In the wake of the Holocaust, there are many dilemmas that must be faced by a variety of people. Two of the most affect groups are the Christians and the Jews and their respective religions. After such a horrifying tragedy, how can a religion survive? How can one believe in a God that could allow such evil to happen? More importantly, how do these religions deal with theodicy, evil in a God-created world, in the wake of the Holocaust? Finally, does God exist, or did he die with the execution of the Holocaust?
These questions have been the main area of study for many scholars since the end of World War II. The Holocaust was an event that changed history forever; it was an event that changed lives, took lives, and forever distorted the way in which many religious individuals look at the God that they had always trusted. In this discussion of theodicy, there are many sides. Some scholars believe that Jews should simply become pagans and distrust God forever. One belief is that the victims of the Holocaust are similar to victims of child abuse, where God is the abuser.
Other scholars tend to combine the works of many respected intellectuals to form unique opinions on how God’s role has changed in the lives of Christians and Jews alike. Yet what is most important is how these two distinct groups are functioning today, in a world that has been turned upside-down and in which their one and only savior may be nothing more than an abusive father who cannot be depended on. From a scholarly standpoint, there are five important intellectuals who have studied extensively on the ideas of theodicy surrounding the Holocaust.
Each has something in common, while each also has a very distinct point-of-view just as some are stronger arguments than others. To begin with, John T. Pawlikowski, a professor of Social Ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, discusses, in depth, the ideas surrounding the Holocaust and the convictions and hardships that occurred in the wake of this event. He takes the ideas of many other scholars and synthesizes them into his own personal opinions, eventually drawing his own conclusion as to what Jews and Christians, alike, must do in order to deal with the idea of God in the wake of the Holocaust.
A second approach is that of David R. Blumenthal, a professor of Judaic Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. Blumenthal makes a very interesting observation regarding Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their reactions post-World War II. He asserts that Holocaust survivors display many of the same responses as do adult survivors of child abuse. A third approach taken is that of Stephen Haynes and John Roth, professors of Religious Studies at Rhodes College and Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, respectively.
These two well-respected men in the field of Holocaust studies fuse together the ideas of many scholars and create a debate within their own style and discuss the American assertion that God is dead. What is known as the “death of God movement- in 1960s America creates a heated debate among many scholars and is how Haynes and Roth maintain that American Christians and non-Christians alike responded to the Holocaust. A fourth and final intellectual standpoint on theodicy in a God-created world, is that of recognized Richard L. Rubenstein.
A professor of Religion at Florida State University, Rubenstein is a Jew that was rejected by his own people because of his publications concerning the Holocaust and the idea of a God afterwards. These five influential men each make strong points and many of them build their ideas off those of their intellectual equals, yet some arguments are more viable and convincing than others. By looking intensely into each argument, one will see an emergence of similarities as well as differences, but what will inevitably remain is the need to understand the being that could allow such an atrocity to occur.
After publishing ten books as well as numerous articles, a great deal of them concerning Christian-Jewish relations and the Holocaust, John T. Pawlikowski is considered one of the most learned and influential scholars in the field of theodicy and the Holocaust. In The Holocaust: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Ethics, Pawlikowski discusses the ideas of many famed scholars and their views on the post-Holocaust relationship with God, while formulating his own ideas as well.
In this incredibly compelling article, he touches upon the idea embraced by scholars such as Greenberg, Rubenstein, and Cohen. The proposal that creates an umbrella for each of his assertions is that Christianity will never be the same as it was pre-Holocaust because it will forever be forced to face up to the realization that Christian-based anti-Semitism did play a vital role in the extermination of nearly six million Jewish men, women, and children . Pawlikowski refers to the idea that the Nazis proclaimed that God was dead , that he was no longer the ultimate ruler, the Nazis were.
This belief that God was no longer the governing force for mankind gave the Nazis the strength they needed in order to annihilate not only the Jews, but millions of others in the process. Yet what Pawlikowski presents Irving Greenberg as stating is that it isn’t possible, “covenantally speaking- , to demand that one step forward and surrender his life. When one is in a covenantal relationship, all acts are voluntary, whereas the Holocaust did not include submission by the Jewish people.
Greenberg asserts, and Pawlikowski is in agreement, that, essentially, God was telling the world that it needed to stop the Holocaust, that it needed to bring redemption, that the world needed to make sure that a Holocaust never happened again . These claims also give way to Greenberg’s argument with reference to the “assumption of power on the part of the human community- and the co-creatorship of this atrocity, placing God as the “junior partner- in the entire scheme.
