Posts Tagged “germany”

Luther posting his 95 Theses in 1517, by Ferdinand Pauwels [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsToday is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his “95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. As the Associated Press reports via Religion News Service, Germany is celebrating “Reformation Day” as a holiday (Archive.Is cached article).

The history of Luther, his Theses, and the resulting schism — which continues to this day and is as entrenched as ever — is well known. The point of the Augustinian monk’s protest was to criticize the sale of indulgences. These are ways of reducing the time one must spend in Purgatory, after death, atoning for sins before reaching Heaven. It wasn’t indulgences Luther objected to per se, but rather, the Church’s sale of them.

This objection led to Luther, and others (including his friend Philip Melanchthon, who arguably was Luther’s intellectual superior and had more to do with the direction Luther’s movement would later take) to differ from the Church on more topics than just the sale of indulgences. Among the more important of these were the so-called Five Solas, declaring that salvation came from 5 interconnected sources — none of which was the Church itself or any of its personnel. The Christian didn’t need a priest, a church, or anything of the sort.

This approach to Christianity knocked the theological legs of the Church right out from under it, rendering it useless. Those who disliked the Church and competed with it for power, certainly found this sort of thinking attractive. Luther and Melanchthon made their reform movement more appealing to the numerous princes in Germany by advocating nationalizing Church treasuries within each realm. Many of them ultimately signed on, and effectively became heads of both church and state within their domains. In the 1530s, King Henry VIII of England would follow a similar philosophy in seizing control of the English Church.

But for all that came of the movement Luther launched (and for which Melanchthon, then John Calvin became the chief proponents, along with many other reformers like Ulrich Zwingli), what’s forgotten are the reformers who came before Luther and had raised similar issues themselves. Perhaps the most important of these was Jan Hus, executed for his “heresy” just over a century before Luther posted his “95 Theses,” who in turn had been inspired by John Wycliffe of England. The ideas of both these men actually continued on, through Luther’s time, and even beyond. Hus’s movement led to the establishment of a separate organization (i.e. the Moravian Church), which still exists.

And these, in turn, had forebears in the Waldenses of France in the late 12th century. Church reforms, you see, were not new. Some reform movements were internal, taking place within and inside the Church, such as the Cluniac reforms, the rise of the mendicant orders, etc.

It is true that the Church’s power was broken by the onset of the Reformation sparked by Luther’s protest, but the stage had been set for him, already, by others. What’s more, the Church had, by then, already undermined itself and its credibility as an institution, e.g. the Great Western Schism and its other attempts at meddling in European politics, like Boniface VIII’s issuance of Unam Sanctam. It’s possible to make too much of what Luther did, and to fail to realize that it’s the inherent irrationality and uncertainty of the many precepts of Christianity which helped the Church grow in power and become mighty in the first place, then to collapse as an institution subsequently as European Christendom fractured into many competing sects.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Dom RegensburgSeveral years ago, word came out that children had been abused as part of a Catholic choir in Germany, run for a time by the brother of Pope Benedict XVI. It took some time, and a long investigation, but according to Deutsche Welle, the final report reveals more abuse than most had guessed (WebCite cached article):

A total of 547 young boys from the famous Regensburger Domspatzen (“cathedral sparrows”) choir were subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of priests and teachers, according to the attorney tasked with investigating the alleged abuse.

Presenting his 450-page report into the findings, attorney Ulrich Weber, said he found 500 cases of physical abuse and 67 instances of sexual abuse spanning over six decades.

Of the 49 church officials and teachers implicated in the report, nine were found to have been sexually abusive. Church officials had fostered a “culture of silence,” which allowed them to carry out such abuses for decades, Weber said.

Victims described their schooling and choir experience as like “a prison, hell and a concentration camp,” Weber said, adding that many had described those years as “the worst time of their lives, characterized by fear, violence and hopelessness.”

Note that the “culture of silence” is similar to what has been uncovered elsewhere within the Catholic Church. It’s what permitted “priestly pedophilia” to go on, all around the world, for decades.

