Archives For History

This has the sharp edge of poignant relevance painted all over it:

“….Now let’s set the record straight. There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender. Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum. Camus 1951 quote
And what then—when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we’re retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he’s heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.”
And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world?
The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honoured dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” And this—this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits—not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”[i]

 

The political context:

Barry Goldwater was a Republican Presidential nominee. In 1964 Reagan spoke up in support of that nomination. Reagan was a Democrat turned Republican.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, left Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, as U.S President. LBJ won the 1964 election and began an escalation of America’s involvement in Vietnam, effectively turning a civil war into an international conflict, with the complete backing of his party and apparently that of the United States congress.

Front-line combat involving the American, Australian and New Zealand military, in The Vietnam War began in 1964. This was the direct result of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution’.  Democrat support for Vietnam changed over time. In 1966, William Fulbright, , wrote that he regretted backing the resolution (Arrogance of Power, p.52). An interesting side-note: Fulbright also pointed out that Australian and New Zealand military involvement was only a ”token” gesture (ibid, p.110).

One of the key things to note about Reagan’s speech is that it’s not directed at Vietnam, but at Communism, specifically the Soviets. The broader international context of the Vietnam War is the Cold War. It is important to view one in the light of the other.

Whether you stand on the left, the right, up or down, it’s difficult, if not impossible to argue against the historical and contemporary relevance of Reagan’s speech.  I’m convinced that Goldwater would have stood fast against threats to the West, however, I wonder if there would have been the same kind of escalation of the Vietnam conflict, under a Barry Goldwater presidency.

What Reagan’s speech reminds us of is the fact that appeasement only benefits those who are demanding to be appeased. Those demands usually hide true intent behind a veil of benevolence. So much so, that any opposition or refusal to meet those demands is viewed as unnecessary, hateful and counter-productive. Reagan reminds us of the lesson within Neville Chamberlain’s ”peace in our time”. Something which, at the time, stood out as a so-called justification for the decade long charge of ”warmongering” howled out loud against Winston Churchill, and his consistent warnings about the ‘rise of National Socialism in the 1930’s’ (Churchill: A life, Martin Gilbert,1992).

Today, Reagan’s words speak to a whole new generation of people who are looking down the barrel of new cultural laws. Laws imposed on them by the Radical Left and its cult of modern liberalism. Like those living throughout the 1930’s, this generation has a choice to make. May we not do as they did and face the consequences and suffering that they had to fight against and endure.

Reagan is right:

‘The greater risk lies in appeasement; surrender. We’ll [either] preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.’

Now is the time of choosing.


References:

[i] Reagan, R. 1964 ‘A time for Choosing’, PDF transcript

Originally published 24th July 2014.

Thomas Doherty’s 2013 book, ‘Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939’, is a 373 page look into the past ideological make-up of Hollywood.

The book is well referenced, including both footnotes and a lengthy bibliography. The text flows chronologically and stands as essential reading for anyone studying, or wanting to know more about, both Hollywood’s reaction, and involvement, in Europe and America during the 1930’s.

Doherty paints a picture of the Hollywood scene, beginning with a basic introduction to the context and zeitgeist. What emerges is an insight into the things which divided and unified Hollywood. Avoiding a dreary run down of politics and economics, Doherty writes about a vibrant and diverse group of people, who, though continents apart and ideologically separated, forged an ardent opposition to Nazism and Fascism.

One of the main pillars of his book is Doherty’s exposition of the pro-active steps taken in order to counter the rise of anti-Semitism and Fascism. Opposition to Nazism from within the American film industry was an up-and-coming movement, which matured quickly after Hitler’s 1933 election to the Chancellery.

The movement wasn’t free of factionalism and fickle alliances. According to Doherty, shifting loyalties were brought about because of concerns raised with regards to the reach of Nazi propaganda and communism’s covert takeover of the Hollywood entertainment complex. Communists were involved in the Hollywood anti-Nazi League (HANL) movement. Consequently, some individuals within the movement became as much about quietly promoting Communism, as they did resisting Nazism. This narrowed diversity, as new factions split off and other groups, such as traditional Christians, were slowly purged from their place in the HANL movement. As Doherty shows, the biggest challenge for Communists was in maintaining a push towards Communist influence whilst keeping up the movement’s anti-Nazi; anti-Fascist agenda.

Doherty writes:

‘The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League’s rise, dominion and fall offer a case study in the merging of media and politics, celebrity status and social activism, and the ultimately irreconcilable marriage between starry-eyed liberalism and hard-nosed communism in the 1930s’ (p.100)

Hollywood & Hitler’ unpacks this subtle Communist overthrow of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi league. The primary factor for the ousting of Catholics and non-communists was the Spanish Civil war. As Doherty explains, the Spanish Civil had a complex political context. By proxy, Nazi Germany, Italy, and the Soviets were warring against each other.

The Spanish Civil war is a key feature under Doherty’s microscope. This is because it was the first conflict to be filmed, and shown to the public, close enough to real-time. Images flowed from the battlefront and were spilled out onto audiences through cinemas. The skills, process, procedure and art developed during these times, pioneered the way for film makers during World War Two.

Two compromises appear. First was the compromise of neutrality. Hollywood had a strong economic reason for working with the Germans and therefore a majority was against any boycotts of German goods[1]. Hollywood had to maintain neutrality wherever possible, in order to keep from directly enraging the Germans. Subsequently, Hollywood practiced a selective self-censorship of anything which displayed blatant opposition to the Nazis or Nazi ideology.

Second was a compromise of values and unity. One radical splinter of HANL, The Hollywood Popular Front, considered ‘neutrality the moral equivalent of lending aid and comfort to the enemy’ (p.161), such an extreme view alienated balanced reporters and compromised integrity. This was fueled further by a war between propaganda and ‘cinematic neutrality’ (p.171) over how the Spanish Civil war should be reported and retold[2].

Hollywood’s neutrality and its selective self-censorship[3] came under attack. Censorship and propaganda became the battlegrounds. Countering Nazi propaganda in films was an opportunity for the Popular Front to slip in Pro-Communist agitprop.  Simplifying the great length Doherty goes to in order to unpack this: there was an obvious tension between those who desired to push back against the evils of Nazism and those who wanted to do so by pushing the “virtues” of Communism. Not every member of NAHL was as starry-eyed about Communism as the Communists would have liked.

Doherty suggests that the ‘best explanation for the affinity of motion picture artists-actors and screenwriters [“Champaign communists”] especially-to an ideology counter to their economic self-interest [capitalism] was the respectful hearing according to them by the Communist Party of the USA. In Leninist doctrine[4], the artist stood among the vanguard elite, a cadre whose shining example would lead the benighted proletariat into the dawn of revolutionary enlightenment…the artist was the antenna of the revolutionary race-so much the better if he or she was a magnet for publicity and a donor with deep pockets.’ (p.114)

Doherty also points out the inconsistency of Hollywood’s Communists and their anti-Nazism. For example, the Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop-pact with the Nazis caused the Communists in Hollywood to double-down on their anti-Nazi rhetoric. This dilemma didn’t just reveal the façade that hid Communism, but how (with a few exceptions) self-serving their loyalty to the anti-Nazi cause was.

For better or worse, the Hollywood anti-Nazi movement, birthed (the now common) political celebrity[5]. The success of pushing support for ideas and consumer products through well-known and trusted, voices and faces, became common practice. Even if the celebrity didn’t know much about what they were selling, the opportunity to do so was as risky as it was potentially lucrative[6].

In Doherty’s words, HANL resorted to reaching the masses using ‘the same “hypodermic needle” theory of mass communications propounded by Joseph Goebbels: Inject the message into a mass consciousness through repetition, simplicity, and raw emotion.’ (2013, p.106)

The process this followed was to ‘first, gain the individual’s sympathy for what he is about to learn and second, present the material in a way which reaches his or her personal interest and at the same time supplies the necessary facts to sustain the first emotional reaction.’ (ibid)

It wasn’t until later on that Hollywood gained enough room to move on to directly producing films that had an anti-Nazi theme. Worth noting is Doherty’s point on how far Hollywood has shifted since the 1930s. The industry reluctant to criticize Nazism, has built a thriving business[7] on Nazis as the arch-nemesis of all that is good, (and for good reason!).

The Nazis, in the moral universe of Hollywood are the equivalent of pure evil, ‘the Nazi-centric documentary and narrative feature film is cultural currency –rarely dropping in value, always a good investment’ (2013, p.371).

It’s curious, however, that Nazism’s not so distant cousin, Communism, moving freely behind the anti-Nazi platform[8], has largely been given a free ride.

Perhaps this is why Doherty concludes that,

‘The American Communists had never thought of the movie capital as a party mint, but Otto Katz (a communist agent) corrected the oversight. Theodore Draper, the historian of American communism who observed Katz work his magic, described him as “the international Communist huckster par excellence”…Katz sold communism to the wealthy Hollywood magnates by working on their bad social consciences until they were cringing with contrition. The complete religious and metaphysical desert in the mind of many in the motion picture colony made Katz’s game easier’ (pp.103-104).

