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Real ____ Would Never Do That!

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I just returned from a glorious five days spent motorcycling through Washington and Oregon.  We crossed the border into the United States last Sunday and then headed over the Cascade Mountains, wound our way down to northern Oregon, then meandered through the central part of the state, before heading back north up the Oregon Coast, and catching a ferry back to Vancouver Island from Port Angeles, WA last night.  All in all, a fantastic trip.  We saw some absolutely spectacular scenery, from the majestic snow-capped Cascades to the rolling farm country of central Oregon, to rainforests, to lush forests along the Columbia River, to the beauty of winding roads along the Pacific Ocean.  Simply incredible.

And, of course, as good Canadians, we made sure to find a pub somewhere on Monday and Wednesday to catch games six and seven of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.  Both times, we would have been better off staying on our bikes as the Canucks were abysmal and embarrassing in their capitulation to the Bruins.  Even more embarrassing than the play of the Canucks themselves, as you have no doubt heard by now, was the behaviour of some Vancouver residents who spent the hours following the game seven loss rioting, burning, looting, destroying, fighting, and who knows what else in a a display of petulant and boorish behaviour such as our country does not often see on such a scale.

Unsurprisingly, the social  media world has been abuzz since Wednesday night with condemnations, explanations, and apologies pouring in from a variety of sources (two of the better ones, in my biased opinion, were written by friends of mine here and here).  I have to admit, my first response to hearing the news of the riots back home, was something bordering on apathy.  Perhaps it’s because I am not a native British Columbian and don’t have a strong sense of personal identity tied up with the city of Vancouver.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t really like the Canucks.  Or, perhaps it’s because people behaving badly is rarely surprising.  For all of its self-understanding as a paradisiacal city that is the envy of the world, Vancouver is, last time I checked, populated by human beings, and human beings, wherever they live, are prone to stupid and destructive behaviour—especially when you throw 100 000 of them together into a single place, add a generous mix of alcohol, testosterone, and media-fuelled tribalism centred on a sports team.  The only thing shocking about Wednesday night, from my perspective, was that people were shocked by it.

As I sifted through my clogged blog aggregator back at home last night, I couldn’t help but notice how desperate people were to convince others (and themselves?) that the Wednesday rioters were not “real” Vancouverites.  As I reflected upon this theme, it occurred to me that, structurally, these apologies for the city of Vancouver were virtually identical to what I came across researching the new atheism for my masters thesis a few years back.

Apologists for God/religion often attempted to explain away violent behaviour perpetrated in the name of God/religion as not in any way motivated by “real” religion.  “Real Christians” would never do some of the atrocious things that they have been charged with historically.  Similarly, atheists tried to explain away the behaviour of people like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc as not “real” atheism (in fact—hooray!—why don’t we just declare that the behaviour of these tyrants was, in fact, a kind of religious response!).  “Real atheists,” like “real Christians” (and “real Vancouverites, presumably), were virtuous, kind, progressive, rational, compassionate, and decent.

It’s an understandable strategy, after all.  If people we are identified with do things we don’t like or that embarrass us and our group, we simply define them as not really belonging to our group.  Whatever else might be said, it certainly has simplicity to commend it as a strategy.  After all, it’s much easier to declare people who behave badly as illegitimate than to say that their behaviour as incongruous with our group’s values, or what our group aspires to be.  But, of course, declaring people not to be real ____ is never entirely successful.   “Real ____” sometimes do really bad things, whether we want them to or not.  It doesn’t make them less “real” or legitimate members of the group, it just means that the group includes people who behave badly.

In truth, what we are saying when we say that “real ____” don’t do x or y is that we really, really wish that these people who represent us, however tenuously the connection, would behave better.  The word “real” is a synonym for “good” or “the kind I like.”  The statement “real Vancouverites” (or “real Christians” or “real atheists) wouldn’t do x or y turns out to be little more than an expression of our ideals for the group we belong to combined with, perhaps, a thinly veiled claim that we and people like us are the true exemplars of what “real ____” are like.  But that’s a bit more complicated, and not as easy to fit into a headline.  And it doesn’t make us feel as virtuous.  It does, however, have the benefit of more closely resembling the truth.

