A Review of When a Nation Forgets God. By Erwin Lutzer.
Moody, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
The first thing to note about this book is that the subject matter – the Nazi terror – was not all that long ago. People are still alive today who lived through this horrible period in recent history. Yet our memories are so very short, that it seems like just a distant memory.
Thus Erwin Lutzer is to be thanked for refreshing our memories, and reminding us of the lessons we should have learned from this. But sadly it seems we are not learning our lessons. He offers seven key lessons from this period which are well worth taking to heart.
Of course in doing so he is not equating America (his home audience) with Nazi Germany. He simply sees some loose parallels with what happened back then in Germany and what is happening today in America, and so much of the West. Learning the lessons of history is always crucial.
One such lesson is how law, divorced from any transcendent foundation, can be used to empower tyrants and promote gross injustice. If there are no absolute and eternal laws which humans must submit to, then law becomes whatever any dictator or 51 per cent majority claim it should be.
Thus Hitler decreed that Jews were non-persons, and he enacted laws to treat them accordingly. He had already privatised religion in Germany, and morality and law became completely subjective – mere tools of the state. Thus the Nazis could proclaim, “Hitler is the law”.
Of course at the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg, the Nazis simply said they were doing what was legal to do in Germany at the time. But they had to be reminded that simply following orders was not enough, and that there was a law above the law which they all were subservient to.
Today in the West we see the same withering away of the rule of law, to be replaced by positive law and judicial activism. Lutzer reminds us just how much contemporary Western law has been influenced by evolutionary theory and liberal theology, and how law is deteriorating as a result.
He also reminds us of another important lesson: the power of propaganda. The Nazis relied heavily on this, and were able to convince the masses to go along with their cause. Hitler was an expert at this, able to manipulate the crowds and mesmerise the people with hollow rhetoric and clever propaganda.
It could have been even worse: “It is chilling to think of what Hitler could have done if he could have used today’s media to gain followers.” Lutzer looks at how contemporary activists groups have also become experts in using propaganda.
The militant homosexual lobby is a case in point. They have perfected the use of propaganda to move the masses in their direction. He quotes from activists who have written about the effective use of propaganda to advance their cause. He even cites one leader in the movement who said his group had used Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a model for a successful strategy in the uses of lies, propaganda and intimidation.
Lutzer also alerts us to how the use of state-controlled education can be effective in enslaving a people. Hitler of course early on outlawed homeschooling and private schools, insisting on compulsory state education. He knew that this could effectively counter any competing values instilled in children by parents or churches.
Thus state education became a tool of the Nazis to brainwash young children into the Nazi worldview. The purpose of the school was not for general education but for indoctrination. Good education was anything that further served the interests of the Reich.
Of course we see similar things happening in Western education today, with secular humanism the default position of the schools, and political correctness being force fed our children. Increasingly the secular state is seeking to crack down on independent schools and home schooling. Incredibly, German parents today who dare to home school are sent to prison, and their children taken away from them.
But the general lesson about apathy and indifference is perhaps the most important one found in this book, and the best way to discuss it is to simply close with this sobering quote from a German eyewitness, who reflected on why the church basically did nothing:
“I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks.
“We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we could hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.
“We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.”
This is an important book which deserves a wide reading. It very nicely illustrates the truth of Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Indeed, it is quite revealing that this saying can now be found on the plaque outside of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
16 Replies to “A Review of When a Nation Forgets God. By Erwin Lutzer.”
Hi Bill, the greater revelations of God are found in the darkest places, the very places we don’t dare look into because if we do the implication is once seeing we can never be the same again. That same implication was significant to Moses turning aside to peer into the burning Bush. For us it can be a burning bush to seriously consider the incredible history of reoccurring judgements regarding Israel.
Things like the holocaust raise many questions.
One of the things that was central to Art Katz’s journey was his experience as a young man of visiting one of the Nazi death camps soon after the end of WW2 and placing his hands on the ovens still containing remains of the victims. Out of this came the revelation that given the circumstances all were bad guys and that he was one of them.
Later on from this he rephrased a well known saying into the observation”Crisis reveals, and ultimate crisis reveals ultimately”.
Many years later he put out his extremely challenging book, The Holocaust, Where was God?
The book begin with this great insight from Oswald Chambers. Forgive me for taking up the space to quote it.