Hollywood & Hitler’ is balanced and tactful. Doherty draws from a depth of well researched information, and has taken pains to avoid any statements that would lead to the charge of McCarthyism. While Doherty addresses the positive points surrounding the anti-Nazi/anti-fascist movement in Hollywood, he doesn’t gloss over the negatives. ‘Hollywood & Hitler’ is well written, surprising in its relevance and enjoyable to read.

With the increasing visibility of celebrity activists, voicing opinion after opinion against things that Hollywood dislikes and distances itself from, the facts presented by Doherty, prompt the reader to question whether Hollywood has become what it once took a firm stand against. Jim Carry’s recent supportive statements in favour of Socialism, and every Hollywood award ceremony since 2016 being saturated in irrational, venomous hatred for one of their own, American President, Donald Trump, (et.al) force the question: has the institution, which once valiantly fought the dragon, become one?


Notes & References

[1] This was because, ‘American Jews in the motion picture business warned that any boycott of German imports would only rebound to the grief of their kinsmen overseas.’ (p.179)

[2] ‘Like the rest of the Spanish Civil war documentaries, it was less a recruiting device for new converts than a ritual; exhibition for true believers’ (p.171) #greatquote

[3] From both Catholic and Jewish sections of the Entertainment community, see footnote #2 and Doherty’s discussion on the National League of Decency, pp.154 & 155: ‘the watchful eye of the Legion fell increasingly on any glimmer of communist influence in Hollywood Cinema.’

[4] The same is with Nazism. Doherty: ‘Unlike  the American government, whose policy toward creative expression was mainly benign neglect, the Nazis honored intellectuals and artists as avatars of Aryan culture…Talented filmmakers of good stock and reliable opinion were pampered; the rest were persecuted.’ (p.197)

[5] ‘In casting actors as activists, HANL was a farsighted pioneer.’ (p.113)

[6] This may be backfiring on Hollywood, where people, in a technological age start to see through the veneers and question why, who is selling what to whom.

[7] ‘In the digital age, the collection and repackaging of images of the Nazis remains a growth industry, sustaining documentary features, action films, and cable channels.’ (p.371)

[8] The Communist beachhead in Hollywood caused a split it, which created the far-left’s Popular Front, and the Catholic, National League of Decency (formed in 1934).

Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939 Columbia University Press

Image credit: Columbia University Press

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Disclaimer: I received no remuneration of any kind for providing this review.

The Flower Of The Holy Night

December 16, 2017 — 2 Comments

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day in the United States.

Running with a few ideas for the remaining weeks of term 4, I settled on one which contributed to our encounters with cultures different to our own.

Combining craft, theology and horticulture, we looked at, painted, cut and pasted together the Poinsettia; otherwise known as the ‘Mexican Fire plant’ or the ‘Flower of the Holy Night’.

Poinsettia Collage 1_0

The resources included ‘Christmas around the World Scrapbook {Supplement}’ from Sarah Cooley, a TpT contributor, and a video presentation of Tomie dePaola’s book,  The Legend of the Poinsettia’. (Both worth checking out).

I didn’t have the room to advance beyond this activity supplement and launch into the scrapbook. I was, however, able to merge the activity into a hands-on discussion surrounding the history, theology and tradition.

Poinsettia Collage 1_solo 1

According to the official website for Poinsettia Day[i], the plant was renamed after American Statesman and botanist, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), who brought the ‘red-leafed plant into the United States’[ii] from Mexico.

‘Mexico’s relationship to the plant begins with The Aztecs, who called the plant “Cuitlaxochitl” meaning “star flower” and used it to produce a red dye. The sap was also used to control fevers. Mexico’s use of the plant to celebrate Christmas dates back to the 17th century.’ (Source)

Mexican tradition speaks about how the Poinsettia came to be an important part of Christmas celebrations there.

‘The flower connects to the legend of a young girl, distraught about not having anything with which to honour the Baby Jesus in a Christmas procession. An angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Later the weeds she gathers by the roadside to place around the manger miraculously transform into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia.’ (Source)

The Smithsonian Institute is also loosely connected to the Poinsettia with Joel Poinsett being a founding member of its progenitor, ‘The National Institute for the Promotion of Science’. An organisation later renamed the Smithsonian after James Smithson, its primary benefactor. ’[iii]

Should you receive or see a Poinsettia this Christmas, its history and tradition are good conversation starters.

As far as facilitating a homeschool lesson that includes horticulture, history, tradition and theology. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Related reading:

Poinsettia care tips


References (not otherwise linked)

[i] http://www.poinsettiaday.com/

[ii] Smithsonian Institute, A Smithsonian Holiday Story: Joel Poinsett and the Poinsettia sourced 13th December 2014

[iii] Ibid.

