When Youtube sensations collide…
We had an interesting discussion at college the other day, completely unrelated to college… about who epitomised evil before Hitler. Some said Napoleon, still others Genghis Kahn, while some thought Mary Queen of Scots might get the guernsey.
A Slate article on exactly the same issue, from a couple of days before (that may or may not have prompted my question) reckons the answer is Pharaoh, but also suggests that the use of an extreme historical figure as a rhetorical device is probably a relatively recent invention. Possibly correlating to the rise of the internet.
“The Pharoah. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, many Americans and Europeans had a firmer grasp of the bible than of the history of genocidal dictators. Orators in search of a universal symbol for evil typically turned to figures like Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, or, most frequently, the Pharaoh of Exodus, who chose to endure 10 plagues rather than let the Hebrew people go.”
“Generally speaking, hatred was more local and short-lived before World War II. Nineteenth-century polemicists occasionally used Napoleon Bonaparte as shorthand for an evil ruler—they sometimes referred to “the little tyrant” rather than name the diminutive conqueror—but those references were rare. There is little record of oratorical comparisons of political leaders to Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, or Ivan the Terrible.”
So there you go.
Naming a law after yourself is probably right up there with giving yourself a nickname ie not cool and it never really sticks… but I’ve been thinking about the conversations I’ve been having with different people from various points in the Christian spectrum on a couple of issues lately and I’d like to propose what I think is the Christian equivalent of Godwin’s Law.
Godwin’s Law states:
“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%).”
Campbell’s law states:
“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the Pharisees or legalism approaches 1 (100%).”
Thus, as with Godwin, so with Campbell, such transgressions lead to an automatic loss in any argument.
Lets face it, the law doesn’t need to be named after me, but there’s something similar going on here… “you’re like the guys who killed the king of the Jews” should carry about as much argumentative weight as “you’re like Hitler.” Though, as with Godwin, so with Campbell, there are times when such comparisons are appropriate (with Godwin I’d say these are limited to genocide, with the Pharisees I’d say it can be legitimate when people are acting like pharisees).
South Park said things become funny 27.5 years after the fact. Which means Hitler jokes are ok. Right?
I’m unsure. But you should check out Hipster Hitler and decide for yourself (it has some language).
Because making fun of hipster culture and genocidal dictators is the new black. Or something.
David Dunham at Christ and Pop Culture doesn’t think we should be laughing at this sort of stuff. And it does make me a little bit uncomfortable – but what say you? He doesn’t know what the target of the satire is. Hitler or Hipsters. I say, why can’t it be both. Here’s what the Christ and Pop Culture article identifies as the problem:
“Satire works great as a means to offering a critique, and I am of course quite satisfied to mock and belittle Hitler, whose disgusting acts warrant him no sympathy. Yet I can’t help but wonder what the creators of this comic are aiming to critique. Is it Hitler? Well kudos to them, but I am not sure how casting him as a trendy young bohemian does that.”
I think the answer might be that Hipsters aren’t really that cool. They eat food from trashcans.
This does sound a lot like the kind of thing one might cook up at the pub noticing the phonetic similarity.
“TWO Victorian couples are suing doctors for failing to diagnose Down Syndrome in their unborn babies, denying them the chance to terminate the pregnancies.”
I hope the judge takes one look at this case and throws the couples on the street.
“The girl, 4, who now attends a specialist kindergarten, was born with heart, kidney and thyroid problems, can’t walk, and needs help feeding, her father said.
“Don’t get us wrong: we love our daughter. She’s part of our family, and we treat her like gold,” he said.”
So they’re saying “we love her, but we wish she had never been born.” That’s not love. That’s sick. You know who else wanted to breed disease out of the human gene pool through selective breeding programs…
It didn’t take long for the Storm to be compared to Adolf Hitler. It’s just a shame the Downfall parody videos have been removed from YouTube. Hitler’s reaction would have been typically irate.
“To put yesterday in perspective, the Melbourne Storm fraudsters have achieved something that Kaiser Wilhelm couldn’t achieve, nor Adolf Hitler nor Hideki Tojo. The list of rugby league’s premiers runs uninterrupted through the two world wars they triggered and should have run proudly into infinity. But, as of yesterday, two breaks appear in that noble lineage, for the years 2007 and 2009. Now the words “No Premiers” appear where previously the Storm had been.”
