Friday, April 15, 2011

Adolf Hitler and Pope Pius XII, Nazism and Catholicism

I’m probably going to regret this post, but I’ll post it anyway. Either I’m going to get ganked by trolls, or I’ll be ignored.

The occasion for my foray into this subject comes about from some recent exchanges between Atheists and Theists as follows;
Atheist: “Religion is evil and it is responsible for killing more people in history than anything else”.

Theist, “If you want to measure how evil something is by a body-count, atheism wins hands down. For example, consider Hitler, WW2 and the Holocaust.”

Atheist, “…but Hitler was a Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church fostered and nurtured Nazism.”

Theist “…but Hitler rejected Catholicism by the time he entered adult life, and there’s no way you can fit the ideology of Nazism into the Christian Gospel…”



“…but…” Etc. etc. etc.

As I started to research the topic, the first thing I found (and this should surprise no one) was the stark polarization of opinion. Also, most of the statements expressed on the Internet were sharply polemic and some were much better informed than others - they ranged from the tee-shirt slogan level to actually referring to historical documents.

Noting the evident distance between the two sides and being an armchair football fan (my “home” team has a good chance of promotion into the English Championship this year) I could not resist the temptation to report on this as if it were a football match. It is not that I intend to be flippant with such a weighty matter, but the alternative could be yet another boring diatribe that nobody wants to read.

The Referee
That’s me. I am not a Roman Catholic, and I don’t intend to become one quite yet. However, I do self-identify as a Christian and I value truth and truthfulness highly (there’s a whole theology behind that, which derives from Exodus 20:16 and John 8:32, but that’s another story). Suffice it to say that I might not be entirely neutral, but I do want to see fair play.

The Teams
The following cast might not include all the major players and it certainly does not attempt to rank them in order of importance, but it does cover the ones I came across in my inquiries.

The Antis
Austin Cline, an Atheist, who argues that the Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Pius XII, was instrumental in bringing Nazism to power, and the recent apologies of Pope John Paul II “sent mixed signals”.

Thomas Keyes takes a similar line and asks why Hitler’s Catholic upbringing failed to deter him from fulfilling his genocidal ambitions.

Rolf Hochhuth, who is best known for his 1963 drama The Deputy, which indicts Pope Pius XII for his failure to take action or speak against the Holocaust. The controversy surrounding The Deputy prompted the Roman Catholic Church to publish the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (ADSS), which I’ll address on the "other" side.

Michael Phayer, who criticized the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (ADSS) as Papal propaganda.

Telepastor John Hagee, who “…claimed that Adolf Hitler's antisemitism derived especially from his Catholic background, and that the Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII encouraged Nazism instead of denouncing it” (Hagee’s book Christian Countdown, pp 79-81, as reported on

The Pros
Dean Mischewski (who self-identifies as “Kiwi Catholic”) provides substantial quotes in two highly readable articles “Did the Church Support Adolf Hitler” and “Adolf Hitler – Christian, Atheist or Neither?”. Mischewski should be credited with garnering his quotes from a variety of sources, though he relies heavily on Pinchas E. Lapide and a currently unlinked (and often quoted) article by Kevin Davids.

Dennis Barton and his site includes an apparently well-informed post, “The Catholic Response to Nazism”, but the material is not sourced.

Pinchas E. Lapide, who wrote “Three Popes and the Jews”.

The Four Jesuit Priests, who the Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (ADSS) published in 11 volumes from 1965 to 1981; Pierre Blet (France), Angelo Martini (Italy), Burkhart Schneider (Germany), and Robert A. Graham (United States).

Kenneth L Woolard, author of the article “Blaming the Wartime Pope” published in Newsweek 30 March 1998, and reproduced by permission here.

The Others
I should mention two personal friends of mine; Andrew, an atheist; and Esther, a German-speaking Catholic who has recently lived in Berlin. They are both splendid people who have discussed this issue with me, and they help me put a human face to both sides of the argument.

There’s a large crowd of supporters on both sides, which is responsible for the expected applause, taunts and barbs; some of which are entertaining, some of which are inventive and many of which are plainly ignorant and intentionally offensive.