In this case, for some 30 years (1964 to 1994), Fr Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict (aka Joseph Ratzinger), had run the Regensburger Domspatzen. He’s insisted he was unaware of any abuse, although the investigator doesn’t find this plausible. Also, the abuse certainly didn’t begin with Fr Ratzinger; the investigation dates it as far back as 1945.

This report is only part of a larger process, which will include compensation to victims. That’s the least that could be provided. I’d prefer to have seen some contrition on the part of the Regensburg diocese, and an apology at the very least by Fr Ratzinger. Given the most recent abuse uncovered happened in the 1990s, criminal prosecutions may not be possible, but some acknowledgement by Catholic officials is needed.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Christmas market near Kaiser Wilhelm Church, BerlinYes, folks, it’s time again for us to see yet another sterling example of the “Religion of Peace” in action. Yesterday, as CNN reports, it appears a Muslim refugee drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany (WebCite cached article):

The man suspected of deliberately ramming a large truck into a Christmas market in Berlin is a refugee from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, two German intelligence officials and a police official told CNN.

The sources said the suspect in Monday evening’s attack, which killed 12 people and injured dozens more, arrived in Passau, a city on Germany’s border with Austria, on December 31, 2015, after traveling through the Balkans.

This attack could have political repercussions in Germany:

“I know that it would be especially hard to bear for us if it was to be confirmed that a person (who) committed this act … was given protection and asylum in Germany,” [German Chancellor Angela Merkel] said.

Monday’s attack could cause further political upheaval for Merkel, who has come under criticism over her government’s generous acceptance of refugees. Germany has taken in more than 890,000 asylum seekers in the past year, a marked difference to other European nations.

Note, too, this attack was a virtual copy of the Bastile Day attack earlier this year, in Nice, France (cached). Islamist groups have pushed for adherents to use vehicles as weapons against soft targets, so we can probably expect more such attacks in the future.

Photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin, via Flickr.

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Twelve Tribes Wedding 001By now this must seem like an old story: Devout Christians abusing kids for Jesus. Perhaps the most common version of this kind of story is clerical child abuse. That’s something I’ve blogged about numerous times over the years I’ve been at this. But there are other examples of it, such as parents letting their sick kids die because they refuse to take a chance on mortally offending their loving, merciful Jesus by getting them the medical care they need. And there are still other examples, such as the FLDS commune where young girls were married off to old men at too young an age.

But the most recent example of this deals with corporal punishment. The Guardian reports that German officials raided the compound of a Christian sect and removed its children (WebCite cached article):

Forty children have been taken from a Christian sect in Bavaria, southern Germany, following police raids at a monastery and a farm after accusations of child abuse.

The children, aged between seven months and 17 years old, are members of the Twelve Tribes sect, which has its roots in the US. They have been placed with foster families while the group is being investigated.

The group, whose teachings are based on the Old and New Testament, is known to believe in corporal punishment. It had been under observation by authorities for some time, particularly for its refusal to send its children to school.

The article explains the nature of their corporal punishment:

By their own admission, parents of the Twelve Tribes, which has around 100 members in two locations in Bavaria where it has had a base for 15 years, are instructed to beat their children “with a small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain and no damage”.

On its website, the group declares itself to be an “open and transparent community that does not tolerate any form of child abuse. Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity.”

But Helmut Beyschlag, head of Noldingen district court, said: “We suspect that parents were exercising abuse.”

According to initial reports, the disciplinary rods used were soaked in oil to make them more pliable during a beating, when children were allegedly struck on their bare feet, arms and backs, inside the former Cistercian monastery.

Let’s be clear: The idea that you can hit children with something so as to cause only pain and never “damage” them, is a fiction. Any time you strike a child with something, you run a very real risk of “damaging” his/her body … with a bruise, or worse. (And yes, I consider a bruise to be “damage.” Bruises only appear when blood vessels are broken, and blood-vessel breakage is certainly a form of “damage.”)

