Belgium: The Return of “Useless Eaters”

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English: Skull and crossbones

English: Skull and crossbones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At http://www.france24.com/en/20121218-belgium-looks-euthanasia-minors-alzheimers-sufferers is an article on a proposal that will most likely pass Belgium’s legislature that allows euthanasia for minors and for Alzheimer’s patients. Increasingly secular, godless Europe is finally passing laws that reflect the decline of the remnants of Christian ethics that held on for a while after the decline of religious belief. The phrase “useless eaters” was coined by a Nazi doctor who was discussing Nazi Germany’s euthanasia program. It had no problem killing minors and people with senility of whatever cause. With no clear cut behavioral diagnostic difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and senile dementia in general, the new law, when passed, could de facto be applied to some non-Alzheimer’s senile patients.

What are the limits on the age of minors? Apparently none–any minor deemed “too sick to live” by a doctor and by parents or guardians could be killed. The slippery slope that supporters of euthanasia claimed would not happen is already fact. Next door in The Netherlands, voluntary euthanasia quickly led to involuntary euthanasia, and there was, for a time, a proposal on the table to have a “quality of life threshold” below which a person would no longer have the right to live. It may just be a matter of time before the severely mentally retarded will join the list of “useless eaters” and euthanized. A godless society only gives life a utilitarian value. Although Kant tried to set up a secular system that allowed for intrinsic human dignity, his dream died, at least in some European countries, and the remnants of the Christianity that still influenced Kant died away. Now there is no bar to making decisions regarding euthanasia not based on alleged “mercy,” but on a person’s ability to “contribute” to society. The fittest survive; those considered unfit will be eliminated. The most frightening instances of murder are those murders that use mercy to justify them. The only “mercy” involved may be for the family to get a burden off their back and the state to save on medical bills due to fewer patients requiring long-term care.

The United States, for now, has enough residual Christian belief to avoid Europe’s direction for now. However, given the responses of most of my medical ethics students to questions regarding the moral rightness or wrongness of physician assisted suicide, it seems that those supporting PAS will win in the long run. If they do, it will be no surprise if PAS leads the way into voluntary active euthanasia and eventually to involuntary active euthanasia. Society will be at last be in part of a eugenics movement that will make the earlier movement in the first decades of the twentieth century seem like child’s play. God help us all if that happens–and it will happen in Western Europe (and probably in Canada) before it happens in the United States. But with 30% of young people in the U.S. classifying themselves as “irreligious,” the road toward Europe may be wider than one might think.

Atheists forget, when they catalog the crimes of religion, that the mass murderous regimes of the twentieth century were atheistic: Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Maoist Communist China, North Korea, and Cambodia when it was under the rule of Pol Pot. The sanctity of human life does not make sense in an atheistic framework; the value of human life must be instrumental and not intrinsic in a consistent atheistic system. It is no surprise, then, that Belgium and the Netherlands are going the route toward allowing more and more classes of people to potentially be subject to euthanasia. The Nazi world of alleged “useless eaters,” a world Europe once claimed to eschew for good, is coming back to haunt a godless society. The price paid for such folly will be very high.

American Civil Religion

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English: The United States Esperanto: Loko de ...

English: The United States Esperanto: Loko de Usono sur la terglobo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I said there was a country in which during church services, church members sang tribute to their nation, carried flags in processional, celebrated national holidays, sang patriotic songs,  praised soldiers as war heroes for the native land, honored soldiers in uniform who came to church, of what country would you think first. My first thought would be of Nazi Germany, where civil religion was a way to honor the Nazi state and show loyalty to the Fatherland. Hitler hated Christianity but was willing to use it for his advantage and to stir up patriotism in the German people, especially in gaining help for the war effort. Worship of God was closely tied to worship of the nation-atate of Germany.

