I started writing a while back about John Rawls and his journey away from a rather orthodox Protestant faith. Rawls mentions three incidents which he viewed as playing a significant role in this change. All are connected to World War II, with the first two dealing with specific experience Rawls had while fighting in the Pacific. I wrote about them here.
The third incident is a much larger event. It is the Holocaust.
Rawls recounts finding out about the Holocaust in the following way:
It started, as I recall, at Asingan in April, where the Regiment was taking a rest from the line and getting replacements. We went to the Army movies shown in the evening, and they also had new reports of the Army information service. I was, I believe, here that I first heard about the Holocaust, as the very first reports of American troops coming upon the concentration camps made known. Of course much had been known before that, but it had not been open knowledge to soldiers in the field.
These incidents, and especially the thirds as it became widely known affected me in the same way. This took the form of questioning whether prayer was possible. How could I pray and ask God to help me, or my family, or my country, or any other cherished thing I cared about, when God would not save millions of Jews from Hitler? When Lincoln interprets the Civil War as God’s punishment for the sin of slavery, deserved equally by North and South, God is seen as acting justly. But the Holocaust can’t be interpreted in that way, and all attempts to do so that I have read are hideous and evil. To interpret history as expressing God’s will, God’s will must accord with the most basic ideas of justice as we know them. For what else can the most basic justice be? Thus, I soon came to reject the idea of the supremacy of the divine will as also hideous and evil. (Rawls 2010, 262-263)
These comments are powerful and haunting. My next post will look at the changes in Rawls’ view of Christianity, an evolution of theology and moral thought which Rawls saw as spark by these events or incidents. Robert Nozick also comments on the implications of Christian thought in light of the Holocaust. I will address that further…after I dig up that essay.