Thursday, March 29, 2012

Post-Holocaust Anti-Nazism Theology

As someone born to a Jewish family 26 years after the Holocaust, the Holocaust wasn't just a historical event. It was this dominant theme that colored every discussion and moral lesson. Growing up, this was completely normal to me. More recently, I've met people in person and online who weren't raised this way, and I've found myself explaining things that look like contradictions to outsiders. I've also noticed parallels between Christian religious paintings depicting hell, and images of the Holocaust.

Image of sinners going to hell

Holocaust images (graphic):

So, I've toyed with the idea that in some ways, the reaction to the Holocaust had actually morphed into its own theology.

What are the major tenets of this theology?

1. Evil = Nazis, Devil = Hitler, Hell = Holocaust

This would be the #1 principle, from which all else derives.

If something resembled Nazis, Hitler and/or the Holocaust, it was bad. This was true for the obvious examples of atrocities, like the Rwandan genocide. It was also true for things that others may view as neutral or even positive, if there was a connection to Nazis in any way. So, if Eichmann had claimed that he was "just following orders", then it must be that obedience to authority was bad.

2. Good is defined as whatever is in opposition to Nazism.

Nazis wanted to kill Jews, so Jews were good.

Nazis killed people with disabilities, so working for disability rights was good.

Nazis sent homosexuals to concentration camps, so gay rights were good.

3. A moral dilemna is what happens when two things that Hitler opposed also oppose each other.

Nazis opposed free speech and the ability to demonstrate freely, so the proposed march by neo-Nazis in Skokie provoked intense division and debate in the community.

Nazis were against both Orthodox Judaism and homosexuals, so it's not unheard of for some of the same people to go to Orthodox synagogues and the gay pride parade.

4. G-d is a fuzzier, more problematic concept in this theology. On one hand, the simplistic idea of a G-d who is All-Powerful AND All-Good AND who personally runs the world AND who punishes the bad and rewards the good gets a real beating. On the other hand, the Nazis were against G-d, so G-d must be good and the Nazis cannot be allowed to win on this point.

Elie Wiesel has described this paradox, in which rabbis in a concentration camp put G-d on trial:

The trial lasted several nights. Witnesses were heard, evidence was gathered, conclusions were drawn, all of which issued finally in a unanimous verdict: the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, was found guilty of crimes against creation and humankind. And then, after what Wiesel describes as an "infinity of silence," the Talmudic scholar looked at the sky and said "It's time for evening prayers," and the members of the tribunal recited Maariv, the evening service.

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