German publisher capitulates to press censor

Today, after a public and legal campaign by The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a German publisher agreed to shut down a pulp magazine that illustrates tales of German soldiers and their adventures during World War 2. [Algemeiner]    [New York Times]

Der LandserBauer Media has published Der Landser since shortly after the Nürenburg trials. Early in the Magazine’s history, some material—or at least its inspiration—was drawn from narratives of former SS officers. Early subscribers included history buffs and strategy enthusiasts. But critics claim that, in recent decades, consumers more likely include Nazi sympathizers and hard core Neo-Nazis. Far from innocent war pulp, they assert that that the publication fans the flame of prejudice and intolerance.

Actually, the magazine looks more like a serial comic book than serious literature. In my opinion, it is a close cousin to those 1960s “Detective” magazines that titillate readers by sensationalizing and exaggerating lurid back-stories of serial murderers and rapists. You know the type—a woman in a bra adorns the cover. With fear on her face, a dark shadow or knife-wielding man lurks behind her. For added effect, the man is almost always shirtless, just like his victim.

Detective Magazine

Der Landser doesn’t need a vulnerable, partially-clad woman on their covers. Instead, they show German soldiers gazing from a trench at Allied troops in the distance and describe Aryan heroics in defending the Fatherland. Enormous planes with Swastikas on the tail provide cover from the skys.

The problem, according to The Simon Wiesenthal Center, is that individuals or army units involved in the stories were provably involved in unspeakable atrocities. Stories that glorify them violate a German, post war, hate law.

There is no doubt that The Wiesenthal Center’s successful effort to banish publication places a spotlight on hate the glorification of mass-murderers. But does that light contribute to reason and debate—and, ultimately, to widespread education, civility and tolerance? I certainly appreciate their position and motive. The Weisenthal Center is all about teaching tolerance. So it certainly seems like their actions are laudable…

The Wiesenthal Center’s goal is laudable, but I question their method. In fact, I feel that it subverts the goal.

I cringe when any goal—even an honorable one—is attained by exploiting the German law which prohibits a free press. In this case, the publisher agreed to fold the magazine, not because it was hurtful or hateful, but because an American organization used an ill-conceived gag-law to put them in fear of their own government. Yes. In Germany, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust and it is illegal to promote Nazi history or even to buy & sell most Nazi paraphernalia. Any display of Nazi symbols or Hitler artifacts is also illegal.

Moreover, Germany has enacted repentance by telling its citizens what not to do and how they must behave in matters of expression. By forbidding citizens to trade historical symbols of hate on Ebay or gaze on the twisted cross in a school room, they contribute to ignorance and limit discussions which might guide a postwar generation to better appreciate the sins of their ancestors.

A sister law to this press prohibition forbids Holocaust denial any platform, public or private. Is this supposed to limit hate or ignorance? It does not. It doesn’t even reign in denial. Rather, it drives intolerance underground where it continues to fester. How can the German government fail to recognize this? Germany invented rocket science. But here is a simple axiom that doesn’t require a rocket scientist: Hate and intolerance are countered by a bright light. Exposure, explanation, evidence and rebuttal. Apparently, under German law, these things are verbotten.

In retrospect, I am not too surprised that the German government fails to understand the mechanisms of hate, but I expect more from The Simon Wiesenthal Center. They should not, themselves, use a restricted press and an intolerant government as tools of education & outreach. What’s more? When all is said and done, it simply cannot work.

Mormons “Baptize” the Dead. Why the outrage?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are known as Mormons, just as people who practice “Plural Marriage” are known as polygamists. Of course, The Mormons claim to have given up that practice years ago. But then, we keep hearing of rogues and outcasts who make the evening news. Who can forget Warren Jeffs, his 14-year-old brides and the babies he fathered.

Alive—makes a more meaningful Baptism

This week, our slightly odd neigh-bors in Utah stirred up another ruckus. Yup! It concerns another practice they promised to stop. But, Whoops! Like a poltergeist, It’s B-a-a-c-k!  It seems that the Church has an official program to convert dead people of other faiths. It works like this: Get the name, birth & death dates, and other facts about anyone that you fancy. Then, assemble the faithful in a Utah mountain, sprinkle water on a voodoo effigy and pronounce the departed soul a faithful congregant.

