Once a month at Chalice the young people watch a movie immediately after the 11:00 a.m. service. This Sunday we watched Valkyrie. As you either already know, or likely guessed from the title of the post, this is a story about a plot to kill Adolf Hilter. We see a man who loved his country enough to leave parts of his own body on the battle field, commit treason. Doing so, he knowingly endangers his wife and children.
On Saturday, my newly formed Breakfast Club had our second meeting to discuss Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian, a pacifist, and someone involved in a plot to kill Hitler. He explained, “If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” Bonhoeffer, like all of the semi-fictionalized characters in Valkyrie, was executed for his role in the plot.
One function of Adolf Hitler and Nazis generally in our public discourse is to stand in for ultimate evil. Unfortunately, we often simply use this ultimate evil as something to call our political foes. Goodwin’s law only partially sarcastically provides, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
In my discussion with the youth after Valkyrie and in reading about Bonhoeffer’s choice, I find ultimate evil giving rise to a surprisingly subtle question. When is something so evil as to require an exception to your moral code? When does righteousness call you to commit treason, or to turn your back on your life long moral commitment to pacifism?