The New Pope's Past
"Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty." Simone Weil
People have been asking me what I think about the new German Pope. My initial response: Nothing. He'll have little impact on me or my life. He's the head of the Catholic Church and I'm Jewish.
Well, wait a minute. There's the Hitler Youth thing.
We shouldn't hold that against him, pundits say. He was a teenager, not yet fully grown, incapable of forming mature, reasoned opinions. Lots of teenagers in Nazi Germany were caught up in the national fervor of the times, swept along more by the marching and the uniforms and the excitement than by the vicious, hate-filled rhetoric swirling through the air.
Historians would tell us that young people had little choice during Hitler's sweeping "reform movement" -- they were forced to join the Hitler Youth or be branded as unpatriotic, and Jew-loving. And that the universal German mindset is different: conformity typically overpowers personal primacy. So it would seem that German teens, including Joseph Ratzinger, were merely following orders.
Or were they? The dichotomy of the teenage years is the ultimate struggle between an intense desire to conform and the primal need to rebel. The teenage psyche is geared to discover individuality at least in part through conflict. Especially against authority.
A conundrum for sure. But think about this: our teenage years provide the most vivid memories of our lives, those formative experiences and feelings that shape the adults we will become. And just as we were touched by the inspirational teacher, the first kiss, the initial devotion to an idea or a cause, all of us were affected by the major historic events of the times in which we were coming of age.
German teens in the 1930s and 40s appeared to be perfect little automatons, goose-stepping in unison to the Party Line. But they were also individual human beings with the ability to think, and the passionate emotions unique to their age group. How could they possibly have escaped the streams of hatred, the stench of evil, the vile presence of anti-Semitism that pervaded their daily lives? It must have had an impact on their impressionable minds and hearts. Father Ratzinger claims he loathed the Nazi doctrine, that it turned him toward the moral theology of the Catholic Church.
But whether through rebellion or conformity, all teenagers inevitably absorb and mimic adult attitudes and behavior in their ongoing quest toward their own adulthood. So what truly motivated Joseph Ratzinger as a Hitler Youth, necessary conformity or ugly zeal?
Ironically, our best hope against the latter is that fundamentalist dogma ultimately prevailed.
Labels: Rants on Rites