The sect in question is reclusive, and originated in the US in the 1970s. While I’d heard of it before, I thought it had died out sometime in the 1990s. Instead, it seeped into Europe around that time. They’re considered a “cult” in most places they’ve ventured to. In Europe, because they refuse to send their children to school, they’ve run afoul of education laws — and in this case, that’s what put them in the sights of German authorities in the first place.

The Twelve Tribes sect’s reclusiveness stems, it seems, from their belief that they’re recreating the “original” Church as described in Acts of the Apostles. The problem with this is that Acts is not considered wholly reliable. It likely was composed in the late 1st century CE or early 2nd as something of a propaganda piece, sort of a “golden age” retrospective of the Church’s first generation, by its third or fourth. There are very real historical and critical reasons to conclude this, among them being that Acts conflicts, at points, with Paul’s genuine epistles, which were written right in the middle of the 1st century, during the Church’s first generation.

At any rate, along with their probably-invalid interpretation of Acts, the Twelve Tribes sect seems also to have an unhealthy obsession with the Old Testament, in particular the famous “spare the rod” verse:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Proverbs 13:24)

Over the years a lot of ink has been spilt over this verse, explaining how it doesn’t advocate child abuse; e.g. the “rod” mentioned is merely a pointing-stick that shepherds used to guide their sheep where they want them to go, and not a bludgeon to pound kids with; as well as other rationales. But I don’t buy any of these creative reinterpretations. It’s true that ancient fathers used rods to beat discipline into their children … which is why this verse and a few others like it (Prov 19:18 & 22:15, etc.) are present in the Bible … but we no longer do that, nor should we. In the 21st century, we understand that “discipline” means much more than just causing physical pain when a child breaks the rules s/he is supposed to abide by. And we understand that beatings don’t necessarily instill “discipline” in them. We realize there’s a big difference between “discipline” and “abuse”; while the former is just fine (and expected), the latter is unacceptable.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Hessen/ Bischoefe stehen am Dienstag (25.09.12) in Fulda waehrend des feierlichen Eroeffnungsgottesdienstes der traditionellen Herbst-Vollversammlung der Deutschen Bischoefe im Dom. Die 67 Mitglieder der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz kommen von Montag bis Donnerstag (27.09.12) zusammen. Themen sind unter anderem die Vermittlung des Glaubens und der Stand des Gespraechsprozesses im Missbrauchsskandal in der katholischen Kirche. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Thomas Lohnes/dapdOne of the things I dislike about entities that commission independent investigations into their own affairs, is that all such probes can never be truly “independent.” No one ever can be sure the results of any such investigation won’t be subverted by the people who paid for it.

For example, here in Connecticut, this past summer we were treated to precisely this sort of debacle when state House Speaker Chris Donovan, then running in the Democratic primary for Congress in the 5th District, hired lawyer Stanley Twardy to “investigate” allegations that his campaign staff took campaign donations (otherwise known as “bribes”) in exchange for Donovan manipulating the legislative process on behalf of those donors. Not surprisingly, Twardy quite happily declared Donovan innocent of all wrongdoing. Quite laughably, he and Donovan expected the people of the Nutmeg State would swallow their steaming load of bullshit — but they didn’t, he lost the primary, and is now out of office.

Last year, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany commissioned just such a report into their own affairs. They pledged to allow their records to be culled to see how deep the clerical child-abuse scandal ran, in that country. But as Der Spiegel reports, they abruptly pulled the plug on this investigation (locally-cached version):

It was a major promise after a major disaster: In summer 2011, the Catholic Church in Germany pledged full transparency. One year earlier, an abuse scandal had shaken the country’s faithful, as an increasing number of cases surfaced in which priests had sexually abused children and then hidden behind a wall of silence.

The Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute (KFN) was given the job of investigating the cases in 2011. The personnel files from churches in all 27 dioceses were to be examined for cases of abuse in an attempt to win back some of the Church’s depleted credibility.

But now the Church has called off the study, citing a breakdown in trust. “The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” said the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, on Wednesday morning.

