The Gospel According to Adolf Hitler (A Sermon on Mark 10:35-45)

‘One hundred cowards do not add up to one hero. One hundred fools do not add up to one wise man’.

It’s a quote from a book I’m reading at the moment. Those who know me well know that I am a prolific reader, and I’ve actually been particularly prolific of late. That might seem odd as I have also been especially busy lately, training for the Australian title fight that recently took place in Adelaide on top of everything else. It might seem odd to some that I find time to read at all!

For me it works the opposite way to most people, as all my books are read to me as audio recordings, and so that more time I train the more I run, and while I run I have my earphones plugged in and I listen to my books, which means that if I’m spending ten hours per week running, I’m generally getting through a new book every week!

I’ve read a few fiction books this way, such as War and Peace and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I generally listen to non-fiction works – either spiritual classics or social and political analyses, or autobiographies.

The book I’m working my way through at the moment is an autobiography that also contains a significant degree of social and political analysis, and I must say that while the author is now long dead his analysis of politics and the strategies that can be used to achieve political objectives seem entirely contemporary. It’s a book that I suspect everybody here is familiar with, though I would wager that very few of you have actually read it. The book I’m reading is ‘Mein Kampf’ by Adolf Hitler!

Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)

We are in Mark chapter 10 this morning – two-thirds of the way through the Mark’s Gospel and nearing the final days of the earthly ministry of Jesus and Jesus and His disciples are discussing issues of power … again!

Yes, if this all seems a little déjà vu it’s because only a chapter earlier Jesus and His disciples are recorded as being in conflict over the same issue. The disciples had been arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest (Mark 9:30-37) and Jesus on that occasion picked up a child and encouraged His disciples to model themselves on the little ones rather than the great ones.

Evidently the penny didn’t drop, as a day or so later James and John go beyond arguing about who is the greatest and they ask Jesus directly whether He will appoint them to the two greatest positions in his administration when he ultimately achieves glory (Mark 10:37), and the rest of the disciples, we are told, were angry, which is probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole saga.

If only the other disciples had been exasperated with James and John (as Jesus no doubt was). If only they’d said ‘oh brothers, haven’t you understood the teachings of our Lord? Haven’t you realised that this Kingdom Jesus is speaking of is not like the kingdoms of this world and that the lust for power has no place in His kingdom? Hasn’t it clicked with you yet that following Jesus is all about love and self-sacrifice and not about obtaining greatness for yourselves?’

No. The other disciples were not exasperated. They were angry, and they were angry because James and John had pre-empted them. James and John had made their move to secure positions of influence for themselves within Jesus’ cabinet – the very positions they themselves wanted! The other ten disciples had been caught off-guard and flat-footed! They were angry because they’d been outsmarted!

If only the disciples had read Mein Kampf – that would have left them far better equipped to strategize about how to effectively gain positions of power for themselves and how to hang on to those positions!

For those who haven’t read the book, let me pass on to you the ‘wisdom’ within its pages. I’m actually only about half way through but it’s a turgidly repetitive book and I think I’ve picked up the main thrusts of the book already, and I would summarise them as three ‘P’s’ – patriotism, prejudice and propaganda.

Hitler was a patriot. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Everything should be sacrificed for the sake of ‘our people and our fatherland’. This was a truism for Hitler that he brings before his reader again and again. There is no sacrifice that is too great if it is for the benefit of our people – to make our people great and to see our people regain their rightful place in the world’s hierarchy.

Hitler had a very scientific/evolutionary view of how it all worked. Some species in the natural world were clearly superior to other species (human beings over apes, for example) and some races within the species were clearly superior to other races (Arians over Africans and Jews, for instance). It is nature’s way that the fittest are the ones destined to survive and so the superior peoples will inevitably rise to the top of the social order. By helping this natural process to progress we work in harmony with nature and so, Hitler claimed, we are ultimately doing the work of God!

I appreciate that not everybody would define patriotism along these lines. Indeed, patriotism is almost always seen as a good thing in every culture though I’m never quite sure why that is the case.

One of the most common criticisms I hear made of Muslim immigrants in this country is that ‘those people’ think of themselves as Muslims first and only as Australians second – the assumption being that it should be self-evident that our identity as Australians should mean far more to us than how we identify ourselves religiously.

Statements like this always have me biting my tongue! Do I dare to confess that I’m not even sure what it means for me to be ‘Australian’? I’m never really sure what being Australian is supposed to mean, but if being patriotic means that I’m supposed to care more about people who were born in this country than I do about people who were born in other countries then I’m not sure I want to be a patriot!

Indeed, it seems to be that the first two ‘P’s’ I mentioned – patriotism and prejudice – can be flip sides of the same coin. So often when I hear supposed patriots speak, prejudice seems to me to be embedded in the very language of patriotism!

Indeed, whenever I hear someone refer to ‘my people’ it always makes me shudder a little. For whenever I hear someone use that language they are generally indicating to me that I am not one of their people.

Now I appreciate that for some people it is especially for them to have a real pride in their history and in who they are, and indeed the persons who use this language with me most often are Indigenous Australians who have been isolated and persecuted as a people by those that I probably should own as ‘my people’. Even so, I’m not sure I need to identify myself with those people either. Do I really need to claim them as my own?