Quality journalism from the Australian.
Ever wondered what an evil dictator reads. Would you burn your books if you found out they were Hitler’s favourites.
“He ranked Don Quixote, along with Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gulliver’s Travels, among the great works of world literature. “Each of them is a grandiose idea unto itself,” he said. In Robinson Crusoe he perceived “the development of the entire history of mankind”. Don Quixote captured “ingeniously” the end of an era. He was especially impressed by Gustave Doré’s depictions of Cervantes’s delusion-plagued hero.”…
He was versed in the Holy Scriptures and owned a particularly handsome tome with “Worte Christi” (Words of Christ) embossed in gold on a cream-coloured calfskin cover that even today remains as smooth as silk. He also owned a German translation of Henry Ford’s anti-semitic tract The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem and a 1931 handbook on poison gas, with a chapter detailing the qualities and effects of prussic acid, the homicidal asphyxiant marketed commercially as Zyklon B. On his bedstand, he kept a well-thumbed copy of Wilhelm Busch’s mischievous cartoon duo Max and Moritz.
Do you ever engage your imagination in the pursuit of speculative scenarios.
How would the world be different if Hitler had won the war? What if Ghandi had lived? What if Hillary Clinton had won the US Presidential Election?
What if James Dean had lived?
Or better – what if George Lucas had directed Singing in the Rain…
What’s your favourite what if? Or, what’s the best YouTube video you’ve seen this week – post it in the comments.
Nathan often uses Hitler in religious discussions.
From what I know Europe at the time was a generally disjointed, unhappy place, and everyone knew that war would eventually outbreak, it was just a matter of when. So I wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting at between Hitler’s religion and religion’s involvement in war.
So I got Nathan to explain his point:
“It’s not that wars are based on atheism – it’s that atheism doesn’t rule out wars.
Atheism is not a cause of war any more than Christianity is.
The fact that people are sinful – greedy, power hungry, angry, evil – is what causes wars.”
I would like to make some points:
1. I don’t think evil exists as a being, thing or intangible presence. Evil is a description of behaviour.
2. Hitler didn’t do the things he did because he was evil. Some of the things he did were abhorrent, terrible, disgusting and/or evil.
3. When people do bad things, its not because they are inherrently evil, or were overtaken by momentary evilness. They did it because they were human, and humans make bad decisions for whatever reasons, are prone to being inconsiderate, to certain extent, and have different utility functions, such that some believe risking other people being injured is outweighed by the benefit of robbing the bank.
4. Morals don’t need to come from an external source. People are perfectly good at developing them themselves.
From my understanding, the French/English civil revolutions weren’t uprisings against God, they were class wars, where the poor and oppressed wanted better. I think this could be said to an extent about communism and the disputes in the first half of the 20th century.
Most recently, the war on terrorism has been labeled as a war against evil. I don’t like terrorism, but I also don’t like the way it has been discussed at times. I have always wondered, without being particularly knowledgeable of the situation overseas, if by labeling terrorism as acts of pure evil results in more harm than good, as it fails to address the root causes of offshore grievances.
Further military action in the region is not going to help in the healing of decades-old wounds, which stem from military action of the West into these regions for the past century plus. Dare I say, I think many people within these regions would hold grievances against the West. Further, relying on non-western media, these nations would also have different perceptions of why the West was involved in these regions (I am not necessarily talking about purposeful distortions of history here either, historical accounts and perceptions would likely be different between those who lived through it and those who lived back in the invading country). We can’t expect to be able to interfere with any of these regions, and not step on a few toes.
The remnants of America’s war techniques in Korea and Vietnam still remain to impact the general populace. Many of these people no doubt hold some anger towards the techniques that were used during these disputes that have a continuing legacy.
So, in summary, it may not be best labelling terrorism as acts of evil, which seems a simplistic excuse. It may be that more effort should be made to recognise that the seeds for these peoples anger were sown a long time ago, and that the West played a larger role in creating this anger than we are willing to acknowledge. What we perceive as terrorism could be the remnants of a group of people fighting a decade-old war the only way they have available. They may be cowardly tactics, attacking easy targets of civilians. But they didn’t agree to any war conventions, nor have any large military budgets or technology.
