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11/02/2006

REVIEW: WHAT ABOUT HITLER?

On the very long flight to Europe I finished reading WHAT ABOUT HITLER?: Wrestling with Jesus's Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World.

Here's a little about it.

Now, I usually read books twice: Once to get the basic gist of it and the second time with a pen in hand underlining, writing questions in the margins, writing disagreements in between lines, circling things I'd like to learn more about. I've only read this book once so far, just enough to know what I like and don't like about it in very general terms.

WHAT I LIKE:
My favorite section is on our tendency as nations to "Hitlerize" our enemies. No one in their right mind, it's presumed, would argue against fighting Hitler, the personification of evil if there ever was one. So many nations since WWII have cast their enemies in his image. The author cites numerous examples. The US has done this to BinLaden and Hussein. And they've done it to us. Yea, they make the same claim - that the US is just like WWII era Germany.

The author includes a letter written by Osama in which he makes his case. And, it's a good sounding case. The author also cites US writings making the case that Osama is a Hitler. And it's a good sounding case as well. The point? If Hitler - or a Hitler-like enemy - is the only enemy we're justified to kill then watch out, because any enemy can be spun to resemble Hitler in some way. No one's safe. In a sense the US, then, is reaping what it has sown in that our enemy is now doing to us (casting us as a Hitler justifiably destroyed by any means necessary) what we have done to so many enemies since WWII.

DeVitoria was right. It's possible for both sides of an armed conflict to be "just" using the same criteria but having two different perspectives.

I also like that this book is written differently than any other I've read before. The form is different. The author, Robert W. Brimlow, writes a "meditation" before every chapter. Each meditation begins with a passage of scripture and is then followed by a ruthlessly honest conversation with God about it. It's as if the pastor's turned his microphone on too early, when he's still at home having breakfast with his wife, pouring out all his doubts and confusions to her before donning his Sunday best and stepping into the pulpit to deliver a much more confident and questionless sermon.

"You see, Lord," he writes in the first meditation," you have me very annoyed here. First you tell me I shouldn't pursue the power of the world but should serve you. Then, when serving you puts me out on a limb with nowhere to go, you tell me I shouldn't put you to the test. You are driving me crazy with this. I didn't want to be stuck there in the first place, and you expect to take your sweet time doing whatever else you have to do while I wait, afraid out of my wits, and eventually fall off. My faith is not that string that I can take this easily."

Then these mediations are followed by full fledged chapters that are much more academic and thought out, but still very accessible. Each begins with a "prologue" which is a short story that stands alone but makes more sense when the entire chapter is read.

The chapters didn't tell me anything I hadn't heard before, but put the information in new and better ways most of the time. One exception though was chapter one, which argues against Augustine's theology, which greatly influenced his contributions to the philosophy called Just War. I hadn't seen this dissected so well before and I learned a lot from it. Basically, Augustine's Just War theory is based on his very Catholic theology regarding what good and evil is, and it is not theology I agree with. This helped me understand some more of what I don't agree with in Just War theology. I couldn't pinpoint it before.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
The author says there are alternatives to war but fails to detail all that many. He discusses prayer. He discusses forgiveness. But what about mercy and peace making in the biblical sense? What about the importance of the worldwide church being attached to itself and mobilized to aid itself? He hints at these solutions and preventative measures but fails to detail an ideal worth striving for.

He does a poor job answering the question "If we're not to kill Hitler, what are we to do about him?"

He alludes to, and I'm looking into it more on my own, the rise of Hitler being made possible by the German Church, for instance. Lutherans, mostly but not exclusively, supported Hitler in the beginning because he was a great leader doing great things for the nation. It's Reagan's "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" They answered, "Yes." With Hitler in power all citizens, including Christian Germans, got better schools, the first highway system in the world, a tax break, etc. Then he promised he could do even more for them if it wasn't for the pesky immigrants taking up all the jobs and putting such a burden on the economy and the government and the infrastructure and...you get the idea. (This is already more detail than the book gives actually and I was hoping for more information than this.)

The Church supported Hitler. Maybe some of their motivation was fear. Maybe it was greed. Maybe it was pride. We don't know for sure. But the Church was so large that had it decided - every member of every church - that it would not support Hitler, would not fight for Hitler, would not rat out government enemies, would shop at Jewish stores, would flee the country if he remained in office - well, Hitler would have had a tiny population left to lead, a miniscule army with which to fight. Europe would have been safe. Of course many many Christians would have left the life they'd always known and struggled to find a new nation willing to accept them as citizens...unless the Church in the nations surrounding Germany demanded their brothers and sisters be welcomed etc.

Again, the author only alludes to this reality - the power of the Church. And this is too bad. Because this is the best answer in my opinion - the center of every answer I think. What about Hitler? Non-violently prevent him from coming to power in the first place. If he's in power, refuse to follow when he leads away from God's law, no matter what goodies he offers. If he fights, refuse to fight with him. Love his enemies. Shelter them in your home. Give your life to save theirs. If the worst happens, if it seems he can't be stopped, flee. He'll have no one to lead, no one to use in battle. Hitler existed because the Church did not. The church became obsessed with material gain, self-preservation, and conformity. It became Hitler's voice and eyes and hands, not Jesus'.

