When first I heard of these tales I pictured two fresh-faced elders of the Mormon church, dressed in trademark black slacks and short sleeve shirts, knocking at the doors of hell and asking politely if they could take the insipid word of Joe Smith to the complex's residents. I dismissed it as an oddity, peculiar to the Latter Day Saints.
Until I found John Lennox trying a similar trick.
Considering the multitudes in his ambitious plan I hope he has opted not to perform proxy immersions. Rather than attempting to swell the ranks of Christianity his goal is to deplete them. Throughout Gunning for God he strives to separate the wheat from the chaff. The True ChristiansTM are kept and celebrated, those he discards as failing his almighty judgement are assigned to the atheist pile.
He starts, as is invariably the case in this book, with a quote from another author. He intends to illustrate the supposed horrors of secular societies in which most of us are fortunate enough to live. How his brand of non-denominational Christianity would likely fare in any current or past Theocracy is not discussed:
"David Berlinski has put his finger on the real issue. He recalls one occasion: Somewhere in Eastern Europe, an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave. Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said. And then he was shot dead. What Hitler did not believe, and what Stalin did not believe, and what Mao did not believe, and what the SS did not believe, and what the Gestapo did not believe, and what the NKVD did not believe, and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Blackshirts, Gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe, was that God was watching what they were doing. And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society."Here Lennox presents the tale as a historical event. Berlinski, among other things a fiction author, makes no such pretensions in context. In his work it is without source, footnote, or any conceivable route whereby the tale could reach us - one character dead, the other clearly unlikely to favour telling the tale - it originates only in Berlinski's imagination. Despite this Lennox feels it worthy of inclusion as fact once in full, and once by reference on page 133.
Building on these fictional foundations Lennox continues, saying that:
"Hitchens tries to exculpate Stalin and Hitler by blaming their ideas on religion. But he can only do so by making the elementary mistake of failing to distinguish between nominal religion and a personal, living faith in God. Whatever these evil men were by label or background, they were atheists in practice."I was tempted to take offence at the implication that the behaviour of a despot is normal practice for an atheist but it's such a poorly argued insult that I'm barely moved to care.
His criteria for True Christian are not laid out in full. I will do my best to extrapolate. We have useful evidence - he's ruled out Hitler, the SS, the Gestapo, the NKVD, brown shirts, black shirts and so on. Pope Benedict's unit earns a reprieve - before his current career took off he was a professional anti-aircraft marksman protecting a BMW factory and its slave labour. Berlinski and Lennox neglect to mention his general army and their Gott Mit Uns belt buckles. The German inscription surely did not escape polyglot Lennox: God With Us.
Again, Lennox's command of the German tongue would prove useful when reading Von den Juden und ihren Lügen. The talented rhyme is lost when rendered in English as "On the Jews and their lies". It includes such distasteful quotes as:
I shall give you my sincere advice:
First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians...
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed...
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them...
Fifth, I advise that safeconduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.
The author? Martin Luther. The chap who largely started the Reformation, inspiration of both Protestantism and Kristallnacht. This odious attack on Jews in Austria and Germany took place in celebration of his birthday in 1938. Synagogues and schools were burned, houses were razed and destroyed, books burned and Jews on the streets were assaulted, tortured and killed. He and his influence doubtless inspired Hitler's quote:
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison.I'd be most grateful if Lennox would take the Nazis back. If necessary I'm willing to help with the proxy baptisms. After all, when has Christianity been solely for those who do not sin?