Death, yes death.
They fear it so much, these new people who have awakened me and put me to work remembering a life I would just as soon forget. Yes, they fear it, and yet they obsess about it. Imagine, 700 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in Mecca yesterday; today all the news is about exactly how it happened. A woman is interviewed talking about the death of her husband—we see her tears, her wails.
Not one of them can say it, but who will harm me, and why should I care if they did? I know perfectly well who died in Mecca, and it was the infidel. They had not accepted Christ, they had clung to their old beliefs and religions, they had amassed like lemmings—is it any wonder they had suffered the same fate?
And so, according to their beliefs, they were called to make the hajj in Medina and Mecca at least once in their lives, no matter from where they lived. Why? In all the German towns I lived in, the townsfolk were expected to attend church, but was there ever any talk about going to Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela, or—God forbid—Rome? Of course not, that was papist nonsense, mere superstition; hadn’t Martin Luther freed us of all that? Hadn’t we moved on from all the processions, the ritual floggings, the hysterical beating of the breast and speaking in voices, and all those other effluents of the devil?
Death was all around us in Germany in the 18th century, and death could be desired, surely, at the end of a long life, a life of service. A man marries, and he takes the life of his wife in his hands, as does she. They have children for whom they must care, and who must care for them as the end nears. But now, 700 people have died, and the news is questioning—was it the fault of the Saudi government? Or was it the will of God?
It was neither. It was the fault of those 700 people, and the people who encouraged them to put themselves at harm’s way. But the roar that arose when I tried to say that, yesterday! I was insensitive, I didn’t understand the need for respecting different religions, I was lacking in something called “multiculturalism!”
Indeed? Am I then to say that the ignorant who chose to remain with the Roman church are as worthy, as much to be respected as our own reformed church? Of course not—else why would the reform have been necessary? And necessary it was, as anyone who knew the story of simony and indulgences and the scandalous ways of the clergy living in the gilded palaces could attest.
700 people? No, 700 people did not die yesterday, but rather untold thousands, since what man or woman lives without a family, a spouse, children and aged parents? And now, all of them today live, but are they not dead as well?
And why did they go? Their religion told them, their Koran told them, that it was their duty and their privilege to make the trip; stupidly, they believed.
I grew up in the very place where Martin Luther had lived, and where he had formed his great beliefs, the beliefs that led to the Ninety-five Theses for the faith in 1517. And what did Luther believe? What gift had he given not only me, but the millions of other people who came to believe as he did?
The Roman church had told him—it was only through the intercession of the church that a man could attain eternal life in heaven. And how was that to be attained? By paying church taxes for everything from a baptismal record to a death certificate—including everything in between. By purchasing an indulgence, which would shave some years off your time in purgatory. Lastly, by dying in a state of grace, and who controlled that? The priest, and by extension, the entire church.
And what a revolution it was, when Luther stated the obvious—the Roman church was a painted whore, seducing the gullible and beguiling the corrupt. Salvation was between man and God; it was scripture and each man’s reading of it, not the church, that determined one’s spiritual resting place. Nor is it good deeds that lead to salvation, but quite the opposite. Salvation is God’s gift to us, and believing that God could be bribed by a gift or by sacrifice—or by throwing seven pebbles against a wall—was abominable. And also, I would add, supremely disrespectful to the Lord himself: what judge would not be affronted at the covert display of money and the knowing wink in his courtroom?
And so I believed. I feared God, I dreaded his wrath—for had he not tested me greatly? I lived until I was sixty-five, but my parents? My first wife? And don’t forget, the Black Eeath regularly scourged us: God’s revenge for the wayward and godless paths that so many of us had taken.
Yes, he scourged us, he sent his punishment upon us, but it was He—not his church, not his priest or his mullahs—who through his direct contact with each man favored us with heaven or struck us down into Hell. A man, then, was freed the tyranny of a church or a priest; a man stood with dignity before God. Lesser, oh very much lesser—but still a man, standing on his own two feet.
They will tell you that I dedicated every AMDG—Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, to the greater glory of God. Indeed, but never did I do it because the church told me to, or to curry favor of God, or to impress the people who saw the acronym on my scores. No, I did it because God had favored me; God had given me great gifts and great tribulations. For what family was greater in music than mine? What family had had such reunions, when everyone was playing music, laughing, joking, singing the most vulgar street songs and then devising ingenious impromptu variations on them? For every one of the blows with which God had struck me, he had caressed me with his infinite blessings ten times as often. I lost a child? I took my sorrow to church, and there did He comfort me.
I did not take myself off a thousand miles away from my home and family, only to die crushed in a foreign land. And am I to say that any man who does so is the equal of a man who, like me, toiled yearly for his family, and who left them with something other that wails and penury?
And now, the reports are that the Mussulmen are flooding out of their countries, trekking thousands of miles and crossing the seas on the flimsiest of rafts. Indeed? And what are they in search of, except for refuge from lands awash with—all too often—religious strife, unthinking devotion, ignorant and mindless obedience leading to fanaticism and mayhem. They bomb themselves to enter heaven—am I to respect that?
Ah, we are told, that is the few, the tiny minority that in any affair captures the attention. True, of course. And so hyper acute is the media attention that these modern men that they seem to know everything about what happened before it happens. But how different it was in my day! We had the church, the local dukes and duchies, the universities, the town governments. And how they all seemed to work together—all of us speaking in one tongue, joining in prayer at one church, paying dues to one system. But these people—what do they bring to my beloved Thuringia? Will there be a mosque next my church? Will their foreign cookery assault my nostrils? Will the beer be wrenched from my hand, the pipe from my lips—and will I be told I must face a religious court, so displeasing is my conduct to Allah ?
Never, when alive, did I feel that my life was any different than my neighbors. What will happen when the fabric of the community is rent, and we must “respect” the tatters?