This post was originally posted on the 13th December 2014.

There is a plethora of material about Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Working up along the path of its reception in history, one could spend a lifetime venturing down the lane ways that exhibit them. There are a ton of mixed responses that eventually materialised in cementing of a fictitious dichotomy between creation vs. evolution in the famous Scopes Trial, in 1925.

The fallout from this is still having an impact on the dialogue between science and faith today.

Prior to 1925, not all evolutionary theorists agreed on the same interpretation and a lot of institutions experienced factional groupings. This included the Church. Though there were those who disagree, a large amount of clergy and theologians originally had no problem with Darwin’s theory, some even welcomed it.

Many of the clergy were lay scientists, intrigued by natural history, and the discoveries being unravelled, as man sought to conquer, mountain, monster and myth.

The fracturing between church and science, seems to have become more evident after Darwin’s publication of the ‘Decent of Man’ in 1871. The book most attributed to the birth of Social Darwinism, which, with the help of Thomas Huxley, who did his best to push Christianity out of the academy, grew into a grotesque totalitarian scientism, endorsed by one of Darwin’s most enthusiastic supporters, German, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919).

The outcomes of this fracturing are best explained by the experience of Vernon Kellogg, an American evolutionary biologist, who, prior to America’s involvement in World War One, was sent to Belgium to assist in providing humanitarian relief. In 1917, he noted that Social Darwinism was the celebrated ideology of the German high command. Unknown to him at the time, Kellogg had been given a front row seat to the future:

‘One by one any German would give up, in all matters in which he acted as a part of the German administration, all of the thinking, all of the feeling, all of the conscience which might be characteristic of him as an individual, a free man, a separate soul made sacred by the touch of the Creator.
And he did this to accept the control and standards of an impersonal, intangible, inhuman, great cold fabric made of logic and casuistry and utter, utter cruelty, called the State — or often, for purposes of deception, the Fatherland.

Kellogg continues:

Well, I say it dispassionately but with conviction: if I understand theirs, it is a point of view that will never allow any land or people controlled by it to exist peacefully by the side of a people governed by our point of view.
For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo (social) Darwinism, the omnipotence of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and culture.
The creed of the All-macht (omnipotent power) of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.

Worth noting, the very foundations for National Socialist ideology was conceived long before Nazism was even a word:

The assumption among them is that the Germans are the chosen race (the Ubermensch), and German social and political organisation the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter – by headwork.You long for the muscles of Samson…
Here the pale ascetic intellectual and the burly, red-faced butcher meet on common ground here. And they wonder why the world comes together to resist this philosophy – and this butcher- to the death! [i]

Scientism is defined as an ‘exaggerated trust in the efficacy of  science‘ (Merriam-Webster). Kellogg’s experience, and horror at what he saw, led him to make an assessment on the impact of scientism. This pushed him beyond pacifism, becoming an advocate for just resistance against such views.

Sensing the necessity for it, in 1924 Kellogg wrote an essay entitled ‘The Modern View of Evolution‘. In it he took the opportunity to distance ‘Darwinian Evolutionary Theory’ from ‘Social Darwinism’. The former a scientific endeavour. The latter a religion built on evolutionary ethics and viciously applied to every aspect of life by its new priests and followers.

The 19th Century’s quest to conquer mountain, monster and myth, now included God. Leading Nietzsche to famously, and rather presumptuously, proclaim that God is dead.

Scientific inquiry was spurred on by the higher criticisms (such as historical criticism) birthed in the 18th Century. It was open season and everything was fair game.

This pushed the line of suspicion and criticism against the Biblical texts, opening up a feeding frenzy on the Church and centuries of Christian faith, practice and thought.

These criticisms, however, ended up only acting as a necessary purifier – a necessary shaking of the foundations that even opened up room within the Church to push back against the extremes of neo-Protestantism (liberal theology – denial of miracles/resurrection et.al) and the inhumane threat of Social Darwinism.

The general view here is that the criticisms functioned as kind of back-to-basics qualifier which consequently only empowered Christianity by reviewing its role and claim in the world.

They were seen to be buttressing facts about Christian faith, practice and thought.  As a result Christianity, albeit somewhat weathered and shaken, could stand up well against future scientific criticisms and modern heresy. I wouldn’t venture as far to suggest that in this period of history Christianity went through a scientific-enlightenment, a baptism-of-fire, but it certainly carries that image well.

In large part scientific inquiry does seem to have buttressed Christian faith and thought. For instance: it opened up questions regarding the historical dating of the biblical text, only to confirm more than it might have otherwise refuted.

This is echoed in one of Darwin’s youngest colleagues, George John Romanes’ and his posthumous work: ‘Thoughts on Religion’, 1904.

‘Prior to the new [Biblical] science, there was really no rational basis in thoughtful minds, either for the date of any one of the New Testament books, or, consequently, for the historical truth of any one of the events narrated in them…
…but now this kind of scepticism has been rendered obsolete, and forever impossible; while the certainty of enough of St.Paul’s writings for the practical purpose of displaying the belief of the apostles has been established, as well as the certainty of the publication of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke) within the first century’[ii].

Out of interest here is Romanes, himself an evolutionary biologist, positing on the benefits:

‘It is a general, if not a universal, rule that those who reject Christianity with contempt are those who care not for religion of any kind. ‘Depart from us’ has always the sentiment of such.
On the other hand, those in whom the religious sentiment is intact, but who have rejected Christianity on intellectual grounds, still almost deify Christ. These facts are remarkable.George_John_Romanes_wiki
If we estimate the greatness of a man by the influence which he has exerted on mankind, there can be no question, even from the secular point of view, that Christ is much the greatest man who has ever lived.
It is on all sides worth considering that the revolution effected by Christianity in human life is immeasurable and unparalleled by any other movement in history; though most nearly approached by that of the Jewish religion, of which, however, it is a development, so that it may be regarded as a piece with it.
Christianity thus is immeasurably in advance of all other religions. It is no less so of every other system of thought that has ever been promulgated in regard to all that is moral and spiritual.
Whether it be true of false, it is certain that neither philosophy, science nor poetry has ever produced results in thought, conduct, or beauty in any degree to be compared with it.’[ii]

Romanes along with Vernon Kellogg, are not in line with Social Darwinian ethics, watered down theology or any universal application of science. Such as, seeking to apply a totalitarian scientism to the sociopolitical arena; deliberately seeking to disinherit Judeo-Christian theology from its rightful place in the academy, as a necessary and serious critique of everything that surrounds us or seeks to consume us.

Jesus Christ and those He represents are a continual bulwark against Social Darwinism’s Übermensch fascism, Marxism’s socialist atheist police State and Islamist expansionism.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects God’s grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.

Kellogg and Romanes critiqued extremes. At the same time they present us with documents that serve to fund a project of objective analysis that seeks to extinguish the unnecessary and manufactured “war” between science and the Christian faith.


References:

[i]   Kellogg, V.L. 1917 Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium (Annotated). Rueggisberg Press. 2010

[ii] Romanes G.J, 1904 Thoughts on Religion

[iii] Ibid, Loc.1641 & 1650

‘Thoughts on Religion’ can be acquired for free from Project Guttenburg here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16942

Images: Vernon Kellogg & George John Romanes

The general reasoning against any sizeable interest in the suffering and pain of Germans in World War Two might go along these lines:

‘’Well, the fact that some Germans suffered horribly doesn’t equal the unnecessary loss and pain their country caused to the Jewish people or the Allies.’’

For obvious reasons, this response isn’t without justification.

However, any discussion about German suffering is avoided with the vigour of a young theologian. Who once confronted with the task of unpacking Karl Barth’s complex rejection of natural theology, quietly sums it up, then stamps it with a Dante-esk ‘abandon all hope – ye who enter here!

The conversation moves on and the issue is conveniently ignored.

So it is with some difficult primary documents.

They are politely ignored or misappropriated in haste. Sometimes dangerously decontextualised in an attempt to bring the past into agreement with the present[i]. In this case the intellectual method is betrayed and history is abandoned. Either in favour of an ultra-conservative or progressive party-line. Primary documents are for a time effectively written off, partially discounted, misused or conveniently ignored.

The victim? A warts-and-all linear view of history.

Read and received rightly, primary sources show us exactly where, how and when the past can read and inform the present.

Such an undertaking allows us to carefully acknowledge the past with all the seriousness and respect that it rightly deserves.

If allowed to speak as it is, what a primary source can teach us is invaluable. Their contents will challenge comfortable opinions by dragging us into the context. Sometimes even becoming a contradiction to the self-serving and selective views of history so endemic of our time.

For example: Not all Germans were National Socialists. Some even paid the high price of active resistance.

It’s a rare occurrence for those in the English-speaking world to be granted a first-hand insight into the pain, suffering and thoughts of those few Germans who went against the stream during World War Two. Their voice is smothered by the fog of war and their sacrifice forgotten. So when we get the chance to read about it, it’s worth every penny.

Christian Puritz’s 2013: ‘Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch’ is anexample of such rarities:

WilhelmBusch_Family photo 1943

Pastor Busch and Family, 1943. Just before Wilhelm’s son (centre) left for the Russian front where he died a year later.

 

Busch’s recount of what resistance was like and what it cost is described by him in his diary:

When my son reached the senior classes in the grammar school he himself wanted to resist the ungodly repression of those days.
He chose his friends from the Bible Circle that I was leading. This work had already been so defamed that only a handful of young people had the courage to swim against the tide and keep coming.
His friends decided one day to disobey the command of the Hitler Youth (to which all young people without exception then had to belong) to assemble on Sundays during the time of the church service. (Church Youth Groups were forbidden by the Gestapo, the Secret State Police)
I never commanded my son to enter my youth work; he just grew into it of his own accord.
My boy decided to do a bicycle tour. He invited his friends. And in the end he said it would be nice if his father came as well…
On one of the tours we made a discovery that shocked us. My boy had a nose bleed which just would not stop. We took him to a hospital and eventually were told: ‘This boy has haemophilia; his blood can’t coagulate.’
And yet later they conscripted him for the war in Russia. I ran to see the army doctor who examined him.
But a pastor who belonged to the ‘Confessing Church’ and who was not ‘standing without reserve behind our beloved Führer’ did not get a hearing.
I can still see the little troop standing on the station. Destination Russia!
They were just children, eighteen years old. I could have screamed when I saw my child marching away, looking so pale. What did this tender artistic soul have to do with an unjust war? He had been caught in a pitiless machine.
Then somewhere in Russia he bled to death. Abandoned and alone! No! Not alone! In his wallet was found a bloodstained scrap of paper with the words:
‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want… And though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.[ii]

It’s true enough that when compared to the suffering of millions under the Nazi reign of terror, this is of little consolation.

However, there is a uniqueness within these first-hand accounts. There is a solidarity of suffering which shows a different side to Germany during World War Two. By their resistance to National Socialist rules, they become an exception to the rule.

Not all  Germans were Nazis. There wasn’t a total alignment of Germans towards the totalitarian Fascist state.

This kind of insight is also reflected through the lives of German men and women, such as: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Theologian), Oskar Schindler (Industrialist), Paul Schneider (Pastor), Claus von Stauffenberg (Soldier), Edith Stein (Feminist/Carmelite Nun), and Sophia Scholl (Student).  {Oskar Schindler being the only one on this list to not be murdered by the Fascist State}

.       Left to Right: Bonhoeffer, Schneider,          .      Stauffenberg, Schindler Scholl & Stein

 

In these cases and the few like them, there is a juxtaposition of those inside the Axis with those outside it.

In their resistance we witness a politics of realignment. The unavoidable and political ”nein”  to any state, political party, ideology or politician who lays claim to being a secondary messiah equal to that of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

We are reminded by them, that in Jesus Christ we are turned back towards freedom. In their struggle we are handed the reminder that we may stand, must stand and therefore ought to stand against any stream, scheme or masked revelation that seeks to ‘tame and control the Gospel by adapting it rather than being adapted by it’. (Karl Barth CD.II/I:163)

In 1969, Billy Graham talking with William F. Buckley Jnr. outlined the finer points of dichotomy between the Christian revolution of the heart and all Marxism revolt.

 

Under Marxist rule the first victim is religious freedom. By their very existence, the genuine Christian, the sinner saved by grace, stands in direct opposition to Communism, because society’s salvation, criticism and hope begins and ends with the freedom and authority of Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx.

The Polish people exemplified this in the early 1980’s, when ‘their hostility towards Communism was demonstrated, not by riots, but by openly showing their allegiance to God…’ [iii]

This pertains to the pursuit of truth vs. political conformity. Where the freedom that gives life to the intellectual method is maintained against any who would seek to enslave it.

Just as

…’the light of eternity shines into the sadness.’ (Pastor Busch) [iv]

insight brings hope.

 ‘It would be wrong not to lay lessons of the past before the future’[v]
– (Winston S. Churchill, 1948)

 


References:

[i] For example: the attempt to synthesise Leftism (White Rose Society) with this, (The Historical White Rose Society).

[ii] Puritz, Christian (Trans/Ed.) Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) (First) Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed.

[iii] Wojtyla, K. cited by O’Sullivan, J. 2006  The President, The Pope & The Prime Minister: Three Who Changed The World Regnery Publishing, Inc.

[iv] Puritz, Ibid.

[iv] Churchill, W. 1948, The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Vol.1 Houghton Mifflin Company Kindle Ed.

