The Lives of Other Christians

A while ago, Marc and I were discussing the great German film, The Lives of Others, about the tactics of the secret police, the Stasi, in East Germany. The film powerfully depicts the soul-destroying nature of life in a police state, in which one never knows who is an informant and when one’s career, or life, may come to an end based on an anonymous report. A new book from Eerdmans, God’s Spies: The Stasi’s Cold War Espionage Campaign inside the Church, by Elisabeth Braw, documents how the Stasi infiltrated the country’s Lutheran churches. Here’s the description of the book from the Eerdmans’ website:

The real-life cloak-and-dagger story of how East Germany’s notorious spy agency infiltrated churches here and abroad.

East Germany only existed for a short forty years, but in that time, the country’s secret police, the Stasi, developed a highly successful “church department” that—using persuasion rather than threats—managed to recruit an extraordinary stable of clergy spies. Pastors, professors, seminary students, and even bishops spied on colleagues, other Christians, and anyone else they could report about to their handlers in the Stasi.

Thanks to its pastor spies, the Church Department (official name: Department XX/4) knew exactly what was happening and being planned in the country’s predominantly Lutheran churches. Yet ultimately it failed in its mission: despite knowing virtually everything about East German Christians, the Stasi couldn’t prevent the church-led protests that erupted in 1989 and brought down the Berlin Wall.

A New Memoir from Tomas Halik

Several years ago, at a Forum 2000 Conference in Prague, I had the honor to meet Fr. Tomas Halik. An underground Catholic priest and member of the Czech resistance, Halik was important in bringing down the communist regime in that country. My impression is that Halik’s progressive theology and politics have made him somewhat controversial in the Czech Republic and in some Catholic circles today. Whatever one thinks about all that, one has to admire his great courage and contribution to the end of totalitarianism in his country.

This fall, Notre Dame will release a new memoir by Halik of his days in the resistance, From the Underground Church to Freedom. Here’s the description of the book from the press’s website:

International best-selling author and theologian Tomáš Halík shares for the first time the dramatic story of his life as a secretly ordained priest in Communist Czechoslovakia. Inspired by Augustine’s candid presentation of his own life, Halík writes about his spiritual journey within a framework of philosophical theology; his work has been compared to that of C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen. Born in Prague in 1948, Halík spent his childhood under Stalinism. He describes his conversion to Christianity during the time of communist persecution of the church, his secret study of theology, and secret priesthood ordination in East Germany (even his mother was not allowed to know that her son was a priest). Halík speaks candidly of his doubts and crises of faith as well as of his conflicts within the church. He worked as a psychotherapist for over a decade and, at the same time, was active in the underground church and in the dissident movement with the legendary Cardinal Tomášek and Václav Havel, who proposed Halík as his successor to the Czech presidency. Since the fall of the regime, Halík has served as general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an advisor to John Paul II and Václav Havel.

Woven throughout Halík’s story is the turbulent history of the church and society in the heart of Europe: the 1968 Prague Spring, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the self-immolation of his classmate Jan Palach, the “flying university,” the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and the difficult transition from totalitarian communist regime to democracy. Thomas Halík was a direct witness to many of these events, and he provides valuable testimony about the backdrop of political events and personal memories of the key figures of that time. This volume is a must-read for anyone interested in Halík and the church as it was behind the Iron Curtain, as well as in where the church as a whole is headed today.

“The Dangerous God” (Erdozain, ed.)

7706Lately, religious freedom has become a matter of intense debate in the United States. The easy assumption that has existed throughout most of American history, that religion is a good thing that benefits society as a whole, is no longer so widely accepted. And so believers increasingly must justify the protection of religious associations to skeptical fellow citizens.

One key argument is that religious associations provide a necessary check on totalitarianism. Religious associations offer competing sources of loyalty and identity that prevent the state from arrogating too much power, and that allow citizens, through joint action, to resist tyranny. We tend to forget how much religion, and particularly Christianity, figured in the downfall of Communism. That was certainly true in places like Poland, but it was also true, though to a lesser extent, in the Soviet Union itself. A recent book from the Northern Illinois University Press, The Dangerous God: Christianity and the Soviet Experimentdescribes the role of Christianity in the culture of dissidents in the Soviet Union. The editor is Dominic Erdozain (King’s College London). Here is the publisher’s description:

At the heart of the Soviet experiment was a belief in the impermanence of the human spirit: souls could be engineered; conscience could be destroyed. The project was, in many ways, chillingly successful. But the ultimate failure of a totalitarian regime to fulfill its ambitions for social and spiritual mastery had roots deeper than the deficiencies of the Soviet leadership or the chaos of a “command” economy. Beneath the rhetoric of scientific communism was a culture of intellectual and cultural dissidence, which may be regarded as the “prehistory of perestroika.” This volume explores the contribution of Christian thought and belief to this culture of dissent and survival, showing how religious and secular streams of resistance joined in an unexpected and powerful partnership.