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. nicely put!

    June 17, 2011
  2. Carl #

    I agree with you completely. I also was not shocked when I heard the stories breaking. As a Canucks fan, I resonate with those that say “these are not real fans” because they act differently than I want them to. I have heard countless “Canuck-haters” talk about how stupid “Vancouver” is and how “they” always respond like this. But what does that mean? Vancouver is filled with broken people just like every other place in the world. You are right, these are people that DO identify themselves as “real” fans and thus the problem of violence and destruction etc. is not “out there” somewhere to be destroyed or “fought” by our government. It is a problem in our culture (and every other one) as well. Alas, this “paradise” we live in (and I think we could expand that to the whole country) has broken, violent, sinful people in it too. And a quick plug, our dear friend Travis who commented above, also wrote a great little piece on this topic.

    June 17, 2011
    • Thanks Carl, well said.

      (And I did give Travis a plug above, albeit not very explicitly—he’s one of the “heres” in the third paragraph.)

      June 17, 2011
  3. I saw that Vancouver had lost the Stanley Cup, but I was not aware of the rioting afterward.

    Your post reminded me of reading Calvin’s 1541 Institutes, which includes his reflections on human nature; Calvin has a pessimistic anthropology, for which he is often criticized. But I have found his realism about human nature to be useful in understanding when people start behaving badly. It is deep in our blood.

    I’m glad you had such a lovely trip. Sorry it was marred by the lost cup, and the poor behaviour of the fans. Fan is short for fanatic, after all, so sometimes this is the norm. (Calvin would concur.) Peace to you.

    June 18, 2011
    • Yes, whatever else one might think of Calvin’s anthropology, there are elements of it that certainly never lack for evidence.

      (And for the record, my trip was not marred in any way by Vancouver losing the Stanley Cup. I am a Calgary Flames fan, and the Flames and Canucks are bitter rivals. I suppose an American equivalent might be Red Sox/Yankees? Lakers/Celtics? At any rate, I have little love for the Canucks, despite living around these parts for six years :).)

      June 18, 2011
  4. Paul Johnston #

    While I don’t disagree with the sentiments expressed here, I’m wondering if it gives hockey culture in Canada an undeserved mulligan. Is causality too strong a contention? Is any one really surprised that the hooliganism on the ice translated into hooliganism in the streets? What would we say about a rock music event and the people who attended, if post concert they took to the streets and rioted. What would the implications be for the promoters of such an event and the implications for similar types of events, going forward?

    I recently marched in Ottawa, albeit with a much smaller crowd of about 15,000 to peacefully protest the abscence of an abortion law in this country and to pray/witness on behalf of the unborn. Similar marches occur in the U.S..We were told by American friends that at a recent rally in Washington D.C.well over a hundred thousand people participated, without a hitch. In of themselves, I don’t think masses of people protesting in our streets necessarily leads to violence and looting. I think a lot depends on the character of the people and the purpose of their protest.

    June 19, 2011
    • A direct causal link might between the game of hockey and the Vancouver riot might be a bit too strong, but I certainly think there’s a connection. Hockey is an aggressive, sometimes violent sport, and it probably tends to attract at least some fans with these tendencies. Having said that, there are plenty of cities that manage to lose game sevens of the the Stanley Cup Final without rioting (like, oh, say, Calgary in 2004, to pick a completely random example).

      June 19, 2011
      • Mike C. #

        And, if I can add (as a still saddened Vancouver resident (not about the cup, about the riot)), like Vancouver was done at several 100K+ attended events throughout this play-off run.

        Just a really, really sad day in our history. And sadly, I have to say that the ‘blank’ here should be “Fans”, because they were Vancouver Fans that did this for the most part.

        June 20, 2011
      • Yes, good point, Mike. Vancouver has certainly shown on numerous occasions they are capable of much, much better.

