Archives For Anti-Nazism

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.

XYZ’s David Hiscox recently posted about the XYZ team’s growing affection for the term ‘Unintentionally Hilarious’.

David then went on to define this as:

“When someone on the left is so blind to their own bias that they fail to realise that their argument exposes this bias, and reinforces a narrative counter to that of the left. One might even call this “unconscious bias”

I decided to take up his invitation and compile a list of examples characteristic of this ludicrous phenomenon, its dissonance and general drag on democracy:

1. Hate Trump, loves trumps hate

(Hmm. But Love is love right? Can’t someone love Trump? Hashtag: justsayin’)

2. “No borders!! The Right are xenophobic racist bigots. You’re not an American, stay out of American politics”

(This strange anti-Trump hypocrisy was exhibited when an Indian friend of mine came under attack for posting a pro-American, pro-Christian article in a Facebook academic discussion group, largely dominated by American liberal-protestants [theological leftist progressives]. I defended him and the wolf pack turned on me. Doing their best to pin bigot, racist, ignorant etc. on me.  Right up to throwing my contributions to the SSM debate here in Australia, in my face, by falsely accusing me of living off “bashing gays on the internet”. In a move I protested, sometime later, an admin made the unfortunate decision to delete the post. Thereby, giving vindication to their abuse and insults, which aimed at shutting down those who disagreed with them.)

3. “You’re a Nazi; anyone my political group says is or looks like a Nazi, is a Nazi, so find a Nazi and punch one…”

(But, in dehumanizing people you don’t agree with or dislike, or think you are superior to, via reckless labels, simplistic slogans and misguided hate, aren’t you doing what the Nazis actually did?)

4. “You’re a fascist scumbag. You disagree with me; I’m calling that hate speech and silencing you.”

(This one is self-evident, so no comment necessary)

5. You’re white and therefore racist. It’s in your DNA

 (Hmm. Isn’t the very definition of racism, unjustly judging someone by the colour of their skin?)

6.Capitalism is evil, white pride is not the same as other kinds of pride – it’s an evil kind, therefore it’s okay for other people to love and take pride their country, culture, skin colour and faith, but not you. “

(Huh…okay. But, you just tweeted support for #LOVEisLOVE, #pride, on the latest smartphone, shared it to Facebook while drinking a $7 decaf, latte, reading the free press before going shopping without fear of harassment by government sanctioned moral police or the government itself?)

7. Then there was the time when academics united to protest the outlawing, and removal, of Soviet & Nazi symbols in the Ukraine because it contradicts the right to freedom of speech” 

(This was the very same year the Dukes of Hazard  reruns were axed because the iconic ’69 Dodge charger was considered to be a symbol of racism.)

Although, I understand the XYZ affection for the phrase “Unintentionally Hilarious”,  not all of these are all that humorous. They’re outright dangerous.

Consider the issue of recklessly labelling someone a Nazi.  If you can pin someone down to being something as evil as a Nazi, you can justify hurting them, or worse.

The dark and twisted irony of this? The word Nazi is utilised in the way the word Jew was, by the Nazis.

This goes beyond the rhetoric of Godwin’s Law. In any debate, calling your opponent a Nazi without reasoned qualification, dehumanises your opponent. Turning that opponent, without justification, into an inhuman enemy.

The danger should be clear enough. From a psychological point of view this rampant ad hominem is recognised as emotional manipulation. Recklessly calling someone a Nazi is a shaming technique, designed to control the opponent in an attempt to discredit and silence them. The same goes for those who would paint all white people as racist.

Link both the reckless labelling of people as Nazis and the slogan “all white people are racist” together and the cocktail of hate is complete. All that’s needed are chambers filled with the pesticide Zyklon B, cyclone fencing, and all those determined by the Left as having “life unworthy of life”.

Any well informed reader who knows the history behind the genocidal rampaging in Rwanda, of the Tutsis against the Hutus, will see that there is good reason for concern.

Thankfully, I think most independent free thinkers are able to see these dangers. This, however, lasts, for as long as they are allowed to remain independent free thinkers.

Something brilliantly exemplified by the lengthy discussion hosted by Joe Rogan, between Professor of psychology, Jordan B Peterson and Jewish Evolutionary Biologist, Bret Weinstein. The latter is the subject of an ongoing dispute. He was suspended after being falsely accused of being a racist. His crime? Trying to stop Evergreen College from forcing all white people to take a day of absence, as part of an annual ritual held by the college.

