicts were read, he gave this speech, some of which echoed the words of Justice Robert Jackson’s final statement at the major war crimes trial:

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

A nation is what it stands for. The ideals that have marked the American experiment have never been perfectly practiced by the United States, but they are still the hallmark of the last and greatest hope of civilization. They are the ideals which lead people around the world to want to become Americans, they are the ideals which sustain us. But what Trump and his followers say is that they are not important, and in fact should be limited or abrogated entirely. But this is the way of expediency, and the end of the American experiment.

Standing beside the dock at Nuremberg I was humbled by the fact that I was where such history had been made, and at the same time I was frightened for my country and the world.

I will be spending some time this week to write about the trials, as well as the visit to Dachau that I made on this trip.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Be Careful What You Vote Against

Friends of Padre Steve’s Worl

Since the Illinois and Missouri primary results will not be settled before I pass out tonight I will save my article about the results of what happened last night until tomorrow. As such I see no reason to do much commentary other than to note that Missouri is going to be close in both the Republican and Democratic races. 

Because of that  I am republishing an article that I wrote almost four years ago. Truthfully, no matter what your political leanings are I think that is important and well worth the read. I find that too many people don’t take the time to examine the second, third, and fourth order consequences of their actions, and that includes the action of casting a vote. Far to many votes are cast out of emotions, especially those of fear and anger, and without thought of the long term consequences. That was the case in less than a century ago in Germany. 

was reminded oft his article when a friend of mine remembered it and posted a link to it on Facebook a couple of days ago. In his note about it he noted that I was well ahead of the media. I hate it when that happens, but such is the danger of being a historian who has the capacity of self-reflection. The article is here in its entirety. I have not updated it with any references to Donald Trump or the violence that is occurring with startling regularity on the campaign trail. Even so it is decidedly uncomfortable reading, especially when I see quite a few Evangelical leaders, including pastors, and media pundits endorsing Trump. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

German Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote: “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

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Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller was a war hero. He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships. After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism. This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union. Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church. Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned. He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists. Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor. Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens. He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral. Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist. Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration. He too would be imprisoned and survive the war. Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israelin 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews. He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.” He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity. Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr. For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war. Bonhoeffer wrote “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth. Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

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Bernard Lichtenberg

Catholic Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews. Some like Meyer would end up in concentrations camps with some like Canon Bernard Lichtenberg of Berlin dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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Rupert Meyer

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany. They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches. The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists.

Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat to Germany. A sentiment harbored by many non-Nazi conservatives and Christians.

Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish. The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked in Germany. Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well in Germany. Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War. Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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Nazi Political and Religious Opponents in Concentration Camps

When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state. They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing. Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state. Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps. Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they left Germany. This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

Hitler portrayed himself and his movement as defenders of Christianity. He was not the first or last to do so but his speech of February 1st 1933, the day after he was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg made it abundantly clear that he was bent on securing the support of Christians to solidify his grip on power: “The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life. . . .”

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The Sturmabteilung (SA) at Church

Churches became sponsors of Nazi meetings, the Swastika banner hung in the sanctuaries of churches throughout the Reich and Bishops, Priests and Pastors joined Nazi organizations and gave the Nazi salute. They had sold their soul to Hitler and the Nazis out of fear of the Communists, Socialists, Jews and Slavs.

Eric Hoffer noted that “It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable.” Hitler and his enablers spread fear and took advantage of it to bring those fearful of the left to his support.

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Hitler leaving a Church

Today we face a similar phenomena in conservative circles in the United States. This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Gays, immigrants and racial minorities who are the targets of the xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others. Their popularity in voicing support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians. It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church. It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war. That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.” Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades and anti-Gay launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities. Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants, legal and illegal alike especially those from Mexico or Latin America. I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican. Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals or putting them in concentration camps, deporting them or even punishing gays with the death penalty.

