Hitler, the German Heritage and Putting Away Childish Things

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on June 3, 2018

When my sons were small, we had a little plastic basketball hoop-and-stand on our back patio.

Once, when playing with one of my boys, I was shooting terribly and said, “I’m not a very good basketball player.”

Nathan, then four years old, said indignantly, “Dad, you’re a great basketball player!”

My son’s love for his dad is a cherished memory for me. But something else was at work: Perspective.

In the eyes of small boy, his father was a larger-than-life figure who could do pretty much anything. So it is with just about all little ones. But when we become adults, as Paul says, we put away childish things.

Cockeyed Perspective

A German politician named Alexander Gauland seems never to have gotten the Apostle’s message. Gauland, head of the extremist Alternative for Germany party, said at a political gathering, “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”

This is sort of like saying that other than the iceberg, the Titanic had a very pleasant cruise. Gauland’s perspective, in other words, is plain cockeyed.

To study German history is to learn of groups of people, united by a common language and some common traditions, finally united politically in 1870, who achieved some impressive things. In Germany, the sciences and all manner of technologies have flourished. From optics to autos, German precision sets a global standard. German literature and poetry are among the most read and studied in the world.

But as to the diverse peoples of Germany themselves, they share the same fallenness and nobility as image bearers of God around the globe. There is no such thing as a “German temperament,” although like any country, there are cultural habits — good and bad — that are distinct to German society.

Higher Criticism of Scripture

Yet it was also from Germany that arose the arrogance of so-called “higher criticism” of Scripture, which took the useful tool of evaluating ancient biblical texts and misused it to “deconstruct” what the Bible says. That deconstruction, based on the philosophical preferences of university elites, led to a hollowing-out of Germany’s Christian faith.

Then, philosophers like Nietzsche and Hegel argued that the state embodies the will of the people. And German mysticism, an strong undercurrent in German history, taught that the state was imbued by a divine spirit.

Political power was thus given a religious authority. So, what the Kaiser said — and, after him, the Fuehrer said — had a measure of popular authority Christian faith and common sense find ridiculous.

False Teachings

Twice in the last century, Germany led the world into global war. The second time, that war was augmented by the slaughter of six million Jews in history’s most horrendous genocide and the mass killing of another six million Slavs, gypsies, homosexuals, and others Hitler found “sub-human.”

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To sum up: Germany’s misdeeds didn’t happen in a vacuum. They were drawn from false teaching in the universities and churches, teaching that had a gruesome outcome when put into practice by men who had long been taught that the voice of the Fuehrer was, in essence, the voice of God.

Freedom and Opportunity

Back to Mr. Gauland: There is much admirable in German history, surely. Yet if it is so glorious, what did so many Germans leave, cross an ocean with little or nothing, and begin a new life in the United States?

Because they knew they would enjoy more fully things they could never obtain at home. Freedom. Opportunity. A country in which the economic and social positions into which one was born had no iron-grip on one’s future.

The result? “German-Americans are America’s largest single ethnic group,” reports The Economist. “In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46 million Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33 million) or England (25 million).”

German-Americans

Yet Germans have been called the most assimilated ethnic group in the country. Three of my grandparents came from Germany, and my family history speaks to this. My father was the fourth of four children born in New Jersey to German immigrants. When his eldest sibling was born, she spoke German before speaking English. By the time my dad came along, only English was spoken in the home.

Why? Because although they honored the traditions of the “old country,” they loved their new country more. This has been true for generations of Americans whose ancestry is traced to Germany.

So, from the time of the Civil War on, Americans of German descent have fought in our country’s wars, served in national political leadership, and taken part in every facet of American life. Just as have men and women of every ethnicity and race that now sing the song of America.

Deal Honestly With the Past

The best way to avoid being stuck in the past is to deal honestly with it. As Paul wrote the church in Rome, we should hate what’s evil and cling to what is good. That’s why likening genocide and world war to “bird poop” is dishonest, dishonorable, and disgusting.

My son Nathan is now 6’2”. He still thinks I’m pretty special (for which I am grateful), but realizes I pose no threat to LeBron James. Alexander Gauland and his ilk should take a lesson from him.

One final note: I’m not a German-American. I’m an American, three of whose grandparents came from Germany. I would never want it any other way.

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