Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Wider Sense of Stockholm

I just finished reading an excellent book: The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, by J.S. Conway. It's an older book, having been written in the '60s, but for the most part its presentation of the relevant documents is not dated. I am sure it can be improved upon as more documents surface: I think the author mentioned that he could not access those in the then East Germany. I would imagine the USSR had many too of relevance. Nevertheless, the documents and the history here presented was quite thorough and helped me to get beyond the generalized mythology of Nazism that we citizens of the democratic countries have.

So how did the Churches behave? The authors thinks not well, except in a few heroic cases: a few heroic Protestants and a few heroic Catholics. I am not about to call his analysis simplistic, based as it is on a very good historical sense (if we don't know the history then we have no right to an opinion, I believe). Nevertheless, I think he tends to define heroes as those who speak publicly. He doesn't give enough attention to the other modes of heroism. He recognizes them, of course, but doesn't spend too much time talking about them. A lot of blame needs to be dished out, surely, on the Christians of Nazi Germany. I am not saying it doesn't. Yet good people - heroes - should not be painted with that one brush just because they did not act publicly. Prudence, effectiveness, required keeping under the Gestapo's radar.

But I want to talk about something else. Please read Conway's book though. It is extraordinarily interesting and beneficial.

I want to talk about an issue that has arisen in my thinking. I started to think about it last summer when I was reading Radzinsky's biography of Stalin. This was an excellent study, as I think I've indicated in a previous post. I found it especially valuable as an investigation of the manner in which Stalin could manipulate perceptions. That was the foundation of his political success, it seems Radzinski is arguing. What comes out is a presentation of human nature that certainly dissolves liberal optimism. We are not what we think we are as a species.

Conway seems to confirm my thinking. The subject of his analysis is both how the Nazis persecuted the 'two' Christian churches and the response of those being persecuted. Why do we give in so much, make excuses for evil action? I am not a psychologist so I can only hazard guesses. As a theologian I can talk about original sin and then analyze the doctrine of virtue to come up with a partial explanation. All of that is interesting, but purely academic if we can't extend it to our lives today, and that is what I want to talk about.

Surely no one can really deny, can they, that persecution is going on today against Christianity in North America (and Europe and South America; no one doubts that it is in China and the Islamic World)?

But the forms of persecution are somewhat different and a whole lot more subtle than that perpetrated by the Nazis. Or are they?

I think they are not. And I think that we think it is subtler because of this thing, this tendency we have to deny the obvious, unpleasant truth: that people hate us, and that we need to resist them and do unpleasant things as a result.

As another excellent book makes clear - Grassman's On Killing - we are loath to do violence. This all part and parcel of what is customarily referred to as the Stockholm Syndrome: an identification with one's enemies, most broadly speaking. I am not going to make all the logical connections here; I think you can do that for yourself. What is essentially at root here is the basic synergistic principle: avoid evil. Pain is evil, suffering is evil, thus, we run from it by whatever means necessary. What this means for the Churches is that we tend to align ourselves with our enemies: here, feminism, homosexualism, Marxism, etc. This is in essence what Liberal Catholicism is, isn't it? The adoption of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Why do people follow trends, intellectual or fashion, etc? I've always been fascinated by that phenomenon, since I don't generally do that. Even as a kid my brothers and I never asked for the latest fashion item. I was, and still am, astounded by the sudden proliferation of things like "Areopostole" shirts. When I was in high school it was those ugly "Chip and Pepper" shirts - remember those? Why do we do this? It's basic tribalism, or group-mentality thinking. Human beings are instinctively aware that it is dangerous to stand out, like a stripe-less zebra. Translating that to the ideological sphere, Christians are instinctively aware that they must adopt the common system of belief, since it is dangerous not to.

I have noticed this in the work place: one must blame someone else for a problem if one is to survive. I don't do that, and so suffer the consequences. It requires a certain amount of fortitude to live in the truth. The workplace is a laboratory in which to study poor human behavior, all the things I am talking about: group dynamics of conformity and blame (scapegoating). I have been in enough workplaces to know now that this is a universal phenomenon. It just upset me to realize that a 'Christian' workplace is no different on this score.

Let me give an example of the Stockholm syndrome effecting a liberal Catholic. The person that jumped so quickly to mind was Gary Wills. I have read a few of his things. He has actually made a pretty good contribution to Augustinian Studies, it pains me to admit. Wills first came to the attention of the Catholic intellectual world with his works, Why I am a Catholic and Papal Sin. He has just released another book called Why Priests? I haven't read it, so I can only comment on the other two. It seems to me that these works are classic examples of Stockholm Syndrome. Wills is turning against the Catholic Church which he recognizes is weaker than the dominant secular culture. Sure, he has the gall to yet call himself Catholic - as all liberals have that gall, when there is nothing Catholic about them. Why would he not just say, I am no longer Catholic? Because he knows that one of the dominant motifs of that secular culture is the rebel-motif. He is a rebel Catholic, fighting against 'the man.' But in actuality, he is fighting for the man - the secular man, who is really 'the man,' after all, since the Church is weak and secularism is strong. He is not a rebel, he is a bully. The worst part of it is that he is not the musclehead who picks the fight with the nerd, he is the little scared guy who cheers the musclehead on. That is the far more shameful role. I am sure that his Why Priests is yet still more anti-clericalism. Catholic priests today are the victim nerds. Whoever attacks priests is doing just what those despicable Nazis in Hitler's Germany and Communists in Stalin's Russia did. Priests are a weak visible minority. Wills' desire to destroy them (and the Catholic Church as a whole) is the act of a coward who wishes to blend into the crowd and turn the crowd away from the possibility of turning on him. It's basic human nature in all its pathetic glory. I wonder if Wills - who is an accomplished historian - grasps that when the history of this age is written he will be cast in the role of persecutor, not victim.

Is he aware of any of this? Is his conscience clean or not? Is he motivated by love of truth, love of money, love of 'true Christianity,' or something else? Of course, one who is infected with Stockholm Syndrome is not conscious of it; if he was, it wouldn't be so virulent. I am guessing that he is one of those 'love of truth' or 'true Christianity' people. Sure, he's filthy rich, but I think that he has likely hidden from his conscious self that money motivates him. (Another reason to pick on the weak and to espouse the party position is that it is much more lucrative. Money is one of the surest defenses against attack. A great refuge of cowards.)

So the work place, the publishing world, the academic world, the political world, the media - if you examine them closely you will see them perpetrating the very same things that the everyday-Nazi did. They are all motivated by fear of persecution, so they persecute.

What a Christian needs to do is constantly question his motives. Success is a worldly thing. I side with the philosophical tradition. I believe life is about becoming good and wise. The best thing a person can do qua person is develop virtue. Read Aristotle's Ethics again and again and again. Let's all agree on this. The world can be arranged into two camps: those who follow Aristotle and those who follow Marx. Which side are you on?

The only thing that will keep you from the Stockholm Syndrome and from persecuting and scapegoating the weak is developing the muscles of virtue. Everyone else will fall.


  1. This is really spot on, Colin. I am so often puzzled by the liberal-minded folk who continue to call themselves Catholic while rejecting all the basics tenets of our faith. This was such an enlightening description!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Big issue to consider, really.