This is so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary. Likewise the threats to American Moslems or Gays of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling. I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted. I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say. That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers. This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

The persecution of American Moslems, minorities, Gays and others is dangerous, not just for those minorities but ultimately for Christians who endorse and advocate against those groups. American and English law is based on legal precedence. Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law. This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings. If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground. Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

During the Republican Presidential primaries major leaders of the Evangelical movement and churches did all that they could to paint Mitt Romney as a religious cultist because he is Mormon. When Romney secured the nomination those same people started backtracking and committing their support to him because they believe that President Obama is an enemy of the country. They don’t like Romney, they are just against Obama. Romney will remember what they called him and their tepid support. If he becomes President he will not be beholden to them and will govern as he desires. Laws and Executive orders that give expanded power to the Executive Branch will not be overturned and if Evangelicals decide that they don’t like what he is doing and act toward him as they have President Obama they could find themselves on the outside and abandoned by the man that they supported.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone. What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare. With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state. The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief. The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitutional protection of Religion in the First Amendment. This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not. Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times. So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left. Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary. Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion. Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination. The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history. These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic Americans of all faiths and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political, religious affiliation or sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

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A Time to Stand Against Hate

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First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

 Martin Niemöller

There comes a time in every nation where people of faith need to stand up for the rights of others who do not share their faith. There are times at all decent citizens no matter what their religion, or lack of religion need to stand up for those deemed less than full citizens, less than loyal, and in some cases less than human. This is one of those times.

On Wednesday three young America students at the University of North Carolina; Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were gunned down, execution style, in their home.  They were each shot multiple times in  the head. They were Moslems, and from all account not only good law abiding people who hated intolerance of any kind, even to Jews and Israelis, who were active in helping the poor and homeless in their local community, and just basically good, idealistic, humanitarians.

Their assailant Craig Stephen Hicks, was a man who doesn’t fit a typical right wing, at least from the terms of the Religious Right, or Left Wing stereotype.

All that we really know about him was that neighbors described him as angry and confrontational, that some feared him, that he was anti-government, unemployed, and hated the major religions; especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. He was also evidently a pretty big fan of expanded gun rights, which for a man in his state of mind isn’t unusual. His current wife, who is in the process of divorcing him described him as supporting marriage equity, abortion rights and other socially progressive causes.

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It is quite fascinating to me that Craig Stephen Hicks, was a follower of Richard Dawkins and what is called “the New Atheism” which more appropriately should be called anti-theism. This makes his case somewhat unusual, because he would be one of first of this breed in the United States to kill others in such a manner. Of course this is not to say that such people haven’t committed such acts on a mind-numbingly large scale in the former Soviet Union, Red China and other repressive atheist regimes. Likewise there are nations where state religions working hand in hand with the state do that as well.

But most of the time, recently in this country and Western Europe, those who kill others because of those  peoples religious beliefs, are religious themselves and defending their idea of God and righteousness. That my friends is what makes the act of barbarous hatred committed by Hicks so interesting from a sociological and historical point of view.

It is also why I don’t believe the claims by the soon to be ex-wife of Hicks, the police or the prosecutor that this was an isolated incident dealing with a dispute of guest parking in the condominium complex where the victims and the killer lived. That’ why the story just doesn’t wash, and the fact that it doesn’t wash causes it to stink.

Really, let’s face it, if Hicks was a Moslem and the victims were atheists would anyone believe that story? The hell no. But there are people who will not only believe it but as usual say this is a “isolated incident” because after all, white people in America don’t kill others for their religion, but that Moslems do and so a Moslem is automatically guilty of crimes simply by being a Moslem.

Evidently the killer’s ex-wife described him Hicks as a man without empathy, who incessantly watched the movie Falling Down while laughing his way through it. If you don’t know the movie it is about an unemployed engineer, angry for many reason, who goes mad and ends up in a killing spree. It is a tragic film, and I wonder if Hicks if Hicks saw himself as similar to the lead character played by Michael Douglas.

I don’t know what the final tipping point was for Hicks. From what I read he seemed like a mountain of hatred and anger just waiting to erupt.

While I don’t know his entire motivations, I do know that somewhere in his perverted psyche, he was motivated by hate, and that is all too common. Eric Hoffer said: “Passionate hatreds can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. These people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.”   

