Tag Archives: weimar germany

Babylon Berlin: An Amazing Series, Excellent History, and Lessons for Today

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have just finished watching the German historical crime series Babylon Berlin for the second time. I watch it on Netflix and it is worth watching.

Set in 1929 Berlin it is a story that involves a criminal inspector from Cologne going to Berlin to solve a case. In it he works with the Vice and Homicide squads in Berlin. The series accurately depicts the social, economic, and political situation that existed in the latter part of the Weimar Republic.

Since very few people understand much about the complexity of life in Weimar Germany, this is not a bad place to start. From it they can go into the social and political complexities covered books such as Weimar Culture by Peter Gay, The Reichswehr and the Politics by F. L. Carsten, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic by Andreas Dortpalen, and The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans.

The series is dubbed into English from the German and also subtitled in English. The settings and equipment including trains, cars, weapons, aircraft and trucks are exceptionally matched to the period. Likewise, the director and producers show a social and political setting that is unmatched in accuracy for any television production that I have seen.

The protagonist in the series is Cologne detective Gereon Rath played by Volker Bruch. His mission is to find incriminating evidence of sexual depravity against his father, but ends up in a Byzantine world of libertine excess, Right and Left Wing extremism, and Soviet interference to destroy the Republic in order to set up a Soviet State. Of course parts the right Wing wanted to restore the monarchy, while Hitler and his Nazis wanted a Fascist State. The Monarchist and conservative Army was willing to work with the Soviet Union to obtain the weapons that it was forbidden by the Treat Of Versailles. The perverse and often incestuous world of those trying to overthrow the Republic from the Left and Right are met with the opposition of a few police officials and civil servants who are simply trying to do their job and uphold the law, while being attacked and vilified by Right and Left Wing extremists, all who will resort to violence to achieve their goals.

The female lead Charlotte Ritter, a poor woman who finds temporary work with the Berlin Police while working as an escort, entertainer, and prostitute at one of Berlin’s premier nightclubs is played by Liv Lisa Fries. Her story is one of the many threads that make this series such a powerful drama.

Rath’s partner, Bruno Wolter, a former army comrade is played to a tee by Peter Kurth. I think that one of the most fascinating characters is played by Mattias Brandt, who plays the head of the Criminal Police, August Brenda.

The webs of intrigue and betrayal in this show kept me on the edge of my seat both times that I watched it, and I am a student of the period.

However, the lessons to be learned are still pertinent. While the Weimar Republic was still in its infancy and the American Republic is now over 240 years old, they are torn by similar passions and attacked by similar parties, foreign and domestic, including Russia. In the middle there are imperfect men and women who serve cognizant of their oath to the Constitution and be the target of all, even when it would be easier to side with any particular party.

Mark Twain quipped: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Babylon Berlin shows that, and the shades of gray that it portrays can shed lite on our current world.

I really do recommend this series, and I won’t give away spoilers. It is worth watching.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, History, Loose thoughts and musings, movies

Direction to His Follower’s Fierce Primal Passions: A Post from Last Year, I Hate Being Right

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote this post a year ago, December 10th 2015 to be exact. You can look at the original here if you don’t believe me.

https://padresteve.com/2015/12/10/the-mob-determined-the-theme/

I have to admit that I was way ahead of almost all the professional prognosticators, pollsters, and pundits about what Trump had tapped into. Maybe some network or major newspaper needs to hire me. Anyway, read it and weep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

When Albert Speer discussed the ability of Adolf Hitler to captivate the German people he noted something important. He discussed how Hitler and his minions played to them set by the disgruntled and angry German population. Speer wrote, “The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

Hitler played to that misery, insecurity and the obsessions of the politically and economically disaffected “conservative base” that no longer trusted the party establishments of the old-line conservative parties. He also played to the deep-rooted racism and anti-Semitism of those people. Hitler was an outsider, he was not indebted to any traditional party hierarchy and as such was able to throw away convention and play to the fear and anger of many Germans.

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Donald Trump is doing today and he is running circles around the traditional politicians of the Republican Party. Every time trump says something that would have gotten himself blown out of the race twenty years ago had he said such things, today his poll numbers keep going up. He is now trending around 35% in most polls of GOP voters and my guess is that those numbers are low, as some supporters may not be willing to tell a pollster that they are for Trump, at least yet. My guess is that Trump’s support in the GOP is probably higher than 40% and won’t go down much. The party hierarchy and most of Trump’s primary rivals consistently criticize Trump, but most say that they will back him if he is the nominee. I cannot imagine that being the case twenty years ago when both the party establishment and the voters would have dumped him in a New York minute.