The essays in The Dangerous God seek to shed light on the dynamic and subversive capacities of religious faith in a context of brutal oppression, while acknowledging the often-collusive relationship between clerical elites and the Soviet authorities. Against the Marxist notion of the “ideological” function of religion, the authors set the example of people for whom faith was more than an opiate; against an enduring mythology of secularization, they propose the centrality of religious faith in the intellectual, political, and cultural life of the late modern era. This volume will appeal to specialists on religion in Soviet history as well as those interested in the history of religion under totalitarian regimes.

“Recovering Buddhism in Modern China” (Kiely & Jessup eds.)

In March, the Columbia University Press will release “Recovering Buddhism in Modern China,” edited by Jan Kiely (Chinese University of Hong Kong) and J. Brooks Jessup (Free University of Berlin). The publisher’s description follows:

Modern Chinese history told from a Buddhist perspective restores the vibrant, creative role of religion in postimperial China. It shows how urban Buddhist elites 9780231172769jockeyed for cultural dominance in the early Republican era, how Buddhist intellectuals reckoned with science, and how Buddhist media contributed to modern print cultures. It recognizes the political importance of sacred Buddhist relics and the complex processes through which Buddhists both participated in and experienced religious suppression under Communist rule. Today, urban and rural communities alike engage with Buddhist practices to renegotiate class, gender, and kinship relations in post-Mao China.

This volume vividly portrays these events and more, recasting Buddhism as a critical factor in China’s twentieth-century development. Each chapter connects a moment in Buddhist history to a significant theme in Chinese history, creating new narratives of Buddhism’s involvement in the emergence of urban modernity, the practice of international diplomacy, the mobilization for total war, and other transformations of state, society, and culture. Working across an extraordinary thematic range, this book reincorporates Buddhism into the formative processes and distinctive character of Chinese history.

“Religion, Politics, and Values in Poland” (eds. Borowik and Ramet)

This month, Springer Press releases “Religion, Politics, and Values in Poland: Community and Change Since 1989” edited by Irena Borowik (Jagiellonian University) and Sabrina P. Ramet (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).  The publisher’s description follows:

1989 brought a tectonic shift in Central and Southeastern Europe as Communism springer-logo-logotype-1024x768imploded and alternative political parties emerged. In Poland, religious institutions looked to take advantage of the new situation, as they were the countervailing force against Communist rule. This dynamic helped shape Polish culture for years and decades to come.

Gorbachev & Ikeda, “Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century: Gorbachev and Ikeda on Buddhism and Communism”

In March, I.B.Tauris will release “Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century: Gorbachev and Ikeda on Buddhism and Communism” by Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Daisaku Ikeda (Soka Gakkai International). The publisher’s description follows:

Mikhail Gorbachev and Daisaku Ikeda are contemporaries raised in Unknowndifferent cultures: Gorbachev is a statesman whose origins are the Marx-inspired world of Communism while Ikeda is Buddhist inspired by the thirteenth-century Japanese sage, Nichiren. “Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century” emerges from a series of conversations between these two men. Together they explore their experiences of life amidst the turmoil of the twentieth century and together they search for a common ethical basis for future development. Their wide-rangeing and often inspiring discussions take place in politics, economics, history, religion and spirituality, and epitomise the value of informed intercultural dialogue and reflection. They conclude that peace, progress and social justice can only be achieved through honest communication and cultural exchange. As the new century begins, they have sought to turn the spotlight on the challenges which face humanity.

Strehle, “The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism”

Next month, Transaction will publish The Dark Side of Church/State 8725Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism, by theologian Stephen Strehle (Christopher Newport University). The publisher’s description follows.

The Dark Side of Church/State Separation analyzes the Enlightenment’s attack upon the Judeo-Christian tradition and its impact upon the development of secular regimes in France, Germany, and Russia. Such regimes followed the anti-Semitic/anti-Christian agenda of the French Enlightenment in blaming the Judeo-Christian tradition for all the ills of European society and believing that human beings can develop their own set of values and purposes through rational means, apart from any revelation from God or Scripture.

Stephen Strehle’s analysis extends our understanding of church/state relations and its history. He confirms the spiritual roots of modern anti-Semitism within the ideology of the Enlightenment and recognizes the intimate relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity. Strehle questions the absolute doctrine of church/state separation, given its background in the bigotries of the philosophes. He notes the nefarious motives of subsequent regimes, which used the French doctrine to replace the religious community with the state and its secular ideology.

This detailed historical analysis of original sources and secondary literature is woven together with special appreciation for the philosophical and theological ideas that contributed to the emergence of political institutions. Readers will gain an understanding of the most influential ideas shaping the modern world and present-day culture.

Niemeyer, “The Loss and Recovery of Truth”

I first encountered the writing of the political theorist Gerhart Niemeyer in a Layout 1college course in post-War intellectual history. Together with Eric Voegelin, Niemeyer was an important and interesting writer who explored the complicated relationship of Christian thought to the political horrors of the twentieth century. I will be an eager reader of this new book just published by St. Augustine Press, The Loss and Recovery of Truth: Selected Writings of Gerhart Niemeyer (St. Augustine 2013, edited by one of St. John’s own–Professor Michael Henry).  I have reproduced the publisher’s long description of the book in full below because I am hopeful that this will be a useful introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Niemeyer (or who, like me, haven’t read that much of him). One other side-note that I recently learned: Judge Paul Niemeyer of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is Professor Niemeyer’s son.