The biggest problem with Hitler then, I think, is the question we ask regarding him. If the question we ask is "What SHOULD we have done to stop Hitler from killing the jews?" then we've started asking too late. And that's our problem - the real problem. We had our heads up our proverbial backsides and only started asking questions about his madman AFTER we put him in office, and fought in his army, and escorted Jews into the gas chambers for him. And I wonder how much of that is human nature: We tend, I tend, to ask questions when the threat is big enough, when there are imminent consequences to not asking them. I wonder how the church and parents and friends can help us all be more discerning and careful (not fearful) and critical (not mean) and allegiant to Christ ALL THE TIME so another mad man doesn't dupe us into being his goons. That's a book I'd like to read. How to prevent Hitler.

This book is a good primer on Christian non-violence, offers loads of food for thought, but fails miserably at detailing any real alternative to violence.

8 Comments:

Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

The first little bit of this Shlog made me think of the Salem witch trials and the Black list back when everyone was scared of Communists (1984-1951) People claimed other people were witches. That was back in the 17th century but more recent in the 20th century people claimed other people were communists or socialists. We don't learn from our own history and that's sad. Because today in the 21st century we're worried about terrorists. Oooo everyone's a terrorist!! First there were witches, then there were commies, now it's terrorists, before ya know it everyone is gonna be claiming everyone else is the Anti-Christ.

11/02/2006  
Blogger Mark said...

Don't forget that Americans are calling each other Hitler. Bush is Hitler reincarnated after all.

Seriously, there is some food for thought in this. I think my main difference of opinion is Christian non-violence vs. a countries duty to defend its citizens. God calls a responible government to do things that an individual shouldn't/can't.

11/02/2006  
Anonymous euphrony said...

Shaun,
I agree that by the time we are asking what should be done about Hitler, we've already missed the boat on when we should have been doing something. I still wonder, though, what we should do when we pull out heads out, look around, and see what our sinful, stubborn ignorance has wrought. The items you detail (refusing to fight for him, refusing to follow him when he leads away from God) are things I agree with wholeheartedly, but seem best applied to the German people. What, then, should the US have done as the Germans continued to follow the wrong master?

And I hate the over-simplification that we always seem to fall into of a pure struggle between good and evil human forces. No man or group can be equated with Satan, just as we cannot be equated with God. Our actions may bear the marks or one or the other, but we cannot claim to be either evil or good incarnate. So, casting someone in the mold of Hitler for political purposes is deceiving at best. We don't have to fear, and yet we act more out of that fear than in confidence.

11/02/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Mark, not saying that "duty" doesn't exist but since you put those words in God's mouth when you said them ("God calls") I'd like to know where in scripture you read God saying them. Again, asking, not disagreeing....yet.

Euphrony, good comment. Quick answer? I don't know. This book makes me feel better than ever about that answer btw. He says it often. But I'll a step further and say that while I don't know for certain what the US should have done THEN I have thoughts on what we could do NOW in Iraq. "

We" is the Church, first of all, and not the US government. We have to remember which "we" you and I are part of first. My primary citizenship is in heaven (phil 3) and not in the US. So I won't war to defend my country, it's citizens or it's property. What I can do is flee if the enemy arrives here. I can move away from targets. I can fund and feed and pray for and aid in numerous ways the Church in Iraq and other Muslim nations that may breed or harbor terrorists of al kinds. I can refuse to buy oil from terrorists (Citgo) and other goods from their nations and other nations that threaten us harm and persecute the church (No goods from North Korea, for example.)

Business men and women can offer microloans and small business employment and skills training and more to impoverished peoples - working with government abroad only when unlawful not to. Poverty, it's said, is the biggest reason for war historically. Put a loaf of bread in a kids hand and books and music in his brain and he'll be less likely to hurl a grenade at yours when he grows up right?

I can go on. No, there's no BIG thing that'll fix the problems of the world today. But war doesn't either. It offers a tangible image of destruction to comfort us. We can see a smoking city and say "Our enemies are dead" but they aren't. It's tangible and immediate, yes. But ultimately ineffective. Tortoise and the hair right? Pacifism and Christ imitation are turtles. War doesn't work though. If it did then why would the US be perpetually at war since the last 19th Century?

So, yea, not the best answer. I don't know is more honest. But I'm trying. The answer is truthfully very ambiguous. Think and live like Christ and souls and people and communities and countries will be transformed.

But I'd sure rather have the quick fix of shock and awe.

11/02/2006  
Blogger Davidge said...

How is your book coming, btw?
and why don't you just right down ALL your thought and reasons for the beliefs you hold, no matter how many reams of paper it takes, then read over them, through them, see if they make sense to you on paper. then ask your wife to read them. I've found that I am a whole lot more solid in any belief that I have if I write down everything about it, then re-re-re-reread it to compare it to my actions and biblical references....
sorry, I got off on my thought proccess. just thought I'd share.
~ David

11/02/2006  
Anonymous euphrony said...

I'll take a little time to digest your "quick anwser".

You might find this interesting: I stumbled across another blogger, a preacher in Waco, who has a 10-part and growing blog on Christian non-violence. He echos some of what you have talked about. You might enjoy reading his perspective (since I know you don't read nearly enough :).

11/02/2006  
Blogger Mark said...

Ok, you got me. I went to where I thought the passage about the government protecting people was, and it wasn't there. I'll keep looking and see what I can find this weekend.

11/02/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shawn,

You might find this helpful...

www.eucharism.org

Check out the Freedom from Fear initiative.

11/18/2006  

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