Emily Leah Silverman's book, Edith Stein and Regina Jonas: Religious Visionaries in the Time of the Death Camps, is a major contribution to the literature on German Jewish women in the Nazi era. Silverman has written a powerful testimony to the vision of these two women and their ministry in this time of insane violence and attempted extermination of the Jewish people. Silverman writes a profoundly insightful study of these two women and their diverse paths of spiritual leadership.
Edith Stein (1891–1942) grew up in an observant Jewish family in Breslau, Germany, but as a woman received no in-depth knowledge of her faith. She developed a deep desire for knowledge at an early age, receiving a doctorate in philosophy in 1916. She studied under the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and wrote her dissertation on “The Problem of Empathy.” She worked as Husserl's assistant at the University of Freiburg, but was denied a habilitational thesis because she was a woman. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the University of Münster, but was forced to resign in 1933 due to the anti-Semitic legislation of the Nazis that forbade employment of Jews.
This festschrift, Voices of Feminist Liberation, which gathers together essays from fourteen former doctoral students who worked with me, is a most gratifying tribute to my work of teaching and writing over forty-five years. These scholars, themselves now teachers and writers in the midst of their own careers, studied with me at several academic institutions – at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where I taught for twenty-seven years, from 1975 to 2002; at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, where I held a special five-year appointment from 1999 to 2005; and at the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University, where I have been teaching since 2005. The editors of this collection, Emily Leah Silverman, Dirk von der Horst, and Whitney Bauman, have done a remarkable job of contacting these scholars who have worked with me over the years and bringing together a coherent group of essays under the three themes of “The Crucible of Experience and the Life of Dialogue,” “Legacies of Colonialism and Resistance,” and “Angles on Ecofeminism.” These three topics point to creative intersections where my scholarly and social activist concerns interconnect with each of their own life work as writers, teachers and moral agents.
For me, these scholars, now teaching in institutions across the US from Florida, South Carolina and Boston to the Midwest and West Coast represent far more than former students whom I taught in classes and whose dissertations I helped advise. They are a network of colleagues and friends who continue to enrich my life as I interact with their ongoing work and lives.
In his major book, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, William Blum explains why so many Americans are so ignorant of the history of their nation and have a hard time believing that it has continually intervened in the lives of other nations in destructive ways. ‘…It is because the American people see and hear their leaders expressing the right concern at the right time, with just the right catch in their throat to convey, “I care!” they see them laughing and telling jokes, see them with their families, hear them speak of God and love, of peace and law, of democracy and freedom – it is because of such things that the idea that our government has done to the world's huddled masses what it did to the Seminoles has such a difficult time penetrating the American consciousness. It's like America has an evil twin.’
This book, with its double name, America, Amerikkka, is about that double identity of America. It is about the ideology of God and love, peace and law, democracy and freedom, and the evil twin that is concealed behind this rhetoric of positive national values and beliefs. This concealment could not happen if it were not that Americans genuinely believe in these national values, and they believe that American actions in the world are motivated by and express these values. Moreover, American leaders know that they touch a deep root of national faith when they use these words.
The claim that the United States is an elect nation chosen by God to dominate and redeem the world has deep roots in the Puritan traditions of the seventeenth century. These ideas of U.S. America's messianic role have been continually retooled to justify new imperial adventures. But the connections between visions of America as a people with a mission to the world and American imperial power have always existed in some contradiction with each other. Many Americans have rejected the idea of empire as ‘un-American,’ and imperialists have gone about their expansionist activities by constantly denying that they were engaged in building an empire.
Thus there had developed early on, from the time of the Indian wars to the Mexican American War to the Spanish American War to today a deep disconnect between what Americans think they have been about in their history and how other people, especially those on the underside of American imperial power, have actually experienced America. This also means that most Americans do not know their own history, particularly this ‘underside’ of American history. American ideologies justify military and economic expansion by speaking in an idealistic language of promoting ‘freedom’ that conceals what they are actually doing from the perspective of conquered and colonized peoples.