Hicks found some measure of purpose in his hatred of religion. It is said that he was quite angry at the Christians and Jews who  participated together with Moslems and others in the ecumenical memorial services after the attacks of September 11th 2001. Evidently, that anger toward religions and religious people grew until it reached the point of murder.

Sadly, there are many people like this man who are consumed by some kind of hatred. In this case it appears to me, and I could be wrong, that it was Hicks’s hatred of Moslems and other religious people. I cannot think of any other reason why the man would execute unarmed people for a parking space, unless they represented something more to him.

The hatred something that the actions of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups that claim the mantle of Islam  have helped to inspire. That hatred is also fed by much of the media, as well as supposedly Christian political pundits and preachers who lump all Moslems into the same camp as the terrorists and ignores the Moslems who condemn such actions and who put their lives on the line to fight those groups. This “reporting” feeds the fear, it feeds the anger of some, and it leads to people, especially people who are already angry, disturbed and possibly even mentally ill, to commit crimes in name of their religion or their ideology. In Hicks case it appears to be his militant atheism.

But let’s step back from that right now, and sometimes it is good to look at things in with a broader lens.

It seems to me that among the worst of the types of people promoting such hatred of Moslems are supposedly conservative “Christian” preachers. So I feel that I need to speak up. I say this because such hatred against a religion, any religion is not new. Militant Hindus in India kill Moslems and Christians, of course we know of the crimes of the terrorists who kill in the name of Islam, but there are places in Africa where Christians do the killing, and sometimes not even for religious reasons. Does anyone remember the Rwanda Genocide? But that is not an isolated instance, in Central and South America there were the American funded dictators and terrorist groups who had death squads all over the place, many killing to defend their “conservative Christian regimes.”

This kind of thing happens all the time and sometimes it takes place under godless regimes who co-opt religious people to bolster their evil. Chief among the times this happened was in Nazi Germany. My examples from that era include Protestant pastors Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Herman Maas, and Catholic Biship Galen and Jesuit Priest Father Rupert Meyer of Munich. All were imprisoned or placed in Concentration Camps by the Nazis, and Bonhoeffer was be killed. Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Of course there were others who died for attempting to help the Jews, including some European Moslems.

When Hitler took power the Jews, along with Communists, Trade Unions, Socialists were enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, they were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police, times their businesses, Synagogues and homes vandalized, burned or seized by the state. Eventually those who remained were condemned  and sent to concentration camps, where most with nearly 6 million other Jews they would be exterminated.

Today we face a similar situation in United States and Western Europe.  This time it is not the Jews, but Moslems who are the targets of xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media.

The ideological inspiration for the killings at Chapel Hill seems to be from English Atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins wrote something that the killer repeated almost verbatim in his social media posts: “All three of the Abrahamic religions are deeply evil if they take their teachings seriously. Islam is the only one that does.” Of course Dawkins statement is overblown because there are some Christians and Jews who kill in the name of religion. In fact as far as Christianity goes we have a host of them who litter our history justifying killing in the name of the Lord. To his credit Dawkins condemned the killings soon after they happened, however, his hyperbole and lumping together all religion as evil has the same effect on some people as the teachings of the radical religious preachers of hate whose ranks seem to grow daily.

Others, especially in parts of the Christian Right who have great sway in conservative politics and the Republican party advocate policies similar to the Nazi Nurnberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph.  Threats to deny loyal American Moslems the right to serve in the military, security organizations, government positions and academia are common today. More extreme are threats to put all-Moslems “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II, or to deport them as the Nazis did to the Jews before the “Final Solution”  are even more chilling.

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Wade Page

Of course there was the mass killing by neo-Nazi Wade Page in Oak Park Illinois in October 2012, like Hicks he was filled with hate toward religion, and took his out on the members of the Sikh Temple.

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Scott Roeder

I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested that all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church? Likewise I wonder what atheists would do if someone suggested putting everyone who followed Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, or Sam Harris in camps or depriving them of citizenship for the actions of someone like Hicks?

