Monday, June 29, 2015

In the belly of the beast

I'd like to amplify a point I made in a previous post. One reaction to the SCOTUS ruling on queer marriage is to glamorize the prospect of persecution and martyrdom. I've seen some American Christian bloggers indulge in brave talk about the idea of losing their job or even their life as a Christian witness. 

And, of course, if push come to shove, that's what's required of us. However, I'm skeptical of professing Christians who are so boastful about their untested fidelity under fire. Reminds me of St. Peter bragging about how, even if all the other disciples abandoned Christ, he'd stand right beside him to the bitter end. And we all know how that turned out.

On a related note, we have Christian leaders drawing lines in the sand. Preparing for civil disobedience. And, if push comes to shove, that, too, is required of us. However, a lot of this seems like rhetorical flourishes. Unproven bravado. 

What I see much less of is practical advice. What should ordinary Christians actually do? John Knox had many chances to get himself martyred, but somehow he eluded the gallows. Had he and other Protestant leaders like Calvin and Samuel Rutherford been cut down early in their career, history would have turned out for the worse. There's no duty to play into the hands of your enemies. That serves their purpose.

I've discussed this in relation to Christian businesses which cater to weddings. I've discussed whether lying is permissible in that situation.

Now I'd like to consider another example. An extreme example. A limiting case. An illustration of how resistance is possible in a worst-case scenario. 

Jack Taylor was an OSS officer (precursor to the Navy SEALs). His team was captured behind enemy lines after they parachuted deep into the Third Reich. He was initially detained at Gestapo headquarters in Vienna, before he was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp. While in Gestapo custody:

Many of the prison guards were former members of the Vienna police who opposed the Nazis, and one stopped by the cell door on several occasions in order to listen to the news from the Allies. This guard told Taylor that "only three out of the twenty police guards were Nazis, and their treatment bore out his claim. They were regular Vienna police most having 20 to 30 years' service and were not SS or Wehrmacht," Taylor noted. "With the exception of the above mentioned three, they were all kind and sympathetic with us; however, very strict Gestapo control was exercised over them." Patrick K. O'Donnell, First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit (Da Capo Press, 2014), 172.

i) Here you have closet opponents of the Nazi regime right in the belly of the beast. It's hard to imagine a setting that hampers their field of action more severely than Gestapo headquarters. Yet even in that environment, they found ways to resist the regime. An unintended consequence of compulsory membership was to make some Nazi opponents plants. 

ii) Not only were they able to resist the regime despite their surroundings, but ironically, their nominal Nazi affiliation gave them official cover to resist Nazi policies in ways they could never get away with otherwise. It gave them opportunities to do good which they'd be unable to do on the outside. 

iii) It's easy to imagine closet Christians in similar circumstances. Because a totalitarian regime requires everyone to belong, to tout the party line, because it outlaws dissent, one unintended consequence is to create double agents within its midst. Give people access, put people in positions of power or responsibility, who secretly oppose the regime.

In the Third Reich you probably had a number of closet Christian officials and bureaucrats who paid lip service to the ideology, but used their position to mitigate evil. Used their position to subvert policy. By forcing everyone to belong, by forcing everyone to go along, the Third Reich unwittingly seeded itself with secret dissidents. 

The same thing would happen if America becomes more totalitarian. Coercive inclusion ends up recruiting and empowering some people who oppose the police state. 

Now, America is nowhere near that point. That development is not inevitable, or even probable. I'm just discussing how resistance is possible under even the most oppressive circumstances. Indeed, how oppression can positively create unforeseen opportunities for resistance. 

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