But this self-deception has always had its critics. In every generation there have risen up prophetic witnesses, sometimes loners, sometimes speaking for major movements, who seek to unmask this self-deception.
In the mid-1830s to 1850s the United States saw a rapid territorial expansion across the continent. From thirteen colonies that hugged the Atlantic coast, in little more than a half century the nation had come to span the continent ‘from sea to shining sea.’ These developments shaped a new formulation of an American aggressive nationalism that drew on older elements of belief in divine election and the mandate to be democracy's ‘light to the nations’ with enlarged expansionist zeal. The term ‘Manifest Destiny,’ coined by New York journalist John Louis O'Sullivan in 1845, came to epitomize this new form of the vision of America's providential calling and mission.
Manifest Destiny and WASP Exclusivity
O'Sullivan coined the phrase first to justify the annexation of Texas as a state of the union. He advocated such annexation not only against opposition groups from within the U.S., but also from Mexico, who saw such annexation as a causi belli, and the efforts of the English to negotiate a sphere of influence for itself by maintaining the permanent independence of the Lone Star State. O'Sullivan later that year used the phrase again to argue for American expansion into the Oregon Territory against the British claims to the area. The superiority of the American claim to the Oregon Territory, O'Sullivan declared, was ‘by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.’
For more than forty years two rival empires, identified with two rival ideologies, confronted one another across bristling shields of deadly weapons capable of destroying the peoples of the earth many times over. Each defined themselves in messianic terms as saviors of the world's peoples against a deadly foe. The U.S. saw itself as the leader of the ‘free world,’ champion of freedom and democracy, against an evil system of totalitarian repression and slavery. The Soviets saw themselves as the leader of an ‘inevitable’ process of world transformation from capitalist exploitation of the workers to socialist equality, over against a United States that had taken up the banner of European imperialism at a time when that system was dying.
Stages in the Cold War
The period from 1945 to 1989 was not one of uniform hostility. It took several years after the end of the Second World War for the wartime alliance of the U.S. and Western Europe with the Soviet Union to be redefined as one of unrelenting antagonism. After the death of Stalin in 1953 until the late sixties there was some relaxing of tensions followed by renewed periods of hostility. The period from 1969-1979 was one of détente in which both sides pursued negotiations to resolve major issues of dispute, particularly the nuclear arms race. SALT I, (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) signed by President Nixon and Soviet leader Brezhnev in 1972, ended the race to develop defensive antiballistic missile systems (AMBs) and froze the number of nuclear missiles to 1,600 on the Soviet side and 1,054 on the U.S. side.
The founders of the godly commonwealths came to North America to pursue their vision of the true church and society, but they had no more intention of including Christians of other views in their communities than the English establishment was willing to include them. Both shared an exclusive view of the true church coterminous with the nation, or, in the case of the Puritan settlers, coterminous with their own covenanted community. From the beginning of the foundation of the Massachusetts Bay colony, there were clashes with Christians of other persuasions.
Catholics were, of course, totally excluded as the demonic alien of the Puritan worldview, and the French Catholic settlement to the North was regarded as its sworn enemy. Anglicans were looked on with suspicion and classified as dissenters in New England. When the Church of England developed the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in 1701 to evangelize the colonies, and especially when there was talk of founding an American episcopacy, this was seen as part of an English conspiracy to subject the Puritans of Massachusetts to the joint power of bishops and crown. There were also constant efforts by the Puritan divines to exclude any tendency toward Presbyterianism in their midst.
Separatists and more radical dissenters were rigorously excluded. The Separatists of Plymouth colony were regarded with suspicion, but since they were a self-governing colony, the Massachusetts ministry and magistracy had no direct jurisdiction over them.
