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After reading "Roots of the Holocaust," your May 22 interview and report on USF Professor Darrell J. Fasching's recently published Narrative Theology After Auschwitz, I had to ask myself, "Will the real Martin Luther please stand up?"
When I compare his work to two other recently published works about "God and the Germans: Political Witness Under Hitler" (i.e., Christian Faith in Dark Times: Theological Conflicts in the Shadow of Hitler by Jack Forstman and For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler by Victoria Barnett), Fasching's apparent distortion of Luther takes on the characteristics of sensationalism found usually in a National Enquirer attention-getter.
Why didn't he at least mention the Luther who said, "The Jews are blood relatives of Christ and we are aliens and in-laws; they are nearer to Christ than we are; and they should be treated kindly, not by papal law, but by the law of Christian love"? He also early deplored unjust treatment and once suggested the following:
"For our fool popes, bishops, sophists and monks, those thick-skulled asses, have thus far treated the Jews in such a way that whoever wanted to be a good Christian, could very well have become a Jew. And had I been a Jew and witnessed such blockheads and numbskulls ruling and teaching the Christian faith, I would rather have been a pig than a Christian. For they have treated the Jews like dogs, not like Christians." (Tract That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew).
And why wasn't there a balanced effort to deal also with Luther's strong criticism of princes and governments as he counseled them to correct their injustices and oppressions of the poor? While it is true that Luther finally came down on the side of "Order and Peace," it is also true that he saw and experienced greater evils emerging when only lawlessness and civil strife were present.
In the shake-up of the political arena which followed efforts to disengage the church from its power over the state as a result of the Reformation, Luther even advocated a popular franchise, "For to force a government upon a people against its will is perilous and pernicious."
We might be rightfully embarrassed over the strong language of Luther's late polemical tract against apparently successful efforts of rabbis to convert some Christians to Judaism by countering Christian beliefs regarding the Christ, the Sabbath, circumcision, etc. But no one in the polemical atmosphere of that day took such defamatory statements literally, not unlike Reagan's "Evil Empire" indictments against the Soviet Union which vent hysteria against a perceived "foe."
It is myopic and narrow-minded to suppose that such late writing should be treated as a centerpiece of his ideas, that statements made in the heat of religious controversy should today be treated as an ideological stance. And why is it that other scholars have shown that Hitler had no awareness of Luther's writings on the Jews either for or against and, in fact, Hitler harshly criticized the Protestants in Mein Kampf for favoring the Jews?
The issue is not how "Luther set the stage" for disaster any more than it would be
that Jesus himself set it by statements which the Gospels have him make in religious controversy with the religious authorities. Or how about making Nero the villain as he "set the stage for ethnic cleansing" of the Christians and Jews in the first century?
Pastor Norb Kabelitz, St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Pinellas Park
A critical error
I am writing to take exception to USF Professor Darrell J. Fasching's charge that Martin Luther's theology can be blamed for fanning the flames of the Holocaust. Fasching's charge that "Luther argued you owe unswerving obedience to secular as well as divine authority" by distorting "key Bible passages" is simply untrue. Luther defends himself against this charge in his 1523 treatise titled, "Secular Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed." Luther wrote: "But when a prince is wrong, are his people bound to follow him then too? I answer, No, for it is not one's duty to do wrong; we ought to obey God who desires the right, rather than men." Fasching also attributes a teaching of "double morality" to Luther. Luther did teach that during this life a Christian holds dual citizenship, that is citizenship both in the kingdom of God and in an earthly kingdom. However, Luther's writings encourage Christians to conduct themselves at all times (and in both realms) as a Christian.
Why was there such lethargy in the Christian churches of Germany during World War II? A more likely answer would be that little of the legacy of the Lutheran Reformation remained in the churches. The vibrant church of the Reformation had been gradually replaced by a watered-down state religion. The Lutheran banners of "Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura" (By Faith alone, By Grace alone, By Scripture alone) were pulled down in favor of a new way of looking at the Bible, called "higher criticism," which infected the seminaries and the pulpits. That is where the terrible distortion of Scripture took place. "Higher criticism" taught (and continues to teach) people to believe that there is nothing that can be believed for certain. It shouldn't be surprising that when the underpinnings of Christianity are pulled away, many people stop acting and thinking like Christians.
The motto of the holocaust is: "We Will Never Forget." Perhaps, as Christian churches reflect upon what happened to the churches of Germany because church life had drifted from Scripture and had become a caricature, the same motto should be in place: "We Will Never Forget."
Pastor David R. Cooper, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Clearwater
The supreme fallacy
Re: Roots of the Holocaust (May 22).
Once the idea of a supreme being formed in the mind of man, the Holocaust was _ and is _ inevitable. It will happen again, and it doesn't take any power of divine prophecy to predict it.
No matter how clear the writing, there will always be those who find ways to interpret it according to their own desires. Just look at the various distortions of our Constitution by fundamentalists attempting to establish an American theocracy.