That the United States is currently in the midst of a serious crisis, even an ideological civil war, which is part of the general and prolonged crisis of Western civilization is obvious to any thoughtful observer. One of the most perceptive observers of the development of this crisis was Gerhart Niemeyer. As a fugitive from Nazi Germany, a devout Christian, and a political theorist who had mastered the philosophical tradition and the Communist worldview, he was particularly well equipped to discern the ways in which the various modern ideologies insidiously erode the substance of truth and order in contemporary society and to seek remedies in the return to the ontological and spiritual roots of order in the Western tradition.

The writings collected in this volume, many of which were previously unpublished, are chosen from Gerhart Niemeyer’s essays, conference talks, and letters. The first part, intended to introduce the reader to Niemeyer on a more personal level, includes an unpublished essay describing his experiences in Nazi Germany and in the America that he encountered on his arrival in 1937. Several letters and other short works provide a sense of his character and his deeply Christian view of human life, both of which were essential to his grasp of truth.

The second part, “The Loss of Truth,” consists of thirty-seven essays that focus on the destructive effects of ideologies and other manifestations of disorder in the modern world. Several essays provide a sampling of his expert analysis of Communism and the ideological world-view of the American Left, while others discuss the spiritually stifling effects of the modern bureaucratic state and the ideological disorders that have crept into contemporary culture and the understanding of Christianity. Many of these essays are taken from Niemeyer’s National Review column “Days and Works.”

The character of Niemeyer’s search for “The Recovery of Truth” appears in the subdivision of the thirty-four essays of the third part under the topics of political theory, education, Conservatism, and Christian faith. Although these essays also consider the loss of truth, they are concerned primarily with the quest for its recovery through faith, divine grace, and a clear-eyed understanding of reality. This section begins with his 1950 work “A Reappraisal of the Doctrine of Free Speech” in which he lucidly analyzes the pitfalls of free speech in an ideological age. Among the other essays included here are works that attest to Niemeyer’s concern for a spiritual renewal in education and his profound respect and admiration for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and, perhaps above all, St. Augustine.

The book includes a bibliography of Niemeyer’s previously published books, pamphlets, essays, and reviews.

Ordon on Freedom of Association in the People’s Republic of Poland and Restrictions on the Catholic Church

Marta Ordon (John Paul II Catholic U. of Lublin, Faculty of Law) has posted Freedom of Association in the People’s Republic of Poland and Its Restriction with Regard to the Roman Catholic Church. The abstract follows.

The desire to associate with others is a manifestation of the social nature of every human being. In modern democracies, the right to associate is regarded as one of the personal liberties. Such democratic states create favorable conditions for the operation of various types of organizations, including those established to pursue religious goals. However, it was not the case in the People’s Republic of Poland (“PRP”), that is, under the communist rule. In a country modelled on the Soviet state and acknowledging the supremacy of the Communist Party over the entire society, all the other actors of the social system were expected to be mere “dummies on the public scene dominated by the Communist Party.” It is worth noting that the political system deployed in Poland after World War II was based on the atheistic Marxist ideology that was hostile to any religion or religious organizations, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. What follows, when pondering upon the issue of freedom of association in the PRP and its restriction with regard to the Catholic Church’s organizations, the ideological aspects must not be disregarded.

As a part of the introduction to the main body of the paper, the author will clarify the difference between the concept of freedom of association as adopted modern democracies and that reinforced in socialist countries, as well as demonstrating the attitude of communist authorities to the Roman Catholic Church and its organizations. Further, legal and factual constraints will be exposed that led to almost a total elimination of the Church-led organizations in communist Poland. The paper primarily explores the Polish literature on the subject and the material gathered in the Polish state and Church archives, since nothing about the subject has yet been published in English.

Baer, “The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism”

Last Month, Texas A&M University Press published The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism by H. David Baer (Texas Lutheran University).  The publisher’s description follows.The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans

What does a religious community do when confronted by a political regime determined to eliminate a religion? Under communism, Hungary’s persecuted Lutheran Church tried desperately to find a strategy for survival while remaining faithful to its Christian beliefs. Appealing to the Lutheran Confessions, many argued that the church can do whatever is necessary to survive provided it does not compromise on its essential ministry, while others appealing to the witness of the confessor Bishop Lajos Ordass argued that the church must uncompromisingly witness to the truth even if that means ecclesiological extinction.

In The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism, H. David Baer draws upon the disciplines of theology, history, ethics, and politics to provide a comprehensive analysis of the different strategies developed by the church to preserve its integrity. Relying on previously unnoted archival documents and other primary sources, Baer has made a substantial contribution to Eastern European studies.

Vigorously written, his telling of the history is also a sensitive and moving account of courage and cowardice in the fact of religious persecution. This book should be of interest not only to students of religion in Eastern Europe but also to anyone concerned about the problems that arise wherever there is religious persecution.

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