Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Cheap Atonement

Sitting on my bookshelf is Susannah Heschel's provocative and disturbing book The Aryan Jesus (Princeton, 2008), in part the story of how the German churches, both Protestant and Catholic - and their theologians - actively courted and collaborated with the Nazi regime like fawning lapdogs. And yes, propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, that applies in part to the "Confessing Church" as well.

The cover picture in itself is incredibly powerful, showing the altar of a church in Cologne, 1935, draped with the swastika. Heschel tells a grim tale of self-delusion and fantasy dressed up in agenda-driven scholarship, a horrendous indictment on the Christian churches.

When Heschel then comments on the just passed papal visit to Britain, I for one am willing to sit bolt upright and pay close attention.

Here it is.


  1. You are right, that is very disturbing. I had never heard that the Nazi's had an edited version of the Bible that they used to justify their atrocities. Have you been able to independently verify that?

  2. There are a lot of thoughts this posting provokes.

    Your title I believe references Bonhoffers "Cheap Grace" idea. It does seem as though repentance and transformation is cheapened as well when the church corporate fails to stand upon the principles that set it apart from larger society. The lure of power by aligning itself politically seems to be a prostitution of the Bride of Christ. An "ends justifies the means" attitude becomes prevalent.

    When the ends result in a bastardized form of religion that seeks its own ends politically and pretends that in doing so it is performing the will of God than any such system should be condemned.

    Personally, I'm glad of living in a secular society, so long as that society maintain a respect for the individual's right to choose his/her beliefs and live out those beliefs if they are not harmful to others.

    Living in a society where different voices can be heard is good because it allows us to be challenged. To consider and see different points of view. There is nothing that says we have to agree but those who disagree should not be silenced.

    When society becomes totalitarian, such as nazi germany, and desenting voices are silenced that society becomes without conscience.

    When christians in nazi germany gave up their "separateness" they lost the right to be the nation's conscience and became, to use a biblical phrase, "partakers of her sins".

    To recover that separateness requires an act of contrition and transformation. In the case of groups of people it may be many years in the making.

  3. I know Heschel has been criticised, but to call her book "a grim tale of self-delusion and fantasy dressed up in agenda-driven scholarship" seems a bit harsher even than Robert Morgan's critique in JSNT.

  4. Unfortunately for Catholicism in general, those wacky Nazis photo documented each and every goose step on their path to "glory". So we have the remnants of thousands of Bishops, Cardinals, etc. sieg heiling their little hearts out.

    This should not be seen, in my opinion, as any worse kind of condemnation than one might place on the various American industrialists that aligned themselves with Hitler; philosophically, if not outright.

    The basic (plain) truth here, and I don't think anything has changed in these last 60+ years, is that the Catholic church is a political organization, and always has been.

    And, as we see in America and elsewhere these days, religion in general is a highly politically driven industry. The persecuted are become the persecutors.

  5. Randy: the Nazified New Testament was called Die Botschaft Gottes (The Message of God).

    Anonymous: my comment about self-delusion was absolutely not intended as a slur on Heschel's book, but a comment on the activities of those who supported the Nazis - the focus of Heschel's writing.

  6. "Christian teachings are no guarantee against atrocity and, in the context of the Third Reich, actually came to justify the Holocaust."

    Yep. I've been saying that for years. Good to see that it's finally starting to seep into public consciousness. Hitler was a very pious Catholic, and the Holocaust was supported, promoted, and financed in Germany, by the Catholics. (Not to mention all the Catholics who "were just following orders.")

    On a purely selfish note, the sooner the Roman Catholic Church is brought down, the sooner the last of the ex-WCG's house of (false prophecy) cards will come tumbling down, for once and for all. (Has any CoG leader addressed Ratzi the Nazi's spectacular failure as a Beast Power, yet? Or do they still have their heads in the sand, preaching out of the 1934 playbook?)

    How's your Beast Power looking now, eh? Eh? Yeah, Ratzi the Nazi's really ramping up with the conversions, to that "One World Religion" that even the faithful adherents of, are leaving in droves.

    If anything, WCG's predictions for the Roman Catholic Church, have turned out to be the anti-prophecy!

  7. That's a bit of an oversimplification PH, the Protestant churches were also into it up to their eyeballs.

  8. "...the Protestant churches were also into it up to their eyeballs."

    Oh, absolutely agreed, but the difference is...the Protestant churches were not the state churches, the way the Catholic churches were. I recall dimly, reading in one Holocaust memoir, (penned by a survivor's son) that some Protestant Russians(? Might have have been Poles) sheltered Jews who were fleeing persecution.

    That doesn't excuse the institutional evil the Protestant churches themselves engaged in, though; until the Third Reich started turning on them, too.

  9. PH, in Germany the Protestant church WAS the state church. The altar on the cover of Heschel's book was, I believe a Protestant (Lutheran) one.