I hold to the view that all of this ‘unintentional humour’ is rooted in pride. The power handed to the Left has made most of them drunk; so much so that their logic and reasoning has become incoherent and absurd.

I also believe that anything with pride in it needs serious critique. As I’ve stated in some of my work shared with XYZ, pride is the enemy of grace and will always be so.

Pride repels self-restraint, honest, free critique and authentic humility. It stops us from thinking clearly. Numbs us to the pain of others and dangerously over-inflates a healthy sense of ego.

This is as much a reality for the Right as it is for the Left.

Even XYZ is not exempt. Sure enough, it’s a fresh voice in a land of fake smiles, lies, high-fives and ignorant compliance. If it is to be taken seriously,  however, XYZ’s authors have to apply this very same self-restraint, honest, free critique and authentic humility. Attributes that are lacking in much of society today.

One example of this is in how far XYZ carry, and how well they define, what some call “pro-white nationalism”.

They need to counter the gross historical baggage of “pro-white national socialism”, countering it with a carefully communicated definition of what XYZ authors mean when they talk about ‘’pro-white nationalism”.

This isn’t an attack on XYZ’s authors. It’s an honest example of where, how and why, the Right need to be smarter, more aware, more gracious and more humble. Self reflection is a good thing.

Since the Left give us permission to do so, if a group of people calling other people Nazis, are doing exactly what Nazis did, shouldn’t those being called Nazis, have the right to punch a Nazi?

The answer is a tentative “no”. Those who stand opposed must do better than employ the same tactics used against them. Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Thatcher didn’t bring about an end to the Cold War by feeding the status quo.

If the excesses of the Left are to be responsibly countered; or if any attempt at stopping the worst that Leftist ideologies want to impose on the West is to succeed, then those countering it, will need to trust not in their own wisdom or strength, but in God’s.

Reason will win battles only if it is governed by humility. That humility starts with the recognition that we are not God. It recognises, even if it has to strain itself to do so, that God is God and we are not. Faith seeks understanding and to follow this, in our day and age, is to follow the road of cultural resistance. We have, because God gives. Out of this we in turn live and move and have our being.

Pride is not confidence, it’s an overbearing self-reliance that arrogantly trusts in flawed human structures. It ‘is a universal human problem and everyone suffers from it to some degree.‘ Pride leads us to obsess over power, and drags us into unjust conflict.

False humility is pride. False solidarity is self-seeking. It is an enemy of grace.

And it is the Achilles heel of the Left.

Solomon’s wisdom that echos down through the ages, both encourages and warns us:

‘Pride goes before destruction and an arrogant, haughty spirit comes before a fall.’
(Proverbs 16:18)

 

Hitler's Traitors: German Resistance to the Nazis, Susan OattawayThis past week I finished reading Susan Ottaway’s 2003 book, ‘Hitler’s Traitors.’

I had borrowed this with the purpose of finding and filling gaps in my own knowledge of early-mid 20th Century European history. What I found was an excellent introduction to it. It’s a text I’m now planning to use for homeschool. (Worth noting, the Nazis banned homeschooling. So there’s a small sense of irony here.)

The book’s potential lies in its content and flow. I was particularly attached to Ottaway’s blunt opinions and it’s likely that these pieces of commentary contributed to her reasons for saying, ‘this is not a scholarly work’ (xiii).

Scholarly work or not, Ottaway’s book is well researched and her criticisms are balanced. The text is indexed, bibliographed and it contains four appendages that present primary documents, including the White Rose leaflets and photos of key people.

Ottaway doesn’t sugar coat the truth.

Chronologically written, her book deals with a long list of historical figures and complex events. What unlocks this as a suitable homeschool text is its conversational style. With brevity and wit, Ottaway explains the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles and the initial well-intentioned, but ultimately ignorant approach of the Allies.

Additional themes include the politics of appeasement, the fall of the Weimar Republic, German anti-Nazi resistance, the horrific persecution of European Jews, the rise of communism and the defeat of Nazism.

The only real downside to the book is that it has no footnotes and not every reference is cited meticulously enough to allow an easy follow up reading.

Finding good resources for homeschool is hard. It’s usually because there’s a limited budget and a somewhat specific curriculum to follow. It’s not for lack of choice. American resources that are directed at homeschooling abound. While Australian material, for the most part, is not. Hence, the age old struggle to find the right resources can snare us in a web of high cost with little reward.

We have enough and we’re grateful for it. Still, ordering the wrong resources could cost us time and hit the budget hard. It means being careful in choosing supplemental material, once the must-buy material has been purchased.

