The series of lessons on the theme of human rights has included four on the Holocaust. This morning, it was the fourth of those lessons. “After the Holocaust” was the title, possibly the most inadequate lesson title ever devised.
Video clips from the Yad Veshem resources were supplemented with closing scenes from Schindler’s List and the moving moments from Band of Brothers when the American soldiers liberate a camp.
The lesson recalled a novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.
The book is a fictional reflection on the experience of the Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey during the Second World War and the story is told through letters written by the characters in 1946, a year after the war has ended.
There are moments that are silly and trivial and other moments that are profound, a little like life itself, but there is also one very serious theological point. Juliet, the leading character, describes a meeting of the literary society at which is present Remy, a Frenchwoman who has survived Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.
“Two hours of lively discussion on Original Sin and Predestination followed. At last, Remy stood up to speak—she’d never done so before and the room fell silent. She said softly, ‘If there is Predestination, then God is the devil’. No-one could argue with that—what kind of god would create Ravensbruck?”
Of course, religious people would argue that the idea of Predestination does not suggest that God creates evil things, only that he has foreknowledge of them. Yet the substance of the objection remains, if God has foreknowledge of evil, why does he allow it to happen? If God knew the camps were going to happen, if this was part of some predestined history, what sort of God is he?
No-one has ever offered a satisfactory answer to Remy’s complaint. How does anyone claim God is omniscient (and being all knowing will necessarily mean that God has prior knowledge of all things), and rebuff the suggestion that the only conclusion one can make about Predestination is that God is the devil’?
It is a question that has reflected much theological thought since the Holocaust, how can one hold on to traditional beliefs in God in the face of the overwhelming evil in the world?
The religious response has often been trite, a vacuous restatement of beliefs. Watch the video clips and the only response there can be is one of silence.