Susan MacAllen, 2007
During Hitler’s rise to power, he decided that he would outlaw certain “religious societies” and “sects” which he estimated to be a hindrance to the advancement of a utopian Aryan secular society - the dream of the Nazi party. At the top of his list was the Catholic Church. Holocaust lore abounds with stories of priests working for the SS, and an abundance of photos exist of bishops hobnobbing with Hitler and his cronies. But a far greater number smuggled Jews to safety, and many priests died in concentration camps with their Jewish brethren.
Throughout Western history, some of the greatest warriors against fascism have been our clergy. What was it about the individual priest caught in the horror of Nazi Germany that made him choose one above the other - cooperation over resistance, tolerance over opposition, safety over activism? What caused one man to ignore the cry of thousands who were being murdered, while another risked his life to answer his faith’s call? Can we fairly suppose that the wrong choice was due simply lack of moral courage? Or were there other dynamics at work in pre-War Germany…the same ones which we might consider operating in the American landscape today?
There are issues that constrain our ability to confront this Islamist evil. The first is the desire to compromise in a spirit of fair play, to bend so as not to break. Many a peace-loving individual prefers to give political issues time to work themselves out. It is fundamentally Christian, after all, to believe the best of one’s “enemies”. Surely a priest or minister is especially likely to embrace this philosophy.
The second is perhaps more subconscious. However aware of evil one believes himself to be, its real presence can escape the most sensitive amongst us. How many don’t dare to look evil in the face, define it, or even speak its name? It may be simpler to refuse to believe that real evil is suddenly all around us rather than to seem paranoid or racist. Clear-sightedness in the midst of doubt requires great courage.
These two dynamics prevent the best of us from exercising real bravery. And clergy - while often the best among us - are only human.
Nowadays, churches across the U.S. are adopting a new fad in adult education classes: an introduction to Islam. These classes abound with the Christian ideal of tolerance. Islam is held up as equal to Judaism in partnership with Christians - the historical three faiths of Abraham. The ideal is declared: we must all work together to build a multi-cultural society of mutual understanding. An admirable goal - but it requires one missing element: that all three faiths embrace the idea of mutual respect. And many a well-meaning religious leader in America seems ignorant of The One Big Reality: radical Islam, the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, has no interest in existing peacefully with the others - its aim is to replace them.
Too many clergy, assuming all religions that worship one god must be honorable, approach the study of Islam with mutual benevolence. We must insist that our clergy study Islam in all its aspects, including those which are most distasteful. This must include the meaning of “jihad” as Mohammed himself defined it: as “’holy” military war against the infidel. They must read and know what Mohammed said about the killing of non-believers, about the beating of wives, the punishment by death of unchaste women, poll-taxing of non-Muslims, Jews as “pigs and dogs”. They must know that the assumption that Islam is as dedicated to peace and tolerance as is Christianity and Judaism - and nearly every other major religion on Earth – deserves a more layered understanding of Islam’s many aspects.
Radical Islam, rather than a religion, is in fact a political ideology whose centuries-old aim is to conquer peoples the world over. Every clergyman must learn the meaning of the word “taqiyya” - the deliberate and Mohammed-sanctioned doctrine that deceit to advance the cause of Islam is a virtue. We must insist that they learn what the clearly-stated aim of radical Islam is; it is not interested in peace. A person of the cloth must have the courage as a servant of his or her flock to look evil in the face.
While most of us happily were answering the door for trick-or-treaters last Halloween, in a hospital bed across the world, a brave man was dying. Retired minister Roland Weisselberg would be remembered as an easy-going, if quirky man. He lived in the small, rather isolated German town of Erfurt, Germany, one whose main claim to fame is an Augustinian monastery at which Martin Luther was a monk for some six years before his founding of the Protestant ideology.
During the last few years of Weisselberg’s life, he had grown increasingly concerned about the rise of Islamofacism in Europe. He chided his wife that she needed to take it more seriously. He expressed his concern to fellow clergy; he gave talks around the area. But the immediate region is home to few Muslims, and the idea of Islam as a real fascist threat seemed crazy to those who knew him, as it also seemed something far away. They quietly tolerated him. Still, Weisselberg persisted; he was old enough to remember Hitler, and Mussolini, and the horror they brought to the back yards of Europe. He told his wife how it frightened him that now the Muslims in Europe prayed more than did the Christians - how their effort to live their faith (however devoid of Christian love) was more diligent. He feared that the vacuum left by lack of Christian faith would be filled by Islam, even as they all went blindly about their daily lives.
On the evening of October 31, Weisselberg went to the monastery. Several eyewitnesses say the minister poured gasoline over his head, called to “Jesus” and “Oskar” so that all could hear, and lit a match. (Oskar Brusewitz was a priest who fatally set himself on fire in 1976 at the age of 47, in the town of Zeitz, Germany, in protest of the Soviet East German regime’s oppression of Christians and his country.) A nun who knelt on the ground beside him to pray as the stunned crowed awaited the ambulance heard him ask, “Is Jesus here?” In a letter Weisselberg left to his wife, he made it clear that he was desperate for others to listen to his warnings of Islamofascism in Europe - he didn’t know anymore how to get them to listen.
A blogger a week later astutely pointed out the sad fact that the story was barely mentioned in the English language anywhere. One even had to search German newspapers to find it. In Weisselberg’s own town, there was shock but not a lot of reflective thought about the deeper meaning of his desperate message. The local Bishop of Saxony expressed some regret at the “suicide”, and hoped that it wouldn’t “ignite any anger between Christians and Muslims”. As stated in the Nov. 4 online edition of
the Belmont Club:
“Gestures must express some deep but unexpressed (public) emotion to be effective. Roland gave the performance of his life, but the gallery was empty.”
When the bravest of our clergy stand and stare evil in the face in coming months and years, will we be present in the gallery, ready to listen?