After collecting books for years in college, I chose to convert my measly library into digital ebooks. I gave my physical books to my brother (your welcome, Matthew) and bought a new digital library from which I could read and study wherever I pleased. Yet as I read and found new favorites, I decided that I wouldn’t mind having the most impactful works sitting on a small bookshelf in my office.
One such book sits there now. Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning is a well-researched endeavor to describe the collective identity of the Nazi Holocaust executioners. The book does not focus on the German soldiers in the trenches (though they committed their own atrocities) or on the workers in the manufacturing plants but on those individuals who stuck the barrel of their rifles into the backs of Jewish heads day after day after day after day. It’s a dark but honest look into the psyche of those who committed Nazi atrocities.
Who were these men who were so dedicated to the philosophies of their homeland that they would be willing to sacrifice their humanity to slaughter innocent souls in gas chambers and mass graves? As the title would suggest, they were the ordinary men of Germany, the leftovers after the Nazis had drafted all the young men or forced them to work in factories to feed the German war machine. The Reserve Police Battalion 101 were responsible for most of the Holocaust operations in Poland and the deaths of an estimated 83,000 Jews. Browning described them as such,
“Of the rank and file, the vast majority were from the Hamburg area. About 63 percent were of working-class background, but few were skilled laborers. The majority of them held typical Hamburg working-class jobs: dock workers and truck drivers were most numerous, but there were also many warehouse and construction workers, machine operators, seamen, and waiters. About 35 percent were lower-middle-class, virtually all of them white-collar workers.”
“Three-quarters were in sales of some sort; the other one-quarter performed various office jobs, in both the government and private sector. The number of independent artisans and small businessmen was very small. Only a handful (2 percent) were middle-class professionals, and very modest ones at that, such as druggists and teachers. The average age of the men was thirty-nine; over half were between thirty-seven and forty-two, a group considered too old for the army but most heavily conscripted for reserve police duty after September 1939…”
“…These were men who had known political standards and moral norms other than those of the Nazis. Most came from Hamburg, by reputation one of the least nazified cities in Germany, and the majority came from a social class that had been anti-Nazi in its political culture. These men would not seem to have been a very promising group from which to recruit mass murderers on behalf of the Nazi vision of a racial utopia free of Jews.”Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, CHRISTOPHER R. BROWNING
I think I’ll keep the book on my special shelf even though it crushes my heart every time I see it. If we were to go back in history, we often think we would be the one insubordinate soldier to defy orders or the one courageous man in the crowd who refused to salute. How proud in our own sense of morality we are! I’m sure the ordinary Germans thought the same way. And yet, they became some of the most efficient genociders in history.
We think we stand on the bank of history’s river, dispassionately judging those who came before us. After all, they never lived up to morality, at least how we define morality. The truth is that we are in the middle of the river, drowning and beaten by the rapids and rocks of our immorality, no better than those who came before us or will come after us. To look into the past is to look at our present. We must see ourselves in the story. History repeats the same script with different actors. We must realize who we are in our most natural state. Without any intervention, we are the brutal executioners who massacre the innocent.
This week, I was again heartbroken by the murderous actions of abortionists, particularly those possibly illegal abortions performed by Cesare Santangelo in Washington D.C. Like the ethic of Nazism, the ethic of post-modernism is in shambles, and the practice of genocide has never stopped. Abortion is the fashionable genocide of the 21st century. The German citizens ignored the smog of burning bodies that drifted over their towns, afraid of the shame that smoke carried with it. Today, certain women trying to hide their guilt can “shout their abortion” for the culture to applaud. Actors model these women’s heroism in living rooms across the country. Politicians defend the rights of abortion clinics to commercialize murder. Musicians write songs about the morality of ripping apart children. And hurting women and men hide their shame under a ragged cultural blanket poorly woven to protect an ideology, not people.
The abortion machine is an industry, not a charity. The machine exploits parents and leaves many of them emotionally and spiritually broken. Abortionists make their living off of manipulating crises, most commonly the crises of those living in poverty. Politicians cried for abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” As money began flowing into abortion organizations from patients, insurance companies, and activist groups, abortions became anything but rare. The mask has fallen, and if we but open our eyes, we can’t avoid that the abortion industry is characterized by greed, not by its self-claimed charity for hurting women. It is not charitable to deceive a mother into allowing a “doctor” to murder her baby for money.