In the case of the Constitution, the danger is lessened by a universally accepted reality: These were mere mortal men, wise, yet unable to predict the industrialization and technical advances of our society. They expected us to amend their words to fit changing times, and left us a process by
which this could be accomplished in an orderly fashion. An astounding feat for mere mortals.
The authors and promoters of religion are not nearly so wise, though they might well be called streetwise. They recognize that crowds can be swayed by the words of an authority, and invent/invoke an ultimate authority: an unseen, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who works in mysterious ways that, coincidentally, only those author-priests can comprehend and interpret. They attempt to pass this power on only to their chosen disciples, cloaking their secrets in ritual.
These procedures worked, for a time. The clergy ruled many nations for centuries, and still do in many countries. Their religions were revised and re-interpreted to fit the times and survive, but not everyone was satisfied with the traditional means of gaining power within the churches. These religious "rebels," such as Martin Luther, used the indoctrinated belief in a deity to their advantage, claiming a direct connection to the top. Here lies the flaw of religion; since religion claims that it is not subject to the rational evidentiary rules of science, anyone may claim this "spiritual connection" with the deity; insanity is not a hindrance.
Thus it is inevitable that any society which promotes belief in a deity will eventually produce a Hitler, a politically attuned fanatic who will seize power and proceed to "cleanse" the population of "undesirables." Our country has seen this on a small scale during the McCarthy era, where the late Senator combined irrational fear of communism with an equally irrational fear of atheism to produce our own mini-Holocaust. Some in Hollywood still suffer from that pogrom.
I only hope that our society will come to its senses and abandon the promotion of religion and other superstitious belief before we elect our own Hitler, and repeat the Holocaust on an equivalent scale.
Prayer needs updating
The Lord's Prayer needs to be changed or else we are all a bunch of hypocrites. I have spoken to a number of "good" Christians and they all seem to agree they cannot find the grace to overlook or forgive the faults of other drivers.
The theme "Love thy neighbor" is parroted by congregation after congregation on Sunday mornings, but most have not even reached home after church services before they have judged, condemned or found wanting some driver who has crossed them.
We usually don't consider the unwellness of the other driver or the possibility he is on medication, just spatted with a spouse, is late for an appointment, an old fuddy duddy who is doing the best he can in his nearly blind, deaf, or disabled condition, or is less skilled than we are. I am thinking of me, and the other driver be hanged.
So, in order to ease the conscience of praying, "good" God-fearing Christians, I suggest we change the Lord's prayer to, "As we forgive our debtors "except those who drive.'
I wonder how the early Christian ox cart drivers handled the problem of unthinking drivers.
Stanley E. Butler,
Pilgrims no paragons
I always wince when I hear someone say or write that the Pilgrims came to North America because they were seeking religious freedom. Using the term "religious freedom" in connection with the Pilgrims is a travesty of tremendous proportions.
The Pilgrims did not know the meaning of the term "religious freedom." Just the opposite _ anyone who dared to deviate from their concept of religion was severely punished. To cook on the Sabbath could have a family banned and sent into the wilderness to certain death. To utter a foul word could put one in the stocks in the village square.
No, I'm afraid that a recent letter writer hasn't read his early history of New England. Neither he nor I would have lasted a minute under the stifling and oppressive theocratic government of that era.
That government, plus the destructive forces of the Catholic Inquisition and Protestant star chambers, were all that were needed to urge thinking men to ban religion from the government of all the people.
One can only feel deeply grateful to the wondrous men who framed our Constitution. Because of them, we can be what we choose to be _ not what someone else chooses us to be.
Marshall P. Bailey,
Strength in separation
I would like to take exception to a letter in the May 1 Religion section of the Times.
While the writer correctly interprets the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, he is misapplying the clause when he relates it to the separation of church and state. The pertinent clause is the establishment clause in the First Amendment.
Both Jefferson and Madison _ who wrote the First Amendment _ were strong advocates of the separation of church and state. Jefferson so indicated in his "Statutes for Religious Freedom for the State of Virginia" and Madison in his "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Assessments," both released in 1785.
Jefferson, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, interpreted the establishment clause as erecting a "wall of separation" between church and state.
In Emerson vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled in 1947, with Associate Justice Hugo Black rendering the majority opinion, that neither the federal nor state governments can pass laws to "aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another."
In 1962 the court in Engel vs. Vitale ruled that official prayer required in the public schools of New York State was unconstitutional, citing the Emerson case as stare decisis.
Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury vs. Madison in 1803 ruled that the Supreme Court was the final arbitrator of the Constitution and the final law of the land. A decision of the Supreme Court may be overturned by the court reversing its decision or by amending the Constitution. Otherwise, the decision rendered by the court remains the law of the land and, as founder Col. George Mason exclaimed at the Constitutional Convention of 1787: "No man is above the law."
It is clear to me that the men most responsible for an American system of representative government designed a system where the church and state would function as separate entities _ separate yet compatible.
Charles H. Hamblen Jr.,
For letters to be considered for publication they should be addressed to: Religion Letters, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731-1121.