        (Incidentally, I came across this article today that addressed the issue of the connection between hockey and the riots that followed game 7 last week.)

        June 20, 2011
  5. jc #

    really jealous of your motorcycle journey. that sounds awesome. i hope to do that someday.

    June 19, 2011
    • It was awesome—can’t recommend something like this highly enough. If you ever decided to do it, I can think of at least one very enthusiastic co-rider :).

      June 19, 2011
      • jc #

        now i just need a motorcycle

        June 23, 2011
  6. Tyler Brown #

    Ryan, while I enjoyed the article I am left wondering something here… Maybe we are making our groups to big. I am a Canucks fan and a hockey fan, but what I view as the common trait of a Canucks fan is simply cheering for the same team. As a hockey fan, we enjoy the same sport.

    Atheists, Canucks fans, whatever the group.. don’t represent me. My friends represent me based on a much more strict and severe criteria. If that criteria is broken then that friendship is reevaluated.

    So my question for you here do you think we are using to different meanings for the word group here? Is there not a hierarchy of groups we belong to? And are those who were outraged, shocked, disappointed on the values that their ‘group’ displayed not just being foolish by giving to much importance to a singular trait that unites them? Maybe this is a symptom of being disconnected from each other… we grasp at anything to feel included, even if that is by going to church, cheering for the same hockey team, or leaving in the same city. On one hand I know atheists that will never be apart of my group, just as I know Church-goers who will be. On the other I know atheists and church goers who are apart of my group. Their inclusion or exclusion is never a result of one singular issues, it is the accumulation of many traits (of differing importance) that determines who accept and how I react to the events around me.

    Am I ashamed of the events? Yes. Did those who commit them say anything about me? No. Living on the west coast and a hockey team is most likely all that unites us.

    June 20, 2011
    • Tyler Brown #

      should read “two or more different meanings”

      June 20, 2011
    • I guess a lot depends on who defines the group. If it is “my” group, then I will be the barometer by which everyone’s behaviour is judged. If I don’t like people’s behaviour, they are not a part of my group. End of story.

      If group identity is thought to be something that precedes my involvement, and the parameters are not mine to determine according to my preferences, then it gets more complicated. The group “Vancouver Canucks fans” are, loosely speaking, people who have some allegiance to the professional hockey team based in Vancouver, BC. Some of them are violent morons, some of them are delightful people of good intelligence and warm heart. But they cheer for the same team, so they are part of the same group. Similarly, there is a huge diversity of people who would self-identify as “Christian.” Do I agree with all of them? Do I think they all understand and practice their faith wisely or correctly? Absolutely not. But I don’t think I am free to simply say that those who don’t see things as I do are not “real” Christians.

      At the same time, I think you’re right—there is an appropriate hierarchy of group belonging. Allegiance to a sports team is a pretty meagre criterion for any kind of meaningful mutuality, as is residence in a geographic region. We would certainly do well to ask some questions about why we are getting so defensive about some of these things if the behaviour that offends us is clearly perpetrated by people whose values and ethical norms are wildly divergent from our own.

      June 20, 2011
  7. Brian Westley #

    “atheists tried to explain away the behaviour of people like Hitler”

    You seem to be prone to your own criticism — Hitler never said he was an atheist and professed to be Catholic (and was never excommunicated). He spoke against secular schools and closed the German Freethinker’s League.

    June 20, 2011
    • Tyler Brown #

      Brian, I believe your comment only proves the central message to this post.

      June 20, 2011
      • Brian Westley #

        No, if Hitler actually WERE an atheist, that would prove the central message. But when did Hitler ever say he was an atheist? He stated on many occasions that he was a Christian or a Catholic. Where is any cite anywhere that Hitler said he was an atheist?

        It’s as if the article mentioned that Hitler was a Vancouverite.

        June 20, 2011
      • Tyler Brown #

        Why is there such an effort to make sure this fact is known? Maybe it was an error on Ryan’s part, however, this does little to detract from the central theme of his post.