This need to be fugal is a gift. It helps us to focus our aim. It encourages us to be creative and industrious. It means making an effort to find the right resource that’s right for the job.

Ottoway’s book fits this description.

It precisely carries the intensity of an era dominated by Germany. ‘Hitler’s Traitors’ teaches early-mid 20th Century European history in a way youth can hear and understand.

What Ottaway has done is create an in-depth overview of this period in modern history. It’s readable and it digs deep enough.  Ottaway successfully illustrates what life was like and what life could be like, should we fail to remember and act on what this history teaches us.


Related post: Never Again

During my undergraduate research into the wide and wondrous theological landscape of Karl Barth’s rejection of natural theology, I came across some criticisms of Barth made by Martin Luther King Jnr.

628x471_barth-and-mlkjnr 1962King made these criticisms in 1952, centring them around two main points. First, the [liberal] theologian must part with Barth in his rejection of natural theology. This is because:

‘we find God in the beauty of the world, in the unpremeditated goodness of humanity, and in the moral order of reality. Second, Barth emphasises the unknowableness of God, but if God is unknowable one wonders how Barth came to know so much of the ‘’Unknown God’’  [1].

Here King shows his lean towards the theology of ‘19th century liberal protestants, who viewed human culture as being endowed with revelatory potential’ [2].

In the end, though, King somewhat affirms Barth’s theology,

‘In spite of our severe criticisms of Barth, however, we do not in the least want to minimize the importance of his message. His cry does call attention to the desperateness of the human situation. He does insist that religion begins with God and that man cannot have faith apart from him. He does proclaim that apart from God our human efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. He does suggest that man is not sufficient unto himself for life, but is dependent upon the proclamation of God’s living Word, through which by means of Bible, preacher, and revealed Word, God himself comes to the consciences of men. Much of this is good, and may it not be that it will serve as a necessary corrective for a liberalism that at times becomes all to shallow?’ [3]

King’s rejection of Barth’s “no” to natural theology seems short-sighted.

For Barth,

‘Christianity is the protest against all the high places which human beings build for themselves’ (Barth C.D IV/II p.524).

When viewed through the lens of World War One and German preoccupation with Social Darwinism, World War Two and the Barmen Declaration, his rejection of natural theology is more understandable. Barth’s stance pushed against the claims of national socialist ideology by aiming at its roots [4].

What Barth rejects is natural theologies,

‘autonomous rational structure’ (Torrance), [5], and its ‘self-determining knowledge of God which is absent of Jesus the Christ. The importance of the revelation of Jesus Christ is that He teaches us that we are‘ human beings and not pets’ (Olasky) [6].

Natural theology, it could be argued, bolstered the clinical one-sidedness of Scientism; Nazi dehumanization programs, rationalised ignorance, the humanist deification of humanity (seen in the führerprinzip), the Nazi gas chambers, “re-education” camps, total war, eugenics, racism and slave labour.

Barth’s ”no” to natural theology is seen better under the light of his sociopolitical context. It’s a much larger critique than that of 19th Century theology. Barth’s words fall as a warning to those who sought to detach Christian theology from Christ. It’s a criticism of those who attempted to synchronise Christian theology with the tentative conclusions of the disciples of Frederic Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin. All of whom can be found to have had a direct and indirect influence on German thought, specifically, National Socialism.

This opposition was worked out in the Barmen declaration; authored by Barth as part of the Confessing Churches stand against National Socialism in the 1930’s.

‘We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him’ (Barth, 8.15 second thesis, Barmen Declaration 1934).

In 1962, ten years after his initial criticisms, King met Barth. Despite their differing position on natural theology they shared some visible common ground in their eventual opposition to the Vietnam War. Barth ‘called for opposition to the conflict in Vietnam, stating, “It is not enough only to say, ‘Jesus is risen,’ but then remain silent about the Vietnam War’ [7]. It’s possible to hear echoes of Barth in King’s words to Riverside Church in New York on the 4th April, 1967.

Barth & King 1962“There comes a ‘a time to break the silence’ because ‘’a time comes when silence is betrayal.”

This “point of contact” with Barthian theology is displayed in the overall content of King’s speeches. It’s one that can be measured alongside the Barmen declaration and matched with Barth’s own opposition, not only to the conflict in Vietnam, but also to Nazism.

Barth and King stand as examples. Both challenged ideologies with theology. Challenging old and new, political and cultural ideologies that had moved, or were moving from being a servant towards being a master. Each show that the world benefits when Christian theology stands and then seeks to steer humanity away from the rocky shores of its own making, such as the seductive Siren calls of Machiavellian agendas and unruly ‘isms.’

