Archives For Natural Theology

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

While working on some craft leftovers with our homeschoolers today, I was able to work around them and do some art. The image below was the end result. It makes a fairly decent desktop background for advent.

GVL_Advent image Byzantine Orthodox Mary and Jesus

I created this after combining an embossed silver star, black cardboard and the cover of a recycled Christmas card. The combination was then laminated, photocopied {one colour, the other grayscale} and photographed on an angle.  From there I cropped and slightly pixelated the image.

Byzantine icons and their unique place in Eastern Orthodox worship is interesting. Worship and art are significant; one prays through it, not to it. Hearts are directed and minds realigned towards Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I appreciate them. Yet to be convinced that the theological snares are serious enough to warrant avoidance. For example: the dangers of natural theology and its slide into seeing a second revelation of God, where there is in fact only one intact revelation, that of Jesus Christ, in Word, Presence and Deed.

Although Karl Barth doesn’t appear to have been against icons, reading through his work on Natural Theology in CD.II/I makes it a definite that he wasn’t for them either. I think Barth’s appreciation of Mozart comes close to any kind of support here – he walks a fine line between devoted distraction and directed devotion.

In any case I’m sure, in regards to this matter anyway, I’ll either land on being for, against or simply just remain appreciative of the devotion they express, and the devotion towards God that they inspire.

This painting features the young Mary and the infant Jesus. As near as I can tell the icon is the famous, ‘The Vladimir Virgin’.

There is a commentary available here and if you’re into reading up on Byzantine Art, David Talbot Rice’s book ‘Art of the Byzantine Era’ is a good place to start.

 


Music: Eksedysan {They Have Stripped Me} by Fr. Nikodimos Kabarnos 

Writing seven years after the date of the excerpt below, Vernon Kellogg in an article for ‘The Atlantic’, wrote a response to William Jennings Bryan’s stand against evolution. Something made famous by The Scopes Trial in 1925.

Kellogg’s 1924 essay was entitled ‘The Modern View of Evolution‘. In it Kellogg, a biologist, writes from a position that understands the importance of making a distinction between ‘Social Darwinism’ and ‘Darwinian Evolutionary Theory’. For an excellent summary of Bryan’s views after the Scopes Trial was closed, I recommend checking out ‘The Last Message of William Jennings Bryan’.

Bryan points to the same distinction in his concerns about evolutionary theory. However his overall argument becomes generalised, which overshadows his points. In my view, outside this, his closing statement is outstanding.

The excerpt below is from Kellogg’s assessment of the impact of scientism, something that pushed him beyond pacifism. As a result he became an advocate for the just resistance against such views. Scientism is defined as an ‘exaggerated trust in the efficacy of  science‘ (Merriam-Webster).

Although I am not yet in complete agreement with the narrator when he suggests that Darwin later succumbed to Social Darwinism/Scientific Socialism.The video attached is legit and worth watching.

The historical value here is found in its contemporary relevance as an indictment against scientism and totalitarianism.

Theology remains a necessary critique (Barth) and this seems to back that up.

To Whom It May Concern,
Vernon L Kellogg‘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.
There is fatherland in Germany, but it is not the German State. It is German soil and German ancestry, but not the horrible, depersonalized, super-organic state machine, built and managed by a few ego-maniacs of incredible selfishness and of utter callousness to the sufferings, bodily and mental, of their own as well as any other people in their range of contact.
But this machine is a Frankenstein that will turn on its own creators and work their destruction, together with its own.
Such sacrifice and degradation of human personality as national control by such a machine requires, can have no permanence in a world moving certainly, even if hesitatingly and deviously, toward individualism and the recognition of personal values…
…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.
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!
Any people who have dedicated itself to the philosophy and practice of war as a means of human advancement is put into a position of impotence to indulge its belief at will.
My conviction is that Germany is such a people, and that it can be put to this position only by the result of war itself. It knows no other argument and it will accept no other decision[i]. ’
Vernon Kellogg, 1917 
(Biologist and Director of The Commission for the relief of Belgium 1915-1916)

 

Sources:

[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) (Loc. 459-460). Rueggisberg Press. 2010 Kindle Ed.

Image: Vernon Lyman Kellogg Wikipedia

#Lestweforget

Here is a pretty cool primary source provided by kbarth.org via YouTube. This follows on from my post a few days back about the Confessing Church’s “Nein” & Natural Theology.

I may, in future, merge this post with that one.