        June 20, 2011
    • Hitler’s relationship to Christianity (and atheism) is a complicated one, and enthusiastically contested in academic circles. What seems clear is that Hitler’s confused conception of an Aryan Jesus and a Christianity that somehow justified Germanic power, was never anything but a tool to be used for his political aims. When it was convenient for him to say so, he was a Christian. At other times, he pulled no punches in expressing his disgust and disdain for Christianity and the kind of people it produced. If you want a citation, I can track one down for you tomorrow.

      Even if it could somehow be determined that Hitler was not an atheist (a complicated endeavour, to be sure… who gets to define “atheist?” Richard Dawkins? Friedrich Nietzsche?), how would it change the main point of my post?

      June 20, 2011
      • Brian Westley #

        Sorry, even if you come up with a quote of his “expressing his disgust and disdain for Christianity and the kind of people it produced”, that STILL doesn’t show he was an atheist. It shows his disdain for Christianity and the kind of people it produced.

        “Even if it could somehow be determined that Hitler was not an atheist”

        No, no, no.

        There are many quotes from Hitler saying he was a Christian or Catholic.

        There are no quotes I’m aware of from Hitler saying he was an atheist.

        YOU have to somehow show he was an atheist. You can’t assume he was, and demand proof he wasn’t. If, for some reason, you think Christians can’t be nazis, most of the population of Germany was Christian, so where’d all the nazis come from? Google “priests nazi salute” and you’ll find lots of pictures of priests in Germany giving the nazi salute, sometimes with Hitler himself.

        “how would it change the main point of my post?”

        Because it shows YOU are doing exactly what you were criticizing — “A Real Christian Would Never Do That!”, which is why so many people insist that Hitler wasn’t a Real Christian.

        He stated on many occasions that he WAS. He has never said he was an atheist that I’ve ever seen. How can you POSSIBLY justify calling him an atheist??

        June 21, 2011
  8. Brian, you said:

    Because it shows YOU are doing exactly what you were criticizing — “A Real Christian Would Never Do That!”, which is why so many people insist that Hitler wasn’t a Real Christian.

    First of all, I am painfully aware of Christianity’s chequered past and make no attempt to defend it. Even leaving aside the question of Hitler’s own personal convictions, there were many pastors and priests throughout Germany during the Third Reich who lent either implicit or explicit support to Hitler’s agenda. This is inexcusable and morally indefensible. I am well aware of the historical fact that “real” Christians have done horrific things. Are you prepared to acknowledge the same about atheism?

    Second, though, regarding the question of Hitler specifically, we must at some point ask the question of whether or not someone’s actions might speak louder than their words. If someone claimed to be a Vancouver Canucks fan, but at every turn acted in ways that seemed to completely contradict this statement—burning Canucks flags, expressing hatred for Canucks fans, refusing to watch hockey games, etc—would we be justified in wondering just how legitimate their profession of “fanhood” really was? If someone claimed to be an atheist, yet consistently expressed admiration for and devotion to God and disgust for the values promoted by his atheist brethren, would we not begin to wonder how genuine their atheism was? Group identity and belonging invariably is a combination of what one says and what one does. I think we are more than entitled to look at the historical record of Hitler—word and deed—and ask questions about how “real” his Christianity was.

    I’m not aware of any statement where Hitler explicitly states “I am an atheist” in an explicit manner similar to Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens but, as I have already stated, this seems to have more to do with the religio-political context in which he was operating than with his own personal convictions. It was politically advantageous for him to claim to be a Christian in a culture where virtually everyone belonged to some church or another. Hitler may have been baptized a Catholic, but as far as I know he never went to Mass or received communion as an adult. The consistent picture, in everything I have read on the matter, seems to be of a man who uses religion to his political advantage in public, while in private expresses nothing but disdain for the slave mentality it produced and the values it upheld.

    June 21, 2011
    • “Are you prepared to acknowledge the same about atheism?”

      I’m willing to acknowledge the same about atheISTS — atheism doesn’t imply anything about morality or behavior.