The director of the KFN, Christian Pfeiffer, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the Church had refused to cooperate. At the end of last year, he contacted the dioceses twice in writing. He reminded them of their promised transparency and cooperation. He also asked them whether there was any indication that in some dioceses files had been actively destroyed.

The Bishops’ Conference, the country’s official body of the Church, was apparently unable to agree on any form of cooperation with the KFN.

Yes, you read that right: The bishops refused to comply with terms they dictated for how the investigation was to be conducted. They refused to communicate with, and cooperate with, a team they themselves hired for this task.

One can’t help but assume Prof Pfeiffer wasn’t turning out to be the obedient puppet they’d expected him to be, so after wasting his and everyone else’s time for a while — long enough time for them to destroy a lot of relevant documents, I’m sure — the bishops finally shut the “investigation” down entirely. Their pledge of transparency ultimately proved non-existent.

What person with half a brain is really surprised? I wasn’t, I hope you weren’t either.

Photo credit: dapd, via Der Spiegel.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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Some 25,000 alleged "witches" were executed between 1500 and 1782 in Germany. Germany was responsible for the deaths of some 40 percent of the 60,000 witches who were tortured and killed in Europe during the infamous era, says witch-trial expert Hartmut Hegeler. This woodcut shows a witch being burned at the stake in Dernburg in 1555.At several points during the European Middle Ages, witch-hunts were a fact of life, and in some locales and times were even commonplace. This activity was not limited to the Church institution of the Inquisition; many regions had secular laws against “witchcraft,” which meant that many witches could be, and were, prosecuted by local authorities. “Handbooks” for dealing with witches … the most famous of which was Malleus Maleficarum … were widely trafficked, in spite of the fact that most of them (including M.M.) didn’t have official Church sanction. Witch-hunts could, therefore, be spontaneous, ad hoc “peasants with pitchforks” affairs, sometimes not even having the approval of local authorities.

Naturally, this is an unpleasant history that most folks these days prefer to avoid, brushing it off as “a thing of the past” which no longer reflects modern life. But Der Spiegel reports that Germany — once a hotbed of medieval witch-hunting — is trying to accept and deal with this history (WebCite cached article):

Tortured and burned at the stake by the tens of thousands, Germany’s alleged witches have been largely forgotten. But thanks to efforts by a small group of activists, a number of German cities have begun absolving women, men and children who were wrongly accused of causing plagues, storms and bad harvests. …

It began with the trial and execution of an eight-year-old girl for witchcraft in the spring of 1630. Compelled to name others involved in an alleged nighttime dance with the devil in the German town of Oberkirchen, young Christine Teipel’s confession sparked a wave of fingerpointing and subsequent trials. Within just three months, 58 people, including 22 men and two children, were burned at the stake there. …

“We owe it to the victims to finally acknowledge that they died innocent back then,” [retired minister and witch-trial expert Hartmut] Hegeler told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “But this is not just about the past — it’s a signal against the violence and marginalization of people that goes on today.”

Indeed, witch-hunts do continue, even today. Not in Germany, perhaps, but they still do happen nonetheless.

Hegeler’s efforts to rehabilitate accused witches, unfortunately, haven’t met with universal acceptance:

But not every community welcomes such requests. In November, the western German city of Aachen rejected a request to vindicate a 13-year-old Sinti girl who was tried and killed in 1649. …

The city of Büdingen in the state of Hesse also told Hegeler they had more important issues at hand.

Even so, progress is being made on this score. Maybe if enough people hear about the rehabilitation of accused medieval witches, they’ll pay attention to the witch-hunts that keep occurring even now.

