Search This Blog


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Alternative History: Adolf Hitler

I recently read of some students in Germany who made an alternative history film of Hitler as a young boy being killed by an automobile, ending with the body sprawled as a Swastika.  While by no means an admirer of Hitler or the National Socialist movement, I'm queasy about killing children.  However, this prompted a bit of alternative history speculation:

An Alternatative History Ending for Adolf Hitler

The Obituary

Early July, 1914—A Telegram

Dear Cousin Nicky:  As Christian princes, we must do our best to preserve peace and justice in this fallen world.  Hence, while I deplore the murder of our Austrian Cousin Ferdinand and sympathize with the deep mourning of his people, I will do my best to dissuade Vienna from war; if I can be sure of your help in using Russian influence to reign in the passions of the Slave states in the Balkans.  Willy

Dear Cousin Willy: Despite Pan-Slavist hotheads in my government, I am of the same mind as you are.  I have instructed my ambassadors to push for Austro-Serbian reconciliation, and to offer Russia’s good offices in this effort.  My prayers are with your efforts with Vienna.  Nicky.

From Konrad Hauftoffel’s Aborted Crisis: European Diplomacy following the Sarajevo Assassination (1962).

…A rare fit of calm and deliberation on the part of Germany’s Wilhelm II, coupled with an uncharacteristically quick response from Tsar Nicholas II, averted conflict.  While the ordered mobilization ended with large armies standing idle, along with concomitant expenditures on the parts of all European governments and resultant socialist coffee house jokes at the expense of chanceries everywhere, the aborted crisis of 1914 gave new confidence to Europe, especially after King George of Great Britain proposed an immediate international conference on securing a lasting peace in the Balkans with the cooperation of the French Government…

München Abendzeitung, July 13, 1962

Adolf Hitler, Noted Wallpaper Designer and Housewares Entrepreneur, Succumbs to Stroke.

Early this morning, Adolf Hitler, retired founder of Hitler and Sons Housewares and Design succumbed to a sudden stroke.  He was seventy-three years of age, and is survived by his wife of forty-three years Hildegard, daughters Pauline Franzenbrenner of Heilbronn and Klara Müller of Köln, and by sons Karl, current head of Hitler and Sons Housewares and Design, Friedrich, Wilhelm, Franz, and Johann, a dentist with a practice in Augsburg; in addition to grandchildren Heinz Franzenbrenner, Karl Franzenbrenner, Margarete Franzenbrenner, Dietrich Müller, Hilde Müller, Friedrich Hitler, Alois Hitler, and Klara Hitler.  Half-brother Alois, Junior predeceased him, as did sister Paula.  The death was announced by Wilhelm Hitler, vice-president in charge of advertising for the family firm.

Born in Braunau am Inn in Austria in 1889, Hitler immigrated to Germany, Hitler received only a gymnasium education before  moving to Vienna to unsuccessfully pursue an education in fine arts and a career as a freelance painter.  Drawn to nationalistic ideology in his youth, he used a small inheritance from his father Alois, a former Austrian customs officer, to immigrate to München at the age of twenty-four, where he spent most of the rest of his life.  Naturalized as a German subject through brief service in the general mobilization of 1914, Hitler was demobilized when the 1914 crisis subsided.

Friends of the family note that Hitler called the end of the 1914 crisis a turning point in his life.  Realizing he was unlikely to succeed as a fine artist, he decided to devote himself to growing a career in  house painting and wallpaper hanging.  A diligent worker with a charismatic personality, Hitler attracted a growing clientele and the loyalty of a small cadre of coworkers.   After contracting to work on the home of Max Frankenberger, the noted art collector, Hitler once explained some of his own ideas about wallpaper design to his patron.  Intrigued, Frankenberger  put Hitler in touch with various sources of finance and materials, launching Hitler on his career as a wallpaper designer.  By the age of thirty-three, Hitler found his growing business required a large manufacturing plant, and with the help of several backers, purchased a defunct munitions factory, which he had re-configured to manufacture his wallpapers.   It was close to this time that he met Hildegard Kurz, daughter of a pharmacist, whom he married in 1924 at the Marienkirche in München.  Through his father-in-law Anton Kurz, Hitler met the financier Jesaia Kahn, who encouraged Hitler to pursue his ideas about new designs for housewares and provided seed capital for this venture.   Kahn was also able to introduce Hitler to a New York-based cousin, who added an international dimension to his growing business empire.

Youngest son Johann Hitler notes that his father, initially attracted to German nationalism in his youth and steeped in conventional anti-Semitic attitudes, came to pan-Europeanist views with the growing international caution and era of easing tensions following British King George V’s call for further discussions about preserving European peace.  “Father used to joke about how he once couldn’t get away from the cosmopolitan Austro-Hungarian-Bohemian state quickly enough and thought himself too good for what he once called the ‘Jewish stink’ of Vienna; but he notes that the help he received from Frankenberger, Kahn, and Kahn’s American cousin ended up making him a wealthy man.  Deals with department stores everywhere from Baghdad and Moscow to Kansas City, Missouri convinced Father that we live in one world.  He grew very sentimental when he took the family on a vacation to his native Austria, even in the neighborhood where he had experienced poverty and rejection as a young man, and by the time I met my dear wife Babette, who is Jewish, his admitted youthful anti-Semitism had largely dissipated.  He grew very enthusiastic when he heard of the arrangement Emperor Karl of Austria made with the Slavic and Rumanian minorities and Austria-Hungary’s evolution from Dual to Plural Monarchy.  His association with the Pan-European Party began about that time, and he even briefly considered running for office on its ticket, before business concerns brought him back down to earth.  However, he came to firmly believe, “Today, Mitteleuropa; tomorrow, the World”.  The high point of his life was when he heard that at the 1957 Lemburg Meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm IV, Emperor Otto of the Plural Monarchy, and Tsar Alexis of Russia, a Hitler tablecloth covered the dinner table.  He observed that when young, he thought a European war might bring him to a grand destiny, but that it was a general peace that made it possible for the Hitler name to be known and appreciated all over Europe and the world.”

Son Wilhelm also noted that while officially retired from his business, Hitler continued to contribute ideas for wallpaper and housewares design until shortly before his death.  He noted that his father was never happier than when he had a drawing pen or pencil in hand and a sheet of paper in front of him.

In addition to provisions for family members in Hitler’s will, bequests were made to various Catholic and Protestant charities in München, the Frankenberger Museum of Realist Art, the Pan-European Party, and the Tsar Alexis Research Center for Hemophilia and other Genetic Disorders in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The wake and funeral services are scheduled to be held at the Heiligegeistkirche in Münichen, where the Hitler family attended. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sorry for being late

A belated lunar new year to all!  It was on Friday, January 31.

哎呀!我迟到了!可是,还祝大家恭贺新禧 马年到了!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thoughts on Samuel and Kings--God as Oriental Despot

I grew up in a household that viewed itself as "enlightened".  While we were culturally Protestant, with a foothold among the Jews (my father's side of the family), we "knew" that we were better than "UGH!-fundamentalists!" who took the Bible "literally" (although I confess I have yet to meet someone, even the most hardcore fundamentalist, who holds that mountains actually grew feet and skipped when Israel left Egyptian bondage--Psalm 114:4).

For us, it was a given that the God of the Old Testament was "an oriental despot" writ large; and as cultured people who knew the writings of Max Weber and other learned Germans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as being Americans nurtured in a democratic polity, we knew that "oriental despots" were not a good class of people.

God as an oriental despot?  Now that I have been called on to lead an adult Sunday school on Samuel and Kings, it is now as good a time as any to explain how I shed a belief of my childhood and youth. 

Samuel and Kings tie in very nicely with both the books of Moses and the prophets.  Indeed, the Hebrew Old Testament places Samuel-Kings in a ccategory titled "Former Prophets".  From the Septuagint onwards, many translations of the Scriptures describes these books not as One and Two Samuel and One and Two Kings, but as One, Two, Three, and Four Kings.  One thing which stands out in these books is that the Hebrew conscience--embodied in the prophets who wrote the books--had a very ambiguous view of kings. And if God is described as king in various places, the kings are at best a pale reflection of the divine majesty rather than God being an idealization of the kingly office, while at worst the monarchs of Israel are a parody and even an insult to the God in his name they reign.

Israel, between entry into the Promised Land and the Anointing of Saul (1400-1000 B.C., give or take?) is a loose, much put-upon tribal federation led by Judges rather than kings.  While the Book of Judges disparagingly notes "these were the days when there was no king over Israel, and every man did as he pleased", Israel's desire for a king in I Samuel 8 is also a negative moment.

Israel seeks a King to be like "those of the nations round about".  Samuel, the last of the Judges, is grieved, but God tells him that the one who has been rejected is not Samuel, but God himself. Samuel goes on to describe how the manner of the monarch (as the Scots Covenanter Samuel Rutherford interpreted it in 1644) would be to oppress and rob the people, taking the best they had and redistributing it to those close to the throne.  Yet the people persist, so a king is found in the person of Saul Son of Kish.

Saul does not obey God, and increasingly exhibits negative characteristics.  When David appears as the slayer of the Philistine giant Goliath, and becomes a charismatic warrior in Israel, Saul is jealous.  His marrying his daughter Michal to David has all the marks of a suspicious man keeping friends close, and [supposed] enemies closer. David is driven into rebellion, and Saul chides his men who cannot find David by asking if David will give them vineyards and fields--precisely behavior against which Samuel warned the people.

While David is a man after God's heart (someone who receives divine grace, more than a good man whom God finds), he, too, is a failure in important areas.  Moses, in Deuteronomy 17, commands that the king shall not multiply to himself wives (Dt. 17:17), yet David embarks on this path while he is still on the run, taking Abigail, widow of Nabal, as a ssecond wife, and Ahinoam as a third. This comes out all the more in the reign of his son Solomon, whose many foreign wives and concubines turn him away from the LORD.

