Small Comfort

Small Comfort August 20, 2013


A very good and sweet friend sent me the 33-minute video below, and asked my opinion of it. In its first five minutes, a man named Ray Comfort says that he’s a Jew, and starts interviewing people about Hitler and the Holocaust. My friend knows that I am an (actual) Jewish writer with a strong interest in history, politics and education. So, hopefully that explains why it took me each of the steps you see below, and a good ten minutes, to realize the awful point and comparison Comfort tries to make with this film.

I’d love to hear how others’ reactions to this film compare to mine. If you don’t have time to watch it, consider these your crib notes. I now present to you an extremely abridged version of how Ray Comfort proceeds to elicit (read: manipulate) the responses he wants from his person-on-the-street interviews. My reaction to each step along the way is in parentheses.

Step 1
Ray Comfort
: Ever heard of Hitler/the Holocaust?
Person on the street: Nope.
(Me: horrified this stuff is not apparently being taught in schools and/or remembered.)

Step 2
Ray Comfort
: Ever heard of Hitler/the Holocaust?
Person on the street:  Yeah, he was the the leader of Germany who started WWII and killed a bunch of Jews, right?
(Me: Oh, for the love of all that is holy, tell me there is, after all, a glimmer of hope for our educational system.)

Step 3
Ray Comfort
: Hitler had his armies dig ditches and shoot Jews into them and fill up the ditches with dirt. Some of those people were still alive. If a German officer had his gun pointed at your head, would you drive the bulldozer that filled up those ditches? Keep in mind, you’d be killing those Jews who were still alive.
Persons on the street: Varied answers: some yes (most tinged with guilt, but admitting it was only because their LIFE WAS IN DANGER) and some no.  Some would rather take a bullet than drive that bulldozer. Also interviewed are token neo-Nazis who idolize Hitler: scary, not to be ignored, but mostly aberrations. But why did Comfort give them any airtime at all?
(Me: Very tough question. Deep and wrenching ethical issues. Impossible to know what I’d do.)

Step 4
Ray Comfort
: If you had Hitler in the crosshairs, would you shoot, preventing the killing of millions of innocents?
Persons on the street:  Yes. (Unanimously)
(Me:  well, that’s an easy one…)

Step 5
Ray Comfort
: If you went back further, thirty-odd years, and you saw Hitler’s mother when she was pregnant with him, would you kill her?
Persons on the street: Some yes; some no.
(Me: Gee, I wonder where he’s going with this?)

Step 6
Ray Comfort
: So, you value human life?
Persons on street: Yes
(Me: Ah. Now I know where he’s going: he’s comparing doctors who perform abortions to Hitler, and people who are pro-choice—people like me!—to German standers-by during WWII. Abortion. This video is about abortion.)

Step 7
Ray Comfort
: How do you feel about abortion?
Persons on street: Variety of answers, from “I don’t know,” to “I’m Pro-Life, but I would never judge anyone else because each situation is different,” to “Hellz, yeah, it should be legal…”
(Me: At least many interviewed are trying to acknowledge the complexity of the different situations in which a woman might seek out an abortion… .)

Step 8
Ray Comfort
: At what point in the womb does the fetus become a life?
Persons on the street: Variety of answers, from “I don’t know” to “three months in.”
(Me: Difficult question, I’m pro-choice, and I have a very hard time with this one.)

Step 9
Ray Comfort
: Finish this sentence: “It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when…”
Persons on the street:  Most are taken aback, but the answers range from “Never,” to “When the mother can’t take care of it,” to, “When it results from something that should never have happened.”
Ray Comfort: (follow-up): Why kill the baby for the crime of the father? What justifies killing a baby in the womb? Why advocate killing children in the womb?
(Me: Whoa. Hold it. Something’s not right here; many things are not right with this exchange.  I’ll be taking a second look at this when the film is over.)

Step 10
Ray Comfort
: Hitler declared Jews “non-human.”  Isn’t declaring fetuses “non-human” the same thing?
Persons on the street: Answers vary from “Hmmmm …” to, “I guess you’re right!”
(Me: Hoooooo boy. Another nail in the coffin of complex thought.)

Step 11
Ray Comfort
: Have you changed your mind about abortion? Would you vote for someone who supported abortion?
Persons on the street: Yes!  No!
(Me: Oy.)

Step 12
Ray Comfort
: Here Ray asks all sorts of questions about believing in God, heaven, hell, the ten commandments, Jesus dying for everyone’s sins—and how all we have to do to be cleansed of our sins is accept Jesus as our savior. Then we can get into heaven.
Persons on street: Cool!
(Me: Wait. Didn’t this guy say in the second sentence of the video that he was Jewish? Did he just forget to make air-quotes around the word “Jewish”?)

Still, I had to think hard about where Comfort twists the argument, and watch the video again—some parts of it several times. I knew his reasoning had somewhere twisted way off course—but where, exactly? Was it in Step 10, when he equates declaring Jews “non-human” with declaring fetuses “non-human”? Jews with years of life ahead of them, years of life behind them—people with jobs, educations, families, relationships and ties to this world—equated to non-viable fetuses? This, to me, is a warped comparison at best, and at worst the height of intellectual dishonesty.

But no, the problem with Comfort’s reasoning definitely came before that.

Was it in Step 9, when he asks people finish the sentence “It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when…”?  What he is there implying (apart from equating a fetus to a baby), and trying to get others to imply, is that if an abortion is performed, both the doctor and the mother think it’s okay! That it’s just fine—rather than the lesser of two potentially painful and horrible choices, either of which have deep and lasting consequences.

Was it in Step 9 again, when Comfort challenges the few who dare to suggest that in cases of rape or incest abortion might be acceptable? When he aggressively fires back at them questions like, “Why should the baby pay for the sins of the father?” Because in none of what he says—none: he never once mentions it—is any consideration given to the impact being forced to have a baby might have on the mother in such a situation. Is she worthy of none of our concern? There is not even a mention of what’s permissible when a mother’s life is in danger. This fascinated me, because when Comfort asked people to finish that loaded question (“It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when…”), I kept waiting for someone to answer “When the mother’s life is in danger as a result of the pregnancy.” But no one said that. Or, if anyone did, it ended up on the cutting room floor.

So here’s the thing. Remember Step 3, when Comfort asked people if, during the Holocaust, they would have filled in that ditch with dirt—even if some Jews were still alive in it? We hear several of the respondents say, “I don’t know,” and  “If I did, it would only be because my life was in danger.” The strange thing there was that Comfort seemed perfectly okay with that answer. He didn’t go after anyone then in defense of those still-alive Jews, the way he did in Step 9, when he jumped to the defense of the fetus against those who suggested there might be situations when abortions were permissible.

What are we to make of this? Does Ray Comfort feel that it is worse to end the life of an unborn fetus’s than to end the life of a living, breathing Jew?

Maybe. But certainly to assert so would be to twist the man’s words. And no decent, self-respecting person would ever purposefully twist the words of another, right?

Aliza WorthingtonAbout Aliza Worthington
Brooklyn-bred, Baltimore by choice, music snob, history nerd, family-obsessed, friend-dependent, amateur glassblower, passable dancer, reluctant cook, Larry David freak, rabid Mets and Orioles fan, writer/publisher at The Worthingon Post, contributor at The Broad Side, and now, resident Jew (read: of course doesn’t subscribe to UC’s first tenet) at Unfundamentalist Christians. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both.

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  • I’ve heard that quite a few times in Germany where it is called “Babycaust”.

    I’m pro-life, but I know the moral difference that abortionists don’t believe they’re killing a living thing whereas the Nazis knew that and found it even pleasant.

    That said, I share the moral panic felt by conservatives when considering the number of abortions, but I would like them to be consistently pro-life and reject Biblical inerrancy, where God allegedly ordered soldiers to kill babies.

    Lovely greetings from Germany.
    Liebe Grüsse aus Deutschland.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Elizabeth Niederer

      Lothar: Admittedly I have lived exclusively in the USA since 1990, with visits to Germany lasting no longer than a month since then, but I have never, EVER heard or read the term “Babycaust.” Indeed, I could count on my fingers the times I heard German speakers use the term “Holocaust.” In all of the times I can recall at the moment, it was used as a Fremdwort (borrowed word).
      When did these terms come into common usage in the German language?

      • Cat Marcuri

        I have never heard of Babycaust either, and I lived in Europe for three years. And I can STILL count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard a European, let alone a German or Austrian, mention the Holocaust. In fact, isn’t the very WORD illegal in Austria??

        • Hello, I don’t know when the term originated, it seems to be shrouded in the fog of recent history.

          It is illegal to be a holocaust apologist, but not to use the word.

          Lovely greetings from Germany.
          Liebe Grüsse aus Deutschland.

          Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

        • Elizabeth Niederer

          No, the word is not illegal. It’s just not German. Nor is “Babycaust.” Lothar, if these terms were in anything remotely resembling real usage in the German language, they would show up in a dictionary. Funny how the online Duden doesn’t have “Babycaust.” It has “Holocaust,” of course, but your average German uses terms like “zu Nazizeiten,” “zur Zeit des 3. Reiches/des Nazionalsozialismus/der Judenverfolgung,” etc. I can recall a bare handful of times I heard “zu Holocaustzeit” or “zur Zeit des Holocausts” used, and that was almost always in Fundamentalist circles.
          I do not doubt that a few people use the term “Babycaust” as a form of inflammatory rhetoric. That doesn’t make it German.
          And no, it is NOT illegal to be a Holocaust apologist. (Check your dictionary; I think you’re using the word backwards.) The legality of being a Holocaust *denier* is questionable, and the Nazi party is outlawed–which doesn’t mean they don’t exist in other forms, of course.

  • If Comfort were to be asking me those questions, when he got to the one about “Would you kill a baby for the crimes of the father?” I’d have to ask him, “Would you condemn all of mankind to hell for the sin of one man?”

    • adam

      The single basis for Christianity.
      the ‘sin’ of man created without the ability to know right from wrong, punished for his innocence.

  • Cat Marcuri

    “And no decent, self-respecting person would ever purposefully twist the words of another, right?” You are making the classic mistake of assuming that these types of hate-filled Fundamentalists are either decent OR self-respecting…

    • Somebody needs to clean the lenses on their irony glasses …

  • sheila0405

    Great analysis of the video.

  • Man.. He’s like our generation’s Plato for people who can’t think straight.

  • Laura Selwood

    Awesome! VERY well said!

  • David_Weintraub

    The woman is erased from this narrative. There is only a disembodied “womb.” This is common in anti-choice narratives; even if one accepts the premise that a fetus or embryo is a person, they can’t acknowledge the presence of the *other* person. Then they would have to explain why, in just this one instance, there exists a “right” of one person to seize control of another person’s body for its own use.

    Also, the youth in these subcultures are taught to think of themselves (and anyone born after 1973) as “Holocaust survivors.”

    • adam

      Biblical women are chattel.