For military and political leaders shaped by forty years of Cold War with its polarization of the world into the spheres of ‘freedom’ and ‘tyranny,’ the collapse of the Soviet Union was both unsettling and unwelcome, despite the rapidity with which they claimed an American ‘victory’ won through unrelenting economic and military pressure on the ‘enemy.’ In order to avert the ‘threat’ of a ‘peace dividend,’ with its demands for a scaling down of the American military in favor of rebuilding social services at home and responding to social needs abroad, new enemies needed to be found that could be defined as equally dangerous to that of the former USSR and hence demanding equivalent global American military and police power. In a revelatory moment, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs Colin Powell quipped, ‘I'm running out of demons. I'm running out of villains. I'm down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.’
New Demands for Military Expansion
During the George H.W. Bush Administration in the early 1990s military planners were at work crafting a new rationale for U.S. military expansion post-Cold War. Early in 1992, Paul Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of Defense for Policy, circulated a draft of the current Defense Planning Guide which frankly acknowledged that America was now the sole superpower and should shape its defense planning to assure its permanent preeminence over the entire globe, not only defeating existing competitors for global power, but projecting such overwhelming power that any potential competitors would be convinced that ‘they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.’
The Christian Bible combines the literatures of two religious communities, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The second claims to inherit, perfect and supersede the first, yet the relation between the two remains in constant tension and reinterpretation within Christianity. One of these themes of reinterpretation is the idea of an elect nation, God's chosen people. For the ancient Hebrews, as well as the Jewish people through the ages, the chosen people are Israel, a particular people created by a religiously defined ethnicity. Israel is those who covenant with the God of Israel to be his people, yet Jewishness is also an inherited ethnicity. This national God gave his people the law as a way of life through whose observance obedience to God is fulfilled.
This God also promised his people a land and a flourishing future in relation to all the other nations in the Middle East. But these promises remained continually postponed. The people of Israel were a small nation or federation of tribes, who only in brief periods were politically independent and ruled over a few neighboring tribes. For most of their history to the first century BCE they were ruled by other empires. After the Jewish Wars of 66-73 CE and 132-36 CE, the Jews were scattered in or migrated to other areas within and beyond the borders of the Roman Empire.
In 1977, Sister Marie Augusta Neal wrote a short book called A Socio-Theology of Letting Go. This book made a strong impression on me since it seemed to articulate the other side of a liberation theology, the side of a liberation theology addressed to those who are holding oppressive power over others. For those who are oppressed to be liberated, those who hold oppressive power must ‘let go’ (or must be made to let go), must relax their grip on domination and so others can go free. Ultimately a transformation of both sides must take place so there is no more poor and rich, oppressed and oppressors, elect and non-elect, privileged and nonprivileged, but a new society where all members enjoy dignity and access to the basic means of life. This is the ‘civilización de pobreza’ which martyred Jesuit theologian Ignacio Ellacuría spoke about in the last years of his life, a phrase which might be translated a ‘civilization of simple living.’
In this concluding chapter I will articulate something of what a theology of letting go might mean for North American power-holders, which would also be a theology of liberation, not only for dominated and impoverished peoples of countries victimized by the rich and powerful of the United States, but also for the vast majority of the people of the United States itself.
The last decade of the nineteenth century saw key turning points in a number of trends in American society. The frontier was seen as closing, ending the era of free land to the West. The two excluded peoples, Indigenous Americans and African-Americans, experienced a low point in their mistreatment. The Dawes Act (1887) and the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890) sought to eliminate American Indians as a separate and resistant people to American expansion. The Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) confirmed the legality of Jim Crow segregation (see Chapter Two). At the same time immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe poured into the United States, presenting a new ethnic and religious diversity that was seen as highly unwelcome by those who called themselves ‘native’ Americans; i.e., white Northern European Protestants.
From the 1870s there was rapid urbanization and industrialization. The railroads, electricity, motion pictures, cable cars and petroleum began to transform daily life. Huge fortunes were made by a few, while the vast majority labored long hours in oppressive conditions for just a few dimes an hour. A few hundred men held fortunes of over $1 million, while more than 80 per cent of the U.S. working population made less than $500 a year. Farmers saw a sharp decline in commodity prices, while the high prices charged by railroads and food corporations left them in chronic debt.
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