Non-violence’s answer to the question, “What about Hitler?”

The rise of National Socialism and Hitler in post-WWI Germany has become for many the trump-card against non-violent approaches to resolving conflict. The man and the regime were so evil, the argument goes, and so resistant to reason and persuasion, that only a countervailing violence could have brought the evil to a halt and saved untold millions more lives.

(This conclusion is, of course, an example of the power of the myth of redemptive violence, illuminated forcefully in a 2006 essay by Walter Wink.)

Steve Thorngate, in an aside in a recent blog entry on Theolog, points us to a brief essay by Jørgen Johansen exploring the abundant opportunities that existed in the first three decades of the twentieth century to challenge and undermine the Nazis using non-violent means, and points out some of the successes that were achieved in this way.

Johansen identifies four factors that contributed to the rise of Hitler: The humiliation of Germany reflected in the Treaty of Versailles, the economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s, a prevailing racist ideology, and the “Culture of Prussian Obedience” that prevailed in the period. He explores how approaches different from those taken by the international community could have blunted or redirected the forces that National Socialism tapped.

He then points out some of the effective non-violent methods that were used within Germany and Axis countries by the resistance movements, noting that broader support of these movements from the Allies and neutral nations could have undermined the Nazi regime.

With Reinhold Niebuhr, a self-confessed “realist” in international relations, providing theological and moral foundations for much of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, it is good to be reminded that non-violent approaches are not only idealistic, they’re also profoundly realistic.

The virtues that lead to recessions

Dierdre McCloskey, professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is a Harvard-educated economist who taught at the University of Chicago before moving north to UIC. She is the author of a theological defense of capitalism, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Self-described as “a postmodern free-market quantitative rhetorical Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian woman who was once a man” and an “iconoclastic” economist, her thoughts on the sources of the current recession appear in a compilation in the July 28, 2009, Christian Century (p. 24). Her perspective: That recessions don’t come from greed but, rather, from risk and daring undertaken by fallible humans; and without the economic growth that has resulted from such risk and daring, the world’s poor would be much less well off.

The recessions do not come from greed …. The recessions come from hope and courage, from venturing on building railways and then overbuilding them; from founding dot-com companies, and the overfounding them; from innovating in financial services and then overinnovating. We go too far, as imperfect creatures with imperfect knowledge of the future …. But in the meantime we get better railways, computers, banks. That’s why the recovery is always greater than the decline. The trend has been startlingly upward, the second most important event in human history.

The jagged rise of innovation has been disturbing, but on balance it has been immensely good for the poorest among us ….

This is a writer and thinker whom I need to get to know better.

Choose a religion that fits your lifestyle and after-life goals!

Savvy Convert's Guide to Choosing a Religion Stumbled onto this book while browsing in a paper store in San Francisco recently and just had to share. It appears to be a terrific send-up of consumerism in religion carried to an extreme. “Compare and contrast before you commit. 99 religions to choose from.” From the same publisher (Knock Knock Books): How to Procrastinate, How to Get into Debt, How to Get Fat, The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You, and many more. Available from Amazon.

A Christian Argument for Progressive Taxation – Diana Butler Bass – God’s Politics Blog

Here’s Diana Butler Bass in her typical even-handed way offering a rebuttal of the “tea-party” tax protests of the last week:

When I handed [my tax payment check] to the clerk, she said, “I hate tax day.”  I replied, “Not me.  I don’t love parting with the money, but I kinda like it.  That check is a bargain — roads, schools, medical care, social security, and the freedom of living in the greatest country in the world.  It is patriotism by checkbook.  Why should I hate it?”  She replied, “Why, I’ve never heard anybody say that  It isn’t such a bad deal when you put it that way.”

Comparing today’s tax protesters to those who resisted the establishment of the progressive income tax in 1913, Bass restates the arguments developed then by progressive Christians to show the positive social and spiritual benefits of taxation that would “increase the overall morality of society.”

Read A Christian Argument for Progressive Taxation – Diana Butler Bass – God’s Politics Blog.

Religion: Biological Accident, Adaptation — or Both | Wired Science from

An article by Brandon Keim from Wired discussing recent brain function investigations that raise tantalizing questions about the neurology of religious belief:

Whether or not God exists, thinking about Him or Her doesn’t require divinely dedicated neurological wiring.

Instead, religious thoughts run on brain systems used to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling.