As the Lutheran, Gene Veith, wrote,

‘Nazism was a calculated crusade to deny the transcendence of God and usurp Christianity’. Theology must challenge ‘the ideas that led to Auschwitz with special scrutiny. This is especially true when those ideas, often adopted uncritically, are still in vogue today’ [8].

Today, its relevance calls Christians – theologians – regardless of skin colour or country, to stand side by side in a push back against the stream. To push back against the mudslide of agendas carried along by propaganda machines which often feed off of division, drama and a one-sided, segregated, party-line.

No where is this more evident in theology today, than in the virulent misuse of liberation theology. What arose with great promise as it looked towards reconciliation, now only appears to be a selective slingshot in the verbal arsenal of “progressive” stone-throwers. Causing a breakdown of dialogue which has all but confirmed the suspicions of their conservative brothers and sisters.

It’s here that we might find Barth and King’s voices of resistance. In this what might be heard is a collective “no”; the call for the reformation and therefore liberation of liberation theology.

King, 4th April, 1967 (transcript):


References:

[1] King Jnr, M.L. 1952 Karl Barth’s conception of God sourced 17th August 2012 from http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol2/520102BarthsConceptionOfGod.pdf (pp.105-106)

[2] McGrath, A.E. 2001 a scientific theology: nature vol1. T&T Clark Ltd. Edinburgh, Scotland (p.255)

[3]King Jnr, M.L. 1952 Karl Barth’s conception of God sourced 17th August 2012 from http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol2/520102BarthsConceptionOfGod.pdf (p.106)

[4] Gorringe, T.J 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Christian theology in context Oxford University Press New York (p.3)

[5] Torrance, T.F. 1994 Preaching Christ today: the Gospel and scientific thinking Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI, USA (p.70)

[6] Olasky, M 2003 Standing for Christ in a Modern Babylon Crossway Books, Good News publishers Wheaton, IL (p.80)

[7] Chung, S. W. 2006 Karl Barth and evangelical theology: Convergences and divergences Milton Keynes, Paternoster Press. UK (p.199) citing George Hunsinger 

[8] Veith Jnr, G.E. 1993 modern fascism: the threat to the Judeo-Christian worldview Kindle for P.C. Ed.

Images:

Source: stanford.edu

1. The Princeton University Chapel, Dr. King on the Chapel steps, with Karl Barth (pictured on the left), April 29, 1962.

2. A stroll on campus at Princeton University,

*”The Calling to Speak is Often a Vocation of Agony”  (King, ‘Beyond Vietnam‘)

Barth meets Orwell 5

Barth’s context and history add weight to the vein of thought that connects him with the socio-political point of George Orwell’s, 1984. It isn’t that Barth is agreeing with Orwell or that Orwell is agreeing with him. I doubt if the latter even knew the former existed. Let alone whether Orwell read the 677 page monolith that is Church Dogmatics II:I.

Both, do however, hit on a sad, emerging reality.

In his long discussion on the Omnipotence and Constancy of God, Barth’s context shines through:

‘If we abandon and pay no attention to the question of obedience to God’s Word, but try to seek the limit of the possible in an absolutised system of relationships alongside or in place of God’s Word, we discover and imaginary God and an imaginary world, the fundamental dissolution of all systems of relationships and therefore complete sceptisim and anarchy in the realm of creation, the irruption of a Third Reich of madness.’    (CD.II:I p.537)

To further this, in ‘Hitler’s Traitors’, Susan Ottaway notes:

‘Karl Barth wrote a scathing criticism of German Christian Doctrine in which he stated that the source of their errors was that they maintained that in nationality, history and politics was a revelation that should be given equal weight with the Scriptures. This led Pastors to resign from the Church and annoyed Reich Bishop Müller so much that he issued a decree which became known as the ”Muzzling Decree”, which forbade pastors from criticizing the German Christian church or from discussing anything to do with it [politics; anti-nazism]. He insisted that the only thing they were allowed to speak of in the sermons was the Gospel.’
(Ottaway, 2003:81)

From here, the Confessing Church was born. Supported by Karl Barth and other Pastors-in-revolt, it ‘flourished and continued to spread the Gospel, attacking Nazi beliefs and persecution throughout the rest of the Third Reich.’ (ibid, p.82)

Adding more to Barth’s context, Ottaway continues:

‘Barth, who had refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Führer that didn’t include an additional clause addressing his religious beliefs [simply put: Jesus is Lord – the Führer isn’t] , was deported in the autumn of 1934. Many other Pastors and Church officials who had spoken out against the government were arrested and send to concentration camps without trial.’ (ibid, p.82)

There are nine years between Barth’s and Orwell’s books.Their genre’s are completely different. The first, a Pastor and Theologian. The second, a journalist and author. Their contexts don’t exactly match. Yet, this doesn’t halt the gravity of their shared themes. Such as legalistic coercion, control of the narrative, excessive political correctness, excessive shaming, blurred distinctions, a forced allegiance to false ideologies, gods, political systems and totalitarianism.

