(Editor’s Note: Uwe is an Advisory member of the BJS Board of Directors. This article has appeared on other sites including Concordia Seminary Institute on Lay Vocation at the St. Louis seminary. He has given us permission to reprint it.)
This column requires a caveat: I am not an American citizen and therefore neither a Republican nor a Democrat. But as a German residing permanently in the United States I believe I have a duty to opine on at least one aspect of the upcoming elections – the question whether years from now Americans will have to wrestle with collective shame, just as I have had to deal with collective shame over what has happened in Germany in my childhood for my entire life.
It was West Germany’s first postwar president, Theodor Heuss, who coined the phrase, “collective shame” contrasting it with the notion of collective guilt, which he rejected. No, I cannot be expected to feel guilty for crimes the Nazis committed while I was still in elementary school. But as a bearer of a German passport I have never ceased feeling ashamed because three years before I was born German voters elected leaders planning the annihilation of millions of innocent people.
I am certain that in 1933 most Germans did not find the Nazis’ anti- Semitic rhetoric particularly attractive. What made them choose Hitler, then? It was the economy, stupid, and presumably injured national pride, and similar issues. This came to mind as I read the latest Faith in Life poll of issues Americans in general and white evangelicals in particular consider “very important” in this year’s elections.
Guess what? For both groups, the economy ranked first, while abortion was way down the list. Among Americans in general abortion took ninth and among white evangelicals seventh place, well below gas prices and healthcare. Now, it’s true that most evangelicals still believe that abortion should be illegal, which is where they differ from the general public and, astonishingly, from Roman Catholics even though their own church continues to fight valiantly against the ongoing mass destruction of unborn life. Still, 54 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of young Catholics have declared themselves “pro choice,” according to the Faith in Life researchers.
What I am going to say next is going to make me many enemies, of this I am sure: Yes, there is a parallel here between what has happened in Germany in 1933 and what is happening in America now. The legalized murder of 40 million fetuses since Roe v. Wade in 1973 will one day cause collective shame of huge proportions. So what this wasn’t a “holocaust?” This term should remain reserved for another horror in history. But a genocide has been happening in the last 35 years, even if no liberators have shocked the world with photographs they snapped of the victims as the Allies did in Germany in 1945. And it has the open support of politicians running for office next month.
If most Americans, and shockingly even a majority of Catholics think physicians should have the “right” to suck babies’ brains out so that their skulls will collapse making it easy for these abortionists to drag their tiny bodies through the birth canal; if even most white evangelicals think that economic woes are a more important concerns (78 percent) than legalized mass murder (57 percent), then surely a moral lobotomy has been performed on this society.
I agree it would be unscholarly to claim that what is happening in America and much of the Western world every day is “another holocaust.” No two historical events are exactly identical. So let’s leave the word “holocaust” where it belongs – next to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Mauthausen. Still there are compelling parallels between today’s genocide and the Nazi crimes, for example:
- Man presumes do decide which lives are worthy of living and which are not. “Lebensunwertes Leben” (life unworthy of living) was a Nazi “excuse” for killing mentally handicapped children and adults, a crime that preceded the holocaust committed against the Jews. Notice that today fetuses diagnosed with Downs Syndrome are often aborted as a matter of course in America and Europe.
- In German-occupied territories, Jews and Gypsies were gassed for no other reason than that some people considered it inconvenient to have them around. Today, unborn children are often slaughtered because it is inconvenient for their mothers to bring their pregnancies to term.
- Murder I is legally defined as killing another human being with malice and aforethought. The Nazis killed Jewish and Gypsies with deliberation – and maliciously. But what are we to think of babies being killed deliberately simply because they would be a nuisance if they were allowed to live? No malice here?
- Ordinary Germans of the Nazi era were rightly chastised for not having come to their Jewish neighbors’ rescue when they were rounded up and sent to extermination camps. Ordinary Americans and Western Europeans might find the fad to kill babies disagreeable, but as we see from the Faith in Life poll, most have more pressing concerns.
Some future day Americans and Western Europeans will be asked why they allowed their children to be slaughtered. They would even have less of an excuse than Germans of my grandparents’ and parents’ generation. In Germany, you risked your life if you dared to come to the Jews’ rescue. In today’s democracies the worst that can happen to you is being ridiculed for being “a Christian.”
As a foreigner I have no right to tell Americans whom to elect on Nov. 4. Recently, though, a friend asked me: “If you worked in an office and a colleague asked you at the voter cooler, whom he should vote for what would you tell him?” Well, I would say: “I am not here to make up your mind for you. But personally I could never give my vote to so- called pro-choice candidates.”
This would doubtless lead to a heated postmodern dialogue. Perhaps the colleague is not a Christian; he might chastise me for mixing politics and religion. “If you as a Christian oppose abortion,” he could say, “then by all means don’t get involved in an abortion, just don’t impose your religious views on the rest of us.” How would I answer that? An evangelical might yank out his Bible and quote passages pertaining to this issue. But to a non-Christian the Bible is meaningless; I am not sure a political debate around the water cooler is a great venue to start individual evangelization.
My Lutheran approach would be different. I would argue natural law, the law God has written upon the hearts of all human beings, including non-believers. Unless they really have undergone a moral lobotomy they should be open to this story: Down in Wichita, Kansas, there is a physician by the name of George Tiller. On his website he boasts that he has already performed 60,000 abortions, mostly late-term, and week after week he is killing 100 more unborn babies.
Dr. Tiller does not think of these fetuses as clusters of cancerous cells. He knows they are human because he baptizes some of them before he incinerates them in his own crematorium. You don’t baptize non- humans. Dr. Tiller knows that. He is a practicing Lutheran. His former congregation, Holy Cross of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, excommunicated him as an unrepentant sinner. But the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, which belongs to the ELCA, communes him. Did I mention that he kills 100 human beings every week and has already done away with 60.000? Sixty thousand! In Nuremberg they hanged some fiends for murdering less than 60 — zero point one percent of Tiller’s toll. Perhaps this little tale will give even non-believers pause if they have not discarded their conscience, known to Christians as the law God has written upon every man’s heart. One day, of this I am certain, this will indeed result in collective shame – and God knows what other horrible consequences.
Uwe Siemon-Netto Ph.D., D.Litt.
Director Center for Lutheran Theology & Public Life
801 Seminary Place
St. Louis, MO 63105