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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ask Yourself


[Pope Benedict XVI] walked along the row of plaques at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex's memorial, one in the language of each nationality whose members died there. As he stopped to pray, a light rain stopped and a brilliant rainbow appeared over the camp.

"To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible — and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany," he said later.

"In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"

And what exactly did you do to stop it, Holiness?  It's a question I ask myself when I think about what our nation has done, and I don't have a very good answer...


[Update: Thers and Michael have more.]

May 28, 2006 | Permalink


The Rev Martin Luther King, Jr told Nichelle Nichols, who was thinking of quitting playing Uhura on Star Trek, "Sometimes just being there is enough."

Posted by: Darryl Pearce | May 28, 2006 10:35:29 PM

Hey, nix. I saw this story first and made the same point. You lack Online Bloginterityaliciousness.

Posted by: Thers | May 29, 2006 12:27:29 AM

it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany

But how is it for a member of the Hitler Youth, Ratzo?

Posted by: NYMary | May 29, 2006 6:06:28 AM

I don't even think he's got the theology right. Isn't it Catholic teaching that we are the Body of Christ on earth and it is our job, our mission, to do His work? Asking why God was silent is the wrong question; asking why we were silent is the right question.

Posted by: Nora | May 29, 2006 7:50:56 AM

Nora: That was the tack I took when I blogged on this last night. It's not that God was absent, it's that God's people (all of them) were asleep at the switch.

Posted by: Michael | May 29, 2006 7:59:04 AM

Thers - don't you have a few hundred children that what needs attention?

Nora/Michael - that's kinda what I was thinking, though didn't express it as such. Ratzo's asking God is a cop out. Also brings to mind Matt 6:6...

Posted by: NTodd | May 29, 2006 8:03:14 AM

I go back to what JFK said: "God's work on earth must truly be our own."

So enough of scapegoating, Bene.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby | May 29, 2006 9:44:28 AM

God wasn't silent. People just weren't listening.

Much like today.

Posted by: Everyman | May 29, 2006 10:01:13 AM

To ask what he was doing about it at the time seems a bit unfair and not properly focused.

("It is not easy to be unfair to Richard Nixon" -- one of my favorite quotes from J. K. Galbraith)

What would we have been doing as young draftees in Nazi Germany? Voting for the opposition party, I suppose. And giving them lots of money, and canvassing door to door, and of course organizing large peaceful demonstrations against government policy.

OK, if the sarcasm annoys you, just consider that sometimes people whose understanding is not good at an early age improve with time, and they should be allowed to reform.

That's the trouble with Benedict: he doesn't seem to have learned much, and if you want to knock him, you can skip the "where was God" part and look at what he did say about the "where were people" question that everyone wants him to face.

This morning's news account notes that he did not assume some kind of collective guilt for Germans, which is ok by me. But he didn't take some reasoned approach to the problem of guilt, but laid it all, without reservation so far as I can see, on the evil people who took over Germany and abused the German people by involving in them in these monstrous things.

It's understandable that someone who was conscripted by the Nazis at a tender age should resent this. But a professional moral philosopher reflecting 60 years later can be held to a standard of rather more nuanced thinking. Was there something about Germany? Not a question that the Pope wants to think about.

His reaction, to dismiss the moral problem as a few bad apples (Hey, get it? Apples! The Serpent must have sneaked them in.) taking over for a while and perverting things, unfortunately seems to be an institutional failing. The much nicer John Paul II, recanting the persecution of Galileo, took the same line about some wrong-headed people mismanaging the Inquisition. His famous statement on the matter was openly criticized by some learned Jesuits, who wanted to see an honest treatment of the problems in the church that gave rise to that specific failing. They (or at least the director of the Vatican Observatory in the US) seem to have been expecting the impossible.

When you see what being Pope can do to people of such broad learning and penetrating intelligence as these two show, it realy makes you want to not be a Pope.

Posted by: porlock junior | May 29, 2006 10:52:00 AM

Afraid I'm not seeing the relevance of Matthew 6:6, NT. Can you elaborate?

Posted by: Michael | May 29, 2006 11:09:40 AM

To ask what he was doing about it at the time seems a bit unfair and not properly focused.

The Shoah was pretty unfair, and rather focused. There are myriad examples of regular people resisting the Nazis. Does that take incredible courage? Of course, and something I don't think I have--part of the unsettling answer to my question about my own complicity in our current atrocities. Regardless, asking God why He was silent is a total fucking abdication of responsibility.

Michael - oh, it was more a stream of consciousness thing. I was thinking that Ratzo was kind of "praying in public" is all--doing something in public that's best done in private, not too mention that he should've been praying to God (and acting) back, you know, when it actually would've made a goddamned difference. Perhaps I should've just gone with "methinks he doth protest too much"...

Posted by: NTodd | May 29, 2006 11:28:13 AM

Uhm, perhaps Quakers should not talk about Catholic theology. It's sort of like Satanists talking about Quaker theology -- the chances of getting it right are akin to the chances of hitting the dartboard while blindfolded. First, it is Unitarians who believe that the Body of Christ is all of us, not the Catholics. For Catholics, God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are all discrete entities who happen to be one entity, and who are most decidedly not the same thing as His creation (though the Catholic Church believes that clues to His nature can be uncovered via study of His creation, thus why the Catholic Church has a fairly extensive scholarly and scientific apparatus, unlike, say, the Pentecostal Church, which funds no science and believes science is Satan's work).

Secondly, the concept you guys are trying to think of is the concept of SINS OF OMISSION. Catholic theology includes sins of omission as well as sins of commission. If you see someone dying and fail to help, in Catholic theology you are as guilty as if you yourself killed that person. To say that this has profound consequences for the Pope's own soul (assuming he believes in his church's own philosophy) is an understatement. In Catholic theology, if the Pope as a young man violated God's law by omitting to do that which he was morally commanded to do by God, then he commits a sin just as if he had done something forbiden by God's law (a sin of commission). As for the vast majority of Germans, who were "good Germans" who happily followed Hitler all the way to national disaster... well, while Catholic theology has no concept of collective guilt, there must certainly have been many, many sins of omission or commission involved.

And if you apply this philosophy to the current population of the United States... there's a helluva lot of us who are going to burn in Hell.


Posted by: BadTux | May 30, 2006 4:52:30 PM

BadTux - Uhm, methinks you miss the point entirely. I wasn't talking about Catholic Theology. I was talking about Humanity, and my own complicity in our Inhumanity, with Ratzo's query as backdrop. And I can so fucking interpret what he said as a human and what the Bible says without Catholic dogma getting in the way.

Posted by: NTodd | May 30, 2006 5:23:17 PM

Gee, BadTux, I think I was the one who brought up Catholic theology and I've only been Catholic all my life, so maybe I do know what I'm talking about. At the very least I know what the priests say about the Church (the people of the Church) as the Body of Christ every week.

It may be that my priests aren't giving the straight Catholic theology, but I'm willing to take their word on it. You don't have to, of course.

Posted by: nora | May 30, 2006 7:13:19 PM

The concept of the People of God (or the Church) as the Body of Christ goes back at least as far as St. Augustine.

Posted by: DJ | May 31, 2006 10:54:47 AM

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