The Inspirational leaders have spoken enough for themselves. Successive Popes have spoken to their devotees on one side, and the other receives its lights from the likes of Dan Brown, Richard Dawkins and Richard Hitchins.

The Match
1889 – Adolf Hitler is born and baptized into a Catholic family. He was schooled by Catholic Priests in the strongly Catholic Bavaria and served as an altar-boy in the Catholic Church.

The Antis make a penetrating pass down the right wing by asking why Hitler’s strong Catholic upbringing failed to inoculate him from the evil that he would ultimately perpetrate.

The Pros block the incoming cross by noting that Hitler was schooled by teachers with various convictions, but his history teacher fostered the myth of Aryan racial supremacy, which Hitler fell in love with.

The Antis push down the middle, and press the question about why the ostentatiously religious Germany harbored the deep-seated cultural anti-Semitism that Hitler fed upon.

GOAL The Pros call for a foul when the Antis quote the Protestant, non-Catholic Martin Luther (“On the Jews and their Lies”) to bolster the notion that Germany’s anti-Semitism was endorsed by the Church. The referee waves away the protests and the Antis score in the ensuing confusion.

Anti: 1 - Pro: 0

1920 to 1926-ish – Hitler abandons Christian beliefs

The Pros take the ball out of the centre circle, arguing that Hitler might have been exposed to Catholicism as a child, but he had rejected Catholic beliefs as an adult.

The Antis scramble to organize their defense, a produce a litany of Hitler quotes, such as the following from Mein Kampf
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
Another one is from a speech in 1922
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded 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."

The Pros marshal their attacks on both wings.

On the right wing, they convincingly argue that Hitler’s express statements run contrary to Catholic beliefs. Mischewski notes the “…example that springs to mind of the contrast between Jesus and Hitler is that Christ said the meek shall inherit the earth. Hitler on the other hand called the Nazis "lords of the earth" because of "the genius and the courage with which they can conquer and defend it" (Mein Kampf, Vol 2, Ch 14).” The Pros conclude, interestingly, that Hitler did not hold to Christian beliefs, but he wasn’t an atheist either because he believed in a divine providence that favored the supremacy of the Aryan race.

On the left wing, the Pros timeline Hitler’s public pronouncements and conclude that he publicly courted Catholic opinion in his quest for power, but took a highly pragmatic view of propaganda. In other words, he was not above lying as a legitimate means to get what he wanted. In his private writings, Hitler despised Christianity, and there are a number of his opinions listed by Mischewski under “Quotes Establishing Hitler’s Non-Christianity”. After 1935, Hitler viewed Christianity as a threat to Nazi domination.

GOAL The Pros put forward a convincing and well-documented assault, drilling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner with the argument that Hitler did not hold Christian beliefs, and was, in fact, vehemently anti-Christian as he entered adult life.

Anti: 1 - Pro: 1

1926 to 1939 – Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of WW2

Much midfield skirmishing.

Dennis Barton documents the rise of the Nazi Party and its interactions with the Catholic Party and others, such as the Orthodox Jews. In 1933 after his successful election “…Hitler asked for a Concordat with the Holy See to regulate the rights of Church and State in Germany. The Holy See signed Concordats with 40 states between 1919 and 1939, so this was not an unusual request. Germany promised freedom of religion, including in publishing and the running of schools, whilst not making any unreasonable demands in return. There was no reason to refuse.” In 1937, the Pope protested against the suppression of Catholicism in Nazi Germany the Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Sorrow). Also, the same year “…the American Cardinal Mundelein viciously attacked Hitler and other Nazi leaders. When the German government protested, the Pope refused to reprimand the Cardinal. The Cardinal's attack swung the views of many Americans in favour of help for Britain when the Second World War started”. (, but it’s not well sourced, alas!).

Attempts by the Antis to prove that the Pope did nothing to criticize Nazism, or that the Roman Catholic Church was in cahoots with the Nazis, lack penetration.

No score.

1939 to 1945 – WW2

Rivers of real an virtual ink have been spilled on the documented history of WW2, and I don’t intend to repeat it all here.

One instance is brought up by the Pros in defense of the Pope’s actions; the protest by the Dutch Churches in February 1942. “Protestant and Catholic leaders of Nazi-occupied Holland prepared a letter condemning the deportation of Jews to death camps in “the East.” But only the Catholic bishops, "following the path indicated by our Holy Father,” read the letter aloud from the pulpit despite threats from the Nazis. As a result, occupation forces swept Holland's Catholic convents, monasteries and schools, deporting all Jews who had converted to Christianity — something they had not done before. When word of this reached Rome, the pope withdrew a four-page protest he had written for the Vatican newspaper and burned it. As the 11 volumes on the war years published by the Vatican archives make clear, Jewish as well as Christian groups pleaded with the pope not to make a public protest because it would only intensify the Nazi persecution. The pope's crime — if that is what it is — is that he chose the role of diplomatic peacemaker…” (

GOAL The Pros score with a deflection.

Anti: 1 - Pro: 2

The Pros redouble their efforts by claiming that the Roman Catholic Church enabled many Jews to escape the Holocaust. The most famous and widely quoted (and misquoted) claim of Lapide is that "The Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000 but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands" (Three Popes and the Jews pp. 214-215). Lapide's calculation, however, has been widely criticized for being unsubstantiated (By Dr. Susan Zuccotti, a Holocaust Historian and José M. Sánchez, a Pius Defender, among others), which weakens the Pros argument. The true number many never be known, but even in Lapide's estimation is greatly exaggerated, then there would still be a significant number of Jews saved.

The Pros could have scored on this one, but the Ref disallows the goal.

1945 – Why didn’t the Roman Catholic Church Excommunicate Hitler?

It’s true. The Roman Catholic Church never did, not even posthumously.

GOAL The Antis opt for the direct approach, concentrate their efforts through the middle of the pitch and bundle the ball over the line with this question. The Pros attempt a defense by arguing that excommunication would not have made a difference to someone who had already rejected Catholicism, and that excommunication is about maintaining doctrinal purity, but the Ref won’t allow it. Even a symbolic gesture would have done something to assuage the moral outrage at Hitler’s war on humanity.

Anti: 2 - Pro: 2

1945 – The Roman Ratlines

The “ratlines” were systems of escape to South America that were used by German Nazis in 1944-45. The Catholic Bishop Alois Hudal engineered the Roman Ratline, justifying his position by explaining "The Allies' War against Germany was not a crusade, but the rivalry of economic complexes for whose victory they had been fighting. This so-called business ... used catchwords like democracy, race, religious liberty and Christianity as a bait for the masses. All these experiences were the reason why I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my whole charitable work mainly to former National Socialists and Fascists, especially to so-called 'war criminals'." Unfortunately for Hudal, one of those “so-called” war criminals was Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged for being an "actual" war criminal that on 31 May 1962. Eichmann was not the only war criminal to escape via the Roman Ratline.

GOAL The Antis launch another assault based on the Roman Ratline. The Pros scramble a defense based on the fact that the International Committee of the Red Cross were complicit in the enterprise, but it fails because the ICRC was hoodwinked by Hudal. A decisive strike from the edge of the penalty area seals it.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 2

1945 – Nazi Gold

More midfield skirmishing. The mist has come down and no one can see the ball clearly.

In reality, there are rumors and accusations that the Vatican has illegally acquired and held on to cash and assets that were stolen from the Jews by the Nazis. Unfortunately, the books have remained closed and it would possibly take a dogged accountant a lifetime’s work to forensically retrace a clear chain of custody. I don't have the time or energy to follow this at present, so it's a...

No score.

Maybe the Ref had his back turned at this point, but that's soccer in real time.

1958Pope Pius XII dies

1963 etc – Memorials

The Roman Catholic Church erects memorials to victims of the Nazism, including Maria Regina Martyrum in Berlin.

GOAL It would take a monumental amount of cynicism (pun intended) to deny that the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, would erect these memorials purely to bolster their badly damaged public relations.