Photo credit: Der Spiegel.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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#41 - Impeach ObamaI’ve blogged before about the Right comparing Obama and the Democrats to Hitler and the Nazis. To hear them tell it, the US has already become the next incarnation of the Third Reich. Reductio ad Hitlerums have become so common that it’s almost expected. Well, the Germans have noticed, and Der Spiegel, at least, is telling the American Right to stop already with the Hitlerisms (WebCite cached article):

Many on the American right have developed a taste for including a bit of German history in their stump speeches. Hitler comparisons abound and the Berlin Wall even made a cameo recently. But the flippant references to the Holocaust are ignorant and offensive. And they should stop. …

In this midterm campaign season in the US, German history seems to be everywhere. In June, conservative columnist Thomas Sowell of JewishWorldReview.com essentially argued that President Barack Obama, by requiring that BP pay $20 billion (€14.3 billion) to compensate those harmed by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler — and was promptly praised by Sarah Palin and Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas.

Other examples abound. A Tea Party campaign poster in Iowa depicted Obama flanked by both Hitler and Lenin. Conservative talking head and Tea Party heartthrob Glenn Beck can hardly get through one of his Fox News shows without an Obama-Hitler comparison. Palin also accused Obama’s health care plan of including “death panels.” …

During his show on Oct. 5, Glenn Beck said that Obama’s science adviser John Holdren’s concern about the global population and White House health policy adviser Ezekiel Emanuel’s warnings about global warming are “the kind of thinking that led to … the extermination program that eventually led to the Holocaust.”

Der Spiegel goes on to talk about how Germans themselves … apart from one famous example that the article cites … tend to avoid the old reductio ad Hitlerum:

For most Germans, though, the Hitler comparisons are vastly more offensive. It is almost impossible to finish high school in Germany without going on a class visit to a former concentration camp. They are not pleasant places to be. While the sites themselves might now be little more than windswept rows of foundations where hopelessly overcrowded, disease-ridden barracks once stood, the museum exhibits tend to be much more disturbing. Images of trucks full of emaciated corpses, ovens where tens of thousands of bodies were burned, photos of SS commandos on the Eastern Front shooting row upon row of Jews, a canister of the poison gas Zyklon B — all are likely to be on display. …

It would be hard to find someone on this side of the Atlantic who wouldn’t cringe at the ignorance of [Beck’s] statement [about Holdren]. Leaving aside the question as to whether or not one should be concerned about climate change and an overcrowded planet, the kind of thinking that led to the Holocaust was a different one. Hitler wanted a racially pure Germany. People with handicaps didn’t fit. Neither did Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, blacks, Asians, Arabs or homosexuals.

Der Spiegel puts the whole thing into perspective:

The Holocaust was the result of murderous ideological fanaticism of the kind not to be found in leaders forced to face re-election every four years. It was not the result of a policy meeting.

Similarly, back in June Glenn Beck said that children singing for Barack Obama was “out of the playbook … of the Third Reich ….This is Hitler Youth.” One can assume that not all of Beck’s listeners and viewers know what the Hitler Youth was. Beck himself, an astute, if cynical, student of history, certainly does. The Hitler Youth was the ideological training grounds designed to prepare German boys for a glorious career in the SS murdering anyone who stood in the way of the Führer’s dream of a vast and racially pure German Reich. It was not a dictator’s private children’s choir.

One can forgive those like Glenn Beck and his Tea Party followers for hating Barack Obama. The liberals, after all, were passionately opposed to George W. Bush and rarely shied away from hyperbole in their expressions of loathing. But it is hard to imagine even the most hard-bitten Tea Party activist sincerely believing that President Barack Obama wants to systematically murder over 6 million people like Adolf Hitler did.

One of the “justifications” for this sort of reasoning which folks on the Right have offered, is that during the George W. Bush administration, many on the Left made similar accusations about Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the Republicans. They are correct in pointing out this happened — as I noted previously — but they’re wrong about this justifying their rhetoric. It doesn’t, quite simply because two wrongs don’t make a right. That the Left did something it shouldn’t have, years ago, does not grant the Right license to do the same thing, now.

I have no doubt that Tea Partiers and assorted creeps like Glenn Beck will not stop using appeals to Hitler and the Nazis, but it sure seems as though Der Spiegel said something that has desperately needed to be said, for a long time … and did so from the perspective of its native country, Germany, which was home to Hitler, his Nazi party, and the Third Reich.

Photo credit: elviskennedy.

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