Who are my people? Perhaps it’s these people – the people I worship with on a Sunday morning? I feel more comfortable with that but not if that means excluding anybody from my inner-circle who is not worshipping with me!

The problem is that as soon as I start talking about ‘my people’ I’m creating a boundary that has ‘not my people’ on the other side of that boundary, and I’m not convinced that the Lord Jesus wants me to exclude anybody in that way!

I appreciate that this is a complex issue and I don’t want to pretend to be an authority on issues of racial identity or even patriotism. Even so, I can tell you that reading through Mein Kampf has given me a chilling lesson in how seamlessly patriotic talk about the greatness of our people can morph into something that is psychopathic and genocidal when it turns upon those who are not my people.

Jesus says ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you’ (Mark 10:42-43). This is not the way we are supposed to operate. This is not our culture. We who are followers of Jesus are not supposed to have anything to do with this power-play and manipulation. Even so, we have always done it and we continue to do it, using the mask of patriotism to guise our prejudice.

Last Sunday night I had the privilege of being the guest speaker at a church up on the central coast where I spoke to the congregation there about the importance of connecting with Muslim people in their area, and I was encouraged that one man who evidently did not agree with what I had to say nonetheless had the courage to confront me directly about it afterwards.

He told me about how ‘those people’ don’t want to become like ‘us’, and how ‘they’ have a particular agenda for ‘our’ country, and despite dialoguing together for some time we weren’t able to move beyond that sort of language – us and them, our people and their people, etc. I asked the usual questions such as ‘do you actually know any Muslim people?’ and ‘have you ever thought to invite one of those people over for dinner to talk this over with them?’ We didn’t really make a lot of progress, I felt, though I was impressed that the gentleman was honest enough to admit in the end that his issue was really with the Lord Jesus and not with me!

I did feel at the time that the discussion we were having was disturbingly familiar. Indeed the language could have been taken straight out of Mein Kampf. Even so, it’s not as if prejudice and power-play originated with Adolf Hitler either. Indeed, there’s not much in Mein Kampf that we haven’t already encountered in the New Testament where we find no shortage of either patriotism or prejudice!

Propaganda may indeed be the only one of the three ‘P’s’ that I mentioned that is missing from the Gospels. Hitler was a master of propaganda, of course, as was his friend Joseph Goebbels, who became the Third Reich’s Minister of Propaganda.

What Hitler says about propaganda is very clever, I think. What he says is ‘don’t say a lot, but say it a lot’. In other words, keep your message short and simple and just keep repeating it until it sinks in so deeply that it becomes an accepted truism.

The trick is to come up with slogans that are low on meaning but high on motivation – slogans like ‘support our troops!’ The strength of ‘support our troops’ is that it’s not obvious what it means, but if someone raises the question as to why we are bombing Iraq or Libya or Syria you can respond with ‘don’t you support our troops?’, which is a difficult question to answer because it doesn’t really mean anything but only serves to divert us from the real question which is ‘don’t you support our foreign policy?’ Similar things could be said, of course, about slogans like ‘turn back the boats’ and perhaps even ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!’

Hitler was a master of propaganda, and he used his propaganda to sell both his patriotism and his prejudice, and he did it all so brilliantly that he brought about the death of millions and millions of people and caused untold human suffering, and it was all in the name of an ideology that had at its heart the simple lust for power!

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)

What Jesus says is that we have to turn the whole thing on its head! In the ‘master-slave’ relationship that’s at the heart of every power structure we have to take the place of the slave and not the master! That seems really nonsensical and even perverse. Who wants to be a slave? Slaves suffer at the hands of their masters, and indeed Jesus reminds his followers that suffering is exactly what we should expect if we follow Him – ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ (Mark 10:38)

This is Jesus’ upside-down kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, ruled by one who brings down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly (Luke 1:52) – the one who, as Jesus tells us, “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I’m only halfway through Mein Kampf, as I said, though I’ve already learnt something from it. If I can stomach reading the rest of it I will probably learn a bit more. I was interested to discover though that as World War II progressed Hitler himself came to regret the fact that he’d ever published the book! The problem was that the book told his enemies too much! It contained his blueprint for world domination!

Winston Churchill said of the book “All was there – the programme of German resurrection, the technique of party propaganda; the plan for combating Marxism; the concept of a National-Socialist State; the rightful position of Germany at the summit of the world. Here was the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.” (The Gathering Storm)

Similar things could be said of the Gospels of course, which give us a parallel blueprint for Jesus’ upside-down kingdom. For it’s all there – the denial of wealth and power, the beauty of service, the joy of community, the inevitability of suffering and the ultimate triumph of love!

Two blueprints for two worlds – two very distinct and different worlds. We just need to be really clear that we don’t confuse the two!

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)

First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, on Sunday the 18th of October, 2015.   Posted on by Father Dave

Click here for the video.

Click here for the audio.

Rev. David B. Smith

(the ‘Fighting Father’)

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four. www.FatherDave.org

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