16 September 2004

One of the great Quaker tracts; another Beslan P.S.

This evening I spent some time reading one of the older Pendle Hill Pamphlets, Christ in Catastrophe by Emil Fuchs. I ought to have mentioned it in my post on the Stauffenberg anniversary because Emil Fuchs was yet another German who refused to bow before the bloody gods of Hitler and nationalism. I was reading the pamphlet while sitting in a nearly-empty restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, with the recently-demoted tropical storm Ivan lashing the window next to me with waves of rain, and imagining the 20th century's waves of fascism similarly drenching the world in a storm of poison.

Thanks to Pendle Hill's making available significant out-of-print pamphlets as pdf files through links on their Pendle Hill Pamphlets web page, I can invite you to read this amazing essay for yourself. Here are a few sample passages:

One terrible, bitter question torments us when we see the mighty success of what we believe is wrong, when we see that millions of persons, hundreds even of our friends, go along with this success. It is the question: “Are you alone right and all others wrong?” Are you mad or are they? Are those right who tell us that in this sinful world a politician must go the way of cleverness and deceit, fraud and violence?

Even my friends put this question to me when success after success came to Hitler. Yearly his power grew. “Is he not right?” they said. “Must a politician not use these means? Look how the great men of other nations give in to him.” Again and again I would say to myself and to those doubting people, “How high must the tower be from which we have to fall?” That we would have to fall was certain to me from the hour Christ entered my cell.

. . .

Was it imagination that enabled people like me to know, from the beginning of all the propaganda, that the spirit of Hitler was not of God? Why did so very many, very clever and orthodox theological thinkers, scholars, pastors and leaders of churches not recognize evil? Many churchmen and church people, liberal and orthodox, went with evil until evil went against them. Without their help Hitler would have been impossible. But they were worshippers of nation and lovers of armies first, and afterwards Christians. They had Christianity as doctrine, very elaborate, very refined, very traditional; but they had not that experience in which the living Christ, the risen Lord, gives his call and task for this day and this time — out of the same spirit in which he taught his disciples two thousand years ago.

For me, Emil Fuchs has great credibility because of his faithfulness during years of almost unimaginable testing. The context of Nazism gives his urgent message great power. But (here I speak with great care) the greatness of his message goes beyond time and place. I can't draw a glib parallel between the Third Reich and the American political/economic empire; I dare not minimize the cruel gash in history represented by Nazi blood-worship and its genocidal consequences. But the firm, gentle voice of Fuchs persuades me that his message does have an immediacy for today and for the USA.


When men [and women] and whole generations of men [and women] and whole nations and civilizations seek their life from wealth and power and oppression and injustice, when they live without love in greed and hate, they separate themselves from God and return to their dust.

When nations and civilizations have to die, as in the times we live in, a stream of death and terror runs over the earth. It is not because God is far away, but because man in his hatred and selfishness does not reach out to him, does not reach out to the creative power around him, even within him. God asks more from us than to be small, narrow, selfish, respectable people going the way of money-getting and traditional righteousness. He asks us to be strong upright people who dare to give happiness and life for him and for his kingdom. He created man out of the animals by making him hear this call, and as long as we hear it, so long do we live as men, and his strength is in us. When we do not hear this call, we are living in nothing better than narrow selfishness. Great achievements and discoveries become mere instruments of this selfishness. Hatred and antagonism grow. Man and his civilization begin to die in all the torments of death.

God’s love is in this, that he gave us a great goal. The challenge of God’s love may therefore be a terror for man. We have to decide whether we pass through this terror into peace and certainty of life’s meaningfulness or whether we shrink from it into destruction. Just as those who crucified Christ had to decide, so we also have to decide: whether we shall hear his challenge and seek the way of truth, love and brotherhood, or whether we will again crucify him in all his suffering brothers and sisters — and return to our dust.


With the gentle precision of a surgeon of the soul, Fuchs does not allow us to get away with pleading the obvious differences between the Nazi time and ours, or (to extend his arguments in my own mind) between the motives of ordinary people in Hitler's time and our obviously lofty motives as Americans. Where, he asks, are we in fact putting our trust (not just our theories, our doctrines)? Whether we follow the realism of Caesar or ideals of social righteousness, as soon as we choose the way of the sword, we have chosen the path not to God but to dust.

There's also a tenderness and health in Fuchs's advocacy of joy. True joy, he says, does not mean denial of the suffering of others. This touches on a mystery that has been part of my life as long as I can remember: I choose to be conscious of suffering and injustice (maybe it is not choice; maybe that's just how I'm wired) and yet my inner reality is usually joyful. (There are times that I stop short and wonder whether I ought to feel guilty about that. Sebastian Moore's wonderful book, The Inner Loneliness, was a great help in confronting that guilt. )

Christ in Catastrophe manages to touch on themes of resurrection, spiritual honesty, suffering and joy, Christian reality vs doctrine, the sabotage of evangelism by the church's compromise with oppression, ... all in 29 pages. I feel secure in calling it one of the great Quaker tracts.



Most schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, are back in school now, although the children from School No. 1 are being given an extended vacation. Many of them are simply not ready to go into a place that could remind them of the first three days of this month as their school, and many lives, were destroyed.

Those of us who serve on the Friends House Moscow staff and board have been discussing ways to help facilitate Friends' response to the needs of those children and their families. Funds can be given to Friends House Moscow, and they will be directed either to a family that we ourselves are helping, or to the work of the Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development.

There are several other channels for providing help. For example:

International Orthodox Christian Charities
International Foundation for Terror Act Victims
World Vision
Islamic Relief

Messages of sympathy can be sent through Friends House Moscow and the Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development.

For another time: I've been following the discussion of the alleged strengthening of Putin's centralized authority that has occurred in the last week. Most commentators seem to me to be asking the wrong questions. More about that later.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

What food for thought. It is also good to find the address to send donations to. Thanks for such a postive post.

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