Thankfully, there are a few on the  Religious Right who have taken a stand. Reverend Rob Schenck, President of the National Clergy Council, commented in regard to the Moslem prayer vigil in Washington D.C. in 2009:  “With over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, it is important that Christians have an open dialogue with the Islamic community. The church must never be timid in reaching out to peoples and groups with differing beliefs and traditions. Too much is at stake for future generations not to begin this historic conversation. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.”

What the people who advocate punitive actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

Niemöller would discover this the hard way prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning  to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times. We have entered a dangerous phase of American, and for that matter world history.

The killing of these three young American by this hate filled man should be a wake up call to all of us. It is time to start giving a damn and standing up to those who inspire and promote such hatred, no matter what their race, creed, or ideology. We have to stand up against hate. If we do not we are no better than all of those who throughout history turned their backs as others committed the most horrible crimes against humanity.

Peace,

Padres Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, Political Commentary, Religion

The Insidious and Orwellian “Religious Liberties Protection Act” of “Christian” Kansas

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“There is no such thing as part freedom.” Nelson Mandela 

In their desire to protect the rights of conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christians the representatives of the State of Kansas enacted a new law. It really is an amazing law that enshrines discrimination against homosexuals based on religious preference. The law is targeted to allegedly protect people who do not want to serve homosexuals based on their religious beliefs. However, the law is so broadly written that it can be used against anyone for any reason by an individual, business or organization “if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity.”

It is legislation that is reminiscent of Jim Crow laws used against blacks, Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws against the Jews of the 1930s, and the laws of Islamic nations that allow non-Moslems or more open minded Moslems to be prosecuted or even killed for anything that offends Islam.

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Kansas Representative Charles Macheers

The language of the authors of the Bill is Orwellian. It is called The Religious Liberties Protection Act. The sponsor of the legislation State Representative Charles Macheers noted:

“Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful … It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill. There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that.”

However, Macheers and his supporters seek to prevent discrimination by enshrining it as law. Unlike Bills in some other states, this Bill does not simply apply to private business or individuals, but it also empowers government employees to discriminate against people if it violates “their sincerely held religious beliefs.” It is a law that allows public employees, paid by taxpayers being free to discriminate.  (Read the Bill as enacted here: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/documents/hb2453_01_0000.pdf)

What this does is to give anyone claiming a “sincerely held religious belief” in a private or public capacity to deny people basic civil rights and liberties. It is license to discriminate and it is something that James Madison warned us about:

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

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The authors of this legislation and its supporters throughout the country don’t seem to get the fact that once you begin down this path that you set precedent. That precedent to discriminate against a person or group of people based on religious beliefs is dangers. The writers seem unconcerned about the ramifications of what would happen if this bill became law. In their hatred of homosexuality and homosexuals they forget that any law can which legalizes discrimination can be used against anyone, including those that enact it order to supposedly protect their religious liberty.

They also fail to understand the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

I am a defender of religious liberty, but religious liberty needs to be for all, not just for some. Religious liberty is something that our founders understood, and they took great care to ensure that the rights of religious minorities and unbelievers were respected in our Constitution. Just as I do not want the government regulating religion, even religious views that I do not agree, I do not want religion to be used to deny the civil rights of others simply because those people are different from those that choose to use the law to discriminate. I wonder what those that support this law would do if in another state the same kind of law was passed to discriminate against their basic civil and human rights. I don’t think that they would like it very much.

My view is much like Andrew Sullivan. I may not agree with someone’s deeply held religious convictions, they may be intolerant and even hateful must be allowed the space to speak about them and even enter into the public discourse. I do not want to see religious people silenced. I may disagree with what some say and how they say it but they like everyone else need to have the space to speak their convictions. Allowing that space is what “true liberals do.” Sullivan notes that those who advance the agenda of Gay rights and equality “should be wary of being seen to trample on religious freedom and be defined as discriminators of another sort.”