Aug. 21. 2015 Mobile, AL, Trump supporters at his campaign pep rally in Ladd Peebles Stadium. These women are all party of the Republican Party and plan to vote for Trump.  Over 20 thousand came to the Ladd-Peebles Stadium to attend Trumps campaign pep rally. 40,000 were expected to come.

Trump understands the mood of much of the traditionally conservative public better than his Republican establishment competitors. Trump is not stupid, unlike Hitler who actually believed in his message, Trump is not a radical, he cannot be, he has too much invested in the system. Instead, he is a street smart and pragmatic businessman who is exploiting the situation on the ground to his advantage. His opponents and the GOP establishment are frightened, but like the hidebound conservatives of the Weimar Republic who either dismissed or Hitler or thought that they could contain him are not willing to make a stand. As a result, Trump is able to play to the mood of the base and to coin a phrase, to “trump the establishment” by channeling the deepest anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, and racism that the GOP establishment refuses to acknowledge. When there is a push back by the establishment it further angers the base, and Trump, quite adroitly threatens to leave the party; something which would doom the GOP in the 2016 general election, and possibly shatter the party.

Trump’s GOP opponents should not underestimate him and neither should establishment Democrats. Trump is using his celebrity bombast and the democratic process to take control of a major political party, and he is a lot smarter than most political analysts give him credit. As such, as a non-establishment outsider, Trump has a chance at taking over a major political party, something that has never before happened in the United States.

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, hatred, and fear to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible. To paraphrase Speer’s words about Hitler and Goebbels: By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Muslims and immigrants, Trump gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions of a disaffected GOP base.

Back to the present… I found it hard to believe that Trump could win the election, but I failed to account for the meddling of Russia, the complicity of the FBI Director, and the press’s neglect in not seeking the truth or treating Trump as a serious candidate during last two weeks of the campaign

But apart from that tell me if I was wrong in my assessment of Trump and his ability to read his audience and market himself in order to get their support. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Nuremberg on Lake Erie


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been watching bits and pieces of the Republican National Convention and try as I might as a man who spent thirty-two years as a faithful Republican to find anything redeeming in it, I couldn’t. In fact, it troubled me more that I ever imagined that it could. If I wasn’t a historian with a tremendous background in both the history of Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Era; not to mention the American Civil War era, I probably would be less frightened. If I were not a historian I would probably just brush the words and actions that I have seen in Cleveland off as hyperbole with little real merit. But I cannot use ignorance as an excuse to ignore what I see, and try as I might I cannot get the images of the Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies out of my mind as I watch what is going on in Cleveland.

Though Trump won the delegate count by a slight plurality, dissenting delagates were brushed aside in procedural votes, any who oppose him in the GOP are now considered traitors and are scorned. Many prominent GOP leaders, including George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush are not attending this fiasco, nor is the last GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Likewise, some  18 GOP Senators and hundreds of other GOP leaders. Leading Republicans, including elected officials and pundits with pedigrees that go back to Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan are leaving the party, and with good reason; but to Trump and his stalwarts they are all traitors. For those who don’t remember Hitler purged the Nazi Party of men who did not agree with him as well. 

The images shown at the convention hall were designed to appeal to the basist of human nature: hatred of the other, using faux patriotism, the image of military might, and the tales of martyrs. Coming from a man who has openly and notoriously mocked military personnel and veterans; a man who compared his time in a private military pre-school to be superior to actual military service; and a man who used every method imaginable to avoid the draft in Vietnam, the display was sickening. A man that openly mocks military personnel using them for his political and personal gain. 

The speeches thus far have been angry diatribes which demonized Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton using charges that have been continually refuted. Peaceful Black Lives Matter Demonstraters were vilified as being responsible for the recent assassinations of police officers, when the men who killed them wanted nothing to do with the BLM movement or working peacefully with authorities to deal with a very real problem. The answer of Trump and his supporters to these to all problems is to go back and echo the words of anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s, or the answers of those who instituted Jim Crow, and those who passed the anti-Chinese laws of the 1880s-1940s.

But now these same xenophobic ideas are turned against Americans of color, or Americans of the Muslim faith; and let us not even talk about the radically anti-woman and anti-gay measures in the party platform. One speaker openly proclaimed that President Obama is a Muslim, repeating a lie as old as Obama’s nomination in 2008; a lie that Trump was one of the biggest publicists, and for which he has never apologize. Interestingly enough, the day the convention began, Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King, a long time Trump supporter, openly spoke of the superiority of the white race on live television. 

