Wednesday, January 11, 2006

what we can learn from Auschwitz about blind obedience to spiritual authorities

Here is another article from The Bruised Reed worthy of repeating this week:

I recently read excerpts from a book that discussed the reasons why the German people were so willing to accept and embrace Hitler's ideas, even in the face of the terrible atrocities commited under his command. Reaserchers now recognize that in the decades prior to Hitler's rise to power, German citizens had been taught that to question authority was the same as lacking submission to that authority and that it was a punishable offense to do so.

Rudolph Hoss, commandant at the concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz where it is estimated that 1.3 million people died in the gas chambers, recalled this about his own upbringing:

"Our guests were mostly priests of every sort. As the years passed, my father's religious fervor increased. Whenever time permitted, he would take me on pilgrimages to all the holy places in our own country, as well as to Einsiedeln in Switzerland and to Lourdes in France. He prayed passionately that the grace of God might be bestowed on me, so that I might one day become a priest blessed by God. I, too, was as deeply religious as was possible for a boy of my age, and I took my religious duties very seriously. I prayed with true, childlike gravity and performed my duties as acolyte with great earnestness. I had been brought up by my parents to be respectful and obedient toward all adults, and especially the elderly, regardless of their social status. I was taught that my highest duty was to help those in need. It was constantly impressed upon me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all adults, including servants, and that nothing must distract me from this duty. Whatever they said was always rights. These basic principles by which I was brought up became second nature to me."

I belive there is a lesson for us in this account.

Many of us have been taught that we are to obey whatever is handed to us by those in authority, whether it be a parent, a government official, or an officer in the church. As I mentioned in my first entry on this blog, the "outing" of the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has opened the eyes of those who are willing to see the is all about the abuse of power.

Too often a body of believers will be brow-beaten into submission by this very teaching. They are told that it is a sin to not obey and submit to everything a religious authority instructs them to do. Indeed, they are instructed that this is from God's hand, not to be questioned. While I heartily agree that God is sovereign in the affairs of men, it is certainly not an excuse to turn a blind eye to abuse.

The truth of the matter is that not only is a Christian putting himself into spiritual danger and not only is he not heeding the entire counsel of God, but he is putting those under his own authority, ie. his family and those in his sphere of influence, in the same sort of danger.


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