Its a simple tap-in for the Pros.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 3

1965 to 1989 – ADSS

Responding to such criticisms as The Deputy, the Roman Catholic Church commissions four Jesuit Priests to publish its archived documents relating to the Papacy of Pope Pius XII during WW2. The Four Jesuits believed they could not publish the entire collection, maintaining that “…only size constraints prevented them from publishing the full set of documents and that no new important revelations would accompany the eventual complete publication.” (

Michael Phayer argued that the selection of the documents was intentionally misleading with respect to Poland: "singling out the letters of bishops Sapieha and Radonski, the editors sought in the introduction to volume three of Actes et Documents to build a drama around Pope Pius in which he would emerge from disrespect to respect". (,_The_Holocaust,_and_the_Cold_War).

Father Pierre Blet, the last surviving editor of the series, defended the integrity of the collection. "In the first place, it is not clear exactly how the omission of certain documents would help to exonerate Pius XII from the omissions alleged against him," Blet wrote. "On the other hand, to say in peremptory tones that our publication is incomplete is tantamount to asserting what cannot be proved: to this end it would be necessary to compare our publication with the archives and show which documents in the archives are missing from our publication." Blet added that he and three other Jesuits "did not deliberately overlook any significant document, because we would have considered it harmful to the Pope's image and the Holy See's reputation."(

GOAL The Pros sustain pressure on the opposition’s goal, and finally get it to pay off.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 4

1998We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah

We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah is a document published in 1998 by the Catholic Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, under the authority of Pope John Paul II. In this document the Vatican condemned Nazi genocide and called for repentance from Catholics who had failed to intercede to stop it. It urges Catholics to repent "of past errors and infidelities" and "renew the awareness of the Hebrew roots of their faith" while distinguishing between the Church's "anti-Judaism" as religious teaching and the murderous anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany which it described as having "roots outside Christianity."

GOAL The Antis don’t even contest this one (though one puts up a half-hearted effort about it sending "mixed signals"), but their concern is with the Catholicism of the early 20th Century, not of today.

Anti: 3 - Pro: 5, but the game now moves to a different venue, with different rules and different objectives.

Conclusion, to be continued...
The final result, as I expected, shows a mixed score. Indeed, it might not even be considered to be a “final” result at all because new information may come to light, and each re-enactment of the story yields different assessments.

Overall, though, I must note that I am more inclined to support the Pros than I might have been before watching this “match”. The two main reasons for this are that their position appears to be better researched and documented, and they appear capable and willing to express institutional sorrow and repentance when it is needed. I doubt that this will quiet the fans on the “other” side, and I am sure that it does not satisfy all their objections.

For me, then, I’m willing to call it a qualified win for the Pros, whilst noting the gravity of the lessons learned.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Jesus and the Pharisees

Why did Jesus give the Pharisees such a hard time?
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13, KJV)
I've had it with you! You're hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God's kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won't let anyone else in either. (Matthew 23:13, The Message).
Growing up, I was told that Jesus fiercely condemned the Pharisees because, basically, they were the “bad guys”. Their seminal sin was their hypocrisy; they taught one thing, yet they did another. The message I received was a warning against insincerity.

Now, after many years considering the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, I now believe that my earlier assessment was unduly harsh and a little misguided. It’s not that I now think that Jesus was unjustified in his criticism – he certainly was, rather that it’s not all about insincerity and it has much to tell us in our modern 21st Century environment.

Let me start by proposing that the Pharisees were not the pathological “bad guys” I had been led to believe.

I say this because I don’t believe the Bible separates people into pathological “bad guys” and pathological “good guys”. I believe that this tendency to separate people into pathologically “good” and “evil” camps actually arises from Gnosticism, and the Bible is staunchly anti-Gnostic. It also arises from Hollywood, but that’s another story.

Sure, the Bible talks about the “righteous” and the “wicked”, most prominently in the Psalms and Wisdom literature, but it also describes saints who sin (e.g. David in 2 Samuel 24:10), and sinners who do the right thing (e.g. Rahab in Joshua 2, see also Hebrews 11:31). The picture that emerges is not that we are either pathologically “good” or “evil”, but that we all have the same potential to do good or evil, and we all live out those potentials to greater or lesser degrees.

It follows then, that no human being is pathologically evil, not even the most Pharisee-est of the Pharisees. Incidentally, that’s how Paul described himself before his conversion (Phil 3:4-6), but the fact that he converted at all demonstrates my point.