Listening to some of the speakers and reading their words I was reminded of the Nuremberg party rallies where Jews, Social Democrats, organized labor, and peoplewho were called subhuman, were the target of intensely violent rhetoric, which once the Nazis came to power was transformed into action. Like today the foreign policy blunders that led to a war  that broke the nation were not attributed to the imperialistic nationalists who helped bring about the disaster. Instead the fault for World War One was not blamed on the Kaiser and militarists, but those who were not responsible for bringing about the war, and who were saddled with dealing with the mess when those who caused it ran away from their responsibilities. Today Trump and his minions demonize President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and four security contractors in a rapidly evolving crisis that only lasted 13 hours, but ignore any sort of inquiry or justice for the 4500 military deaths in the Iraq War; a war that was planned for over a year and justified by lies. Likewise, the lists of similarities in style and substance between Trump and the Nazi movement are too numerous to mention, and the similarities in the political climate between the late Weimar of 1930 to January of 1933 and today is frightening. Historian Richard Evans wrote in his book The Coming of the Third Reich: 

In the increasingly desperate situation of 1930, the Nazis managed to project an image of strong, decisive action, dynamism, energy and youth that wholly eluded the propaganda efforts of the other political parties, with the partial exception of the Communists. The cult of leadership which they created around Hitler could not be matched by comparable efforts by other parties to project their leaders as the Bismarcks of the future. All this was achieved through powerful, simple slogans and images, frenetic, manic activity, marches, rallies, demonstrations, speeches, posters, placards and the like, which underlined the Nazis’ claim to be far more than a political party: they were a movement, sweeping up the German people and carrying them unstoppably to a better future. What the Nazis did not offer, however, were concrete solutions to Germany’s problems, least of all in the area where they were most needed, in economy and society. More strikingly still, the public disorder which loomed so large in the minds of the respectable middle classes in 1930, and which the Nazis promised to end through the creation of a tough, authoritarian state, was to a considerable extent of their own making. Many people evidently failed to realize this, blaming the Communists instead, and seeing in the violence of the brown-uniformed Nazi stormtroopers on the streets a justified, or at least understandable reaction to the violence and aggression of the Red Front-Fighters’ League. 

Voters were not really looking for anything very concrete from the Nazi Party in 1930. They were, instead, protesting against the failure of the Weimar Republic. Many of them, too, particularly in rural areas, small towns, small workshops, culturally conservative families, older age groups, or the middle-class nationalist political milieu, may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood, despite the modern image which the Nazis projected in many respects. The vagueness of the Nazi programme, its symbolic mixture of old and new, its eclectic, often inconsistent character, to a large extent allowed people to read into it what they wanted to and edit out anything they might have found disturbing. Many middle-class voters coped with Nazi violence and thuggery on the streets by writing it off as the product of excessive youthful ardour and energy. But it was far more than that, as they were soon to discover for themselves.

Trump presents a vague program and changes his positions so often that it is a wonder how he can say them and keep a straight face. But the very real anger of the voters that he is channeling doesn’t demand answers, they don’t want anything concrete from him, with the possible exception of  a wall across the southern border with Mexico. But to many of Trump’s supporters today, like many Germans in 1932, a real program, real answers, and any kind of ideological consistently, economic philosophy, or understanding of foreign policy do not matter. 

But even worse from the perspective of a Christian is the fact that to many people, Trump’s hedonistic lifestyle, three divorces; his basic lack of concern and empathy for anyone other than himself; as well as his propensity to use people until they are of no use to him and throw them away; not to mention  his lack of business ethics, four corporate bankruptcies and his vainglorious narcissism which in former times would have lost  vote of conservative Christians, are now ignored. 

In fact a plethora of prominent leaders of the Religious Right, men like James Dobson and James Robison; men who Barry Goldwater despised, have come to embrace and support the Trump candidacy. The last poll I saw estimated that four of five people who call themselves evangelical or conservative Christians plan to vote for Trump, and mock his Deomcratic and Republican opponents. A “Christian” pastor used his benediction to do what never has been done at any major American political party’s convention. He called the other party and their candidate “the enemy,” and linked Trump’s vision to that of God. It was both blasphemous and anti-American all at once. 

The whole first day and today’s continued rancor is frightening to behold. Ronald Reagan would be rolling in his grave and Abraham Lincoln would condemn what we have seen in the same way that he condemned the Know Nothings in the 1850s. 

As a former Republican, as a man who worked for the Ford campaign before I could vote;  a man who voted for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and both George H.W., and George W. Bush, this is not about partisan politics, but I am glad that I left the FOP when I did when I came home from Iraq in 2008. 