How do we not daily lament the murder of babies within minutes of where we work, sleep, eat, play, and worship?
Beyond the philosophical, political, and cultural malpractice, certain so-called theologians now try to make a case for “compassionate abortion” from the Bible. Built on liberation and progressive theology, these theologians argue that God would never do anything to infringe upon each person’s “bodily autonomy,” despite the countless examples in Scripture of Him doing so.
In their worldview, bodily autonomy is one of the essential values of true justice. If a mother doesn’t want to bear her baby, that baby now infringes upon her bodily autonomy. It becomes unjust to restrict abortion from her anytime during her pregnancy. Read as Jes Kast, a minister of the United Church of Christ, explains her theology of bodily autonomy in her interview with The Atlantic:
I believe reproductive rights and bodily autonomy are deeply important. I believe that is faithfulness to Christianity. I believe in access to safe and legal abortions. I believe that the person who can best make these decisions is the person who’s considering these decisions…
…I believe every person I encounter, including myself, has the right to their body. When that bodily autonomy is taken away, to me, that is against Christian scripture, and is against the Gospel I believe in.Jes Kast, an interview with Emma Green of The Atlantic
When asked if she thought there was ever a situation where having an abortion was immoral, Kast said, “I don’t. I really don’t. I don’t think I do. For me, it’s a health-care issue.” Her Biblical reasoning?
When people talk about “Our body is a temple of God, and holy,” I see that as I have the right to choices over my body, and the freedom to make the decisions that are right for me.
In Genesis, it says that God breathed God’s spirit into our lives—Christians would say “the Holy Spirit.” Because of that, we’re not puppets controlled by God. Because of the image of God in us, we have freedom. That’s what’s really clear to me, is freedom.
There’s this little passage in the Gospel of John that continues to stay with me. Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” The Greek word that’s used there for “life abundance” is this word zoe, which means not just that you’re living and breathing, but that God’s plan for our lives is to actually have a meaningful life with loving contentment and satisfaction.
Because of that—because I value life, and I believe Jesus values life—I value the choices that give us the type of life that we need.Jes Kast, an interview with Emma Green of The Atlantic
Besides the use of verses that don’t even have an obscure link to the issue of abortion and the exclusion of those passages that are overwhelmingly against it, anyone reading her theological reasoning has to shut their eyes to ignore the elephant in the room. “Because I value life…” What a way to twist good into evil and evil into good!
The equating of “contentment and satisfaction” with comfort is anti-Biblical, or else why would Paul, who is in prison, write, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Php. 4:11 ESV).” While it is not wrong to be comfortable, Christianity downplays its importance. Christianity is not about “making the choices that are right for me,” as Kast so selfishly articulates.
The pursuit of comfort is often antithetical to the Gospel and the example of Christ, who embraced self-denial as His most defining act! Contentment and satisfaction are not based on circumstance but on the discipline of relying on Christ’s strength regardless of the circumstances (Php. 4:13). Only in a culture that values their own comfort over young lives does abortion make any logical or emotional sense.
Centuries from now, people will look back at pictures of murdered unborn babies and find them indistinguishable from images of murdered children in the Holocaust. Postmodern arguments for abortion will be covered in history books as heartbreaking and grisly warnings from the past.
The future will evaluate modern America just as we have evaluated past nations. As right as we are to condemn the Germans, future generations will be right in their condemnation against our genocide. But how will future generations remember the Church? Will we point posterity towards the Gospel and Christianity as a shining light in a sea of darkness or will we lead them away from the Church and towards godlessness as some Christians in the past have led us? Will we be remembered as turning a blind eye to the modern genocide, so involved with our own lives to not notice other precious lives being snuffed out all around us?
More importantly, what will God think of us? If God honors our deeds, it does not matter if the world thinks us evil for our good works. The world may cancel, prosecute, or fire us from our jobs—God ultimately judges us. May we live a life that exalts God’s purpose for us, to be images of Him and recognize others as His images as well…even those unborn lives we may never meet here on earth.