This doesn’t solve the problem of sin, because none of us are pathologically good either; that’s a quality that belongs to God alone (see Luke 18:19). There is sin in all of us and it is present in all we do, even when we are at our best, and no amount of religion can purge it from us (see Hebrews 10:1-4).

If we are all in the same boat, why, then, do the Pharisees get singled out for a special roasting from the Boss (so to speak)? Let’s pick up the story from before Jesus’ entry onto the scene.

Its worth noting that its probably wrong to view the Pharisees as a religious cult that was based on a systematic theology. In my view, it’s better to regard Pharisaicism as a religiously conservative movement that considered itself to be the guardian and custodian of Jewish culture and identity. Josephus describes the Pharisees as a popular and powerful faction, ascetic in lifestyle, concerned to present themselves as rigorists for the Torah (Antiquities 18:12-17) (New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 2004).

The story of the Pharisees starts in post-exilic Judea, in the period between the Old and New Testaments. The Jews have returned from exile, having been chastened by their experiences. Their prophets interpret the exile as God’s judgment on them for their sins, and their restoration to the land as God’s faithfulness to His covenanted people. Not wanting to repeat the experience, the Jews took their scriptures to heart, in particular such passages as Leviticus 25:18;
Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.

This experience of God’s judgment provided the spur for improving the religion of the Jews. I imagine that the reasoning would be something like “we got kicked out because we failed to properly obey the law, so we need to get better at doing religion.” Among others, the Pharisees then set about codifying the law and extrapolating it so that it governed every aspect of life in the community.

For example, the commandment to desist from work on the Sabbath was well established, but when did a legitimate activity, such as traveling, qualify as “work”? The Pharisees’ solution to this particular quandary was to define an allowable distance that one could travel on the Sabbath without falling foul of the prohibition on work. This is evident in the phrase “a Sabbath-day’s walk”, which is used to describe the distance from Jerusalem to the Mount Olivet in Acts 1:12. It’s about 5/8 of a mile or 1 kilometer.

Other instances would seem to us, particularly with respect to maintaining ritual cleanness around the most important feasts of the year…

A fascinating example of the lengths to which rabbinic precautions could go concerns a man who had a boil and wanted treatment for it at [Passover]. If a physician cut it off, then the moment it was severed from the body it became dead tissue. Contact with it would render anyone unclean and physician or patient or both were almost certain to be disqualified from keeping the feast. So the procedure was that the physician cut enough to leave the boil hanging by a thread. It was still part of the man’s body and thus living and not defiling. The patient then stuck it on a thorn and pulled away from it smartly, thus severing it from his body. In this way, neither of them touched the defiling tissue and both were able to keep the feast (Kerithoth 3:8)! (The Atonement, Leon Morris, page 94)

It would seem that an inordinate amount of effort was spent in avoiding defilement and ritual cleansing. I believe that this would lead to an unresolved tension between those who focused on doing the law, and those who focused on doing what the law was for, much like the tension between the Temple Cult and the Old Testament Prophets in the centuries preceding the Exile.

However, this movement also fostered two developments that are vitally important to my current enquiry;
1 The Temple in Jerusalem consolidated and grew as the focus of the community’s religion and self-identity
2 A genuine missionary effort was launched from Jerusalem to take the scriptures into surrounding provinces, including Galilee.

I consider that, like modern Christian missionary efforts, the missionary thrust of the Pharisees focused on taking the scriptures to “all nations” with the intent of discipling them in the ways of the Lord. Given that previous efforts relied on individual initiatives (e.g. Jonah), the Pharisees might have been the first, organized missionary movement. Hand in hand with this proclamation was an effort to increase the literacy of the common folk to such an extent that many of the adult males could read, though only a few could write. The irony here is that we Christians owe the writing of the New Testament largely to the Pharisees (whom we love to hate) and their commendable efforts to educate their Galilean neighbors in the art of reading and writing.

It’s not as if the Pharisees failed to create and sustain a law-keeping system either. In fact, they not only succeeded in implementing it from generation to generation; they optimized it.

