Saturday, April 24, 2010

God actually is quite Great: Maria Skobtsova

A year or two ago I tried to read Christopher Hitchens's bestseller God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I wanted to read it, I really did. I like to hear people out. However after a while I threw in the towel. Hitchens's entire argument in the book is a classic logical fallacy: the ad hominem.
An ad hominem runs something like this: 'you have a big nose, therefore your argument is false'. Or, as the dictionary has it: "attacking an opponent's motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain." This is an appeal not to logic but to emotions, and this is precisely what Hitchens's book is--one big, yellow, bound, ad hominem argument, that actually has no logical weight (though it is quite popular). 'Religion has a big nose, therefore its argument is false'.
After he had viciously criticized the Dali Lama, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, I had just had enough.

Now there are two major problems with this sort of attack on religion. The first, that I've already suggested, is that it's illogical.
The second, is that it's strength relies on a thoroughly one-sided account of things. Hitchens admits to admiring two Christians--Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet he immediately proceeds to explain why they weren't 'really' Christians. After all, if they were, Hitchens's argument would implode.
While his effort, for example, to turn Bonhoeffer's faith into a "nebulous humanism" is ridiculous, it also must be pointed out that there have been thousands upon thousands of Christians over the millennia to whom even Christopher Hitchens might give some credit, were they acknowledged and their stories told.

That's the point of this new series of posts on wardrobe. I want to tell the stories of some of these relatively unknown believers and--though I admit freely that this has no logical weight in the arguments for or against the existence of God, etc.--let their lights shine in the popularly perceived darkness of Christian history. These people, whatever an angry atheist might suggest to the contrary, hint by their lives that God might actually be quite Great.

Today I want to introduce an Orthodox missionary and nun named Maria Skobtsova.

Mother Maria began serving Russian refugees in Paris the in 1920s, opening a shelter and soup kitchen. Her efforts there inspired the idea of "Orthodox Action," that seeks to care for needy, displaced peoples.

Of course, Mother Maria's situation changed drastically with the Nazi take-over of Paris in 1940. As persecution of the Jews in Paris began, many Christians felt that this was not a Christian problem and none of their concern. Maria, in contrast contended that "there is no such thing as a Christian problem." During the Nazi occupation, she took part in providing Jews with falsied baptismal certificates so they might avoid registration. When thousands of Jews were arrested in 1942 and held prisoner in a sports stadium awaiting transport to Auschwitz, Maria spent days distributing food and clothing to them. She even managed to smuggle some Jewish children out of stadium by bribing trash-men to take them out in trash-cans and release them. Her hospitality shelter in Paris was overflowing with people, including many Jews, at this time.

In 1943, however, Maria, her son, and their Orthodox companions were arrested by the Nazis as well; all of them were sent to concentration camps, with Maria going to RavensbrΓΌck. Survivors of the camp have spoken of the care that Mother Maria showed for her fellow prisoners and the impression she left on all those she interacted with. On Good Friday 1945 Maria Skobtsova died in the gas chamber after taking the place of a Jewish prisoner who was about to be executed.

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