The story summarizes an article by Dimitrios Kapogiannis and others that appeared in the March 9, 2009, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Religion: Biological Accident, Adaptation — or Both | Wired Science from

Born believers: How your brain creates God – science-in-society – 04 February 2009 – New Scientist

Another interesting review article on the psychology of religious belief, this time from New Scientist. Of particular interest here is the assertion of a connection between hard times and authoritarian religious forms:

[H]uman beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Worth reading.

Born believers: How your brain creates God – science-in-society – 04 February 2009 – New Scientist.

Fate of One Family Illustrates Gaza War’s Ferocity : NPR

Listening to this horrific and heartbreaking story on “Morning Edition” this morning, I was reminded of comments by New York Times Correspondent Chris Hedges, quoted in Bob Abernethy and William Bole’s The Life of Meaning:

War is one of the most heady and intoxicating, addictive enterprises every created by humankind. It has an allure, a fascination, a draw that sweeps across national lines, ethnicity, race, religion. It has perverted, corrupted, and ultimately destroyed societies and nations across the globe…. War is like imbibing a drug. Once that drug is kicked, once that war is over, many decisions that are made in warfare – not only what we do to others, but also what we do to ourselves&emdash;are exposed for being not only wrong, but stupid (pp. 20-21).

War as intoxication, war as a state of inebriation in which euphoria transforms the unthinkable into the matter-of-fact. How else could the inhumane and atrocious acts described in the story be possible? And what hope can there be for redemption from this scourge? Hedges continues:

Love is the only force that finally can counter the force of death, the death instinct… You can’t go through an experience like [the shelling of Sarajevo] and not understand the palpable power of love, the power of that one act of forgiveness—the Muslim farmer who gives milk to the Serb baby for two hundred plus days…. What appear to be small acts of love—in those acts are seeds of hope (p. 23).

Fate of One Family Illustrates Gaza War’s Ferocity : NPR.

Recent Discussions of Religion and Politics

On Weekend Edition this morning (January 18, 2009), NPR carried a story by Sylvia Poggioli describing the Vatican’s concerns around “life issues” and the positions of the Obama administration. It raises afresh the vexing issues for people of faith as to how to relate their faith commitments to the local, regional, national, and international political orders in which we all participate.

Martin Marty, in the e-newsletter Sightings for January 5, contrasts Obama’s stance on faith commitments and the political order with Rick Warren’s. Marty quotes Obama’s Call to Renewal speech (May 28, 2006) as follows:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.  Democracy requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.  I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will.  I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all…

(Those of us who had the privilege of hearing Obama address the UCC General Synod in Hartford, Conn., a year later heard him reiterate this point.)

Warren, on the other hand, like the Vatican, asserts non-negotiable values. Again, Marty quotes:

[F]or those of us who accept the Bible as God’s Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are five issues that are non-negotiable.  To me, they’re not even debatable because God’s Word is clear on these issues.

Not surprisingly, these issues are abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual “marriage,” human cloning, and euthanasia, ones where Warren and the Vatican stand rather close together.

In The Christian Century of January 13, Gary A. Anderson, professor of Old Testament at the University of Notre Dame defends Israel’s right to its land by appealing to the promises of God in the Hebrew scriptures:

Christians must also insist that the promises of scripture are indeed inviolable and that Israel’s attachment to this land is underwritten by God’s providential decree. The miraculous appearance of the Israeli state just after the darkest moment in Jewish history is hard to interpret outside of a theological framework.

As with the Vatican and Rick Warren, the assertion is that promises or positions derived from the scriptures deemed holy by a particular religious tradition are to be taken as having extraordinary value (and may even be, in Warren’s words, “non-negotiable”).

Responding to Anderson’s position, Walter Brueggemann offers the following critique:

It strikes me as enormously hazardous to cite a supernatural right in the midst of realpolitik, especially when the right is entwined with military ferociousness and political exclusivism. While such a right may serve self-identity, it makes sense only inside the narrative. Outside the narrative it is no more than ideology, and so offers no basis for the hard work of peace and justice.

Brueggemann’s distinction between “inside the narrative” and “outside the narrative” captures the point Obama makes about the responsibilities of people of faith in a pluralistic society to leave their religious absolutes at the door when they participate in civic discourse. In Christianity, this rejection of religious absolutes has a theological foundation. It is the prohibition against idolatry and the recognition that attributing ultimate value to any human product, even the words of scripture, is elevating something limited, finite, and fallible, to a place of honor that is due to God alone.