This is about telling the truth about a campaign that I could never have believed in a million years that would be occurring in our country.  That my friends scares the hell of me. While I don’t believe that Trump will win the election, the thought that he has taken control of the GOP and is in the process of destroying it, bothers me, as it should you, and frankly he doesn’t care. He has no loyalty to anyone other than himself, and all of us, including his most loyal followers are just stepping stones; just like the German people were to Hitler, and they followed him to hell. 

Anyway, that is enough for today. Nothing like spending hours in doctors and military pharmacy waiting rooms with screaming kids and GOP convention coverage to get the blood flowing. I can use a beer or four tonight. 

Have a great day,

Peace

padre+

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Filed under ethics, History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

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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The Mob Determined the Theme

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

When Albert Speer discussed the ability of Adolf Hitler to captivate the German people he noted something important. He discussed how Hitler and his minions played to them set by the disgruntled and angry German population. Speer wrote, “The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

Hitler played to that misery, insecurity and the obsessions of the politically and economically disaffected “conservative base” that no longer trusted the party establishments of the old-line conservative parties. He also played to the deep-rooted racism and anti-Semitism of those people. Hitler was an outsider, he was not indebted to any traditional party hierarchy and as such was able to throw away convention and play to the fear and anger of many Germans.

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Donald Trump is doing today and he is running circles around the traditional politicians of the Republican Party. Every time trump says something that would have gotten himself blown out of the race twenty years ago had he said such things, today his poll numbers keep going up. He is now trending around 35% in most polls of GOP voters and my guess is that those numbers are low, as some supporters may not be willing to tell a pollster that they are for Trump, at least yet. My guess is that Trump’s support in the GOP is probably higher than 40% and won’t go down much. The party hierarchy and most of Trump’s primary rivals consistently criticize Trump, but most say that they will back him if he is the nominee. I cannot imagine that being the case twenty years ago when both the party establishment and the voters would have dumped him in a New York minute.

Aug. 21. 2015 Mobile, AL, Trump supporters at his campaign pep rally in Ladd Peebles Stadium. These women are all party of the Republican Party and plan to vote for Trump.  Over 20 thousand came to the Ladd-Peebles Stadium to attend Trumps campaign pep rally. 40,000 were expected to come.

Trump understands the mood of much of the traditionally conservative public better than his Republican establishment competitors. Trump is not stupid, unlike Hitler who actually believed in his message, Trump is not a radical, he cannot be, he has too much invested in the system. Instead, he is a street smart and pragmatic businessman who is exploiting the situation on the ground to his advantage. His opponents and the GOP establishment are frightened, but like the hidebound conservatives of the Weimar Republic who either dismissed or Hitler or thought that they could contain him are not willing to make a stand. As a result, Trump is able to play to the mood of the base and to coin a phrase, to “trump the establishment” by channeling the deepest anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, and racism that the GOP establishment refuses to acknowledge. When there is a push back by the establishment it further angers the base, and Trump, quite adroitly threatens to leave the party; something which would doom the GOP in the 2016 general election, and possibly shatter the party.

Trump’s GOP opponents should not underestimate him and neither should establishment Democrats. Trump is using his celebrity bombast and the democratic process to take control of a major political party, and he is a lot smarter than most political analysts give him credit. As such, as a non-establishment outsider, Trump has a chance at taking over a major political party, something that has never before happened in the United States.

If he succeeds in his takeover bid, it will forever change American politics, especially if he is able to ride the fear, hatred, and fear to the White House. I don’t think the latter will happen, but I would not exclude it from the realm of the possible. To paraphrase Speer’s words about Hitler and Goebbels: By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Muslims and immigrants, Trump gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions of a disaffected GOP base.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Why I Fight for Gay Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think that the question “why?” is important, and it is important for my readers to know just why I would be spending so much time to defending the rights of Gays and the LGBTQ community. Those who have been reading for this site the past few days know that I have been very passionately speaking out on the behalf of Gays and Lesbians.

“Why?” is an important question my friends, one that far too many people fail to ask of those who set or influence policy. I would love to see the media ask any supposedly Conservative politician “why” they are against gay rights. I mean seriously ask why, and then ask hard follow-up questions.

I am sure that there are some Christians that marvel that another Christian, and a Navy Chaplain with a strong conservative pedigree to boot would defend the rights of Gays, Lesbians and others that they disapprove. However, at this point in my life I can do no other.

I am a historian who also happens to be a priest and senior Navy Chaplain. I know too much, and if I do not speak up I would be culpable of the same crimes that German Christians, clergy and military officers did when they said nothing when the Jews, Gays and others were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered by the Nazi regime.

In the early 1900s the Jews of Germany were making progress, gaining entrance into government, the military and the political process. Germany in those days was a haven for Jews, especially Eastern European Jews who had to live with open persecution and pogroms sanctioned by Czarist Russia and other eastern European states. German Jews in that era were preeminent scientists, physicians and had entered the government and military. The Germany Armaments Minister Walther Rathenau who helped keep the German military in the war through his immense talents was Jewish, as was the commanding officer who recommended the young Corporal Adolf Hitler for the award of the Iron Cross First Class in 1918. However, when Germany was defeated in the First World War, Jews took much of the blame, and conservative German Christians were at the forefront well before anyone knew the name of Adolf Hitler.

Of course, they were a minority, and many were Socialists and in the search for villains after the defeat and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Jews were high on the hit list, especially for conservative Christians of both the Protestant and Catholic faiths who saw their dreams die at the end of the war.

Much is the same for the LGBT community in the United States. Conservative Christians blame Gays for all the social ills and maladies that German Christians did the Jews, Socialists and yes, German homosexuals did in the 1920s. If you actually bother to read the writing of the German right wing and conservatives of that era you will find language that is startlingly similar to the language used by conservative American Christians use today against Gays, liberal Jews, progressives and yes Moslems as well. It is an amazing study if you have the integrity and interest to bother to read it instead of listening to the pundits, politicians and especially the political preachers of the American right. However, if you don’t it matters not, because after all “God hates the gays” so why shouldn’t you?

But then wasn’t that what the German Christians who allied themselves to Hitler did concerning the Jews? After all the Jews were “Christ killers.” Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and all the leading Nazis said so. But today if there is a natural disaster in the United States who is to blame? The Gays of course, and almost every conservative political preacher in America agrees. Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Robison, John Hagee and even soon to be repeat presidential candidate Mike Huckabee all agree that it is all the Gays fault. Just like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and others said of the Jews in Germany. Get rid of the Gays and voila, problem solved.

Since most of these preachers, pundits and politicians believe that Gays are destined for Hell and are the enemies of God, it is only a matter of time before they not only endorse legal restrictions and persecution, but endorse genocide. If fact some have, Scott Lively and others have actually went to Africa and campaigned for “Kill the Gays” bills in Uganda. They actually promote legislation in other countries that would make it legal not just to ensure that Gays have second or third rate citizenship, but to imprison and execute them. Given the chance they would do so here.

You see, every mass movement of religious and nationalist hate needs a scapegoat. For the German right it was the Jews, for the modern American right it is the Gays. As Eric Hoffer wrote: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” To the German Right in the 1920s and 1930s the Jews were the Devil, to many conservative American Christians the Gays are the Devil.

You see it is just a short jump from thoughts, to words to actions. Those who embrace the hatred of Gays, just as those who embraced the hatred of the Jews are just a little ways from thoughts, to words to actions. Believe me, with a Congress that now has a sizable number of people who honestly believe that the Gays are the enemy, not just of them but of God that actions may well follow. One only has to look at the anti-gay measures in Russia, some parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and in particular Africa, where aided by anti-Gay American Christians nations like Uganda are criminalizing homosexuality and even speaking up for gays as a heterosexual.

That being said I think that the tide of history is going the other direction, but that does not mean that such people are not dangerous should they ever be in a place to enforce their religious and ideological beliefs on others.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

That is why as a white, male, Christian, Navy Chaplain and priest I must speak out against such hatred and support the rights of the LGBT community. I have to speak out, as do other Christians. As Martin Niemoller, a naval hero of the First World War and conservative German pastor who initially supported Hitler noted:

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me – and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Sadly, today, most conservative American Christians don’t understand this profound political philosophy. Likewise, they, like Martin Niemoller and others throughout history, will find that some of the people that they support will turn on them once they no longer need their votes or political support.

That my friends is a fact and why anyone should beware of any religious leader or politician who turns any minority group into a Devil should be feared, because they do mean business, and their ruthlessness is only concealed by the veneer of religion and law.

That my friends is why I write, why I speak, and why I fight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Fever and the Fear: Conservative American Christians and Judgment at Nuremberg

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Yesterday I wrote about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians and I drew some comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite their reservations supported ultra-right wing parties and later the Nazi Party. As I mentioned yesterday this was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich, and especially the fear of what many Christians believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. Their brief experiment with democracy which was devastated by political battles amid the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which brought about the Great Depression made many receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

I think that conservative American Christians are going the same direction as they get swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I noted yesterday much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,  her treatment of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“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.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“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.”

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news. I think I will be continuing this line of thought through much of the coming week, although there may be a detour into baseball or Gettysburg; so I will stop for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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