Going forward, hopefully leaders will acknowledge these lessons, and realise that you can’t interfere with a country and expect it not to have repercussions in the future. The conflict doesn’t end with the end of the fighting. More needs to be done to rebuild international relations.
Gerard Henderson typically annoys me. He’s from the Right Wing think tank the “Sydney Institute”. I don’t like him because despite agreeing with a lot of what he says, I think he sounds smug when he’s saying it.His ivory tower takedown of Kyle Sandilands and his Megan Fox-esque grip on history and the significance of Hitler’s total evilness was right on the money. He points the finger of blame at needless comparisons to the Nazi overlord made by politicians. It really does lower the level of political conversation.
Sadly it appears on the SMH website alongside a story featuring insidious current affairs style
If some opinion leaders use ”Nazi” or ”fascist” or ”communist” to denigrate political opponents, is it any wonder some demonstrators in the US and shock jocks in Australia will follow their lead?Hyperbole has become a way of getting noticed in the never-ending news cycle. Exaggerated comments about the applicability of totalitarianism to contemporary democracies get a run because so little is known about the suffering of the victims of Hitler and Stalin.
Not having children seems a high price to pay for having an infamous great-great-uncle. It occurs to me that I write about Hitler quite frequently. Or more specifically, I paradoxically write a lot about how writing or talking about Hitler is bad.
“Analysing forgotten cigarette butts in a small village in lower Austria, a used paper serviette in a New York fast food restaurant and the seals of letters sent over 30 years ago from northern France, Marc Vermeeren and Jean-Paul Mulders said they had traced all known living relatives of the Fuehrer for the first time.”“…”The American relatives have agreed not to have children to extinguish the saga of Hitler and stop living in fear, but have promised to publish a book before they die,” said Mulders.”
Atheists rightly get angry when Christians make arguments about “morality” on the basis that Hitler was an atheist (by most accounts). It’s a stupid argument by an extreme and is the equivalent of people arguing that Christianity causes war on the basis of the Crusades.
No, Hitler is not a problem when it comes to atheists being able to act morally – but he is a problem for atheists when it comes to the question of evil.
I don’t know if this is true for all atheists. It’s probably not. But the ones I talk to, who are pretty smart, and cover a spectrum of “moral” approaches to life, are pretty consistent on the question of the existence of evil. They say there’s no such thing.
I asked them, out of curiousity, to define evil.
Here’s a mix of responses I got…
I find evil is a helpful word to describe abhorrent things. "Evil" is not a noun, it’s an adjective. What does exist is broken people and randomness… I don’t like it when Kevin Rudd uses it to describe something. My immediate reaction is negative because it makes me think of spiritual absolutes which I really just see as a lazy guide to morality. When I use the word "evil", I would use it with the knowledge of the religious overtones to give the word more impact.
It’s much better to view the world is terms of Harmful/Not Harmful.
Was Hitler harmful, yes.
Is homosexuality harmful, no.
That’s more meaningful than:
Was Hitler evil, yes.
Is homosexuality evil, yes.
Is abortion harmful? Yeah, I guess, but then is not-abortion even more harmful? I think so. Talking in terms like that is a lot more helpful than absolute evil.
And another response:
Evil is just a lazy shorthand way of simplifying things. Evil exists in stories not in reality. I also think it’s harmful as an idea. Let’s go Nazi’s since it seems appropriate. Humanising a Nazi or Hitler is something that will get the public up in arms. But all "evils" are perpetrated by people not by some strange creatures of darkness and we can’t ignore this. To understand them is not to excuse actions but it can inform how these things happen. The Nazi’s, paedophiles, murderers, dance music producers, etc are just people.
I think the word "evil" creates more problems than solves it. I suggest a movement toward more specific terms, like "malicious", or "malevolent", or "unfortunate", depending on context and circumstance.
It seems there are a few of problems these guys have with the label. It’s got theological, and semantic baggage that make it unappealing – but in this discussion there’s also a question of relativity.
