Today the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp where more than a million people, mostly Jews, were systematically murdered. Several memorial services have already taken place.
As I was returning to Marshall from Detroit earlier this week, I was listening to an interview with Laurence Rees on NPR. Rees is the author of the 2005 book, Auschwitz: A New History. With information drawn from more than one hundred survivors and witnesses, Rees's book offers a masterful account of the cascade of atrocities by Nazi Germany which eventually culminated in the creation of camps like Auschwitz.
As the interview came to an end, interviewer Dave Davies asked Rees an important question: what lesson does the world need to learn from Auschwitz? Rees answered (and I am paraphrasing), "The lesson is that we need to shun absolute beliefs. The Nazis were absolute believers, and look what they did."
I found this answer very curious for several reasons; first, because I don't think Rees actually believes it! Throughout his interview, Rees rendered absolute moral judgments against the Nazi regime. He called it "evil," "immoral," and "tragic." One can only say such things if one has a core of absolute moral convictions. If Rees really believed his "lesson," he would not be able to say such things.
I also found it a curious answer because it was the absolute beliefs of the Allies which finally brought an end to the Nazi reign of terror. Leaders like Churchill, Roosevelt, and others were willing to commit their people and their treasure to the war effort precisely because they believed absolutely in freedom, and democracy, and human dignity, and they believed that these must be preserved at all cost. Nazism wasn't defeated by relativists. Relativists don't stand for anything. It was defeated by absolutists.
Besides all this, would the kind of relativism advocated by Rees really make the world a better place, or would it actually make the world more dangerous? Let me ask the question another way: Do you really want to live in a world where no one has core moral or epistemological convictions? Where no one is willing to say with certainty that some things are right and other things are wrong? It seems to me that such a situation would be the quickest route back to an atrocity like Auschwitz.
So as much as I respect and appreciate Laurence Rees, let us not take his advice. Instead, let these be the lessons learned on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz: The world is filled with absolute claims, but they are not all equally valid. Some are good and right and true, while others are evil, and wrong, and false. So we must be careful. We must guard our hearts. We do not want to place absolute faith in the wrong thing. Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas can lead to disaster. But we do not want to become relativists either. That, too, can lead to disaster. Let us therefore use the tragedy of Auschwitz as our motivation for seeking and finding the right thing--the right One--to put our absolute faith in.
Yesterday evening at Grace Baptist Church I delivered my annual "State of the Church Address." This is my annual opportunity to share the successes of the previous year, discuss plans for the new year, and talk about the opportunities and challenges awaiting us. I have uploaded my PowerPoint presentation if you would like to check it out.
Throughout the fall of 2019 I was busy working with Adriaan Neele to get the Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest transferred from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The transfer was necessary in light of Doug Sweeney's move from TEDS to Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. The transfer is now complete, and the new website is up: https://prts.edu/research-centers/jonathan-edwards-center/
The Edwards Center-Midwest will be involved in the following activities in 2020:
--Authoring a new book: Reading Jonathan Edwards: An Annotated Bibliography, 2006-2020, which will be a companion volume to the book of the same title by M. X. Lesser.
--Hosting a seminar (March 10, 2020) featuring George Marsden
--Publishing Edwardseana magazine (March 2020)
--Holding a student paper competition
--Participating in the Global Jonathan Edwards Congress in Belgium, including delivering a keynote address
--Transcribing, editing, and then publishing sermons of Jonathan Edwards
--Publishing book reviews on a near-monthly basis on the blog