Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Inadequate Role Of The Church In Society

In human history there have always been those who opposed tyranny. Some opposed it out of  duty and love for country. Others acted out of faith in a God who loves all mankind. In the dozen years of Nazi domination in Germany (1933-45) there were those who gave their lives to resist for both reasons.

Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide, writes about The Restless Conscience, Ms. Hava Kohav Bellar's documentary of those who opposed Nazi rule.
"During the totalitarian rule of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, opponents of the Nazis mounted various attempts to thwart the mad dictator's power throughout Europe. Yet arguably, none were as concentrated or impressive as the collective efforts of the resistance inside of Germany. Between 1933 and 1944, at least twenty such attempts materialized on German soil. While unsuccessful (many of the perpetrators received conviction in a 1944 trial), these attempts demonstrated a remarkable and inspiring core of integrity and courage among those who dared to speak for the truth. This nonfiction effort from Hava Kohav Beller - a 1991 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary - interweaves the personal accounts of those who participated in the said resistance, and details their subversive activities. More broadly, it reflects on the tension between a small number of proponents of human values and a widely-accepted regime that stood opposed to common decency and goodness."
The film does not adequately address several issues., like why outside powers like Great Britain and the United States were so unwilling to assist the resisters who came to them looking for help? The narration suggests that leaders of these countries either did not believe it politically expedient at the time or they did not trust those who approached them. This needs to be explored in more detail.

Another issue inadequately addressed is why Nazism was able to sweep across Germany so quickly and maintain its hold upon the populace and the military. One interviewee suggests that the Germans had little experience with democracy. Instead  the rule of kings, dukes and princes for over a thousand years had prepared them for the dictatorial rule of Adolph Hitler. So when the Fuehrer led them to prosperity and a renewed national pride they naturally fell in step behind him. This too needs to be studied in greater detail.

Beyond that, the film portrays the willingness of the Lutheran and Catholic churches to fall in behind Hitler. In that they failed miserably to be leaders of conscientious resistance to the Nazis' blatant and horrific murder of millions. The film only hints at why this was so. It does mention in some detail the resistance led by Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessional Church. Strangely it does not even mention Rev. Martin Niemoeller, founder of Emergency Pastoral League (Pfarrernotbund) in 1934 and then leader of the Confessional Church (Bekennende Kirche). Bonhoeffer was a founding member of the movement and very influential in helping the Confessional Church develop its theology.

Filmmaker Steven Martin explored complicity between church leaders and Adolf Hitler in a documentary film "Theologians Under Hitler." aired on PBS. The film is an adaptation of Robert Ericksen's 1986 book and has stirred a national discussion about the role of the church in society. That discussion continues to the present.

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