Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Benefits Street and Nazism

Benefits Street on Channel 4 is causing a stir.

There have been calls for the show to be taken off air, Twitter death threats and many feeling uncomfortable and uneasy with the way the show portrays various people from various backgrounds and circumstances.

Without doubt when watching it you need a very large pinch of salt and a way of seeing through the propaganda.

You need an ability to see each and every person on the programme as a human being.

Whether their story is being told truthfully or not and whether the TV producers are telling their story truthfully or not, the reality is that each and every person shown is a human being, an equal, a person like you and me.  And it will do us well not to forget this because when we start forgetting this we will walk down a dangerous and violent road.

As soon as language of 'other', 'them' and 'not like us' starts being used it is easy to began a process of dehumanisation, no longer viewing people as people but as those who are causing the problems, those who are a part of the reason we're in the mess that we're in.

When we start pointing the finger it does not take long for things to get out of control and for entire swathes of society to turn on the most vulnerable and powerless.

I am reading through the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the moment. Bonhoeffer was a theologian and church Pastor who spoke out against Hitler and the Nazism and saw early on the danger that Hitler posed not only to Germany but to the wider world.  He urged the German church to remain faithful to God and not be lured in by Hitler's rhetoric and false promises.

Germany however was a wounded nation. The treaty of Versailles placed the entire guilt and blame of WWI upon Germany. In the signing of the treaty many German people felt betrayed by their government. Many in the military, including many of he higher ranked officers and 'war heroes' felt as though their government had not adequately handled the aftermath of WWI.

So there was a lot of pain being felt for the German people; rising unemployment, national debt, increased poverty, military unrest, a sense of national humiliation, sense of betrayal by government.

Hitler spoke powerfully into all these areas setting himself up to be the saviour of Germany. To begin with many saw him as a fanatical, yet with increased economic problems more and more people turned to fascism and to Hitler. With Hitler's rise to power came anti-Semitic propaganda and hate filled speech.

The Jewish people became the scapegoats. As Hitler rose to power so increased the pointing fingers of blame towards the Jewish community.

Throughout the 1930's as Nazism gained prominence and strength Bonhoeffer spoke and wrote tirelessly against their poison and actively sought to help and urge the church be true to the voice of Christ.

The Nazi Party took control of the national church and created the German Evangelical Church demanding that all Protestant's sign up and commit themselves without reservation to the Nazi world view. This included believing the Aryan race to be supreme above all people, that Jews are to be hated, to give total allegiance to Hitler and to replace the Christian world view with a Nazi world view. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church actively opposed this calling Christians to worship God alone, to love neighbour, to see the importance of the Jewish people in God's heart and purposes and to be faithful to Jesus' call of love for the oppressed, justice, mercy and grace.

Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church were a voice in the wilderness in a nation that saw Hitler as the answer to the national problems around them. Hitler's rise became unstoppable and we know the horror's of the Holocaust and WWII. The German Church had become null and void, lost any credibility, was theologically inept and rolled over to Nazism. Bonhoeffer and seen this coming and in 1934 said,

'I'm working with the church opposition with all my might...it's perfectly clear to me that this opposition is only a very temporary transitional phase on the way to an opposition of a very different kind, and that very few of those involved in this preliminary skirmish are going to be there for that second struggle. I believe that all of Christendom should be praying with us for the coming of resistance 'to the point of shedding blood' [Hebrews 12:4] and for the finding of people who can suffer it through...Then, perhaps then God will acknowledge his church again with his word, but until then a great deal must be believed, and prayed, and suffered.'

Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi's and martyred on 9th April 1945.

What has all this got to do with Benefits Street?

Well maybe there are parallels to what is happening here in the UK to the scene and situation of 1920's and early 30's Germany? Economic struggle, national debt, immigration concerns, sense of betrayal, rising unemployment, fall in living standards.

And fingers start to point. People get blamed. Language of 'them' and 'us'. Dehumanisation.

We need to learn and listen to the past in order that we don't make the same mistakes in the future.

We need to see each other as people, children of the living God, equals. And we must do what we can at all times to love our neighbour as ourselves whatever street they may live on. 

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