      “we must at some point ask the question of whether or not someone’s actions might speak louder than their words”

      So what “actions” of Hitler’s make him out, SPECIFICALLY, to be an atheist?

      He ended the largest atheist organization in Germany. He spoke against secular schools and said that religion was necessary for teaching morals.

      “If someone claimed to be a Vancouver Canucks fan, but at every turn acted in ways that seemed to completely contradict this statement”

      You mean “a REAL xxx would NEVER do that!”?

      However, to parallel your analogy, you would not only say he wasn’t a Canucks fan, but (for no apparent reason) add that he must be a Maple Leafs fan.

      “I think we are more than entitled to look at the historical record of Hitler—word and deed—and ask questions about how “real” his Christianity was”

      But you CAN’T go from “bad Christian” to “he MUST have been an atheist”. Unless, for some reason, you think all “bad people” must be atheists. But that would be faulty reasoning in any case.

      “The consistent picture, in everything I have read on the matter, seems to be of a man who uses religion to his political advantage in public, while in private expresses nothing but disdain for the slave mentality it produced and the values it upheld”

      Well, you certainly seem to be tarring all atheists with the “all bad people must be atheists” brush. You’ve given no evidence that Hitler was an atheist, but you seem to think that showing Hitler wasn’t a Christian MUST somehow mean he was really an atheist. You haven’t even considered, say, his admiring statements about ancient Nordic religions.

      June 21, 2011
    • Ken #

      I think Christianity, not atheism, owns the anti-semitism that Hitler expressed whether Christianity owned the man or not. That anti-semitism has been, and continues to be, very much a part of what Christians say and do.

      June 21, 2011
      • I think Hitler’s particular expression of anti-Semitism was informed by many badly (and evilly) understood views, including, perhaps, but certainly not limited to Christianity. I’m thinking particularly of the ways in which he interpreted the writings of Darwin and Nietzsche, not to mention various strands of Nordic mythology.

        June 22, 2011
    • Brian, rest assured, I do not think that all bad people are atheists. Far from it! I assumed this would be obvious from the content of the main post.

      I have gestured toward such evidence as I think is relevant that, from a Christian perspective, Hitler was an atheist, but I am not going to belabour the point. Even if Hitler is deemed by some to belong in the Christian camp, the central point of my post remains: there is a spectrum of behaviour in any group, from hockey fans to residents of a city to religious groups. The Hitler question is one of degree, not kind. Evil has been and continues to be perpetrated by Christians. This I have never denied. Even if I am not prepared to accept that Hitler was a Christian, it would be silly to claim that Christians (or atheists) are capable of x amount of evil, but not x + 1.

      June 21, 2011
      • “from a Christian perspective, Hitler was an atheist”

        That’s an absurd statement. An atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in gods, from ANY perspective.

        Stop lying about atheists. The most you can claim is that Hitler wasn’t really a Christian; you have provided NOTHING showing he was an atheist. As I have shown previously, Hitler spoke and acted against atheists.

        June 22, 2011
      • Lying? Hmm… that’s a pretty strong claim. I think I’ve been trying to be as honest and attentive to context as possible.

        Throughout history, atheism has always been about which God or gods are denied. The first Christians were even called atheists for refusing to reverence the emperor cult of Rome. Atheism has always been defined by what it denies, and I have argued that the overall picture of Hitler’s life and thought can quite plausibly be interpreted as a rejection of Jesus Christ. That is all I mean by “from a Christian perspective…” Surely you are prepared to concede that there have historically been (and continue to be) different expressions of atheism? The question is always which God does person x or y not believe in? Of course, one answer to the question is “any and all supernatural entities,” but it is not the only one that has been offered historically.

        Hitler spoke and acted against atheists? Sure, but context is significant here. As with everything else he said and did, his own political aims and ambitions were primary—he was passionately resistant to Germany’s atheistic communist enemies and seeking to limit their influence and bolster his own claims to power. And he also spoke and acted against the church and other religious groups. In fact, Hitler said such wildly contradictory things about religion, it is difficult to place him in any camp—even a casual glance at a Wikipedia entry about his views on religion is enough to make one’s head spin.