Actually, I’m using a bit of artistic license with perhaps an unfair dose of sarcasm. Wikipedia offers this condensed explanation: A living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person. After giving a short prayer that includes the name of the deceased individual, the proxy is immersed briefly in the water, then brought up again. Baptism for the dead is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God.

However the ritual plays out, suffice it to say that atheists and followers of other prophets are insulted. Why would anyone claim to baptize someone who can’t even consent? They’re baptizing the dead in the hopes that they will have one last chance to accept Jesus—or perhaps Joseph Smith—as prophet, savior, Mullah, whatever. (I apologize for being flippant. I shouldn’t blaspheme the rituals of others. But c’mon! It’s difficult to suppress a chuckle when someone dunks a stand-in for a departed Muslim or Jew and solemnly expects the unsuspecting corpse will switch horses and meet a new maker in the Afterlife.)

Did Simon Wiesenthal Convert to Mormonism? Well—not, at least, in his lifetime!

This practice has been reported in the past, when a journalist finds a prominent individual of another faith among the beneficiaries of this bizarre practice. The Church typically apologizes and promises to exclude the hapless corpse from a shot at everlasting life. But this time, they really caused a stink. This time, they exercised a ghostly baptism on the souls of Simon Wiesenthal and his parents. Wiesenthal, founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance. He was a prominent concentration camp survivor who died in 1999. His parents were gassed by the Nazis. As you might imagine, his organization soundly protested the posthumous “baptisms” of their founder.

Today, Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel (another prominent camp survivor) publically asked Mitt Romney to instruct the Church to stop this practice. Of course, Romney is a candidate for President, but he is not a spokesman for the Mormon Church.

Wild Ducks have a different take on all of this. I have been reading about the practice of Mormons baptizing the dead by proxy with a chuckle. This one is a red herring, my friends. A fantasy play that is acted out within Mormon temple walls has no bearing on you, me, Elie Wiesel or Simon Wiesenthal. It is futile, harmless, and–if you ask me–outright goofy. But it certainly keeps them out of trouble.

I don’t think it is worth a second thought. Have you ever had a friend or roommate who is an Assembly-of-God Christian? It’s like asking them to stop praying for your soul. To coin a phrase by Sarah Palin, Good luck with that one!

Baptism is a symbol. It’s not real. The whole brouhaha reminds me of George Bush, Sr. and his obsession for criminalizing the burning of an American flag. Sometimes, we get symbols confused with the real thing. I recall one ardent supporter of a Flag Amendment who screamed “My brother died protecting that flag!” With all due respect for the dead brother…No, he did not! The flag is just a symbol, and you cannot force everyone to feel the same way about it. He died in his fight for what the flag represents. If a protester cannot burn a symbol, in what way would you prefer that he show his anger and frustration?

A friend forwarded a petition urging the LDS Church to stop a “heinous desecration”. I gave him the perspective that prompted me to post this article. I half expected him to be angered or insulted by my lack of respect for the dead. Instead, I was validated to read this quick response:

Praise the Lord and pass the Pizza

“The truth is I was a little confused about why we should care. If they give me $10, they can dunk me in a pool and call me a Mormon. I’ll continue with my own practice just like always, but I’ll have $10 to spend on a pizza!”

Exactly! To the non-Mormons who bristle at hearing that Mom, Dad or a favorite rock star was unwittingly converted, I say: They weren’t! They’re dead. It’s not as if a gravestone was vandalized. Leave the Mormons to their practices and get over it! Or better yet, get them converted back (Thanks to a reader comment, below!)

Update: Late today, The LDS Church apologized for including Simon Wiesenthal’s parents in their dead guy conversion rituals. Of course, they have back stepped before on this very same issue. But again, I say “Who Cares?” It keeps them off the streets and reasonably happy. When confronted by delusion – and if that delusion is manifest by harmless, self-contained ritual – I believe that it is best not to interfere.