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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

White Rose Holy Wars

     Come November, the faithful gather in Provo or Salt Lake City. They have studiously prepared for this moment. Much learning and nightly vigils undergird the assembly. This battle consumes the waking (and often dream-filled) nights of many passionate Latter-Day Saints.
     I am, of course, speaking about the annual BYU-Utes football game, a holy war to end all holy wars.
     Despite its comical nickname, religion hardly plays a role in the festivities. Rather, students paint themselves red or blue, and wrap one another's campuses in graffiti'd taunts. Sure, there's plenty of teasing about who is more Mormon than the other. The coaches and players milk the holy-rolling imagery for all it's worth. And usually the game lives up to its hype, with last-minute finishes and gloating good enough to last a year. A good time is had by all.
     Less funny, with no hint of a good time, are the holy wars that have afflicted White Rose "scholarship" in recent years. What used to be simple and annoying misuse of their story has turned into full-fledged abuse. Previously, we dealt with laymen who distorted the heroism of students and
professors, laymen who sought affirmation of their personal religious beliefs in historical context.
     Now the situation has grown more dire, with theologians passing themselves off as scholars, theologians who should need no affirmation of their faith through abuse of the White Rose story, yet who seek it nonetheless.
     This month, a two-day span of Google alerts yielded four separate salvos of this raging White Rose Holy War. A protestant pastor in Seattle, concerned about neo-Calvinism infiltrating the ranks, used Hans and Sophie Scholl as proof of the Protestant influence on White Rose philosophy. While acknowledging Carl Muth's mentorship of the two of them (it was actually only Hans who liked Muth), he insisted that Protestant theology is still identifiable because of Muth's admiration of Soren Kierkegaard. And he pointed to the effect that Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have had on all the students.
     Not surprisingly, a counter salvo (whether intentional or coincidental) came from an Opus Dei source. There's a disturbing trend among Catholic theologians to reinvent White Rose as a purely Catholic enterprise. One must wonder if this wrongheaded insistence is a byproduct of the canonization process for Cardinal Pacelli, author of the Concordat, appeaser of Chancellor Hitler, and better known as Pope Pius XII.
     Building on the faulty foundation laid by Barbara Schueler, Catholic theologians - ranging from a wannabe scholar and highschool teacher, to self-described academics writing for Opus Dei mags (and related) - over-emphasize the influence of Carl Muth and Theodor Haecker. Some of this errant scholarship can be traced to overzealousness with regards to Cardinal Newman, whose canonization has been celebrated with unhealthy vigor.
     It's a shame really, because the distortion of Muth and Haecker's role tends to evoke an equally dangerous reaction, namely the desire to ignore the two men because of the false scholarship that elevates them above their proper status within the group of friends. That is equally unhealthy, and should be avoided. As usual, balance is the key.
     The Holy War for the soul of the White Rose doesn't stop with Catholic versus Protestant, however (and sadly!). A Pentecostal, apostolic blog tries to see White Rose as "the redeemed" of their era, "recipients of mercy" - totally in terms of American religious fervor.
     Finally, an African-African right-winger (I know, it struck me as odd too) who is supporting an anti-government campaign - no taxes!, free to be me!, mint your own money!, down with the Feds!, and so on - combines John Birch Society verbiage with "child of Jesus" theology. He used Freisler's courtroom antics during the first White Rose trial as a direct comparison to the proper and legal decision handed down by a judge against a right-wing tax evader (FLDS?), channeling Hans and Sophie Scholl to defend his untenable position.
     And of course, there's always the reliable Army of God band, who hand out white roses - in honor of the White Rose and Hans and Sophie Scholl - to sick puppies who kill abortion providers.
     Don't get me wrong. A full study of the religious works read by ALL the members of the White Rose - all, not just Hans and Sophie Scholl - could be a helpful tool for understanding their philosophy of life. But such a study will not yield any black-and-white answers. Each person, whether Catholic, Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Deist, Buddhist, agnostic, or anthroposophist, read deeply and well of books from many faiths. They knew their stuff.
     And they picked and chose what best suited them.
     None but Willi Graf, Wilhelm Geyer, and Katharina Schueddekopf attended religious services regularly, if at all. Unless you count Josef Soehngen, whose sexual orientation (he was gay) put him at odds with his Roman Catholic faith, and confused him inside and out. No one else went to church, not even Hans and Sophie Scholl. Those siblings may have had a spiritual side, especially Sophie (Hans was a chameleon), but it bore no trace of religion. Sophie after all, could not even pray. Because she could not believe God could love her.
     I wouldn't mind the White Rose holy wars so much if the theologians and wannabe scholars who put forth these absurd claims would address the whole of it. That is, if you want to single out Theodor Haecker's influence and isolate Catholic theology within the White Rose as a topic of study, then you've got to take the good with the bad.
     That means you have to "accept" the fact that Franz Josef Mueller - who was clearly pro-Nazi during the Third Reich and whose arrest only proves how thorough the Nazis were - was a good, devout Catholic. He didn't support anti-Nazi sentiments because (and this is well-documented) the Pope said not to. Yes, Pope Pius XII.
     You've also got to include in the circle of White-Rose-affiliated-Catholics people like Manfred Eickemeyer, who was Catholic in name only, believing that the Church was good primarily for art and culture. And Harald Dohrn, who was "more papal than the pope himself" and whose views became badly divisive within the group of friends. And Soehngen, whose lifestyle pitted him against both faith and politics, but who tried to hang onto both.
     If you choose to defend Lutheran-ism as The Theology of Choice, then you've got to consider Gisela Schertling, a good Lutheran gal who was also 100% National Socialist, who betrayed her (supposed) friends in the White Rose. And Juergen Wittenstein, also Lutheran, NSDAP Party Member #7667868 and fraud. And the two young men who denounced Hans Hirzel.
     It would be best, however, if the holy wars didn't exist at all. If we simply let these young people and the adults who learned from them be who they were, flaws and all, doubts and all, strengths and all. Stop trying to turn them into heroes made in our own image of Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, whatever, and accept them when they agree with our personal theologies, and when they don't.
     But most importantly, to put behind us untenable theories and focus on the fight these friends did in fact engage in. A fight for liberty and justice, a fight for those who could not speak for themselves. A fight against entrenched clergy who toed the Party line. A fight against false honor, false virtue, false humility, false faith.
     Who knows? We could learn something about our own belief systems. We could, in fact, become better people.

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