Michael Knaapen, John Becker

I agree with Sullivan on this, the fact is that Gays like so many others have been the target of state sanctioned religious discrimination throughout history. It is natural that the LGBT community, which has been so hated and discriminated against would want to push hard against those that use religion to attack, demean and marginalize them. But it is important remember that reconciliation and acceptance is a two way street. The actions of the late Nelson Mandela after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa should be a model. Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Unfortunately in Kansas, many religious people, for reasons, some real but many imagined; feel the compelling need to use the power of the law to suppress LGBT people or others that they believe threaten them. In other places religious people attempt to use the police power of the government at the Federal, State and Local level to suppress anything or the activities of anyone they deem to be against God, or rather their interpretation of God.

Though I am not Gay I feel the sting of these laws because although my Church will allow me to marry a Gay couple I cannot in the state that I reside or many others. I know a number of Gay couples that have asked me if I could perform their marriages, but such will have to wait until we can find a time and a place where I can legally perform their nuptials. The sad thing is that in some places like Indiana there are legislators who in defending their religious freedom would criminalize an attempt by me or any other minister performing such an act if they could. Thankfully that amendment to the Indiana Constitution has been pushed back for at least two years.

Their belief compels them to use the law against homosexuals, non-Christian religious minorities, secularists and humanists and attempt to curtail the advances and discoveries of science, archeology and history. I believe that such attempts are short sighted and do violence to the religious beliefs that many espouse. Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer that “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

The proposed law in Kansas, which looks as if may stall in the State Senate is an evil being enacted to supposedly support the good. Nothing good can come of it, if passed it will poison the hearts and minds of the very people it is supposedly written to protect. It will give them legal right to treat people who are different than them in a way that does not reflect the Gospel, and encourage the worst type of self-righteous behavior, and it will blow back in their face.

The attempt of the Kansas legislature to pass this Bill into law reminds me of something that Spencer Tracy’s character, Henry Drummond said in the film Inherit the Wind:

“I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers.” 

This is a wicked law, and if it is made law it will do great harm to those that is directed against, those who the precedents in it may be used against in the future and those that think that will protect their. It is Orwellian and at its heart it is evil. If it is enacted into law it should be opposed at every opportunity by every person of good will, no matter what their faith, political ideology or sexual preference, because all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Holocaust: The Ordinary Men of Wansee and Two Hours that Doomed a Race

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“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”  Primo Levi

Today was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on January 27th 1945 that the Nazi death camp called Auschwitz, in Poland was liberated by the Red Army.

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Auschwitz began as a work camp, notoriously harsh in its treatment of its prisoners but a work camp, picked because of its proximity to rail lines and isolation. By the summer of 1941 it was the largest camp in the Concentration Camp system. Within months the process of turning Auschwitz into a factory of mass murder began, quite accidentally when members of the camp staff discovered that a chemical used for the delousing of barracks known as Zyklon-B also worked on large animals, and therefore people.  It was tested on Russian and Polish POWs in September 1941.

As the Nazi desire for efficient extermination grew and early death factories showed their limitations and the “experiments” at Auschwitz resulted in it being selected as a death camp. The camp was expanded and its first gas chamber, the former camp morgue began its operations in February 1942. Other more massive chambers were built, chambers that could hold up to 2000 victims per cycle. By the time the operation was shut down in the weeks leading up to the camp’s liberation Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz estimated that 2.5 million people, mostly Jews were exterminated in it. Höss boasted d that his camp could exterminate 10,000 people in a 24 hour period. Other estimates are lower, but still in the millions.

Höss, and other functionaries such Adolf Eichmann, who coordinated the massive effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe following the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 approached their jobs dispassionately. This was a common attitude among the civil service, military and police officials that oversaw the Holocaust. They simply did their jobs and followed the law.

Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

This was what made the Holocaust committed against the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany a phenomenon different than other genocides. Many of the perpetrators were not driven by centuries old hate as in the Balkans, tribal blood lust as occurred in Rwanda, or the products of Soviet Communism or Communist Chines Maoist regimes.