“There is a connection between the strange providence’s of God and what we know of Him, and we have to learn to interpret the mysteries of life in the light of our knowledge of God. Unless we can look the darkest blackest fact full in the face without damaging God’s character, we do not yet know Him.”
My Utmost for His Highest, July 29th.
Thanks Bill. Sounds like a powerful book, and an important reminder of our past and our unfortunate propensity to repeat it.
I often find myself talking to friends who are busily defending the welfare state and government enroachment into so many areas of our lives, income redistribution (“politics of envy”), and the merits of state education ‘because my kids are not any better than anyone else’s’. I then try to remind them that it was only in the very recent past that totalitarian communism fell in Eastern Europe, and the Third Reich reigned in Germany. Often the response is that these situations were exceptional and that our government is good and trying to help people. They’re not interested in the fact that the policies which are “helping” are in fact warning signs, and symptoms of what Lutzer describes.
Yes exactly right Simon.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
“When there is no god above the state, then the state is God.” – Douglas Wilson
Not that I have read the book but I would be interested to see what Lutzer thinks of the role nationalism played in the rise of the Nazis, as nationalism is one of the main features of fascism.
It should be remembered that the ideology that fascism upheld is what really latched onto the minds and hearts of Germans and Italians. The rise of fascism was a popular movement to begin with, something I doubt we’ll see easily here in Australia.
Yes he does have a chapter on this. The economy was an especially big part of Hitler’s rise: “Let us not be quick to condemn those who were willing to give Hitler a chance, given the economic chaos that spread through Germany after World War I. … He rode to victory simply because he promised to rebuild the collapsing German mark and put the nation back to work. He cleverly exploited the economic crisis that postwar Germany was experiencing. Yes, it was the economy that gave rise to National Socialism.”
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thank you for your sobering articles and book reviews. As Winston Churchill once said “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Unfortunately too often I am one of those. God Help me and God help Australia.
When God’s authority and the authority of His Word are not acknowledged, and usurped, then the rule of law is thrown out the window and “might is right” prevails then you get situations arising in countries in the middle east as is happening currently.
God is a God of order, it was He who established Governments, Kings and Kingdoms and territories. God established Judges, judgments that are right, He established the law.
When people thumb their noses at these, they are thumbing their noses at God!!!
Christians need to recognize we are at war!!!
As for the Nazis, humans are good at repeating the mistakes of the past, Keep up the good work Bill.
The modern parallel with the inaction of the German churches to the Holocaust, is the way Western churches are so apathetic towards the abortion holocaust. It even seems comparable the way modern contemporary churches have become so focused on music and entertainment to the seeming neglect of almost every other concern.
Ewan McDonald, Victoria
Yes quite right Ewan.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Quite right. In fact that testimony Bill finished with was given to a pastor after he had preached against abortion. The man’s point was that Christians ARE repeating exactly the same inaction and cowardice right now. Just singing louder when anyone wants to talk about, let alone do anything to stop the murder of the unborn.
“He even cites one leader in the [gay] movement who said his group had used Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a model for a successful strategy in the uses of lies, propaganda and intimidation.”
Would it be at all possible for you to “out” this particular homofascist with the exact quote and source? This kind of thing needs to be as widely known as possible.
Dan Baynes, U.K.
Actually he is remorseful about this now. It was Washington, D.C. ACT-UP founder, Eric Pollard in his 1992 letter to the Washington Blade titled, “Time to give up fascist tactics”:
“This is very hard for me to write. It forces me to squarely confront my past actions and to accept responsibility for the damage I have had a part in causing. I sincerely apologize for my involvement in and my founding of the AIDS activist organization, ACT-UP D.C.. I have helped to create a truly fascist organization…The average Gay man or woman could not immediately relate to our subversive tactics, drawn largely from the voluminous Mein Kampf, which some of us studied as a working model”
See here, p. 291: http://www.defendthefamily.com/pfrc/books/pinkswastika/html/Chapter8.htm
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Another excellent book about this very subject:
BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,
by Eric Metaxas
pub. 2010 Thomas Nelson ISBN: 9781595551382
(The 2011 Christian Book of the Year and Winner in the Non-Fiction Category)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer truly lived what it means to be the “church” in the face of overwhelming evil –> Ephesians 6:12
Yes it is a great book. I discuss it here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/26/lessons-from-bonhoeffer/
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch