1914, a small French town,The Great War has claimed over a hundred thousands lives and many more injured as England, France, and Belgium forces attempt to prevent further occupation by Kaiser Wilhelm’s German army.
Private Henry Tandey performed a heroic act by surviving heavy machine gun fire by crawling, crouching, and running in the mud and actually took out the machine gun nest. He even crawled up a broken bridge and fixed planks while under fire.
As Henry Tandey secured the area and the battle was winding down, there emerging from the bushes was a young German officer who was injured who wanted to go back behind German lines.
“As the ferocious battle wound down and enemy troops surrendered or retreated a wounded German soldier limped out of the maelstrom and into Private Tandey’s line of fire, the battle weary man never raised his rifle and just stared at Tandey resigned to the inevitable. “I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,” said Tandey, “so I let him go.”
The young German soldier nodded in thanks and the two men took diverging paths, that day and in history.”
Yes, my friends, the German soldier was Adolf Hitler.
Hitler said this on the matter:
“That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again; God saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”
Adolf Hitler the man who started World War II, committed genocide, whose SS and military occupied and killed innocent civilians, and whose actions created the reasons for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose defeat made the USA and USSR superpowers after WW2 leading into the Cold War, which wreaked havoc in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the entire Middle East conflict over Israel and Palestine. There are so many more things as well, but there is too much to conceive about the timeline Hitler created by his twisted actions.
And so it was on the battlefield in 1914 where a young version of Hitler is helpless and ready to be shot. The British soldier raised his rifle and has Hitler in his site, but instead he practices compassion and mercy, the rarest, virtuous, and spiritual of all emotions. Every world religion promotes such ethics.
And look what happened. Oops.
Let’s attempt to apply theology to this. Can this be rationalized or must a religious person resort to apologizing?
1) God has given us Free Will. This all stems from the Garden of Eden, of course. We are free to choose any course of action we desire (except the Pharaoh whose heart was hardened by God after each plague, and Judas who was simply following the script and…well, there are exceptions to this rule).
Anyway…Free Will. Does it also mean that God does not influence ANY event? Nope. There are numerous times in the Holy Books where God influences and interferes with human events. So we can safely say that God allowed this to happen, since everything is in His sphere of influence, and nothing happens without him knowing. Yes, Private Henry Tandey had Free Will, but God knew what Hitler was going to do, because God knows the future and the probabilities of different futures, and thus allowed the solider to show compassion.
2) God has a mysterious master plan. Since it makes no rational sense that God would allow Hitler to survive to actually wipe out Jews and Christians, the religious person must resort to the mysterious master plan argument. Basically, the mysterious plan states that the world we live in today on November 26, 2011 would have been better than an alternate earth where Hitler was killed on the battlefield in 1914 before he was Der Fuhrer. Why? We don’t know, only God knows. Hitler had to live and commit atrocities. Millions had to have died- horribly- so we can live in this current world? Why? Only God knows. I guess God is a Yankees fan, because many other countries hate the fact that U.S. is the world’s cop. Believe it or not, but this is probably the only argument that many people will support.
3) God does what God does. Read the Book of Job. We are all creations of God, ergo he can do what He wants with no explanation to you. There may not even be a plan, but it’s His right to act, not act, make right, or make wrong. It’s like we are an ant farm or a computer simulation and we have waived all right to argue or question His will.
As you can see all three standard theological responses are weak. I mean, sure they make sense if you’re brainwashed, but they don’t make sense outside the context of the Holy Books.
So let’s tackle some alternative religious or theological responses.
4) God is the Creator (The First Cause, The Designer, The Watch Maker) and is distant and unknowable. God is not even a “He”. God is everywhere and nowhere, inside of us, and outside of us. God was in Private Henry Tandey, in the bullet, and in Adolf Hitler, but God is more of a faceless yet all-permeating like the Hindu version of Bramha (which George Lucas used as The Force). There’s not even a Master Plan or covenant of Free Will because God has an entire universe, multiverse, and omniverse to be part of. So what happened at the battle field that day was no different than a fish eating a fish in the ocean- all part of life with no moral judgements from above.
5) Compassion is timeless. Another argument could be that mercy and compassion are timeless moral virtues that should be practiced. Think of the Golden Rule and its variations- wouldn’t you want to be spared on the battle field? As a human, we should ALWAYS spare the life of another, and have good intentions. There is no way that Private Henry Tandey could have known what Hitler would have become. In fact, Hitler was just a courageous soldier as Tandey was at the time. Now granted, Hitler was a little weird back then, but no much different from socially awkward geeks of today’s time. Whereas many other troops from both sides were killing POWs, civilians, and injured soldiers during the Great War, