Earlier this week, I posted a photo on Facebook that compared a quotation from a current political figure about the value of the state over the individual with a very similar quote from Adolph Hitler (his quote in the photo was: “Society’s needs come before the individual’s needs.”). While I felt the comparison to be apropos, a very dear friend of mine told me that he felt I had crossed a line (and for the record, my wife felt the same way).
Out of deference to him and our relationship, I have removed that post. I am replacing it with this Rumination, which I hope will more deeply explain my concerns.
Others of my friends may feel that I have “sold out” by removing the post. To them, if you know me well, you know that my political beliefs aren’t for sale. However, my sensitivity to a Christian brother and how my political beliefs may negatively reflect on my profession of being a Christ-follower, I feel that removing it was the best course of action.
For those that care either way, please read on …
In the late 1990s, I had the privilege of attending a Leadership Conference at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. The foundational question of the conference was similar to the following: “Germany went from a civilized republic (though a somewhat dysfunctional one) to a Fascist dictatorship in less than a decade. How do we keep America from following suit?”
At the time, I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the question. However, as we read from the works of Adolph Hitler, Machiavelli, Martin Luther King and others, the question became even more profound. There were as many different opinions on how governments should operate and how individuals should be treated as there were documents to be read. Yet the question remained: How did Germany fall so far so fast, and how do we keep America from following the same course?
Last week, I finished reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. It should have been required reading for the conference, because it would have provided a great deal of valuable background for those discussions.
Here’s what I took away from Shirer’s work and how it relates to the question posed at the Leadership Conference:
- Hitler was a master at telling everyone exactly what they wanted to hear, and his did it with great passion and charisma. Of course, he lied to everyone, but he did so in such a convincing manner that made even his enemies fall in line behind him. By the time they figured out that he was lying, it was far too late to do anything about it.
- He capitalized on Germany’s nationalist feelings. WWI left Germany in dire straits and at the mercies of the victorious (and somewhat haughty) Allied Nations. Hitler preached relief from the burdens and reparations of those oppressors. He spoke to the national pride inside every German, both those within the post-WWI boundaries of Germany and those outside of those boundaries (in Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and others). By appealing to the German citizens’ ideas of the place that Germany ought to occupy in the world, he drew them into the wake of his movement.
- He emphasized the value of the State over the value of the individual. By constantly repeating this “need” to the German people, he desensitized them to the value of individual people (or peoples), such as Jews, Slavs, Poles, the sick, the aged, the disabled, et al. When it came time to relocate, incarcerate or exterminate these groups, the German people were generally willing to look the other way.
Before I go further, I’ll readily admit that these things apply equally to young and old, left and right, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans and Tea Partiers – and me. Nationalist tendencies know no party lines. Nor do lying, charismatic politicians.
This is where the question posed at the conference hits home for me. Hitler drew all of Germany into his vortex, not just those of one political persuasion. Seemingly everyone (even practicing Christians) fell into believing in his particular view of the world and how Germany – and him as its rightful Fürher – fit into it.
America has a strong sense of national pride. We have politicians willing to lie to their constituencies in order to be elected. We have charismatic leaders. These characteristics provide many of the ingredients in Hitler’s recipe for domination. Then, if we lose respect for the individual and replace it with respect for the State, we are well our way down the proverbial “slippery slope”.
The State should exist for the benefit of the individual, not vice versa. That’s what the Founding Fathers set out in the US Constitution. If we flip those, then the individual exists to serve the State and things go rapidly downhill from there. I, for one, can’t go there.
As Spock lay dying in one of the Star Trek movies, he uttered the statement: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” I went around for quite some time after that movie thinking what an impressive statement that was. That is, until I remembered the Parable of the Ninety and Nine.
That’s the story about the one sheep from the flock that was lost. The Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine that are safe to go in search of the one. If Spock had subscribed to Jesus’ teaching, he instead would have said: “The needs of the one outweighs the needs of the many.”
Jesus wasn’t speaking of the relationship between the State and the individual in the parable. In fact, the only thing Jesus ever had to say about the State was: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” But I think his words about the value of the individual are valid in every case.
So when a current politician starts making statements about valuing the State over the individual, I become genuinely concerned. Hitler wasn’t the first to create a maniacal dictatorship and he won’t be the last, unless the Lord comes back before someone has the chance. Nor do I mean to say that any current politician is the next Hitler (unless it’s Vladimir Putin, but that’s a story for another time). But just as the Germans were gradually led into Hitler’s megomaniacal world, we Americans could at some point find ourselves in the same spot. We must be VERY careful and listen carefully to what our politicians say.
I’ve written before about Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’ disciples. I think he and I would have been of like mind. As a Zealot, Simon would not have been a big fan of the Roman occupiers of Judea. He would have had strong political views. He may have even been actively involved in trying to overthrow the Romans. Yet Jesus chose him as one of the Twelve. Jesus saw something in Simon that was useful in the Kingdom.
I doubt that Simon ever fully-embraced the Romans, but I’ll bet that he began to understand that what happened in Judea was of little importance when compared with eternity.
As concerned as I am about America and where we as a nation may be heading, I must remember that my true Citizenship is in Heaven. I am, indeed, a proud American citizen and feel compelled to do what I can to keep her great. But ultimately, that’s not my purpose here.
My purpose is to show Jesus’ love to others and lead them closer to him.