Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nazis in Delaware

There's a story circulating on the internet today about an comment newly-minted Republican candidate for the Senate, Sarah, sorry, Christine O'Donnell made in 1998 on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. 

Now, before I talk about the story, a moment on the soap box. Seriously, media/online blogger people, I know she's freaking you out.  Ventriloquist's dummies are always scary. But this was 13 years ago, people, and frankly, is it really that nutty? She didn't say she would tell the Nazis there were Jews there (although that's how you're spinning it.)  She said God would help her find a way out.  You want to call that naive, great, although you ask me, it also points to the extremity of the situation.  Nazi comes to your door, tell me you're not hoping God, however you imagine God, would help you find a way out.   

But you want to call that contemptible? I don't think so.  

At some point you guys are just out to demonize.  Come on. Be better than that.  

So, here's the story: on Bill Maher O'Donnell made the claim that she would never tell a lie.  Comedian Eddie Izzard pushed the point -- how about the classic example of a Nazi comes to your door.  Her response has been spun online as she'd tell the Nazis, because it's always wrong to lie. 

Intriguingly, what she actually said is, she believed "God would provide a way to do the right thing righteously."  My friends, you could fit a semi through the wiggle room in that comment. 

Here's the transcript.  

A Jesuit ethicist once posed a very very interesting answer to the Nazi dilemma.  Probably the best answer I've ever heard. (And it's killing me that I can't remember who it was. I read about it not long ago, actually, but having a brain meltdown this morning.)

He said, you can tell the Nazis no, there's no one here, with a perfectly clear conscience.  Because when a Nazi comes to the door asking if there are any Jews inside, he’s not asking a point of information.  This isn’t the census. What he’s really asking is, can I come in and kill any Jews in the house? And the answer to that question is a clear no.  

When faced with difficult situations, you need to ask yourself, what am I really being asked here? And that's the question you should be answering. 

Some may call that Jesuitical.  And it could be, if you choose instead really to answer the question they're not asking, to play the game as it were.  But applied properly, it's hugely practical, and not just with Nazis.  


Kate Marie said...

It's funny -- my husband and I were discussing this very hypothetical a few days ago. He thought that the person who originally made the argument that you could answer "no" with a clear conscience was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Actually, it's Henry Garnet, a Jesuit killed after the Gunpowder plot in England. He was accused of having been a party to try and kill the king. By all accounts he wasn't involved, but he probably had heard the confessions of people who were.

Wouldn't be surprised if Bonhoeffer talked about it, too.