        So perhaps to label Hitler an “atheist”—full stop—was a bit simplistic on my part. Clearly, there was quite an array of confused and misused ideologies that informed his view of the world.

        June 22, 2011
      • “Throughout history, atheism has always been about which God or gods are denied”

        Not in today’s world. “Atheist” means “not a theist.” It’s pretty straightforward.

        In any case, you didn’t specify which god(s) Hitler didn’t believe in; you called him an atheist, which absent any other context means he didn’t believe in any gods, period. Which you have never shown.

        “I have argued that the overall picture of Hitler’s life and thought can quite plausibly be interpreted as a rejection of Jesus Christ.”

        But you didn’t write “Hitler rejected Jesus Christ,” you wrote that Hitler was an atheist.

        “Surely you are prepared to concede that there have historically been (and continue to be) different expressions of atheism?”

        I know there are lots of bad definitions of “atheist” used by people.

        “So perhaps to label Hitler an “atheist”—full stop—was a bit simplistic on my part.”

        Labelling anyone who doesn’t believe in Christianity as an “atheist” allows you to say Osama bin Laden was an atheist, or various Egyptian pharoahs as “atheist”, even when they claimed to be gods themselves. I wouldn’t call it “simplistic,” I would call it WRONG.

        June 22, 2011
      • So, how would you classify Hitler? Was he a Christian, end of story? Did the rejection of God/gods play no role whatsoever in his views or his actions?

        June 22, 2011
      • Brian Westley #

        “Did the rejection of God/gods play no role whatsoever in his views or his actions?”

        Where did Hitler do this?

        I’m saying there’s no reason that you’ve shown to indicate Hitler was an atheist.

        June 23, 2011
      • Well, according to the wiki entry on Hitler’s religious views, he once said “We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany.” He also forced German pastors/priests to declare allegiance and obedience to him above all else. Is this equivalent to stating “I don’t believe in any gods?” No. Does it point towards the influence of a form of atheism? I would say yes, although clearly you would disagree.

        At any rate, I think we’ve spent (much) more time on Hitler than he is worth. I appreciate the push back, and the opportunity to learn more about what motivated a mad man.

        June 24, 2011
  9. Paul Johnston #

    Hitler was a zealot, fanatically committed to the fatherland and a “blood and soil” ethic, combined with a corollory xenophobia. He was his own deity, his people his cult.

    Before anything else Hitler was demonic. As true an antichrist as the world has yet seen.

    June 21, 2011
  10. Renita Hamm #

    Your post reminded me of a video I saw recently, made by a person who happened to join us for dinner at our house a couple of months ago. His name is Sasa Petricic, and he’s a photo journalist for the CBC. He’d just come back from Japan, so of course, throughout the evening, we peppered him with questions of his experiences around the world.

    He directed me to a photo journalism piece that he seemed particularly proud of, on Rwanda 10 years after the Genocide, called “Evil Revisited”. You can see it at http://vimeo.com/9947978. He returned to Rwanda in 2004 with Dr. Orbinski who was working there in 1994 with Medicins Sans Frontier. At the end of the video, Dr. Orbinski asserts that we all have the capacity for that kind of mind-numbing evil. He says that this is not a medical question, or a question of religion or academic discipline. (Just like the Vancouver riots weren’t really a question of city or team affiliation.) At the end of the documentary he says, “And so then the question becomes …how do we remain self-aware so that this doesn’t happen again.”

    Hope it’s not too big of a stretch to go from a blog on smashing windows with hockey sticks to this video of slashing ankles with machetes.

    June 21, 2011
    • Thanks for the link, Renita! I read Orbinski’s book a while back and found it simultaneously insightful and depressing. His work certainly gives him a firsthand look at the spectacular good and evil that human beings are capable of.

      (How cool that you had Sasa Petricic over?! How did that come about?)