David's grandson Rehoboam drives ten of the twelve tribes to rebellion, and the kingdom to division.  Succeeding kings in Israel follow the path of Jeroboam Son of Nebat, "who led Israel to sin" (idolatry, not political disloyalty) in a dreary history of apostasy.  Of the kings of Judah, only Hezekiah and Josiah are praised, and it is for the sins of Amon and Manasseh that Judah, the last independent Israelite polity, ultimately goes into captivity.

Nor are the most vividly drawn foreign kings--oriental despots par excellence-- given a good press.  The pharaohs of Egypt forget how Joseph's emergency measures saved their people, and end up the oppressors and would-be destroyers of Israel.  Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon proves boastful, and goes mad; his successor to be swallowed up by the Persians.

And herein lies the rub: history may be written by the winners; but sacred history honored by millions worldwide was written by the conservators of a failed state whose dynasty fell (save in Jesus Christ).  Yet these came conservators were also those sustained by God while monarchs who presumed that their monuments would last forever were long forgotten--until a much later age unearthed them as part of the project of illuminating the world in which the Bible was written.

No, God is not an oriental despot, outwardly splendid and inwardly shabby, presumed powerful but, in the end, as easily swept away as a cloud of dust. The exegesis of those in the seat of the scornful is mere waggishness, and ultimately misleading folly. May God forgive me, and any of us, who ever took it seriously.

God is God, the maker and sustainer of the world who does what he will, and keeps faith with those who trust in him.

Some Thoughts on the Lord's Supper

On the first Sunday of the month, our church held the Lord's Supper (sometimes called Communion).  While receiving, I thought of the texts describing its institution in the Synoptic Gospels and Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians; the last being the text read by the pastor.

These four are very similar, moving from the blessing and breaking of the bread by Jesus Christ, it's being described as his body broken for us, the blessing of the cup, it's being decribed as the New Covenant in Christ's blood shed for us for the remission of sins, with the sharing of the bread and wine among the disciples.  The wording in Greek is not identical across the four sources, but this is probably due to the Messiah having originally spoken in Aramaic, and the New Testament sources reflecting translators' choices (having done Chinese-English tech and legal translation, I know that there are usually several ways to say the same thing).

But several thoughts crossed my mind while the ordinance was being observed.

(1) This is just the sort of remembrance to which some small, persecuted community rooted in Judaism would cling to most carefully.

(2) Yes, the parallels to the Passover seder are there, and doubtlessly deliberate. The symbolism also points to the sacrificial ritual of the times when the Temple still stood, and its connections to the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled on the ancient Israelite doorposts also links it very closely to Old Testament religion.

(3) The language of sacrifice and atonement is unmistakable--blood poured out for the remission of sins. Yet how can Jesus, whom none can convict of sin, make atonement?  The atonement is for the sins of others!  This makes the key memory of the primitive church one of sacrifice and atonement. How then can the theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries dispense with the old Christian doctrine of penal substitution?  How can the Muslims, since the 7th century, deny that Jesus died on the cross?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Michael Palin Calls Retreat

Scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


Yes, in his misspent youth, Uncle Cephas used to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus.  Yes, and I'm aware how a lot of it could get downright blasphemous.  However, as a lover of documentaries, I couldn't help myself with the minor theme in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the "Noted Historian" commenting in best documentary manner on the Arthurian legends, only to be cut down in mid-sentence by one of the subjects of his talk, and then having snippets of police questioning his widow, hunting clues, and, in the end, in the midst of a great battle scene, swooping onto the battel field to arrest several of King Arthur's stalwarts. 
Now, Michael Palin, one of the Pythons, has come out to state that his old crew would never mock Islam.  Why?  There are a lot of humorless people out there and they're well-armed.  Apparently, Sir Michael is a good disciple of Bertrand Russell who'd rather live on his knees than die on his knees, and is now living on his knees.  Brave,brave, brave Sir Michael!

So, how do you address a bold iconoclast of yesteryear?
Stick your thumbs in your armpits, flap your arms, and say, "Buck-buck-cluck-AAAAH! Buck-buck-cluck-AAAAH!"


Happy New Year

Happy New Year to one and all!

Mi khwam sukh bi him!

Frohlich Weinacht!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Although a Christian, I don't make a big to-do about Christmas.  I have long shared a tradition which was suspicious of all holidays save the weekly Lord's Day; and have the greatest sympathy for the position of the Second Helvetic Confession, which sees those traditional holidays--such as Christmas--that are based on the life of Christ as adiaphoric.

However, having a little time on my hands, I feel I ought to share a few thoughts about Jesus Christ and his work.

The Gospel of John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  Al things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness to the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many received him, to them he gave power to become sons of God, even to those that believe on his name: Which were born not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.  John barewitness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he ws before me.  And of his fulness have we all received grace for grace.  For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:1-18).

This I firmly believe, and pray that all may come to believe it this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!