May 25, 2019 A Religious and Political Commentary

Willing Accomplices

“No man can struggle with advantage against the spirit of his age and country, and however powerful a man may be, it is hard for him to make his contemporaries share feelings and ideas which run counter to the general run of their hopes and desires.” ~ Alexis DeToqueville (Democracy in America)

In 1944, the Allies began liberating Nazi Death Camps across Europe and the horrors of the “Final Solution” began to emerge from the fog of whispered rumors. The horrific reality now confronted the world: How was it possible that an entire nation could willingly participate in – or look the other way from – the murder of 6 million Jews?

Holocaust scholars have asked this question for decades and offer several theories. One: External compulsion. Otherwise ordinary Germans had no choice but to follow orders under threat of punishment for disobedience.

Two: Following orders. Whether mesmerized by Hitler’s charisma or a German propensity for obeying authority, the masses’ moral sensibilities were dulled and they obeyed what they were told.

Three: Social pressure. The Germans, as a whole, were under tremendous social, institutional, and economic pressure to conform and go along. Resisting was extremely difficult and costly.

Four: Self-interest. As technocrats and bureaucrats, each perpetrator – from government administrators to train conductors – had careers to make. Disobeying orders would end those careers. Speaking out would mean trouble for shopkeepers and barbers.

Five: Fragmentation. The Nazis created a fragmented system in which one small piece of the machine did not seem-altogether significant in a Holocaust assembly line. Report a person. Check a box. They’re not dropping the Zyklon B pellets themselves. Blame could be shifted.

Each of these conventional explanations has merit and perhaps all played a measured role in the German-on-the-Street’s response to the Final Solution. But Daniel Goldhagen argues that there must be more. The problem, he asserts, is that these answers make assumptions. The theories assume that ordinary Germans disagreed with Nazi, anti-Semitic ideology and therefore went along begrudgingly. In his book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust,” Goldhagen says this assumption is false. Many factors came into play, but when each perpetrator of violence consulted his own convictions and morality, he ultimately agreed with the Final Solution (if not in methods, then in goal).

It’s a hard read, and a difficult thesis to accept…or want to accept; that a modern nation could get so far off the rails as Nazi Germany. But it forces you to think.

Fast forward to 2019. Much has been said and written recently about the media and their immediate embrace of false claims: False accusations in the Kavanaugh hearings; quick judgments on the Covington Catholic kids; and a rush to accept Jussie Smollet’s sad tale. Before these we saw just how gullible Americans are to Russian click-bait-fake-news posted to social media.

So whether we’re discussing left-leaning media narratives or right-leaning fake news on social media, none of it takes root without an audience that agrees. We’re still (for the time being) capitalists. Things don’t sell without a market. It won’t play in Peoria if the folks in Peoria don’t want it.

We’re left with this sad reality: Ultimately the problem’s neither the media nor the Russians, it’s us – the American willing accomplices. What is it that makes us enthusiastic consumers of falsehood?

The headwaters of sin is described by James in the New Testament: “…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:14-15).”

In our sin, there are always extenuating circumstances: external pressure, orders from superiors, social pressure, self-interest, or the idea that our particular sin isn’t a big deal (note the list above).

Nevertheless, James says our own sin is our own responsibility. Thought leads to action which leads to consequence. But before the action and consequence, we have a choice.

We can choose to fulfill our selfish desires or choose to pursue God’s righteousness. God always gives us a choice or it wouldn’t be called temptation. It’s like the email link the Nigerian Prince sent you…you don’t have to click on it.

James uses two word pictures to describe what happens when we give in to temptation. We’re dragged away, literally “lured” (and every lure has a barbed hook!). We’re enticed – in the Greek, “baited” (like a trapper and his snare).

Not a pretty picture, is it? If we follow through with temptation, we’re like a fish going after that shiny spinner bait or a rabbit caught in a snare. But whether a fish or a rabbit, the result’s the same – you wind up skinned in a stew! If you sniff around temptation and get too close to sin – it’ll get you.

Twentieth Century Germany learned the hard way that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15).”

Maybe Goldhagen is right and the reason average Germans didn’t fight the Final Solution is because they supported it. That scares me. Because if that’s true, then maybe the reason Americans have aborted 50 million children is because we agree that not all life has value.

Is James right? Is it our “own evil desire” that leads us to accept propaganda from the left or the right? What is in our hearts?

Happily, German history is replete with stories of brave men and women who did not subscribe to anti-Semitism and refused to give in to external/social pressure. Many paid a high price.

But a higher spiritual price was paid by those who followed the Nazi pogrom. This is the nature of temptation: It promises something it never intends to deliver! The selfish ends do not justify the means. Temptation reels us in and snaps tight on us. If we choose our way over God’s way, if our desires are left unchecked, the consequences that come with our sin can be deadly.

Related Posts

Elections Matter – ALL of Them

April 11, 2019

April 11, 2019

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestOnce upon a time, in a faraway land, there were four trees.  These trees were looking for a king.  So...

Jumping to Conclusions

January 23, 2019

January 23, 2019

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestBy now you have seen, ad nauseam, video of the “Covington Catholic Kids” and Nathan Phillips in a confrontation at...

Open Letter to the Church

February 15, 2018

February 15, 2018

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterest“We are no longer a Christian nation.”  That was a quote by President Barak Obama in a June 28, 2006...

Work Brings Reward

March 29, 2019

March 29, 2019

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterest“It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.”~...

Ideas have consequences.

January 10, 2018

January 10, 2018

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestWhen Europeans began global exploration, their most surprising discoveries were not exotic lands and peoples, but their vast technological superiority...

Separation of Church and State?

July 17, 2017

July 17, 2017

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestRecently, the “Trinity Lutheran” case was decided favorably on behalf of the church in the US Supreme Court. “In dissent,”...

Create or Consume

April 25, 2019

April 25, 2019

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterest“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God saw all that he had made, and it was very...

Perhaps solar eclipse is evidence of God’s design

August 25, 2017

August 25, 2017

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestBy the time you read this essay, the total solar eclipse of 2017 will be four days in our rear-view...

Solutions to our opioids crisis cannot neglect the spiritual aspect of humans

October 30, 2018

October 30, 2018

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestEaster, 2016. A sunrise service and two wonderful resurrection celebrations. Afterwards, I had Easter dinner with the family, then my...

Power of God’s love disables the power of that thing we fear

November 1, 2017

November 1, 2017

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterest“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” The iconic line from FDR’s first inaugural address in 1933...

Surrounded by Idiots

April 5, 2018

April 5, 2018

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestI am surrounded by idiots.  They are everywhere. That’s an ugly beginning to a religious column, so let me explain...

A real apology should change us for the better

June 14, 2018

June 14, 2018

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestThere’s a great market in today’s culture for monetizing vulgarity.  We witnessed this recently at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner....

Context gives meaning to all our memorials

January 25, 2018

January 25, 2018

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestEvery day on my way to work I drive by a white cross with plastic flowers on the side of...

The Fight for Life

January 17, 2019

January 17, 2019

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestPresident Bill Clinton said to the Democratic National Convention in 1996, said: “Abortion should not only be safe and legal,...

The image of God in the bathroom at Target

May 26, 2016

May 26, 2016

FacebookTwitteremailLinkedinPinterestThere’s a lot of talk in our beloved country today about bathrooms.  Arguments and emotions are at a high pitch...

Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *