Post-Holocaust Consciousness in Theology

A section from a paper I currently working on. It is still in the works, so keep in mind my thoughts are incomplete on this.

Kearney’s third chapter subtitle, “After Auschwitz who can say God?” gives us a more concrete vantage point from which to look at Kearney’s interest in the question of speaking of God. Jewish scholar and rabbi Eugene Borowitz observes that while Christianity wrestled with the philosophical pronouncement of the death of God in the 20th century, Judaism was not phased by this realization that “empiricist-oriented philosophers found it difficult to speak meaningfully about a nonempirical God.”[1] However, while Judaism seemed to avert the questions posed by the death of God philosophers and theologians, the Holocaust became the foremost challenge to Jewish thought. Emil Fackenheim saw the Holocaust as a veritable “radical rupture in history––and that among things ruptured may be not just this or that way of philosophical or theological thinking but thought itself.”[2] Fackenheim expands his theory of rupture by stating it is not merely a rupture of a particular religion or ethnicity, i.e. Judaism and the Jewish people, but of the very rupture of what it means to be human. Borowitz adds that the Holocaust “radically throws into doubt the Jewish people’s very Covenant with God and the way of life it authorizes––and by extension it also threatens the covenant between God and all humankind, the children of Noah.”[3]

Strangely, “the Holocaust under Hitler could somehow be ignored by Christian scholars talking about the reality of God, but for Jews it was the central question.”[4] With the exception of naïve and ill-advised attempts by popular apologists to defend God against more persistent and formidable criticisms by atheists (both of the thoughtful and well-informed type and the fanatical “anti-God squad”), little has been written in Christian theology about how the Holocaust could and should inform our theological vocabulary.[5]Why should it inform our theology? Precisely because the Holocaust is embedded in the modern human consciousness as the most egregious act of violence. Moreover, the question of the Holocaust strips us down to our presuppositions about God, our assumptions that a truly good, justice, and loving God would never have let the Holocaust happen.


[1] Studies in Jewish Thought, 145.

[2] Fackenheim, To Mend the World.

[3] Borowitz, p. 329.

[4] Studies in Jewish Thought, 145.

[5] See Anatheism, p. 168.

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