Saturday, January 16, 2010

Places I've Been and What I'm Reading

When it comes to Genesis 1-3, a well-known American dichotomy says "It's either history or it's myth." But is that a faithful approach? I'm intrigued by how N.T. Wright responds to such questions in this video.

I don't particularly care for the expression, but it communicates something that many conservative Protestants think and debate about. We call it the question of "Women's Role in the Church." Whether you lean egalitarian (more liberal) or complementarian (more traditional), you might want to read Wayne Grudem's challenge: "An Open Letter to Egalitarians: Six Questions That Have Never Been Satisfactorily Answered."

I'm currently reading Hitler's Willing Executioner's: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. One of Goldhagen's most basic points emphasizes the word willing. In many of the previous interpretations of the Holocaust, the motivations of the German perpetrators of genocide have been explained along the following lines:

(a) They were coerced by the threat of punishment or even death.

(b) They were blindly following Adolf Hitler their popular, charismatic leader. Another type of this obedience theory is that, generally, people obey authority. They are even more likely to obey state authority, and this would be as true of Germans as anyone.

(c) They were subjected to high levels of peer pressure or social expectation.

(d) They were petty, callous bureaucrats who were out to make careers and provide for themselves and their families.

(e) Because the Holocaust was carried out by a series of acts that involved different people doing different things, the responsibility for such inhumanity was dispersed. According to this explanation, very few of the thousands of perpetrators, therefore, accepted that they were killing millions of Jews. Under the circumstances, it was relatively-easy to shift the blame.

Goldhagen says that these explanations or rationalizations are mostly, if not entirely, bunk. The fact is, there were many, many ordinary German people who knew exactly what the "final solution" to the "Jewish problem" was. These people were willing, responsible perpetrators. Coupled with this thesis is that most previous interpreters of the Holocaust have underestimated the depth and the strength of German anti-semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Too often, we have imagined that most Germans living under the Nazi regime were basically a lot like Americans living in the post-War years. Goldhagen seems to be saying, "No, they weren't. And if you don't get that, then you're bound to get the Holocaust wrong too." Has anyone else out there read this book?

And, by the way, what are you reading these days?

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