Billy Graham, 1969. The Decline of Christianity, Firing Line, William F. Buckley

YouTube: The Decline of Christianity

Stanford Transcript: The Decline of Christianity

Л. Н.Толстой рассказывает сказку внукам. 1909

The quote below, taken from Tolstoy’s ‘A Confession’, reads like a critique of the leviathan that is social media:

We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed and wrote — teaching others. And without noticing that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life’s questions:
What is good and what is evil? We did not know how to reply, we all talked at the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in turn, sometimes getting angry with one another — just as in a lunatic asylum.
Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which the post carried all over Russia, and we still went on teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us. It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible. Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. So we did that’[i].

Of course, it is anachronistic to suggest that Tolstoy was talking about social media as we know it. Tolstoy’s words are, however, a critique of 19th Century, Russian media, its medium and the noise therein. Therefore, they are an early critique of the content and form which makes up a large part of social media. As such, they are a relevant criticism for us to take seriously, particularly when applying them to a 21st Century context.

Today, Henry Ergas from ‘The Australian’, made an interesting observation. In writing about sensitive information, how it is monitored, distributed and delivered. He provided an historical insight, which although topically unrelated, helps us to contextually frame the sharp poignancy of Tolstoy’s reflection:

“19th century’s Pax Brittanica, was built on a solid technological foundation: Britain’s control of global telegraphy. As late as 1890, 80 per cent of the world’s submarine cables were British; Britain ruled the wires even more decisively than she ruled the waves… The sophistication of today’s communications networks is obviously many orders of magnitude that of Britain’s global telegraph system. In 2012, daily internet traffic was in the order of 1.1 exabytes, one billion times more every day than the 19th century system could carry in a year. And the growth rates remain breathtaking: wireless traffic alone is now eight times larger than the entire internet in 2000[ii]

If Ergas’ facts are correct, that is a lot of information being exchanged. For better or worse we engage, encode, disengage and decipher information at ‘breathtaking’ speeds. Matthew McKay suggests that ‘55% of all communication is mostly facial expressions’[v]. Thus, my conclusion is that because most of the information exchanged via social media is in written form, it seriously limits our ability to receive a message, in the same way it was intended to be received by the author. (there are many examples of how comments have been wrongly interpreted).

I consider Tolstoy’s reflection a full-stop. An important interruption that encourages us to take a breath and ask ourselves:

  • Is the information we are consuming authentic, well-informed, or is it just propaganda; distortion (noise)?

Further questions might be:

  • Are we consuming information without really processing and retaining what it is being said?
  • Who is saying this, and why are they saying it?
  • Is the source trustworthy?
  • Will my time be well spent reading this or not?

There is a further word worthy of consideration here. Augustine, in his day, had this to say about grace and human nature:

…’many sins are committed through pride; but not all happen proudly. They happen so often by ignorance, by human weakness, and many are committed by people, weeping and groaning in their distress[iii]

Perhaps there is a timeless clarity by which these words help us to reflect on the interpersonal conduct, and content of the information exchanged on most prominent social media sites today?

Diary of Leo Tolstoy

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even with all its pitfalls, the strength of social media is in its ability to connect people and strengthen relationships. I remain a cautious participant of social media, aware of its limited ability to ‘properly allow a healthy and fair exchange of ideas’ (Elshtain, 2007). Therefore, I find here in Augustine and Tolstoy’s words, a reminder about the limits and the responsibility which coincides with the right to use such mediums. Augustine’s insight here could be bridged to Tolstoy’s reflection, and therefore buttress our proposition. Their words present us with a useful framework for a theological critique of social media.

Finally, if we look at Proverbs 4:20-5:6, we can see a parallel logic that could exonerate this train of thought.

Be attentive to God’s word

Keeping them close.

Guard your heart with vigilance,

Avoiding spin and smear.

(“Refusing to be conned by the rhetoric of either the new right or the new left’’)[iv]

Looking forward, ponder the path of our feet.

Be attentive to wisdom.

Use words that guard knowledge,

And ponder the path of life.


Related articles

Tolstoy’s Faith – GVL

The Who, What And When Of Social Media – RVD, The Christian Pundit

Sources:


[i] Tolstoy, L. 1879 A Confession (Kindle for PC ed. Loc. 92-100).
[ii] Ergas, H. 2013 Wrong for Abbott to follow Obama and add lying to spying, The Australian, Sourced 25th November 2013
[iii] Augustine, ON NATURE AND GRACE (With Active Table of Contents) Kindle Ed. Loc. 704-706
[iv] Wright, N.T. 2013 Creation, Power and Truth: The gospel in a world of cultural confusion, SPCK & Proverbs 4:27
[v] McKay, M., Martha, D. & Fanning, P. 2009 Messages: The communications skill book p.59, New Harbinger publications

©RL2013

Of all the points of parallel relevance the past has with modern society, there are sometimes moments when historical parallels between past and present collide.