I personally find comfort in operating in a binary world of good and evil. I think it explains lots of things. I think Christianity provides a framework for understanding this binary that atheism doesn’t.
I think atheism is at its weakest when it tries to address evil, or bad, behaviour and explains away the purposeful actions of malevolent dictators as “insanity”, or the acts of the crazy. It’s more than that. There’s rationalised intent involved.
Reading any atheists (not just these specific friends of mine) trying to define how they decide if a behaviour is “positive” or “negative” is like watching someone trying to nail jelly to a wall.
There is no atheist apologetic for evil that sounds even remotely convincing to someone who believes in “good” and “evil” as absolutes. Which is a shame for the atheist – because all of our popular entertainment perpetuates the idea of such an absolute. Actually, it seems that the exceptions to that rule are the truly exceptional and intelligent, more nuanced, shows like the West Wing, The Wire and The Sopranos.
Good and evil come in degrees – and particular actions are nuanced by context. Shooting someone and killing them is not always evil. Similarly to these atheists I would support a harm v benefit process when deciding whether or not to shoot a dictator. But murder (defined as unjustifiable killing) is always evil, or bad. It doesn’t matter what rationalisation the perpetrator uses as a justification. If it’s truly justifiable then it’s not murder.
The Bible has a fair bit to say about evil, and about sin – and I think it’s where the Bible intersects the best with the human experience, along with the evidence of careful design in creation. I also think it’s the point where atheism is at its weakest when it comes to alternative explanations for why things are the way they are.
What do you reckon?
Update: one of my atheists pointed out that I haven’t really made a clear point about why I think atheism struggles with Hitler/evil.Here’s my argument… Most of atheism’s arguments from a scientific standpoint make sense if you remove the idea of God from the picture. You can observe most of the things atheists observe. And come to a conclusion ultimately based on how you think things came to be… When it comes to giving any rationale about why people behave in evil ways – you’ve either got a compelling and consistent theological picture (evil is the result of rejecting God’s rule) or you’ve got the atheist’s answer – “some people do stuff that other people don’t like.”
This seems to be dominating my thinking and conversation today. So it’s going to dominate my posting too.
I am so sick of every issue in the world – from the question of league v union, the question of musical taste, through to the question of morality and “evil” – being turned into a murky pot of subjectivity where claiming objective knowledge of an absolute is frowned upon.
You can’t even call Hitler evil anymore.
Things just are. They either are, or they aren’t. The question of which game you prefer (league, or union) is subjective. The question of which game is better is objective.
Signing up for an “objective” assessment requires pretty clear terms of reference. Which is almost impossible because of this desire to be “relative” in all things.
WCF classes took a new turn this week as we looked at the issue of Government. As long time readers will be aware, I get a bit excited about the subject of church and state. I don’t think it’s an issue the church handles particularly well, generally speaking. And it’s to our detriment.
My thoughts in a nutshell are that the church should let the state be the state and we should make sure our own house is in order. Who are we to complain about the legalisation of gay marriage when the global church is ordaining gay ministers? This sort of inconsistency is unhelpful. People will ultimately choose whatever lifestyle they like. That’s their decision. Not the government. The church needs to be free to be the church, we particularly need to be free from state oversight on particular matters (like who we can employ). But gay people should be just as free to be gay, and atheists should be just as free to be atheists, and so on, and so forth. The WCF was written in a time where the predominant social paradigm was “Christian” and the complexity of a modern liberal democracy is too much to bear – but there are some good points in the chapter about war, respecting government, and being part of government.
The best part of our discussion on Tuesday was about war. Just war vs pacifism. We were talking about when it’s “right” for a nation to invade, what makes a nation’s claim to nationhood legitimate, and whether leaders who are obviously on the nose with their people (eg Mugabe) should be removed. And then we talked about whether popular but evil leaders (eg Hitler) should be removed. While Germans got behind Hitler and his cause this couldn’t be said for the nations he invaded. We talked about whether Bonhoeffer (K-Rudd’s hero) was right to join a plot to assassinate Hitler. I was surprised that people could consider that wrong.
I came to the conclusion that pragmatism and pacifism are binary opponents. You can’t be both. The pragmatic solution to questions of international relations and human rights will almost always require an exercise of force.
I am a pragmatist.