These outcomes might seem counter-intuitive, but consider the thrust of Jesus’ denunciations in Matthew 23. In Matthew 23:15, Jesus acknowledges the missionary efforts of the Pharisees and the extraordinary lengths they went to in their proselytizing. In Matthew 23:16-22 Jesus addresses their elaborate methods for arranging oaths in a kind of hierarchy (which they used to get out of certain commitments). In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus addresses their tithing. What is striking about these judgments is not just the ferocity of the language, but that Jesus does not condemn them for failing to practice their God-given religion successfully, and this is the critical point I wish to make.

The fact is that the Pharisees were successful at practicing and implementing a religion that had been ordained by God. So why, then, did Jesus give them such a hard time?

The question could be answered, rightly, with the word “hypocrisy” but, again, we need to set this word in context to see just what Jesus meant when he used it.

One of the oddities of the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ Galilean ministry is that though they are firmly set in the landscape of Galilee they make no mention of the biggest town in that region at the time – Sepphoris ( see Sepphoris was predominantly Jewish and wealthy enough to support a new-fangled luxury of modern life – a theater. The good citizens of Sepphoris would retire there for an evening’s light entertainment and watch the actors. The Greek word for actor is “hypocrités”, the Latin is “hypocrita” and the literal English rendition is “hypocrite” (Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 2008). Though our modern word conveys a pejorative sense, it’s meaning in Jesus’ day meant, literally, someone pretending to be something that they weren’t, and it could be used in the legitimate sense of play-acting.

I might add that religious conservatives reviled the acting profession because the “actors” occasionally (often?) performed lewd live or simulated sex acts. For example, Clement of Alexandria advises a Bishop to require a converted actor to change his profession, probably for these reasons (citation needed). Also, potential disconnects between the actors’ “real” lives and on-stage personas might have been common knowledge, so its not unlikely that the first century term “hypocrite” could have had the negative connotations that it does today.

In its unadorned state, then, Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees is that they were pretending to be something that they weren’t. They performed their religion in public but it was disconnected to their inner, private life. When they were “on stage”, they would make a great show of their piety, but when they weren’t they would use their religion to cheat, lie, steal and murder. They had taken God’s Holy law and used it for their own nefarious purposes.

The way I think of it is that they drew a very definitive line between those areas of life that were controlled by their religion, and those areas in which they did what they pleased. The worst of them found ways of using their religion to abuse their neighbors, but its probably unfair to regard all Pharisees so negatively. Many of them, I suspect, were simply trying to live Godly lives, much like the religious conservatives of today from the Southern US to the middle east.

However, their God-given religion and Temple had failed to deliver them to God; else they would not have done the things they did and they would not have suffered under his judgement. This is plain enough from the Gospel narratives, but it leads to a nagging question; why did their God-given religion fail to deliver? This, I believe, is a profoundly important question, and it probably provides the impetus for the writing of the New Testament. I call it the failure of religion.

According to the scriptures the God-given law of Moses and the Temple system should have delivered its devotees to God and yet it didn’t. The solution to this problem, as presented in the New Testament, was not that the religion needed to be improved – Jesus and his followers had seen that the Pharisees and other rigorists had already optimized it. No. The solution offered in the New Testament is that no religion, not even an optimized God-given law and Temple, could possibly deliver a person from bondage to sin into the Kingdom. There are no paths that we can follow that will lead us to God. Instead, we are wholly reliant on God breaking into our world. It is He, and He alone, that delivers, not our religion, our temple, our law or our anything-else.

The picture that emerges in my mind is a Pharisee praying towards the altar, and Jesus tapping him on the shoulder. The Pharisee ignores the interruption, and concerns himself with finishing his prayers. The irony is that the true object of his prayers, and the true answer to them is standing right behind him, in the person of Jesus.

Jesus gave the Pharisees a hard time not because they failed to be sincerely religious but, ultimately, because they had rejected him. He had a right to be angry with them because he was the one whom their religion should have delivered them to, and he was the one who alone could deliver them from their sins and into their true inheritance.

Like the Pharisees, what we need to learn from this is that we should cease to put our faith in our religion, our righteousness or our anything-else, and begin to put it in the One who can, and does, truly deliver.