This nexus isn’t always clear or easy to acknowledge. The past may be misappropriated and misrepresented; hyped up to buttress a political agenda.

Key players manipulate the material in order to provoke a response, carefully steering reactions in a particular direction for political gain.

Throughout history the Christian Church has come up against this, battling forces within and without. Along the halls of Church History can be found the graffiti of false prophets, corrupt leaders, anti-Christs, and, the more surreptitious, pseudo-christs.

There have, for example, been a number of notorious examples of cults, false prophecies and dates given asserted to be the exact return of Jesus Christ and the end of days.

Like freedom, truth has to be fought for. Like freedom, the greatest threat to truth is the corruption of it.

One of the great positives of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, is that he provides an insight into the secularized church mindset. The, politically necessary fake-it-to-maintain-it, surface only profession of, in Machiavelli’s context, faith in Jesus Christ in order to maintain status, power, control and influence over the people.

‘There is nothing more important than appearing religious. In general people judge more by appearances than first-hand experience , because everyone gets to see you but hardly anyone deals with you directly. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won’t have the courage to stand up to the majority opinion underwritten by the authority of the state.’ [i]

Social media provides the most poignant example of where a nexus between past and present exists. Just as Machiavelli, half mockingly describes politicians and the socio-political mix of his time, for a good majority, appearance is placed over substance.

Seeming to be something, or be doing something is part of the rule of the day. Today, it’s correct, politically incorrect, label is “virtue signalling”.

The nexus isn’t easy to see because it’s feared. Learning from the past empowers responsible action in the present. When allowed to speak freely, the truth of the past secures the future.

Either the truth of the nexus is too close for comfort, or what confronts us isn’t in line with political narratives that shape, and seek to shape, the way people think, act and speak.

Ideas that are deified, demanding an absolute pledge of allegiance to those, who by blurred distinctions, coerce the surrender of tried and trusted systems that ensure basic civic freedoms. Those who bind truth to lies with threats to deny those civic freedoms under the guise of treason.

God’s Word as law, given in grace is supplanted. Man’s word as law, given to enslave, is enthroned. Chiseled into existence with the arrogant proclamation, “God is dead”. This jubilant euphoria at man triumphant; God conquered, is, however, short lived.

The great evil committed in the Garden, now cemented in the creeds of an incorporated and thought-to-be newfound lordlessness. The regression towards a pre-Christ primal atheism strikes a devastating blow against humanity.Those this side of all of histories examples, say with lament, “man is dead”.

Human lords are divided,

‘no longer able so unambiguously to distinguish the light of Lucifer from the light of God […] Humankind has got what it wants; it has become creator, source of life, fountain head of the knowledge of good and evil […] it is the lord of its own world.’ [ii].

This was the case in Germany throughout the 1930’s: “To the good Nazi not even God stands before Hitler” [iii] Humanity becomes the source of good and evil; ‘living out of it’s own resources'[iv] in a rejection of God’s grace. The fickle motion of whim, feeling, and lust, combined with a reasoned insanity. Humanity strikes a devastating blow against itself.

Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilize Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ. Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment (mistreatment) of the weak.

Helmut Gollwitzer, in response to the so-called, reasoned insanity, of ‘Kristallnacht’ (Night of broken glass/crystal) preached:

”Those who cannot admit their guilt before God can no longer do so before men and women. Then begins the insanity of persecution that seeks to make the other person into the devil in order to make themselves into a god. Where repentance stops, inhumanity begins; there all common bonds shatter even while one tries to strengthen them through tenacious self-justification and self-pardon’ [v]
– (November 1938, Berlin, Sermon: ‘About Kristallnacht’ )

In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.

Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.

Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness behind a veil of light.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.

Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.

‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [vi]

Our lack of  sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[vii], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.

Humanity is triumphant only because God triumphed! Without God, nothing. For ‘God gives of God’s own life, of God’s Spirit. Human beings do not live as human beings apart from God’s Spirit.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation & Fall p.79)

“Extract us from sin, He Who dwells in the heavens
as the sun sets, call to those who pass through fire and water
Next Year in Jerusalem.” (source)


References:

[i] Machiavelli, N. 1532, The Prince Penguin Classics, 2011, (p.71)

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3:Creation & Fall

[iii] Julien Bryan, Henry Luce & Louis de Rochermont, 1939. March Of Time: Inside Nazi Germany

[iv] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3: Creation and Fall

[v] Gollwitzer, H. 1938 in Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s shadow: Sermons of resistance, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.120

[vi] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260

[vii] ibid, 1938

YouTube: Jerusalem (Swedish Band): ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ from the album ‘Prophet‘, 1993

Image: United States Holocaust Museum, Kristallnacht