The theological critique of Nazism

I posted this as a comment to Ben Myers’ latest post, but since it’s somewhat off to the side of the post’s topic, it seemed appropriate to turn it into a fresh post of its own:

I say this as a great admirer of Barth, but I’ve always found the “theological” critique of Nazism to be weirdly disconnected from reality. For instance, Barth’s self-congratulation that the church somehow did the right thing insofar as a small sect of it rejected natural theology in the midst of Nazism strikes me as downright chilling. The test here is that you could take it the opposite direction: for instance, the lack of a viable natural theology produced a disconnect between the gospel and the world, which led to the unlimited rise of technological instrumentality that was then ultimately turned against the human race itself most horrifically in Nazism, etc. Or you could say that the artificial either/or of Christ or nature led necessarily to the embrace of natural “paganism,” etc. Or basically you could make up any “theological” cause you like and congratulate yourself for bravely coming down on the right side of the debate, but that doesn’t make what you’re saying relevant. If anything, wouldn’t it have been more immediately relevant and more obviously connected to Nazism if the church had staked its identity on the opposition to anti-Semitism rather than the somewhat obscure point of natural theology?

Philosophy does not save, sure, but neither does theology.

Gregory Palamas’ defence of the heychasts begins with the statement that philosophy does not save. His point here against Barlaam is that knowledge of natural, created things does not lead to a conception of God worthy of God. Palamas says it this way, “By examining the nature of sensible things, these people [those who proceed from and by Hellenistic philosophy in their theological reflections] have arrived at a certain concept of God, but not at a conception of God truly worthy of Him and appropriate to his blessed nature.” To get to that conception of God one must empty themselves of their mental activities though the via negativa and come to union with God through contemplation. All of this, Palamas says, is possible through the flesh and mind because God was incarnated through the person of Jesus Christ. Continue reading “Philosophy does not save, sure, but neither does theology.”