The United States, however, is similar to Nazi Germany in the sense that civil religion is a powerful force in American society. It first role with the coming of the Puritans in the seventeenth century, who envisioned America as specially blessed by God, “a shining city set on a hill.” That passage was quoted multiple times by Ronald Reagan. The idea was originally that America would set an example of Christian government to other nations of the world. That idea was reinforced by the Second Great Awakening at the end of the eighteenth century, American Civil Religion grew with the notion of Manifest Destiny and the rise of the American Empire after the Spanish-American War. This was tied in to European ideas of empire, of spreading “Christian civilization” throughout the world. That idea became more dangerous with Woodrow Wilson’s notion that the United States has a duty to spread democracy throughout the world. Thus, “Christianity and Democracy” should be the key words used to describe American Civil Religion. Instead of one’s land being considered a gracious gift of God, and the state ordained by God to punish evil-doers (as St. Paul put it), the nation-state became an object of reverence that rivaled God. American flags are marched in procession in churches along with the cross and are placed close to the altar at many churches. National holidays are celebrated such as Memorial Day and July 4, with hymns and the National Anthem played and/or sung. Soldiers returning from war are treated like Catholic saints. Sermons focus on the greatness of America and how “Christian” America has always been, despite scholarship that shows this was not the case in early America, not even in the case of the founding Fathers. Some churches are openly supportive of wars, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Church members dehumanize the enemy and call on America to “go over there and kick their a….”. Church members often support every American military adventure, claiming that God is on America’s side, ignoring the one million Iraqi children who died due to sanctions and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the Second Iraq War. Only American lives are held precious by God.

The similarities with the Nazi German state church are striking. The state is venerated almost to the point of adoration. The United States flag, which has no business being inside a church sanctuary, is held in reverence almost as much as the cross. If ministers had any integrity and put loyalty to God first, the would take all national flags out of the sanctuary and not celebrate a national holiday as a Christian holiday. That may be too much to ask of American Christians, too many of whom buy into American triumphalism and silly theories such as Premillenialism that help to poison America’s policy toward the Middle East

Worship of the state should be decoupled from worshiping God. The church should pray for “all Christian rulers,” as the Anglican Prayer Book says, but not make the nation-state into an object of reverence. Traditionally it was one’s ancestral land that was worthy of veneration, not the nation-state abstraction. “Honoring the emperor< as St. Peter puts it, does not imply semi-worshiping the emperor, as the early Christians recognized when they refused to pray to the genius of the emperor. If only contemporary American Christians had the same level of wisdom.

Patriotism vs. Nationalism

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Farmland. Farmland - looking NE into square

Image via Wikipedia

I’m not convinced that patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels, but I am convinced that nationalism is. Many people confuse the two terms; they are not synonymous. “Patriotism” refers to a love for one’s land; its focus is local, its concern the actual community of real persons who live and work in a particular space. True patriotism extends from the individual to his family first, then outward to friends, associates, and the wider community. Involvement in the wider community, in the civitas, involves being a good “citizen.” The old public square as a meeting place for members of the local community exemplifies true patriotism at its best; members of this community would fight to the death to defend their family and their land from enemies.

Nationalism, on the other hand, focuses on the nation-state as an abstract entity. The nation easily approaches being an object of worship, as it was in Nazi Germany, the old Soviet Union, and in Maoist China. Sometimes this worship was combined with traditional religions; witness the support of many German Christian Churches for Hitler (except the Confessing Church) or the close ties between the Shinto religion and Imperial Japan. A close connection to the military is assumed, and nationalists love military parades, pomp and circumstance. The philosopher Martin Heidegger was such a nationalist, and this led to his joining the Nazi party for a time. Nationalists love wars and empire, and spreading the “values of the nation-state” to other countries.

Americans are just as guilty of nationalism. Ironically, one of the most nationalistic parts of the United States is the American South. The South tried to rebel against a modern nation-state in the name of patriotism, to defend their land (yes, I realize there were other causes of the War Between the States, so no red herrings, please), especially after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. The nation-state subjugated the South and forced it to live under military government to reconstruct it in the image of the industrial North. The South should oppose nationalism and wars of conquest. Yet Southerners condemned Georgia Senator Sam Nunn for voting against the first Gulf War, and voters turned him out of office. Southerners were among the most supportive voices in favor of the unjust Iraq War. Southern churches are filled with American flags, as if a flag of any nation state belongs in a sanctuary devoted to God. The idea of patriotism as loving the land, as based in real communities, needs to be revived not just in the South, but in all the states. Let’s not confuse a Nazi or Soviet-like devotion to the nation-state with true patriotism.