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Forces of Secularity in the Modern World

Volume 1


Stephen Strehle

Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.

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Chapter Five: Innocent Suffering

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Innocent Suffering


Atheism often develops as a reaction to the inexplicable nature of evil or suffering in the world. The problem of evil hits people on an existential and visceral level, where life has brought a great deal of pain to those experiencing continuous suffering, meaningless toil, and unanswered prayers. Epicurus receives credit for providing the classical formulation of the problem by finding the presence of evil incompatible with a divine reality claiming to be good and all-powerful.1 The presence of evil demonstrates that power and goodness have no ultimate ontological reality in a single being; otherwise, evil would be eliminated. Modern atheists like Bertrand Russell accept this argument and experience dark moments when they draw out the consequences for humankind with brutal logic.2

Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless to destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.… That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond ← 149 | 150 → dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.3

The Puritans

The opposite point of view is found within the Judeo-Christian tradition, where God works within history and directs it with meaning and purpose toward the dawning of the kingdom of heaven.4 Here God takes the life and deeds of people and places them within the divine nature to participate in its immortality and live forever.5 This point of view permeates and motivates many followers of the Christian faith, but found its deepest expressions among Puritan authors who were so energized by their place within the divine economy that they conceived of their community as receiving a special calling and playing a leading role in the divine drama to redeem humanity and make a lasting impact on the world. The Puritans saw England and New England as the epicenter of God’s activity and hoped to “reform” all aspects of society in creating a better world.6 They came to think of their community as a “City on a Hill” that reflected the future and served as the center of a historical process, where genuine progress was made in all areas of life and continued to evolve until it fulfilled its purpose of establishing the kingdom of God, even without the personal intervention of Christ in their postmillennial scheme of things.7 All along the way, Puritans discerned the “signs of the times” and witnessed God’s providential dealings among them, taking notice of earthquakes, tempests, eclipses, and other natural phenomena as special divine admonitions to fulfill their mission.8 They envisioned their community in terms of the ancient people of Israel, possessing the same special role within the divine economy, complete with their national covenant before God, and attended with the same visible blessings and curses upon their faithfulness to its stipulations. Their divines centered their understanding of the divine will upon covenant theology and preached Jeremiads, which exhorted the people to remain faithful to the covenant and prognosticated disaster if they refused to repent of their infidelity to the founding principles.9

The Puritans based much of their teachings upon faith in the sovereignty of God. They identified their ideas with the theology of John Calvin and followed his strong emphasis upon predestination, except preferring to engage in more speculation about God’s specific intent or purpose behind the actual decree.10 Like Calvin, the Puritans thought of God working all things according to the good pleasure of the divine will,11 but many of them were not content to recognize the simple truth of God’s ultimate control over the forces of life and wanted to engage ← 150 | 151 → in some speculation and discern why God had ordained certain events to transpire within the divine counsels—an impiety Calvin certainly questions and repudiates several times in his Institutes. Calvin says that “nothing takes place by chance” or “without his deliberation,” including the fall of Adam, the evils of humanity, and the damnation of the reprobate,12 but he rejects those who speculate over the why and wherefore behind the “secret plan.”13 Calvin feels that true piety must limit its study to following what God reveals in Scripture and spurn any attempt to speculate about the intent or meaning of historical events apart from a specific divine word or commentary.14

Here, surely, the fall of Adam is not presupposed as preceding God’s decree in time; but it is what God determined before all ages that is shown, when he willed to heal the misery of mankind. Suppose our adversary again objects that this plan of God depended on the ruin of man, which he foresaw. It is quite enough for me to say that all those who propose to inquire or seek to know more about Christ than God ordained by his secret decree are breaking out in impious boldness to fashion some new sort of Christ.…With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened because he has so willed it. But why he so willed, it is not for our reason to inquire, for we cannot comprehend it.15

After Calvin, this type of biblical piety waned, and the next generation of Protestants reverted to scholastic and philosophical means of constructing their system of doctrine, dividing biblical studies from theology.16 In the most famous instance, Theodore Beza exhibited this tendency as the successor of Calvin at the Academy in Geneva and produced a grand supralapsarian scheme of history, based upon Aristotelian logic and the scholastic theology of Duns Scotus. Through this philosophical scheme, he explained the reasons why God destined the majority of the human race to the pits of hell and designed the fall (lapsis) of Adam to condemn them, along with the other significant matters of biblical history and salvation.17

The Puritans also had a tendency to search out the “secret plan” of God in their works. They emphasized the OT more than other Christian groups18 and tended to embrace the view of the Mosaic economy, which sees the blessings of life as a sign of divine favor and the curses as much the opposite (Dt 28).19 Thomas Beard, a Puritan divine, provided an extreme example of this viewpoint in his influential work, The Theatre of Gods Judgments (1597). As an early schoolmaster and later friend of Oliver Cromwell, his ideas and work naturally exerted an important influence upon his pupil, as well as the subsequent Revolution, which published a revised and expanded edition in 1648—the year before Charles I’s execution.20 The book contains special exhortations to rulers about serving the will of God and warnings about divine wrath punishing “wicked offenders against the ← 151 | 152 → law of God and the laws of kingdoms.” It warns against those rulers who hinder the “worship and service of God,” pointing to the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and the agonizing death of Herod the Great as a fitting judgment for the enemies of God’s people.21 The “heavy and revenging hand” of God is sure to fall upon all those who spurn the Word and persecute the ministers of the sacred message, and Beard finds it most typical for the Lord to broadcast his righteous indignation in a direct, cause-and-effect manner, linking specific acts of disobedience with certain results: “we may plainly see that few persecuting enemies of Christ & his servants, have escaped without some remarkable token of God’s wrath and heavy displeasure.”22 The visible tokens are provided throughout the book ad nauseam, boldly illustrating the moral lessons or intent of God in history and often emphasizing the lex talionis of the Mosaic economy (Ex 21:23–25, Nm 32:23). Here is a sample:

Likewise we may read of Felix, Earle of Wartemberg, who swore to his companions at a supper, that ere he died he would ride vp to the spurres in the blood of the Lutherans, that is, true Christians; But in the same night Gods hand was vpon him, for hee was strangled and choked with his owne blood. Harken to this, yee bloody and murthering Papists and quake for feare Illiricus.23

Likewise we may read of one John Martin Trumbant of Briquerras in Piamont, who would vaunt himselfe, and brag of his crueltie against professors of Christs Gospell. And further, how hee most barbously cut off a faithfull ministers nose, for which wicked deede, the Lord sent a mad Wolfe to bite off his nose, and so he died himself mad. This wolfe was never knowne to harme any man before.24

A certaine fellow, hearing a godly Preacher in a Pulpit say much against periury, greatly condemning the same, and shewed how it neuer escaped vnpunished, scoffingly saide, I haue often forsworne my selfe, and yet my right hand is not a whit shorter than my left, which words scarce vttered, but an inflammation rose in that hand which would neuer be cured. But was cut off, to saue the rest of his body, and so at length his right hand through the iustice of God was made shorter then the left.25

A certaine Noble-man would vsually hunt on the Saboath day, but as hee loued dogs more then the service of God vpon his holy Saboath, so the Lord rewarded him: for hee made his wife to bring foorth a childe with the head like a dog, that seeing he preferred his dogs before Gods worship, he might haue a dogge of his owne getting to play withall.26

It is reported that a wicked sonne did beate his old father, and trailed him by the haire of his head to the threshold of the doore, which wretch when he was olde, was so serued of his sonne and worse, for his sonne dragged him out of doores into the dirt in the streetes, …, so we see heere, like sin, like punishment.27 ← 152 | 153 →

Cirus, King of Persia, was a man of blood, but his ende was according to his life, for a woman overcoming him, and killing him, threw his head into a sacke full of blood, saying, now glut thy selfe with blood, which thou hast thirsted after, so long time.28

Theodeberius, eldest sonne of Clotharius, died amongst his whores: … The like befell on one Bartean Ferrier, a great learned man at Barselon in Spaine, who hauing locked himselfe in his study with a whore, was found dead vpon the strumpet.29

Now Gods fearfull iudgements vpon the persons of wretched sinners of this kind according to vndoubtd histories. In the Bishopricke of Coline, a notable vsurer, lying sicke, mooued his lips and mouth, as though he chewed somewhat, and being asked what he did eate he answered his money, and that the diuell thrust it into his mouth perforce, so that he could neither will, nor chuse, but deuoure it, and in this temptation he died miserable.30

It were to long to call all or halfe of the Popes to account for their abominations more then heathenish therefore let vs end with Pope Alexander the 6, which came to the Papacie not by desert, but by briberie and faire promises to the Cardinals, for he was a man, or rather a monster, full of all horrible vices and beastly conditions, hauing neither sinceritie, faith, religion nor ciuill honestie, but couetousnesse, ambition, more then barbarous crueltie: he set benefices and promotions to sale: he poysoned Iohn Michel Cardinal of Venice for his treasure: he perswaded Charles the 8. King of France to warre, and afterward himselfe turned to the contrary party: he deuised poyson for Cardinall Adrian his familiar freind, which his Butler mistaking, insteed of the Popes cuppe gaue his murdering Maister that which Cardinall Adrian should haue drunke, which the Pope drinking, and being poysoned as his freind should haue bin, died miserably, according to his iust derseruings, by his wicked behauiour.31

All these examples are meant to instill the fear of God within the godly and ungodly alike—all of whom experience the chastisement of the Lord. Beard ends with a final warning to the readers concerning a “greater punishment then any (as yet) spoken of, for the wicked, and that is eternal torments in hell fier,” making the horror of divine wrath much greater than the foreboding tokens of his own book.32

This position also made its way into New England as a source of vigilance within the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Cotton Mather, their most prolific and famous author, saw the community playing a leading role in a divine drama and continually pointed to providential signs of deliverance and judgment in spurring the people to persevere and fulfill their special calling before God.33 In The Voice of God in Stormy Winds, Mather attacks the insidious “Atheism” among the people by inculcating the fear of divine sovereignty and excoriating any attempt to limit these phenomena to “Second Causes only” like the innate “Disposition of the Air, the season of the Year, or the Influence of the Constellations in the Heavens.”34 The ← 153 | 154 → people must heed these “dreadful providences” as signs from God.35 At times they represent something positive for the community in exhibiting the type of mercy and deliverance “that happened on our Coast Yesterday and the Day before,” when “the French Privateer designing to do us hurt…suffered shipwreck,”36 but more often they bring fear and foreboding with their display of divine power. They bring swift justice to the godless, as seen in the recent case of two blasphemers, who were struck dead by a lightning bolt after defying the heavens.37 They also serve as a sign of divine displeasure or threat of a coming judgment and tribulation, as happened in so many instances throughout the history of the church.38 The basic purpose of storms is to arrest the people from their present complacency and make them recognize the fragility of their situation—that it is possible for God to bring disaster and even extinguish the community, as Mather illustrates throughout the work showing past and present examples of utter destruction through these divine tempests.39

In A Discourse Concerning Earthquakes, he points to another type of sign from God that needs careful analysis to discern its multifaceted meaning for the community.40 Sometimes earthquakes show divine displeasure with human behavior, and Mather cites a number of OT verses and passages to confirm this kind of meaning;41 other times they bring judgment upon the world in delivering the people of God from oppression, and Mather points again to many specific instances in the OT to display this possibility;42 and still other times they contain a direct “Metaphorical sense” and portend “state-quakes,” “church-quakes,” “kingdom-quakes,” and other great changes that are about to transpire. Mather particularly focuses upon this latter dimension of their significance in the sermon as an opportunity to exhort the people in light of the signs and wonders around them. He interprets recent earthquakes in terms of the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus made “Great Earthquakes” a portent of his coming, warning his disciples to remain vigilant and discern the signs of the times. Mather wants to awaken his people by recalling the words of Jesus’ prophecy, helping them discern the present fulfillment, and providing a number of examples indicating the increase of earthquakes around the world—just as Jesus predicted concerning the latter days. Even New England has experienced several earthquakes of late and must recognize the signs of the times through practicing vigilant and diligent service to God.43 Mather uses these and other providential signs as a means of encouraging his people to be thankful for God’s mercy in delivering them from harm. He points out some contemporary examples of affliction to underscore the real and present danger, but his approach remains less condemnatory than The Theatre of Gods Judgements; he merely wants the people to consider their ways and serve the kingdom of heaven given the fragility and ephemeral nature of the world.44 ← 154 | 155 →


Eventually, the Calvinist view of life faded over time as people imputed more autonomy to natural events and thought of God as more remote and less responsible for everyday affairs.45 The suffering of life lost any real sense of meaning or purpose and called into question the fundamental religious notion of divine providence or an ultimate sovereign plan. Instead, the concern over human suffering summoned people to take responsibility and employ their best effort to alleviate whatever natural objects impeded their way on the road to progress or a more felicitous state of affairs.46

A pivotal moment was the great earthquake that rocked Lisbon, Portugal on November 1, 1755. It happened on All Saints’ Day when all the churches of the city were crowded for the morning’s mass, ensuring maximum carnage and producing a death toll of over 50,000.47 Some like John Wesley reacted with the theological and rhetorical style of a Puritan by underscoring the sovereignty of God in all things, the divine right to take vengeance upon those responsible for the Inquisition in Portugal, and the need to take refuge in the Almighty, not the ability of humans to control the forces of nature.48 But others started to question this old-school approach to a more complex and disturbing reality. A couple of months after the event, Voltaire wrote a poem questioning the supercilious optimism of the church and modern philosophical thinkers like Leibniz and Lord Shaftesbury, who simply dismissed real and senseless tragedies like Lisbon by believing that all things are just and work for the good in the counsels of God. Is it possible to tell those who witnessed the death of so many loved ones that “all is well” in the grand scheme of things and dismiss the cruelty of life around them as a mere chimera?49 Three years later, Voltaire returned to the subject of Lisbon and composed Candide or Optimism—a novel that resonated with the public and warranted 43 editions in the next few decades.50 In the novel, Candide is the protagonist, who undergoes some tragedies in his life, forcing him to question the teaching of his mentor that this is the “best of all possible worlds,” that “everything is made for the best purpose.”51 Candide finds it difficult to reconcile this optimism with the brutal death of so many good people, including Pangloss, his mentor and the “greatest of philosophers,”52 but he (and Voltaire) refuses to sink into complete pessimism in spite of the evidence around him. Candide chooses to go on and “cultivate the garden” at the end of the novel, deciding to continue working with the prospect of finding meaning. Voltaire displays through Candide the indomitable hope that still beats within the human spirit. He finds it difficult to end his work on a pessimistic note or yield to the darkness of complete atheism, even if his thoughts are leading him elsewhere.53 He still wants to believe in God or something that is essential to the ← 155 | 156 → existential and social needs of the people in spite of all reasons to the contrary. He protests the need to continue believing in some nebulous form of faith, which has little proof or definition. He later provides a utilitarian justification and cries, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”54; in all this indicating a need for God that is growing more difficult to justify and floundering as an abstraction within his new anti-theological world of Deism and other modern expressions of faith.

More typical of the modern world was the tendency to pigeonhole the question of God altogether and limit the discussion of tragic events to the realm of secondary or natural causality as a practical means of resolving or alleviating the problem.55 John Mitchell, an English clergyman and natural philosopher, represented this new secular emphasis by providing a detailed explanation of the Lisbon earthquake in 1760, which limited the discussion to secondary causality and brought him much credit from the scientific community as a father of modern geology and seismology. In his work, the cause of earthquakes begins with subterranean fires heating up underground water rather than the will or moral indignation of some divine force. The process of heating the water produces pent-up vapors that eventually erupt at an epicenter and travel in a “wave-like motion” across the surface of the earth. In the case of Lisbon, the earthquake was caused by an eruption at great depths in the Atlantic Ocean traveling to a nearby city, which remains vulnerable to a future episode. As a practical matter, Mitchell wants the people to recognize that certain places experience earthquakes at regular intervals, and low-lying, hilly regions receive the most violence or damage.56 The “Spaniards, at their first settling there [in Lisbon], were told by the old inhabitants when they saw them building high houses that they were building their own sepulchers.”57 The exhortation is to plan accordingly, and the concern about pleasing God seems less relevant in the hope of averting the next disaster.

This secular and scientific point of view has come to dominate the religious and non-religious community in the modern world. No longer are earthquakes seen as “acts of God” in any serious or literal sense of the phrase. Those who search out the “secret plan” of God and ask ultimate teleological questions about the purpose of earthquakes run the risk of receiving much ridicule from a public that is becoming more and more secular, just like their view of the world. Earthquakes are interpreted these days as natural phenomena within a cosmic machine that humans can mitigate only through proper precautions of a practical nature. Any mention of God’s hand in the matter is considered pre-scientific and condemned as judgmental. No better example is the continuous public ridicule of Pat Robertson, who professes to possess a “word of knowledge” as a charismatic minister and ← 156 | 157 → periodically tries to connect certain natural disasters with divine acts of retribution like some prophet of old.58 This type of interpretation is best left to bygone days.


No religious community suffered a greater disturbance or challenge to their beliefs in the modern world than the Jewish people. The anti-Semitism of the diaspora reached a zenith in the middle of the twentieth century with the elimination of a third of their people in death camps, leaving the survivors to question the existence of God and the meaning of their own existence as a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Some continued to follow the traditional belief of a sovereign God working on behalf of the chosen people, but many other Jewish people felt betrayed by the horrific scope of the Holocaust and proceeded to adopt a more secular view of life, which no longer saw the biblical concept of divine providence as a credible alternative and chose to dismiss or revise the ancient faith.

The haredi or ultra-orthodox tended to resist the general trend in representing the most entrenched part of Judaism and following the traditions of the religion and its ancient view of history. The haredi continued to find inspiration in the Hebrew Scripture and followed its understanding of tribulation as a divine act of punishment for the sins of the people.59 In this line of thinking, Hitler served the will of God as the rod of divine anger, fulfilling much the same purpose of Nebuchadnezzar in the prophecies of Jeremiah by chastening the iniquity of the Jewish people. The Holocaust was an act of justice, even if its ultimate purpose was redemptive in leaving a remnant to renew the sacred covenant and traditions of faith, rather than annihilate Jewish life forever. It was necessary for God to chasten the people because of their secular ways and lead them back to rediscovering their religious identity as the chosen people. Modern times brought the adulteration of the faith by the Reform and other liberal Jewish people through forsaking the traditional understanding of the faith and adopting an enlightened way of thinking.60 It saw many Jews forsaking their communities to assimilate into the new nation-states as citizens and becoming like “all the other nations” (1 Sm 8:5)61; it saw them engaging in pseudo-messianic movements like secular Zionism, which sought to resolve Jewish problems through the political methods of the world, rather than wait for a future apocalyptic deliverance that promises the full and true experience of salvation—both spiritual and corporeal.62 In blaming secularism, this ultra-orthodox explanation found the locus of the problem within the vices of their polemical enemies within Judaism but had some difficulty understanding why the actual locus of Hitler’s wrath seemed to be centered elsewhere. The extermination ← 157 | 158 → was mainly conducted in Eastern Europe, where a higher portion of Orthodox Jews lived at the time, and the total operation eliminated 80 percent of the Rabbis, scholars, and students of Judaism, mainly living in that region and less influenced by the Enlightenment.63

Today the mainline view of Judaism tends to reject the traditional understanding of the ultra-orthodox and find no fault with the Jewish people at all. The Holocaust contains no lesson or message that they need to discern from the heavens above. Those who suffered from Nazi atrocities simply “fell victim to a crime motivated by an evil fantasy,” which “had no intrinsic meaning” whatsoever for an individual to study and take to heart.64 This point of view often speaks of the Holocaust as if it had no antecedent in past events and defies any attempt to find a rational basis for it, calling the existence of a providential God into question. The Holocaust represents an unprecedented and unique manifestation of evil, making it difficult to explain or justify from a rational point of view—religious or scientific, social or psychological. Above all, it calls into question those who continue to believe in a grand rationality for all things and precludes any simple reversion back to the old understanding of history when evil was “limited in scope” and possible to explain away through “God’s overall plan for Jewish and world history.”65 If anyone is to blame for the extermination, it is the Gentiles, not its innocent victims. The Jewish people are exonerated from all culpability in the matter, or even responsibility for preventing it as those who were blindsided by an inexplicable and irrational force that came from nowhere.66 German reasons for disliking the Jews are seldom mentioned in this account or immediately dismissed as arising from a mentality that wishes to “blame the victim.” One finds little mention of German complaints about Jewish people possessing a disproportionate amount of power in the land or controlling the arts, banks, the press, and any number of important professions.67 One also finds little mention of the Enlightenment and its clear role in fueling modern anti-Semitism, maybe because this criticism hits too close to home for these enlightened Jews and makes them complicit in anti-Semitism—at least to some degree.68 If anyone is culpable for laying the foundation of Nazi death camps, it is typical of this interpretation to blame the church. Nazi anti-Semitism was little more than a “cancerlike mutation of the Christian anti-Semitic ideology,” which demonized the Jewish people for murdering their Messiah and produced “the death camps [as] the terminable expression of Christian anti-Semitism.”69 The basis for the hatred is found within the NT and its conception of Jews as “Christ-killers,” making anti-Semitism an indelible aspect of the religion and explaining why this scurrilous accusation “has been repeated ad nauseam for almost two thousand years.”70 Richard Rubenstein says, “As long as there is Christianity, Jews will be the potential objects of a special ← 158 | 159 → and ultimately pernicious attention which will always have the potentiality of exploding in violence.”71 However, the problem with his assessment is the lack of substantial proof. There is little evidence that the church sponsored anti-Semitism throughout its history and much that speaks to the contrary when considering the basic ecclesiastical policies of the papacy.72 Because of this problem, Rubenstein and the many liberal Jews who follow him often resort to employing psychobabble to find the pretext for blaming the church on a “deeper” subconscious level.

Even without Hitler, the Judas story is destined to continue to play a vital role in unconsciously poisoning Jewish–Christian relations. The Judas tale is part and parcel of the Passion drama, which is retold and relived by every practicing Christian during Holy Week. From the cradle to the grave, few stereotypes are as consistently reinforced under the most emotionally potent environments as these. The high point of the Christian religious calendar rehearses, amidst utterly magnificent music, frequently aesthetically overpowering architecture and ceremonial grandeur, the terrible tale of the Jewish betrayal and the Jewish murder of the Jewish God!… The Judas story created the psychological ground which made it possible for Germans under stress to believe that the Judas–Jews had betrayed their country and caused her defeat in World War I. It was futile for Jewish defense and veterans’ groups to point to Jewish sacrifices on behalf of the Fatherland during the war. After all, Judas had betrayed his Lord with a kiss. The appearance of loyalty in a Jew could not be credited, even when that appearance was purchased through death on the battlefield.… I do not love my sons the less because I am aware of the unconscious parricide dwelling in their psyches. When I see Christian Heilsgeschichte as leading potentially to murder, I do not forget its Jewish origin. I can sense the potential murderer in my brother only because I have intuited it in myself. As Christian and Jew we cannot be united in innocence. Let us at least each be united in guilt.73

Today many Jewish people find it necessary to revise their theology after the Holocaust. They find it difficult to cite the book of Deuteronomy or develop a simple calculus like Jeremiah in assigning the specific punishment of seventy years in captivity for certain transgressions as if knowing the mind of God and verdict of ultimate justice in minute detail. Most Jewish people wish to mitigate this part of the tradition and emphasize other aspects of it, which allow for some latitude and inconsistency in understanding the overall mystery of God.74 They can point to the book of Job and view the ways of God as numinous or beyond the capacity of finite human beings to comprehend with simple moral constraints.75 They can say with John Calvin that humans should follow the will of God as revealed in Scripture and refuse to speculate over ultimate divine purposes as the zenith of human blasphemy and hubris.76 They can follow Immanuel Kant and find their moral duty in performing the dictates of the law as obedient servants, without any prospect of receiving a specific reward.77 Maybe, the Holocaust represents the destiny ← 159 | 160 → of the chosen people to suffer with God in the world and accept the difficult mission of a martyr, leaving them to live as a suffering servant, without incentives from respondent and operant conditioning.78

Some Jewish people look in another direction and find the accent upon human responsibility and freedom an important aspect of their tradition and better option in providing a possible or partial solution. The Hebrew Scripture portrays God as giving to the people commandments, expecting their cooperation in fulfilling the divine will, and warning them of dire consequences if they go astray. Because of this bilateral arrangement, Judaism is able to think of God as restricting the exercise of omnipotent power when dealing with humankind, allowing space for genuine freedom and moral responsibility, and shifting the onus of creating evil away from the divine person toward the unfaithfulness of the covenant partner or vices of human beings in general.79 In trying to explain the Holocaust, Irving Greenberg speaks of this tension between God and human beings as lying at the root of the Jewish experience. He prefers to explain evil through the bailiwick of human responsibility and resolve the Epicurean triangle by sacrificing the typical metaphysical concept of omnipotence, rather than lose a more essential attribute like justice or goodness.80

In the 1960s, the tension soon gives way to a more radical theological expression that denies the providence of God altogether. These Jewish theologians see the dialectical movement proceeding away from the belief in a transcendent God toward an emphasis on human freedom and autonomy.81 Emil Fackenheim follows many other radical theologians and proclaims that “God is dead,” like so many other radical theologians of the 1960s. It is no longer possible for Jews to believe in the God of history or their special calling from heaven as the “chosen people.” It is the obligation of all Jews after the atrocities of Auschwitz to stop praying as if God is connected to the world and has some special relation to them.82 Richard Rubenstein agrees with these sentiments and the emphasis upon the death of God, believing that Auschwitz broke the “thread uniting God and man” and sentences everyone to live in a “cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos” with no “meta-historical meanings” whatsoever. He finds it better to live in an absurd and meaningless universe than pretend to go on believing in an almighty and capricious deity who had the cruelty to inflict Auschwitz upon an innocent and unsuspecting people.83 And yet, Rubenstein and other radical theologians are unable to proceed any further in this line of thinking and reject the typical response of Camus and like-minded atheists, who discard religion in the name of the absurd. They continue to remain within the religious community as an essential aspect of human existence, but they find it impossible to continue believing in a personal God and necessary to demythologize the sacred history of the past.84 ← 160 | 161 →

Many of the Jewish people who experienced the Holocaust firsthand also display the same tendency in renouncing all faith in the personal God of Hebrew Scripture.85 Elie Wiesel represents this perspective in his classical work, entitled the Night. Wiesel was a Hungarian Jew, who was deported to Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a child and related his horrific ordeal some ten years later as a survivor. In the book, Wiesel relates the process of losing his faith, of coming to Auschwitz, of beholding the “little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky,” of smelling the foul odors of the crematory, of viewing “those flames which destroyed my faith,” “which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams into dust.”86 Before Auschwitz, he was a pious student of the Talmud, who expressed a desire to learn Kabbalah at a young age from his teacher, Moshe the Beadle.87 He speaks of the Germans entering his town in the spring of 1944, creating a ghetto out of it, and eventually deporting all the people, who remained optimistic at first in the midst of so much uncertainty.88 But through the long and exhausting ordeal, involving months of starvation and death, it was no longer possible for him and others to accept the silence of the heavens and believe in the ancient Hebrew traditions and its God of absolute justice.89 He might pray at times, hoping to receive enough moral strength and continue helping his father survive, but his animosity toward “that God in whom I no longer believed” became more and more palpable.90 In one telling incident, he describes his faith dying with three prisoners, who were executed for possessing arms.

One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all round us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains—and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.

This time the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him.

The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.

The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.

“Long live liberty!” cried the two adults. ← 161 | 162 →

But the child was silent.

“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.

At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.

Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.

“Bare your heads!” yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.

“Cover your heads!”

Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive.…

For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

“Where is God now?”

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

“Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.…”91

The majority of Jewish people have moved toward atheism or secularism in their everyday thoughts and actions. The process received an impetus from the attitudes of the French Enlightenment and the policies of its Revolution against the Judeo-Christian tradition, and culminated in the dark days of the Holocaust, which sealed most Jews into seeking a secular salvation from a secular world.92 This process left the Jewish community asking questions about the significance of their identity as a people and the possibility of defining its nature in the future if religion was no longer the fundamental basis. The Jewish people had begun to move away from a religious identification by the time of the Holocaust and even proceeded to interpret Hitler’s hatred of their people during and after the war in the exclusive terms of race, rather than religion, politics, and social standing, as the new and basic way of describing what it means to be Jewish.93 Rubenstein follows this secular tendency and admonishes Jews to abandon their religious identity since it ← 162 | 163 → continues to serve as a pretext for Christians murdering Jewish people or viewing Hitler as an instrument of divine chastisement. It is better for the Jewish people to enter “simple humanity” than continuing to experience the pernicious hatred of “philo-Semitism” and “anti-Semitism” alike.94 And yet, Rubenstein and other secular Jews find it necessary for the community to survive even after reducing its people to nothing special. Fackenheim claims to hear a voice emanating from Auschwitz and admonishing secular and religious Jews to confirm their “Jewishness” as a sacred duty. In a famous passage, he exhorts the people to survive and not hand Hitler a “posthumous victory” in allowing Judaic life to perish altogether—a message that all authentic Jews take to heart.95

In many ways, Jewish people are those who survive in the midst of hardship, making suffering an indelible feature of “Jewishness” down through the ages. They are a religious and secular community that emphasizes and celebrates their suffering, even if this testimony is not unique to the community and unable to capture the entire essence of their experience. The Jewish people are certainly related to Christians in this regard. The Christian faith first developed out of Judaism and presented the prospect of suffering to its early followers through the NT’s emphasis upon the cost of discipleship (Mt 5:11–12; 16:24–26; 2 Tm 3:12). The theme of suffering dominated the first three centuries of the church’s existence in the age of martyrs and continued to find a prominent place in certain quarters, perhaps finding its most consistent expression in the Reformation among a pacifist wing like the Anabaptists, who interpreted the NT in a literal manner and took its words about suffering to heart.96 The Black Church has represented this theme in more recent times with its struggle against discrimination and racism, making their experience related to the synagogue and other fellowships who share the same understanding of their plight in society.

The problem with the position is the difficulty of keeping a balanced or objective perspective on the suffering. The position certainly gains an audience from those who condemn violence and sympathize with its victim, but it fails to keep a balanced perspective about the complex nature of people, who like to exaggerate the sins of others and exonerate their own shortcomings. Anabaptists like to recount the heroics of their martyrs in suffering horrific torment for their faith, but often neglect the seditious behavior of their ancestors as a pretext for the persecution in disrupting society and slandering Christian magistrates as infidels.97 The Israelites suffered four hundred years of bondage in Egypt and spent much of the time crying to the Lord for deliverance, but found it difficult to leave the habit of grumbling during their forty years in the wilderness and lodged complaint after complaint against the Lord.98 This type of grumbling reaches its zenith in those who find their suffering unbearable, or without comparison to the rest of human ← 163 | 164 → experience, moving them to slander divine providence or deny the existence of God altogether. Many Jews who interpreted the Holocaust as a unique event of unprecedented evil moved toward the rejection of their historic faith, but one must wonder whether the interpretation was necessary, or just the final expression of discontent. Even in their own history, one finds instances of horrific evil, like the brutal policies of the Assyrian empire and the destruction of the “ten lost tribes of Israel” in the eighth century B.C.E., without the Jews losing the faith of their fathers, without Hezekiah surrendering the last vestige of their life in Jerusalem.

In the larger scheme of things, the facticity of death might represent the ultimate problem that all human beings must face in their lives with its certainty and finality. Often, humans are shortsighted when comparing their lives with others and judging unfairness by the treatment of their immediate associates. They forget that the ephemeral nature of life makes all the relative differences pale into complete insignificance. The Buddha recognized that suffering was a common lot of humankind, that everyone was going to become old and sick and die, and exhorted the people to find peace within their mind, rather than dwell upon the throes and vicissitudes of life.99 Blaise Pascal found the ephemeral nature of life the most disturbing question of all and wondered why humans spend so much time dwelling upon trifling matters when this one horrific reality contains the only vital matter of concern for us all.100

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space that I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened and am astonished at being here rather than there;… The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.101

In this simple mathematical fact, the quantity and quality of any life are reduced to a meaningless nothing when divided by the infinity of time.

The Bible engages the question of death and asks about the ultimate metaphysical justification for this final tragedy of life—a question the secular ideology of today no longer entertains in its predilection for mechanical explanations. The Bible thinks of God as the measure of all perfection and human beings as worthy of death because of their failure to live up to the righteous and eternal standards of divine glory (Gn 3; 6:5; Ps 51:4; Rom 3:23; 6:23; Eph 2: 1–3). The death-sentence is universal, embracing the whole human race—both Jewish and Gentiles alike. The prophets of Judah might think of Gentiles as living outside the special revelation of God and walking in darkness, but they never exonerated the Jewish people as free from the bondage of sin and unworthy of the chastisement that befalls them from time to time at the hands of the very wicked (Hb 1). In fact, ← 164 | 165 → Amos thinks their sacred covenant entails a greater accountability before God and results in a stricter form of punishment, which is necessary to redeem the people and purify their ways (Amos 3:2). This message comes to the forefront in the NT, where God’s people are summoned to take up their cross and undergo the most severe process of chastisement as a sign of their election and means of redemption (Mt 5:11, 12; Lk 9:23–25; Acts 5:41; Heb 12:6; 1 Pt 4:13–17). In following this important theme, most Christians understand suffering as a part of redemption and find it difficult to accept the simple cause-and-effect reasoning of Thomas Beard and his predilection to condemn those who endure hardships as more wicked than others.102 The words of Jesus seem most explicit in rejecting self-righteousness and reviling judgments (Mt 7:1–3), and preferring his followers to concentrate on their own sins, rather than spend time speculating over the pretext of God’s dealings with others (Lk 13:1–6; Jn 9:1–3). In fact, Christians see Jesus enduring the fullness of suffering, particularly during the last week of his life and death on the cross. Here Jesus experiences the cruelest form of punishment, dying as an innocent victim, bearing the sins of others, feeling abandoned by God, and crying out to the heavens for an ultimate reason, without receiving an answer or aid of any kind (Mk 15:33–34).103 This understanding of the cross becomes high theology when Christians recognize the fullness of deity within Jesus of Nazareth and find it necessary to reinterpret their understanding of God in terms of the suffering and death of their Messiah. Martin Luther calls this reinterpretation the “theology of the cross,” where one crucifies the former understanding of divine glory and takes seriously the revelation of God in Christ Jesus as seen in the events of his earthly existence. This revelation forces one to abandon the former “theology of glory,” which “makes God the devil,” dwelling in self-sufficient transcendence and imperial majesty. It forces one to forsake a priori theological notions, which find greatness within the prowess of human reason, turning God into Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, and Herod the Great. It forces one to forsake the exaltation of human arrogance and meditate upon the humble and com-passionate God of the cross, hidden from philosophical pretense within a servant, who suffers, bleeds, and dies together with the people (1 Cor 1, 2).104 Modern theologians like to emphasize this theme and think it provides an answer to atheism and its continual protest about the problem of evil since God is no longer impassible or outside the realm of suffering. Even some Jewish mystics follow the theme by finding the presence of Shekinah in the wilderness, wandering and suffering with the people, and resolving the old Epicurean triangle with a different conception of God, who is no longer living outside the human condition as Graeco-Roman philosophy had taught the western world, but actually exists as a com-passionate presence within their darkest hours.105 While the modern secular world fails to ← 165 | 166 → find God any longer in the midst of its suffering, these Jewish and Christian theologians prefer to find Jehovah suffering together with the people and bringing an ultimate deliverance from the things that would destroy their souls.


1. This argument is related by Lactanius, a Christian apologist, who clearly misrepresents the original words of Epicurus, since the latter was not an atheist or monotheist. Pierre Bayle and David Hume are famous for developing their own version of the argument in the modern world.

2. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, Paul Edwards (ed.) (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 29ff.

3. Ibid., 107, 115.

4. Donald K. McKim, “The Puritan View of History or Providence Within and Without,” Evangelical Quarterly 52 (1980): 216–17.

5. Shubert Ogden, The Reality of God and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 35–36.

6. Thomas Case, Two Sermons Lately Preached at Westminster (London: I. Raworth, 1642), 2.13, 16; Iohn Foxe, The First Volumes of Ecclesiastical History Contayning the Actes and Monumentes (London: Iohn Daye, 1570) “Foure Questions Propounded to the Papists”; Actes and Monumentes (London: Iohn Daye: 1563) “The Preface to the Quene”; Jonathan Edwards, Polypoikilos Sophia. A Compleat History Or Survey Of all the Dispensations and Methods of Religion (London, 1699), 689–91; Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1980), 195–98; Janice Knight, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), 132; Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 470; William Haller, Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 19; The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (New York and Everston, IL: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963), 224–25; Stephen Strehle, Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity: The Sacred Roots ← 166 | 167 → of American and British Government (New Bruswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2009), 49, 216, 221–22. Reform meant the reestablishment of the divine kingdom on earth transforming all of humankind—body, soul, and spirit. John Knox says, “A public reformation, as well in the religion as in the temporal government were most necessary.” John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland, W. C. (ed.) (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950), 1.149.

7. Joseph Mede, The Key of the Revelation, R. More (trans.) (London: R. B., 1650); Ernest Lee Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia: A Study in the Background of Progress (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), ix, 76–78; Theordore Olsen, Millennialism, Utopianism, and Progress (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 203; McKim, “The Puritan View of History,” 224–26; Stephen Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity: The Sacred Roots of American and British Government (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2009), 68–73, 213–23, 235–36.

8. Ronald J. VanderMolen, “Puritan Philosophy of History: Providence as History—Providence as Revelation,” in Conference on Puritanism in Old and New England, Thomas Moore College, Ft. Mitchell, KY (1975): 1–2, 12; Miller, The New England Mind, 228–31, 463. Miracles were associated with biblical times, but divine activity within the confines of typical natural phenomena was interpreted as containing special messages. John Winthrop, the famous governor, found these messages in everyday life, like in the case of a mouse gnawing on the Book of Common Prayer, or the case of a Sabbath-breaker, whose child fell down a well. This tradition is seen all the way through the nineteenth century, where Ralph Waldo Emerson limits revelation to nature and draws moral/spiritual lessons from it. Emerson, Selected Essays, Larzer Zief (ed. and intro.) (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 41, 46–53, 270–73; Miller, The New England Mind, 481–82.

9. Strehle, Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, 25–26, 54–75; Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century, 475ff., 481–82; The New England Mind: From Colony to Providence, 21ff., 29–30, 36–37, 482–83; Kevin Phillips, The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 28; John Morrill, The Nature of the English Revolution (London: Longman, 1993), 83–84. It is the doctrine of the covenant that dictates the close relationship between the nation of Israel and the Puritan community. More than any other Christian fellowship the Calvinists followed the example and teaching of the OT, believing that the old and new covenant had one and the same essential message. Christopher Hill, The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 1993), 266–69; Keith L. Griffin, Revolution and Religion: American Revolutionary War and the Reformed (New York: Paragon House, 1994), 22.

10. Most Calvinists and Puritans rejected Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination. The Puritan doctrine of covenant also mitigated the force of single predestination and brought a synergistic element to their theology. Stephen Strehle, The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter between the Middle Ages and the Reformation (Leiden and Köln: E. J. Brill, 1995), 50–61.

11. McKim, “The Puritan View of History,” 233; Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century, 4; VanderMolen, “Puritan Philosophy of History,” 3–4.

12. John Calvin, Institutiones Religionis Christianae, I, xvi, 3–5, 7; xviii, 1–2; III, xxi, 5; xxii, 1; xxiii, 1 (CO 2.146–51, 168–70, 682–83, 687–88, 698–99); VanderMolen, “Puritan Philosophy of History,” 5–7.

13. Ibid., I, iv, 1; xiv, 1; xvii, 2; II, xii, 5; III, xxiii, 2, 5, 7–8 (CO 2.38, 117–18, 155–56, 344, 700, 702, 704–5).

14. Ibid., I, xiii, 21; xiv, 4 (CO 2.108, 120); VanderMolen, “Puritan Philosophy of History,” 2.

15. Ibid., II, xii, 5; III, xxii, 5 (CO 2.469, 691).

16. Pontien Polmen, L’Élément Historique dans la controverse religeuse du XVI e Siècle (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1932) 127; Jean Aymon, Tout les Synodes Nationaux des Églises Réformées de France (The Hague, 1710) 2.210; Walter Kickel, Vernunft und Offenbarung bei Theodor Beza (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1967), 158ff. ← 167 | 168 →

17. Theodore Bèze, Tractationes Theologicae (Genevae, 1582), 1.170ff.; 3.403ff.; Confession de la Foy Chrestienne (Geneve, 1563), 5–7, 15–16; Correspondence de Theodore de Bèze, Hippolyte Aubert (ed.) (Genève: E. Droz, 1960), 1 (40), 170; 4 (74), 182; Walter Kickel, Vernunft und Offenbarung bei Theodor Beza (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1967), 100–2, 120, 167–68; Brian Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (Madison, Milwaukee, and London: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 38ff., 129. His grandiose Tabula Predestinationis or Summa Totius Christianismi provides the whole supralapsarian agenda of God in one chart.

18. See n.9.

19. Some Puritans expressed reservations about this simple calculus, recognizing how the Lord tests the most beloved with much suffering. The Works of Thomas Goodwin (London: J. D. and S. D., 1681–1704), 1.48–50; The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, John C. Miller (intro.) (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866), 2.28–30, 39–40; The Works of Richard Sibbes, Alexander Grosart (intro. and ed.) (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 7.141–50.

20. McKim, “The Puritan View of History,” 234–36; VanderMolen, “Puritan Philosophy of History,” 1. Beard drew material from a previous work entitled Histoire memorables des grans et merveilleux jugemens et punitions de Dieu (1586) by Jean Chassanion, a Huguenot pastor. Our text is drawn from Edmund Rudierde’s abridged version.

21. Thomas Beard, The Thunderbolt of Gods Wrath Against Hard-Hearted Sinners, or An Abridgement of the Theater of Gods Fearfull Judgements Executed Upon Notorious Sinners, Edmund Rudierde (intro. and ed.) (London: W. I., 1618), 5, 9, 92–95. Hereafter designated as TGW. Beard spurns the curse of many people, who label his position as “puritan, precision.” He speaks much like a Puritan in condemning Sabbath-breaking, gambling, plays, sports, et al. TGW 2, 40–41, 77.

22. TGW 4, 9–12. Among the sins that receive a specific judgment he discusses the following: oppressing God’s people, cruelty, unjust war, backsliding, heresy, atheism, conjuring, blasphemy, hypocrisy, lying, swearing falsely, gluttony, thievery, murdering, adultery, usury, gambling, and Sabbath-breaking.

23. TGW 13.

24. TGW 15.

25. TGW 34.

26. TGW 41–42.

27. TGW 47.

28. TGW 51.

29. TGW 63.

30. TGW 83.

31. TGW 89–90.

32. TGW 95.

33. Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences (London: John Russell Smith, 1856) preface [Some Proposals concerning the Recording of Illustrious Providences, II]; Herbert Wallace Schneider, The Puritan Mind (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1958), 32. ← 168 | 169 →

34. Increase Mather, The Voice of God in Stormy Weather (Boston, MA: T. Green, 1704), 15, 36–37, 42–43, 46–47. He speaks of stars, as well as angels playing a causal role in tempests. Ibid., 18–22.

35. Ibid., 5–6, 14.

36. Ibid., 26–30.

37. Ibid., 6.

38. Ibid., 3, 4, 31, 33.

39. Ibid., 49–54, 57. The OT serves as the source of many illustrations, although the dreadful storm that recently fell upon Europe serves as a particular foreboding example to the community at the close of his work.

40. Increase Mather, A Discourse Concerning Earthquakes (Boston, MA: Timothy Green, 1706), 5–8. He speaks of two kinds of earthquakes. One kind is the result of a direct or supernatural act of God, and the other is due to “Natural causes,” involving “great Caverns,” “mighty Lakes and Rivers,” or “subterraneous Fires” with “bituminous, sulphorous Exhalations”; but even these natural quakes are described as the “awful Works of God.”

41. Ibid., 11ff.

42. Ibid., 15ff.

43. Ibid., 18–19, 24–28.

44. Ibid., 30–35. Harsher words are generally reserved for the Jews and papists. E.g., Ibid., 4, 34–35.

45. Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 262.

46. Taylor, A Secular Age, 650–51.

47. Edgar Brightman, “The Lisbon Earthquake: A Study in Religious Valuation,” The American Journal of Theology 23/4 (1919): 500, 503; Voltaire, Candide or Optimism, John Butt (trans. and intro.) (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1947), 7–8.

48. John Wesley, “Serious Thoughts Occasioned by the Late Earthquake at Lisbon,” in The Works of John Wesley, A.M. (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1872), 11.12–13, 16–17, 21; Brightman, “The Lisbon Earthquake,” 513–14. Wesley thinks of these “shakings” as caused by God in a direct way and dismisses natural explanations. He rejects those who limit their explanation to natural means as impious. All things serve God’s will.

49. Voltaire, “Preface du Poëme sur le Désatre de Lisbonne,” in Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1877–85), 9.465–67; Brightman, “The Lisbon Earthquake,” 505.

50. Brightman, “The Lisbon Earthquake,” 506.

51. Voltaire, “Candide, or, The Optimist,” in The Works of Voltaire (Paris: E. R. Dumont, 1901), 1.62, 79 (21.138, 148). The parenthesis refers to the French edition [Voltaire, Oeuvres Complètes (Paris: Garnier Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, 1883)]. Hereafter, it is designated OCV or found in parenthesis. Much of Voltaire’s work is aimed at the extreme intellectualist position of Leibniz. For Leibniz, God produces good out of evil. One might not know why God chose Peter over Judas to their respective end, but whatever God decides works out for the perfection of the universe. The world is not the capricious choice of the divine will but a reflection of the divine essence. Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics/Correspondence with Arnauld/Monadology, George R. Montgomery (trans.) (La Salle, IL: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1973), 4–5, 12, 53–54, 71. ← 169 | 170 →

52. Ibid., 1.82 (21.149).

53. Ibid., 1.207–208 (21.217–18); Candide (Butt edition), 10–11; Brightman, “The Lisbon Earthquake,” 508. Albert Camus has a similar message about the struggle to find meaning in the face of the absurdity of life. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Justin O’Brien (trans.) (New York: Knopf, 1955), 53–55, 93, 119–23.

54. OCV 10.403 (Epître a l’auteur du livre des trois imposteurs, 104).

55. David A. Martin, The Religious and the Secular: Studies in Secularization (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 90. Of course, moralistic commentary is never eliminated in toto. E.g., When the Titanic went down, a few voices spoke of divine judgment upon human hubris, but just a few. Taylor, A Secular Age, 261–62, 279; Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind, 262.

56. John Mitchell, Conjectures Concerning the Cause, and Observations upon the Phaenomena of Earthquakes: Particularly of That Great Earthquake of the First of November, 1755…, Philosophical Transactions (1683–1775) 51 (1759–1760): 566, 569, 580, 588, 592–94, 600, 617–22. He associates volcanoes with earthquakes as seen in the release of vapors, although they are the effect rather than the cause of earthquakes—at least in most cases. Ibid., 579–80.

57. Ibid., 570–71.

58. “God’s Wrath Caused Katrina: Top 10 Pat Robertson Gaffes,”,28804,1953778_1953776_1953771,00.html.

59. Immanuel Jakobovitz, “‘Faith, Ethics and the Holocaust’: Some Personal, Theological and Religious Responses to the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 3/4 (1988): 371–81; Yehoyada Amir, “The Concept of Exile as a Model for Dealing with the Holocaust,” in The Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Thinking, Steven T. Katz (ed.) (New York and London: New York University Press, 2005), 232; Joseph A. Turner, “Philosophical and Midrashic Thinking on the Fateful Events of Jewish History,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 64–65; Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2001), 27, 192–93, 203–7, 210–11; Emil L. Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (New York: New York University Press, 1970), 26. Some Rabbis viewed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE much like the prophets in the sixth century BCE as a judgment of God upon the sins of the Jews, even if no prophets existed any longer in their community to speak a specific word from God about the matter. The Mishnah still followed this line of thinking in some parts, but eventually the Jewish community thought of their plight in the world in terms of victimization at the hands of the Gentiles. Richard L. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Indianapolis, IN and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1966), 64–65; Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 7, 26–27.

60. See A Path Through the Ashes, Nissan Wolpin (ed.) (New York: Mesorah Publications, 1996); Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 193–94, 241, 302 (n. 6), 307 (n. 52).

61. David Novak, “Is There a Theological Connection Between the Holocaust and the Reestablishment of the State of Israel?,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 252; Gersohn Greenberg, “Between Holocaust and Redemption: Silence, Cognition, and Eclipse,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 111, 123–25. The National Assembly of Paris offered the Jews full citizenship in September of 1791 as long as they abandoned the peculiar status of their community and underwent a process of régénération to end their Hebrew identity and become a part ← 170 | 171 → of la grande famille française. Stephen Strehle, The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism (New Brinswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2014), 69–77.

62. Rabbi Bernard Maza, With Fury Poured Out: A Torah Perspective on the Holocaust (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, 1986), 26–27, 123–24; Stephanie Brenzel, “Jewish Martyrdom and the Creation of Meaning in the Holocaust,” Journal of the Theta Alpha Kappa 36/2 (2012): 15–16.

63. Irving Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire,” in Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Perspectives, John K. Roth and Michael Berenbaum (eds.) (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 306; Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 187, 194; Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 73. Even in the east, the majority were not orthodox or ultra-orthodox, although they were found in greater numbers there.

64. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 126–27; Shalom Rosenberg, “The Holocaust: Lessons, Explanation, Meaning,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 84. According to Steven Katz, the seminal works of post-Holocaust theology appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. The authors are Richard Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, Ignaz Maybaum, Eliezer Berkovits, and Irving Greenberg. Most Holocaust theologians reject understanding it in terms of divine punishment for sin. Steven Katz, The Impact of the Holocaust, 1; “The Issue of Confirmation and Disconfirmation in Jewish Thought After the Shoah,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 20.

65. Turner, “Philosophical and Midrashic Thinking,” 63; Rosenberg, “The Holocaust,” 89–92; Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 69.

66. Shalom Ratzabi, “Is There a Religious Meaning to the Rebirth of the State of Israel After the Shoah?,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 213; Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 266; Rosenberg, “The Holocaust,” 96–97.

67. E.g., Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 48–51. See Strehle, The Dark Side, 252–54 for an analysis of German accusations by sociologists.

68. See S. Strehle, Dark Side of Church/State Separation for an extensive and detailed discussion of the relationship between the philosophes’ and the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. Typically, liberal/secular Jews like to reduce Nazi anti-Semitism to race in order to distance this form of anti-Semitism from the Enlightenment and preserve their identity as Jewish people, since the religion is not so important to them. However, it is unlikely that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was based on race. The Darwinians at the time did not consider the Jews a special inferior race of people, and Hitler’s racial cursing of Jews develops after his ideological objections to them as a form of piling on and later identifying them for the purposes of discrimination and punishment, much like one sees in the writings of the proto-Nazi Bruno Bauer. See Strehle, Dark Side, 120–21, 221–24, 280.

69. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 266; Richard Rubenstein, “The Dean and the Chosen People,” 278; After Auschwitz, 20.

70. Yehoyada Amir, “The Concept of Exile as a Model for Dealing with the Holocaust,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 226; Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 42–43; Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 20; Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), 42, 49; “Introduction,” in Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis, ← 171 | 172 → Sander L. Gilman and Steven T. Katz (eds.) (New York and London: New York University Press, 1991), 14–15, 18; Nicolas de Lange, “The Origins of Anti-Semitism,” in Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis, 26–27. There are two examples that are used by the Jewish people: John Chrysostom’s Homilies Against the Jews, which speaks of Jews as “Christ-Killers,” although it does not recommend persecuting the Jews on this or any other basis; and unorganized crusaders, who persecuted Jews in 1096 under this pretext according to much later and unreliable reports among Jews—an episode strongly condemned by the church. See Strehle, Dark Side of Church/State Separation, 237ff.

71. Rubenstein, “The Dean and the Chosen People,” 286.

72. See Strehle, Dark Side of Church/State Separation, 237–41 and endnotes for a detailed discussion of the matter.

73. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 30–31, 88. See also Ibid., 70–74. Jewish people often interpret their religion in terms of myth or depth psychology. During the Seder or Passover celebration, Jews experience the Exodus once again, without any miraculous causal nexus uniting the present salvation with the past experience, except through divine presence. Martin Buber, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1958), 75–78; Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 11–13, 43. Rubenstein interprets the myths of old as an attempt to deal with the “deepest psychic and interpersonal dilemmas.” He finds the truth of religion to lie in its psychological, not historical reality. Religion reveals the “deepest fears, aspirations, and yearnings of the individual and group.” It is a way of sharing the universal human predicament, like the hope of finding meaning in a meaningless universe. Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 145, 196, 229–30, 263. Rubenstein admits that his participation in the synagogue is “highly subjective.” “Myth and ritual are the domains in which we express and project our unconscious feelings concerning the dilemmas of existence.” Ibid., 222. He rejects the preference for the moral elements of the religion in liberal Judaism and includes the “absurd” elements like the sacrificial system in his understanding of the faith, as long as they are interpreted correctly through depth psychology. After all, divine revelation is a psychological truth. Ibid., 121, 125–27, 130–31, 145.

74. Elliot N. Dorff, “God and the Holocaust,” 22, 34.

75. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 186; Dorff, “God and the Holocaust,” 31–32.

76. Michael Rosenak, “Theological Reflections on the Holocaust: Between Unity and Controversy,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 163. Typically, this position sees all things coming from the hand of God and exhorts the faithful to remain thankful no matter what transpires, knowing God is in control (Is 45:7, Lam 3:37–38). Berakoth 9:5, in Mishnah, Herbert Danby (trans. and notes) (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1974), 10; Dorff, “God and the Holocaust,” 30–32.

77. Dorff, “God and the Holocaust,” 33–34. Dorff is not sure that good will triumph in the end.

78. Rosenak, “Theological Reflections on the Holocaust,” 163; Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 195; Brenzel, “Jewish Martyrdom,”18–19.

79. Thus, the famous saying of R. Hanina: “Everything is in the hand of heaven, except the fear of heaven.” Berakoth 33b [Babylonian Talmud]. See also Eliezer Berlovits, Faith After the Holocaust (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1973), 107–13; Dorff, “God and the Holocaust,” 29; Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 190, 202; Katz, “The Confirmation and Disconfirmation,” 37; Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 303. ← 172 | 173 →

80. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 191; Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 18.

81. Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History, 59; Rosenak, “Theological Reflections on the Holocaust,” 163.