Pawlikowski opts for what he calls a co-equal relationship, asserting that God and humanity were both to blame for the cruelty of the Nazi regime; God played a pivotal role in the creation of the Holocaust and that fact cannot be ignored. Pawlikowski merges the ideas of Richard Rubenstein and Arthur Cohen to make a strong point. Rubenstein asserted early on that all Jews should become pagans after the Holocaust . Cohen argued that God is essentially just an interferer and he must be recognized as such.
As a believer in him, one can let him in whenever one sees fit, but only when one needs him. If he is simply someone that is invited to be a part of one’s life, then there is no reason to fear him . Pawlikowski came to the conclusion that Rubenstein made his assertion too soon after the atrocity and Cohen’s declaration has some relevance, yet none of these scholars address a final analysis. None of them give humanity any final responsibility; they place the entire blame on God.
Pawlikowski insists that Jews and Christians alike must come to a consensus regarding their relationship with God, the evil in the world, and the means in which that evil is created. From his “influential reflections on how the study of Judaism fits within a university setting- to his contributions in the study of medieval Jewish thought, the mystical tradition of Judaism, and contemporary Jewish theology, David R. Blumenthal is a well-known scholar who is greatly respected in the intellectual community dealing primarily with the Holocaust.
Blumenthal is principally concerned with the survivors of the Holocaust and how they deal with a God that could allow such evil to ensue. Interestingly enough, he compares the beaten and broken Holocaust survivor with that of an adult survivor of child abuse. He asserts that, essentially, the Holocaust was a form of child abuse in which the Jewish people were the children and God was the abuser. After extensive clinical research, Blumenthal came to the conclusion that “abuse is never, never the fault of the child- in addition to his findings of similarities between the two types of survivors.
He found in both victims an inability to trust, wariness in love, a towering sense of anger, and a rage that cannot be described, much less totally understood . What is most important is that while Blumenthal realized that people are never entirely alleviated from the pain of child abuse, some healing is possible . He asserts that while the wounds that were inflicted by the abuse that God handed down will heal, they will leave painful scars that will forever remain embedded in the minds and hearts of those who came out of this massacre in one piece, physically.
The finality of his argument embodies the idea that the surviving Jews of the Holocaust deal with God, the world, and theodicy, in many different ways, but for the most part, they see God as a figure that tortured them, betrayed them, maimed them, scared them, and most importantly, impaired their ability to move on with their lives. Coming together to form an opinion based on the thoughts of many scholars, Stephen Haynes and John K. Roth are two of the most respected and widely-read intellectuals in the field of Holocaust studies.
Their compilation of many ideas into their book, The Death of God Movement and the Holocaust is considered to be of the greatest quality in their scholarly circle. The idea that Haynes and Roth are most concerned with is the question, “Is God dead? – A movement that is known as the “death of God movement- erupted in the 1960s out of America’s guilt surrounding the Holocaust. Many Christians began to question their faith, while pagans began to contemplate their own lack of belief. The assertion is that a God that is personal, who created this world and keeps it going through his love, may no longer exist, or may never have .
What they discuss is the idea that for many people, religion is no more, it doesn’t exist in society today because it has taken the back burner to totalitarianism . Roth states that aside from Rubenstein’s arguments regarding the Holocaust and the death of God, the other theologians’ arguments could have been represented in any other context and weren’t specific to the Holocaust. The death of God movement could have happened in America at any time, these theologians just happened to place it in the context of the Holocaust .
Essentially, Haynes and Roth are alleging that both Christians and average Americans responded to theodicy and the Holocaust by creating the death of God movement and denouncing Him altogether. These scholars, Thomas Altizer, William Hamilton, Paul van Buren, and Richard Rubenstein, each accomplished one thing: “Their question, protests, criticisms, and alternative visions helped to ensure that religious expressions, especially in the United States, would be increasingly pluralistic- .
Thus, the death of God movement itself isn’t what was most influential and what best describes the responses of Christians and Jews to the Holocaust and theodicy, but it is the probing of scholars into the depths of this movement that creates the responses themselves. As Roth stated in The Death of God Movement and the Holocaust, Gods die when the visions they support disintegrate. They do not die, however, at the same time or in the same way for everyone.
