Posted by: smstrouse | December 10, 2016

The Nazi Sermon on the Mount

homer-simpson-dohHow Could I Fall for This? is the title of the editorial in this month’s edition of The Fourth R (along with “Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic” Religion is the fourth “R” of basic literacy – according  to the Westar Institute)

Theology professor Art Dewey tells how he uses a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount in his class. He presents the students with a version written by Ludwig Mueller, the Reichsbischof (Reich Bishop) of the German Evangelical Church in 1933. (The German Evangelical Church was a state church  which openly supported the Nazi movement – not to be confused with the Confessing Church movement which arose in opposition.) One of Mueller’s intentions was to eliminate any connectin of Christianity to its Jewish roots (see Hate for Jews Written into New Testament  from the archives of the Chicago Tribune from 1938).c4818bbe4cfcdecfd444bc4a4278ea91

Anyway, Dewey hands out the transition but does not identify the author or the language in which it was written. He also edited some words in order to disguise the historical context. The assignment: determine if the paraphrase gives a valid interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.

He reports that the results of the exercise have been remarkably consistent over the years. A majority of students conclude that it’s a valid interpretation because it carries the same general idea as the Sermon on the Mount.

Some, however, do pick up on the political overtones in the paraphrase. For example, Mueller changes “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9) to “Benevolence to those who maintain peace with members of the nation.”
“Our ancestors were told” (Matthew 5:33) became “A national law, the holy tradition.” “National community is a high and sacred trust for which you must sacrifice” was added to Matthew 5:39.

Other telling phrases are:
“You carry it in your blood and your fathers have taught you” (instead of “As you know, our ancestors were told”);
“You shall not commit assassination … (he) destroys the national community”;
“You must hold the honor of God, of your nation and your own honor so high.”

When the students agree that the paraphrase “presents Christ’s challenges as they really are” and accept the concluding words of the preface: “the chief executive is trying to save the world from the edge of the precipice,” Dewey finally discloses that the “chief executive” was Der Fuhrer and that the national community was National Socialism.

jesus-facepalmD’oh is right.  Some of the students are embarrassed: “How could I fall for this?” Thankfully, Dewey uses the exercise as a learning experience and doesn’t give a grade. He recognizes how easy it is to go along with a piece of propaganda.

His concluding paragraph is a warning to us all: “Recent events in our country have shown how easy it is for so many to fall for such a political sleight of hand. It takes courage to stop accepting the feckless folly that foists itself on us and to remember why human beings continue to think deeply and have compassion. It means not settling for some prefabricated reality show that keeps on playing the ‘same general idea.’ It means taking the time to connect the dots and to detect wisdom where no one cares to notice.”

For Christians, it is the season of Advent. Our watchwords are: be alert, don’t fall asleep, prepare. This year – more than for a long time – these words call us to be vigilant in our response to political matters. May we not look back on our actions (or inactions) with shame, saying “How could I fall for this?”



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