      June 21, 2011
  11. Ken #

    In your discussion with Brian above, you wrote: “Group identity and belonging invariably is a combination of what one says and what one does. I think we are more than entitled to look at the historical record of Hitler—word and deed—and ask questions about how “real” his Christianity was.”

    Is it also what one believes? John’s gospel seems to say so.

    I ask myself whether my Christianity is real. Of course, I also ask myself whether my atheism is real. It often seems larger than my Christianity, real or not.

    Am I Christian in spite of lack of belief? Am I Christian when my words and deeds match those of Christians, and not when they don’t? Am I an atheist when I believe the Bible is myth? Am I an atheist when I am kind to others like all of my atheist friends are? Can one belong to both groups?

    In the Book of Revelation, Jesus slays his enemies, the enemies of God, in spite of his plea to love one’s enemies. He warned of such violence towards enemies in the gospels. He seems to have said and done things that would cause some to doubt his Christianity, if word and deed are what matters. Is Jesus a real Christian?

    June 21, 2011
    • Yes, words, beliefs, actions… it’s all part of the package, I think.

      June 21, 2011
  12. Gil #

    So no one wants Hitler on their team? What a shocker!

    June 22, 2011
    • :)

      June 22, 2011
    • B.Cool #

      My first post will be in response to Gil’s response. A shocker indeed:)

      June 22, 2011
  13. Ken #

    I read the wiki article about Hitler’s religious views that you mentioned above. He sounds rather unexceptional. He criticized organized religion, particularly Christianity, but also atheism (which he associated with communists) and yet had what might be called today a certain spirituality that was not disconnected from western religion, from Christianity. He invoked God in speeches the same way politicians do now. I suspect that Hitler, like many of us today, did not really know what he believed or what to believe, and could not stabilize his beliefs.

    I think that perhaps the scariest thing about Hitler is that he led a very civilized country into conducting the holocaust and so many average people admired and followed him through the mad cruelty of that. He did not act alone.

    I suspect that some, at least, of the people who rioted recently were rather unexceptional and were just caught up in the moment. It can happen to anyone. We all own Hitler. We are all on the same team ultimately.

    I think that Jesus owns Hitler, mercifully, I hope. Jesus, in the synoptic gospels, seems more human to me than he is often described in Christian piety and morality. He seems more Hebraic, in an ancient sense, than us, but I think he shared our dark side. I think we have been conditioned through theology to not see this. We don’t want to imagine dark virtues in God.

    Terror resides in all our hearts.

    June 22, 2011
  14. Ken #

    Just wondering, do you consider Mormons to be Christians? Does your denomination?

    June 23, 2011
    • I’m not aware of any official Mennonite position on Mormons. For myself, I would say that their rejection of the historical creeds combined with doctrines unique to Mormonism would place them outside of historical Christian orthodoxy.

      (I am aware, though, that much depends on which Mormonism we are talking about. Is it mid-19th century Mormonism? 21st century Mormonism? There are many differences, of course, even if similarities remain.)

      June 23, 2011
      • Ken #

        Interesting. I don’t know the official position of the PCUSA (my former denomination) either, if it has one. My impression is that most of the ministers there consider it something other than Christianity. I was surprised that even ministers who called themselves liberal held this view, apparently thinking falsely that all “real” liberals accepted people as they are and claim to be relative to such matters as identity.

        I think of Mormons as Christians, because they think of themselves as Christians. But then, I could never fill in the blank in the question. It seems that I can never know what I “really” am.

        June 23, 2011
  15. James #

    A belated comment on the riots from one who, with some chagrin, has to admit that in my youth I was a participant in such an event. I think that I have settled into a rather simple explanation that seems to stand the test of time- when you mix booze, and thrill seeking boys- you will have riots. The report from the 94 Stanley Cups riots was very explicit- crowds of young men stoked with alcohol produce this result. It is the experience all over the world- most notably European football.

    June 24, 2011
    • Ken #

      I think you have summed it up well.

      June 24, 2011

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