Worth noting is this statement from Barth:

“[Hilter] understood how to put the German people, and with it also the German church, in a dreamy state. And in this dream, the German people and the German Christians of the Evangelical and the Catholic Church dreamt that something like a new revelation of God has taken place, in what this man thought, said, wanted and did.
And the so-called ‘Confessing Church,’ basically, was about a decisive “no”, to this dream. It was an appeal: ‘Germany, wake up from this dream!”
(Excerpt from the 1967 Documentary film “JA & Nein, Karl Barth zum Gedaechtnis”)

For those interested, kbarth.org also has a ‘Pinterest’ page with images and videos. {link}

 

This past week I’ve posted two brief reflections on Eberhard Busch’s lectures featured in ‘The Barmen Theses: Then and Now’.  The first reflection discussed Prayer and Christian Ethics. The second, was about the Church, the State and the claim of Jesus Christ as Lord over both.

The subject of Natural Theology will form the third.

In the light of the renowned forcefulness of Barth’s “Nein” to Emil Brunner, there may be some irony in suggesting that any discussion about Natural Theology requires a certain amount of sensitivity and decorum.

This is especially so, given the serious word limitations of a blog post about it.ID-100165049

Developing an understanding here by reading a meme or two point outline could mean missing key contextual information that is essential in arriving at a well-informed theological conviction. Take as an example, the plethora of tangents, verbose material drawn out and drenched in heavy theological jargon about the subject.

In sum, Natural theology ‘acknowledges something other as God.’[i]

This takes belief beyond the author in and of authority – God, and asserts humanity as the ultimate authority, outside Jesus the Christ.

As Busch states:

‘In such a Natural theology humanity has so much divine Spirit within it that it can comprehend God by means of its own capacity to do so. Humanity therefore has no need of God’s coming to meet it. To speak of one Word repudiates precisely the claim that there is a second word of another god that purports to be authoritative for the Christian witness and is thus not subject to the standard of the one Word. The term “Word of God” designates a particular story as it is attested for us in “holy scripture.” In this story God distinguishes himself from all other gods. By electing particular people to be his people, he differentiates himself from the gods that people choose for themselves.’[ii]

Within the pages of  ‘The Barmen Theses: Then and Now’ Busch addresses Barth’s rejection of Natural theology, constantly keeping in mind the all important historical context of the German Churches in the 1930’s.

Article one: (8:12)We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
‘”No” to Natural theology, in this context, is first of all a word of repentance in which the confessors must ‘beat their own breasts.’ There was very real cause for that repentance, for up until then, the confessors had, to be sure they made a distinction between themselves and the German Christians at some points. They were thinking in the same patterns. This pattern made room, on the one hand, for faith-centred preaching for the heart, or within churchly spaces, while on the other hand, it endorsed the church’s “joyful yes’’ to the racial nationalistic ideology. This “yes” was even theologically grounded, but with reference to another god, from the One who is ‘’attested for us in Holy Scripture”.[iii]

Avoiding Barth’s and the ‘Confessors “No” to natural theology, could mean walking away from any reading of this “No” with little other than the rough idea that natural theology = bad theology, because badass Barth thundered it forth as such.

Sadly, in the theological climate of today it is too easy to leave this ”no” to natural theology at that, writing it off as intolerant, anachronistic or bigoted.

It might be sufficient here to say that Natural theology leads humanity into taking its point of reference about who God is from itself rather than The Word of God.

Causing humanity to abandon God as we reach for God outside the Revelation of The Word of God.

When this happens the reconciled relationship enacted by ‘God’s free decision in revelation’ (Karl Barth) is abandoned. Subsequently, the voice of the Church is silenced by its irresponsible acquiescence to ‘something other as God’ (Busch), slowly allowing itself to be concealed behind a veil of what can be posited as either practical atheism or deified existentialism.

In other words, we miss the point of the Gospel that states in Jesus Christ, God comes to us. To be God with us, for us and, ‘not God without us’ (Karl Barth).

I am in agreement with Eberhard Busch as he strongly advocates the necessity of not just visiting this issue on the surface, but sticking with it until one can see clear through it. The imperatives laid out for us in the Barmen Declaration have way too much relevance to us in our contemporary context to ignore.

 “If anyone tries to flag you down, calling out, ‘Here’s the Messiah!’ or points, ‘There he is!’ don’t fall for it. Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. But I’ve given you fair warning.”
(Jesus, Mt.24:23-24, The Message)

Sources:
[i] Busch, E. 2010: The Barmen Theses: Then and Now, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, p.28
[ii] Ibid, pp.27-28
[iii] Ibid, p.28-29

The Theological Declaration of Barmen: Sacred-texts.com
Image: courtesy of Sira Anamwong, “Church of The Light” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net