Even if the death of God does take place, in one way or another, that passing does not mean so much that a religious ending has been reached but that beginnings have been made possible for new and different encounters with the source and ground of our being within history itself. Those that reacted to theodicy and the Holocaust in this manner simply opened the door for something new to emerge and different thoughts to prevail. A final scholar and intellectual who was educated at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Harvard, Richard L.
Rubenstein, takes a very extreme approach to the Jewish response to the Holocaust and theodicy. He very clearly asserts that the belief in a redeeming God “one who is active in history and who will bring a fulfilling end to the changeability of the human condition “is no longer credible . What Rubenstein asserts was one of his most influential learning experiences, that of Swami Muktananda, in which this counsel is given: You mustn’t believe in your own religion; I don’t believe in mine.
Religions are like the fences that hold young saplings erect. Without the fence the sapling could fall over. When it takes firm root and becomes a tree, the fence is no longer needed. However, most people never lose their need for the fence. After the Holocaust, many people clung to their religions because they knew no other place to turn. Yet what Rubenstein is attempting to prove is that the religion is the cause of all suffering.
He affirms that the God after the death of God can still be believed in, but there is not necessarily a need to believe in a religion. Rubenstein deeply discusses the most important, but least noticed aspects of Zionism: the “Jewish expression of the twentieth century’s urge to return to primal origins- . Decades after the Holocaust, years after the birth of a new life for many survivors, and moments after the Vatican’s apology for a lack of intervention, many Jews are yearning to return to their roots and the orthodox Jewish religion.
This, while Rubenstein argues that it is nearly impossible to fully trust a God that created such evil in a world that can no longer be relied on, a great many Jews are restoring their faith in God, just as others are renouncing a belief in his existence. All five of these scholars made numerous assertions and presentations of their views on Christianity and Judaism in the wake of the Holocaust. Each delves deeply into the role that God played in the Holocaust, yet none but Pawlikowski laid a great deal of blame on humanity.
It is as if God was playing puppeteer with mankind and forced the killing of six million people, without the perpetrators being given a mind of their own. This is one of the downfalls of three of the analyses; it isn’t logical to place all the blame on God without analyzing the role that the Nazis and Christians played in the attempted destruction of the Jewish people. God wasn’t pulling strings and men were being shot, he wasn’t moving hands and gas chamber doors were shut, and most importantly, God wasn’t forcing the Nazis to do any of the destruction that ensued, they made the decisions on their own.
Blumenthal, Haynes, Roth, and Rubenstein never address this issue. Blumenthal simply states that God was abusing his children, Haynes and Roth discuss the death of God due to a lack of belief that one could exist that would allow such an atrocity to occur, and Rubenstein thinks that people should merely renounce religion and believe in a God when it is convenient. This under-analyzing of the issue doesn’t denounce the reliability of these scholars; it simply leaves questions unanswered for another individual to attempt to answer.
Each intellectual represented here assumes his own position on theodicy in the wake of the Holocaust. Yet each shares one commonality: the belief in God, religion, and the world at large will forever be altered because of the atrocities that occurred in Nazi Germany. The human race will never be the same after millions of lives were so mercilessly taken away with such little intervention. So many people question God, not only his existence, but his love for man. The question that often arises is how God could allow such an event to take place.
The distressing reality is that one will never know the answer to such an uncertainty. One cannot prove the existence of God, one cannot ensure to another man that God, himself, abused the Jewish people, one cannot assume that God will only subsist in a life when he is allowed to enter. The complexity of the issue creates a realism that the world must face head on if it is ever to begin the recovery process from the horrors of the Holocaust. The proposal of theodicy is one that compels many to uproot their beliefs and abandon the trust they once had in a higher being.
In the wake of the Holocaust, Christians and Jews were each placed in a terrifying situation where decisions were forced to be made. Does God really exist? If so, could he actually allow such misery to prevail in the world that he created? These questions pierce the minds of millions of people every day, and every day they go unanswered. While scholars can present their own beliefs and perspectives, they will never be able to fully explain to a victim that spent three years of his life doing meaningless work, starving to near death, and having his dignity stripped of him, why such an event had to occur.
What is more important is that these victims are aided in their attempts to create new lives, new hopes, and new dreams, in order to get past the atrocities that prevailed such a short time ago. The theodicy that was prevalent in the past and still remains today isn’t entirely explicable; the only thing one can do is attempt to move forward with life and live each day to its fullest extent.