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The Rise of the NazisBook Report

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¶ … God & The Holocaust

Black Earth

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

The Holocaust was certainly one of the defining moments in human history that offers many lessons to humanity that are perpetually being researched to this day and providing new insights into nature of humankind. For many years, historians considered the Holocaust a unique moment in history that was driven by extreme ideology beyond all other factors. But as historians such as Snyder, these developments in Europe are the response of a complex set of dynamic factors that led to the mass murder of millions of Jewish religious followers. Furthermore, Timothy Snyder, who specializes in the history of Eastern Europe at Yale University, argues in Black Earth that the narrative about the Holocaust that pervades the literature.

Snyder takes a holistic perspective and applies this view to the developments that led up to the Holocaust and the brutal outcomes that so many of us are familiar with. He argues that many historians miss some of the key issues that were driving factors in the conditions that allowed these events to development. The tease out some of these factors, Snyder uses a "multifocal" approach in which he tries to view the conditions from the perspective of the Nazi's, as well as the perspective of the other players in the international community.

For example, Snyder states "for Germans and others murdered Jews not in Germany but in other countries" and that "the Holocaust is not only history, but warning." One of the focuses of Hitler that often is overlooked by historical analyses is Hitler's preoccupation with region known as the "Black Earth" in the Ukraine which is an extremely fertile region that is of significant geopolitical importance. He uses this region, as well as Germany's focus on Poland's preoccupation with Polish-Jewish politics and their support for the Jewish state, to provide some alternative explanations that are more complex and dynamic than the typical explanation that is given in which Hitler's extreme dogmatic worldview was the prime force that drove the Holocaust. Thus Snyder is providing some evidence that strategic objectives could have responsible for some of the motives that were then later framed in the language of psychology and religious views to justify the Nazis regime.

The Question of God and the Holocaust

Dr. Armand Nicholi choses two individuals that represent some of the greatest minds that worked to define different intellectual movements of the previous century -- Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis. These individuals are both responsible for building a foundational framework that has been used to pursue some of life's biggest questions. Interestingly, both of these individuals began adulthood as atheists or non-religious people. Sigmund Freud maintained this position until his death at an age of 83 and at which point he was in exile of his native country. It is also interesting to consider how the Holocaust had driven Freud away from Germany in a physical sense, but how these events shaped his worldview as he continued working on projects until his death.

By contrast, C.S. Lewis maintained an atheism consistent with Freud's for only the first part of his adult life and ultimately made a religious conversion during some epiphany in his intellectual development. Lewis was born a generation after Freud and was intimately familiar with his work. Lewis states "the new Psychology was at the time sweeping through us all. We did not swallow it whole ... but we were all influenced. What we were most concerned about was "Fantasy" or "wishful thinking." For (of course) we were all poets and critics and set a very great value on 'imagination' in some high Coleridgean sense, so that it became important to distinguish Imagination ... from Fantasy as the psychologists understand that term (Nicholi, 2002)."

Freud had a rather difficult childhood in which his life was marked by a distant mother, the death of a younger sibling, and the loss of his "surrogate" mother who was a Catholic practicing nanny who was responsible for taking care of Sigmund and who he had found opinions of. His mother was distant in his development and he was at least benevolent towards his father who was also a religious believer. Thus Freud had many interactions with people of various religious worldviews and was intimately familiar with many versions of the Bible, including the Hebrew Bible in which he could read in its original language.

Freud believed that the religious feelings that many people had were something of a projection that were grounded in psychology and were the result of a projection of various human needs. When considering the claims of an Intelligence in the universe, Freud answers this "most important question" with a resonding "No! The very idea of "an idealized Superman" in the sky -- to use the Freud's phrase -- is "so patently infantile and so foreign to reality, that ... it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never rise above this view of life (Nicholi, 2002)." By contrast, Lewis came to think the answers to this question was an "Yes!," that there was a central intelligence in the universe that was active in people's lives and invited others to simply open their eyes and minds to the idea of Jesus as their personal savior, despite being the self-proclaimed "most reluctant convert in all England." Thus his worldview went through a dramatic conversion from an atheist like Freud, to one of the foremost Christian apologists of all-time.

Because Freud's and Lewis's worldviews began at a similar place, but then later diverged so significantly, that each of these individuals can represent one side of the pole of the religiosity spectrum. When using this as a lens into which to view historical events such as the Holocaust and claims such as espoused by the book that Snyder published. Each would have an entirely different perspective of the events that led to the rise of the Nazis in European history and the motivations that could help to explain these events. Shortly after Freud's death the Nazi's invaded Britain and then a little over a couple decades later C.S. Lewis also passed away. Since Lewis came after Freud, he does have the advantage of addressing Freud's work directly and the opportunity to make his criticisms without any direct rebuttal.

However, despite the advantage held by Lewis due to the timing of these individuals' lives, it is easy to try to extrapolate what Freud's rebuttal might be given the fact that his thoughts were so well published and as Snyder points out, he wrote prolific amounts of letters that allow you to "understand the man." These letters also offer some insights into Freud's struggles with religious belief and he often made references to God as well as regularly quoted the Bible. Despite the presence of this inner struggle that Freud apparently housed inside of himself, he maintained a strict adherence to materialism and denied any supernatural elements to enter into his worldview.

One of the most pressing questions that would present itself in applying the opinions of these two individuals to the rise of the Nazi power and the persecution of the Jewish people would deal with the problem of evil in the world and the apparent contradiction that evil in the world seems to suggest in regards to the concept of God. The problem of evil has been one of the most popular criticisms of religious conceptions of an all-knowing and all-powerful God that have pervaded throughout history. It is likely that Freud would have used the Holocaust as an example of how a loving God is logically impossible in the presence of such unprecedented levels of suffering that manifested from Hitler's reign.

CS Lewis would, and did, offer many insights into how the problem of evil is actually consistent with a universal God who is present in the universe. For example, Lewis developed a concept of "moral law" that was entirely dependent upon their being a supreme being. The argument is presented as something along the lines of a level of morality being innate in humans and that this morality could not be possible without the absolute moral system that God has injected in the universe. Therefore, although virtually everyone views the events that transgressed throughout the holocaust as inherently evil, the very existence of this perception of evil can be used to provide evidence for the existence as a moral creator who designed the universe in a particular way in which these feelings would be automatically felt by most moral people.

Freud often pointed to the problem of suffering in the world as an argument against a supreme loving being and thus would use the Holocaust as an example of this suffering. He would further view these events from a materialistic perspective in which the psychologies of the German leadership that would be motivated with power and control among other explanations. The suffering that existed throughout this period, would to Freud… [END OF PREVIEW]

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