82. Ibid., 6, 69–71, 78–79. Certain Christian theologians first made this radical move in the 1960s and spoke of the “death of God.” E.g., Paul M. Van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (New York and London: Macmillan Co., 1963), 99–103. Martin Buber tries to distance his ideas from Nietzsche and Christian theologians who speak of the death of God, but he also partakes of their position when he speaks of the “eclipse of God,” the “hiding of God’s face,” or the voluntary removal of divine presence (tzimtzum). Martin Buber, פני אדם [Pnei Adam] (Mosed Bialik: Jerusalem, 1966) 221–322; Emil Fackenheim, Quest for Past and Future: Essays in Jewish Theology (Bloomington, IN and London: Indiana University, 1968), 229–43; Berkovits, Faith After the Holocaust, passim; Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 151–52; Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 189; Amir, “The Concept of Exile,” 238. My own Lutheran denomination (ELCA) endorses this idea in its catechismal instruction, saying of the OT,

The violence and cut-and-dried pronouncements of these [OT] stories can be disturbing. This does not seem to be the God of justice and mercy we see in Jesus. Instead, we see a taskmaster who has very little patience with human limitations, who manipulates national tides to suit God’s purposes, and who orchestrates death and shame for those who have sought to serve their own purposes. We need to remember that the author’s purpose was not journalistic or even historic in nature. The author writes from a very different worldview than the one we hold. In a prescientific era, every turn of fate, every natural event, was seen as coming from God’s hand and intention. This is not how we interpret the world. We know about the moral indifference of natural disaster, for example. It is not divine punishment for the sins of the people. We understand that history unfolds as a collision of circumstance and human power. We may look back and see God’s redeeming hand at work, but we do not generally say that God’s will has been done because this or that leader died or a certain candidate won or lost. “A Split Kingdom,” in Here We Stand (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), 2.

83. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 49, 69–70, 225, 246; “An Exchange,” in Holocaust, 355; Katz, “The Issue of Confirmation and Disconfirmation,” 13–14.

84. Ibid., 68–69, 87.

85. Leila Levenson interviewed 24 Jewish GIs, who helped liberate the death camps, and noticed a move toward atheism among them. “The Loss of Faith Among the Jewish GI Liberators,” Cross Currents 61/1 (2011): 34–37.

86. Elie Wiesel, Night, Stella Rodway (trans.) (New York: Bantam Books, 1960), 32.

87. Ibid., 2–3, 34.

88. Ibid., 6–9, 13, 19–20.

89. Ibid., 42, 66.

90. Ibid., 87.

91. Ibid., 61–62.

92. Strehle, Dark Side of Church/State Separation, 33, 73–77. The relationship between the Holocaust and the establishment of the nation of Israel is somewhat ambiguous in Jewish ← 173 | 174 → thought. Certainly, Zionists believed that the need for a Jewish state was underscored by the Holocaust, and it seems as if the vast majority of Jewish people have now embraced this point of view. Rosenberg, “The Holocaust,” 84–85; Dan Michman, “The Holocaust and the State of Israel: A Historical Review of Their Impact on and Meaning for the Understanding of the Behavior of Jewish Religious Movements,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 265–66. The state of Israel gave to the Jews a “doorway of hope” during and after the Holocaust. Ratzabi, “Is There Meaning to the Rebirth of the State of Israel After the Shoah,” 218. For some, it gave hope beyond any Messianic or religious ideals. Ratzabi, “Is There Meaning…?,” 212, 220; Rosenberg, “The Holocaust,” 90. For others, it became a context where Jews can restore their historical religious identity, regardless of the motives of secular Zionists. Maza, With Fury Poured Out, 123–27; Brenzel, “Jewish Martyrdom,” 16–17; Ratzabi, “Is There Meaning…?,” 212, 214, 223; Yosef Achituv, “Theology and the Holocaust: The Presence of God and Divine Providence in History from the Perspective of the Holocaust,” in The Impact of the Holocaust, 279, 283.

93. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 11–12; Benzel, “Jewish Martyrdom,” 15.

94. Rubenstein, “The Dean and the Chosen People,” 287–88; Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 58, 71, 84. Mordecai Kaplan and the Reconstructionists also see no particular status in being Jewish and prefer to emphasize the survival of the people in the secular state of Israel above any special religious concerns.

95. Emil Fackenheim, “The 614th Commandment,” in Holocaust, 293–95; God’s Presence in History, 83–86; Katz, “The Issue of Confirmation and Disconfirmation,” 22; Rosenak, “Theological Reflections on the Holocaust,” 163. He calls this admonition the 614th commandment, adding it to the 613 commandments in the Mosaic law according to ancient rabbinic calculation. Irving Greenberg thinks the choice to persevere and renew the covenant is voluntary or optional, since God is no longer in a position to require Jewish obedience/suicide. “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire,” in Holocaust, 303; Katz, “The Issue of Confirmation and Disconfirmation,” 48ff.

96. Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources, Walter Klaasen (ed.) (Scotsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981), 23, 85ff., 102ff., 108–9, 140, 166–67, 232ff., 265–67, 282, 302. Their great work is entitled The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians, … From the Time of Christ to the Year A.D. 1660, T. J. van Braght (compiler) and J. F. Sohm (trans.) (Scotsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1950). Their literal following of the NT message is seen in their rejection of infant baptism as not specifically taught in the NT, refusal to take oaths, based on the literal words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:33–37), and desire to establish a NT church, which shared its resources (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32), excommunicated the immoral (Mt 18:15–17, 1 Cor 5), refused to bear the sword (Mt 5:39), and suffered for the kingdom of God (2 Tm 3:12).

97. Their persecution dissipated after they stopped slandering the magistrates as godless.

98. Ex 14:10; 15:23; 16:3; 17:2, Nm 11:1, 4; 12; 14; 16; 20–21.

99. Antony Fernando and Leonard Swidler, Buddhism Made Plain: An Introduction for Jews and Christians (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), 11, 94.

100. Pascal’s Pensées (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1958), 56 (194).

101. Ibid., 61 (205–206). Miguel de Unamuno also expresses this fear of annihilation and passion for eternal life. The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations, Anthony Kerrigan (trans.) ← 174 | 175 → (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972), xxxix, 12, 49, 202–3. The quest for immortality is ancient. The Gilgamesh Epic, the basis of the biblical story of Noah, speaks of this longing for immortality among Semitic people.

102. There are some biblical passages and verses that proceed in Beard’s direction. Deuteronomy 28 lists blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience; Proverbs thinks of certain behaviors as possessing positive or negative consequences (industriousness/laziness, moderation/gluttony, et al.); The Prophets relate the conduct of the people to certain consequences in their lives. Most Jews and Christians think this type of prophetic insight dissipated when the time of direct revelation ended.

103. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, R. A. Wilson and John Bowden (trans.) (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1974), 148–49. Christians think of Jesus as suffering the only innocent death and laying down his life in a voluntary manner (Jn 10:18; 15:13). Anselm wrote the first disquisition upon the atonement of Christ in his Cur deus homo and emphasized the death of the God-man as the only real act of supererogation in history. Even Jesus owed all his obedience to God as a human obligation, except for his death. Only sinners deserve death, and so his death received merit, which was applied in a vicarious way unto the salvation of his elected people. Libri Duo Cur Deus Homo, PL 158.410–28 (2.11–19).

104. LW 31.52–55; 54.335, 155 (WA 1.361–63; WA, TR 2.127 [no. 1543]); Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1975).

105. Moltmann, Crucified God, 223–27; The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, Margaret Kohl (trans.) (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1981), 28–29, 40–41, 47–48; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrence (eds.) (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1975), IV/1.130, 159, 192, 199–201, 422; Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute Between Theism and Atheism, Darrell L. Guder (trans.) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), 60–63, 74, 101–3, 214; Abraham J. Herschel, The Prophets (New York and Evanston, IL: Harper and Row, Publishers), chaps. 12–13, 18 (221ff., 307ff.); Peter Kuhn, Gottes Selbsterniedrigung in der Theologie der Rabbinen (München: Kösel-Verlag, 1968), 89–92; Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, William W. Hallo (trans.) (New York, Chicago, and San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart, and Wilson, 1971), 409–11; Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken Books, 1967), 232, 249–50. Hegel is often given credit for introducing the death of God. For Hegel, the abstract essence of God must enter the sphere of alienation (death), in order to accept a sensuous or objective form, and then rise above it in pure universality (resurrection). Death belongs to the divine essence as a self-negation in order to promote history or becoming. This understanding of God lays the groundwork for Alfred North Whitehead and Process Theology. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit, A. V. Miller (trans. and analysis) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 471 (779), 475 (784–85). Hegel also uses the expression “God is dead” to describe the feeling of the unhappy conscience that has lost all substance and worth, that can no longer see God in the idols, sacraments, and rituals of religion. Ibid., 455 (752–53), 476 (785). ← 175 | 176 →