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Remembering Collective Shame

October 12th, 2008
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By Uwe Siemon-Netto

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:

1.
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.

  1. 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.
  2. 3.
    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?
  3.  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

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 12th, 2008 at 09:03 | #1

    Pr. McCain, thanks for posting this. I always enjoy what Dr. Siemon-Netto has to say, particularly when it comes to politics.

  2. Chuck Foy
    October 12th, 2008 at 14:01 | #2

    Excellent article by Dr. Siemon-Netto. Just excellent. It’s a shame that it will not be read by the majority of American voters. However, I;m afraid that even if it were read by the unwashed masses, it would be quickly dismissed and forgotten.

  3. C. Hoff
    October 12th, 2008 at 15:27 | #3

    Thanks for a great post. Like Dr. Siemon-Netto I, too, am a non-American (I am Canadian) living here in the USA. The abortion issue should be front and center for all Christians as they approach the polls. Who cares what policies a pro-choice candidate might offer that are better than a pro-life candidate, you still have to be alive to benefit from them. Jesus came to bring life – and we should support this with our vote.

  4. C. Hoff
    October 12th, 2008 at 15:28 | #4

    Thanks for a great post. Like Dr. Siemon-Netto I, too, am a non-American (I am Canadian) living here in the USA. The abortion issue should be front and center for all Christians as they approach the polls. Who cares what policies a pro-choice candidate might offer that are better than a pro-life candidate, you still have to be alive to benefit from them. Jesus came to bring life – and we should support this with our vote.

  5. October 15th, 2008 at 01:07 | #5

    54 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of young Catholics have declared themselves “pro choice,” according to the Faith in Life researchers.
    It is always important to remember that many people call themselves “Catholics” long after they have ceased to actively practice or even believe their faith. Unlike baptists or even perhaps Lutherans, who once they cease to be active in their faith might be less likely still to self-identify with their church.
    This explains statistics such as this.
    The active participation rate of those who claim to be Catholics in the United States is much less than 50%. This statistic therefore should be read to say that all active Catholics oppose abortion. This is certainly true in this country. It is not surprising that those who have been completely secularised (except to understand themselves as “cultural” Catholics) do not share the views of the Catholic heirarchy.

  6. Phil
    October 15th, 2008 at 21:39 | #6

    David,
    Your comment makes no statistical sense. While those Roman Catholics who engage in active participation may account for the 46% of self-identified anti-abortion Roman Catholics (and may even be likely to compose that segment), it by no means implies that they must account for it. Less than 50% of those polled, yes, but which less-than-50%?
    There may be other statistics that support your claim, but a personal interpretation does not substitute for a statistical explanation.

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