It was the racial ideology of the Nazis which deemed the Jews and other non-Aryans to be sub-human. That ideology undergirded the German treatment of the Jews, and the conduct of the war, especially in the East. But the execution of the plan required the bureaucratic, administrative, technical and legal skills brought to the table by ordinary men. Men who sought promotion, advancement and economic security for their families. Individually many would have never killed, but in their positions they ran the rail network, the factories, the banking and finance industries and supported the war effort, most not thinking much about the evil that they abetted or if they did finding a way, be it social, scientific, religious, patriotic, legal or simply in the name of efficiency.

That is what makes the evil committed by them so terrifying. It is the product of “normal” people in an advanced Western nation. Make no bones about it, their actions were evil. They aided and abetted the genocide of the Jews, the disabled, other “sub-human” races, particularly Slavs, as well as those that they deemed less than suitable.

This evening I watched the movie Conspiracy which is about the two hour long Wansee Conference headed by Reinhard Heydrich and organized by Eichmann. That conference put the representatives of competing agencies, and in the case of the SS, agencies within agencies together and brought about their cooperation in the execution of the Final Solution.

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The film is chilling in the ordinariness of the men involved. civil servants, party officials, they were the men that did the day to day administration of the necessary functions of the Reich. Some were horrified at the potentiality of the effects of what Heydrich referred as “evacuations” entailed. They understood that it meant the extermination of the Jews. Some were concerned about the military and logistical aspects, others in how such actions squared with the German law, especially the Nuremberg Laws, while still others were concerned with diplomatic relations with Germany’s allies or occupied countries and some unnerved by the fact that it would be murder. But when the conference was done, all agreed and worked together and it only took two hours.

It is important that we do not forget the Holocaust. It is also important to recognize that the instruments of that horror were on the whole “ordinary” men who as they saw it were simply doing their job. It is something that everyone needs to remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, world war two in europe

Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

Herman Maas

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israelin 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war. Bonhoeffer wrote “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” 

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bernard Lichtenberg

Catholic Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  Some like Meyer would end up in concentrations camps with some like Canon Bernard Lichtenberg of Berlin dying at the hands of the Nazis.

Rupert Meyer

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists.

Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat to Germany.  A sentiment harbored by many non-Nazi conservatives and Christians.

Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked in Germany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well in Germany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

Nazi Political and Religious Opponents in Concentration Camps

When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest.  Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they left Germany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

Hitler portrayed himself and his movement as defenders of Christianity. He was not the first or last to do so but his speech of February 1st 1933, the day after he was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg made it abundantly clear that he was bent on securing the support of Christians to solidify his grip on power: “The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life. . . .”

The Sturmabteilung (SA) at Church

Churches became sponsors of Nazi meetings, the Swastika banner hung in the sanctuaries of churches throughout the Reich and Bishops, Priests and Pastors joined Nazi organizations and gave the Nazi salute. They had sold their soul to Hitler and the Nazis out of fear of the Communists, Socialists, Jews and Slavs.

Eric Hoffer noted that “It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable.” Hitler and his enablers spread fear and took advantage of it to bring those fearful of the left to his support.

Hitler leaving a Church

Today we face a similar phenomena in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Gays, immigrants and racial minorities who are the targets of the xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.  Their popularity in voicing support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades and anti-Gay launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities. Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants, legal and illegal alike especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.  Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals or putting them in concentration camps, deporting them or even punishing gays with the death penalty.

This is so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems or Gays of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know.  The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

The persecution of American Moslems, minorities, Gays and others is dangerous, not just for those minorities but ultimately for Christians who endorse and advocate against those groups.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

During the Republican Presidential primaries major leaders of the Evangelical movement and churches did all that they could to paint Mitt Romney as a religious cultist because he is Mormon. When Romney secured the nomination those same people started backtracking and committing their support to him because they believe that President Obama is an enemy of the country. They don’t like Romney, they are just against Obama. Romney will remember what they called him and their tepid support. If he becomes President he will not be beholden to them and will govern as he desires. Laws and Executive orders that give expanded power to the Executive Branch will not be overturned and if Evangelicals decide that they don’t like what he is doing and act toward him as they have President Obama they could find themselves on the outside and abandoned by the man that they supported.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitutional protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.  So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic Americans of all faiths and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political, religious affiliation or sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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