As Barth wrote:

‘It is only wantonly and irrationally that we can aspire to the statement that two and two are five.’ (CD.II:I p.538)

What makes Barth’s statements all the more striking is that he witnessed and wrote about the very thing that Orwell would later fictionalize.

 “Do you remember,” he went on, “writing in your diary, ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four’?” “Yes,” said Winston.
O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended. “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” “Four.” “And if the party says that it is not four but five—then how many?” “Four.”
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased. (Orwell, 1940:261-262) […]
“You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O’Brien gently. “How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
“How many fingers, Winston?” “Four. I suppose there are four. I would see five if I could. I am trying to see five.” “Which do you wish, to persuade me that you see five, or really to see them?” “Really to see them.” “Again,” said O’Brien (ibid p.263) […]
“How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” “I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six—in all honesty I don’t know.” “Better,” said O’Brien. (ibid, p.264)
(George Orwell, 1984)

 


Sources:

Barth, K. 1940 Church Dogmatics II:I, Hendrickson Publishers

Orwell, G.1949 1984,  Wildside Press. Kindle Ed.

Ottaway, S. 2003 Hitler’s Traitors, Leo Cooper, Pen & Sword Books U.K

Die Weiße Rose

November 20, 2014 — 8 Comments

In February, 1943, along with her brother, Hans and friend Christoph, Sophie Scholl was executed by guillotine after a trial before the ‘Peoples Court’.

Their crime?

Writing and distributing leaflets which spoke the truth, and called for non-violent resistance against Hitler and Nazism.

Inge, Sophie’s eldest sister recalls:

‘I believe that at such times the students were able to converse freely with God, with that Being whom they gropingly sought in their youth, whom they tried to find at the end point of all study, action, and work.
At this time Christ became for them in a strange way the elder brother who was always there, closer even than death. He was their path which allowed of no return, the truth which gave answer to so many questions, and life itself, the whole of splendid life.
Sophie said at one point (though she spoke very, very little), “What we said and wrote is what many people are thinking. Only they don’t dare to say it.”
{After her arrest}, Sophie had been chiefly concerned in those days whether her mother would be able to bear the ordeal of losing two children at the same moment. But now, as Mother stood there, so brave and good, Sophie had a feeling of sudden release from anxiety.
Again her mother spoke; she wanted to give her daughter something she might hold fast to: “You know, Sophie— Jesus.” Earnestly, firmly , almost imperiously Sophie replied, “Yes, but you too.” Then she left— free, fearless, and calm. She was still smiling…
…Such rigor of thought was doubtless closely related to their discovery of Christianity, which in the case of my brother and sister paralleled the development of their independent political stand.
The church hierarchy in those years had compromised itself by its initial alliance with National Socialism, and it was silent. But countless Christians had gone underground and some had joined the resistance.[i]
Munich Station 1942 Sophie_ Hans_ Christoph 2

(Left) Hans Scholl, (Centre) Sophie, (Right) Christoph Probst.

 

Christoph Probst was 25; a husband and father to three small children. His wife ‘did not learn of his fate until after his execution.’ [ii]

Sophie Scholl was 22 and Hans, 25.

Sophie, Hans and Christoph were Germans. From Inge Scholl’s account, they were also Christians.

I’ve pointed to some of the emerging parallels between then and now, on this blog before. Those in this case, I think, speak for themselves.

‘To mature to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, no longer children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Christ.’
– (Paul, Ephesians 4:14-15)


Sources:

[i] Scholl, I. 1947 The White Rose: Munich, 1942–1943 Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Ed. (Loc.831-832; 867-869 & 1380-1381)

[ii] ibid, Loc. 872-873

Video excerpt is from the movie ‘Sophie Scholl: The Final Days‘ (2005, Germany), Fred Breinersdorfer (Writer), Marc Rothemund (Director).

Karl Barth

Karl Barth

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Hunsinger, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from W. Travis McMaken and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.

Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom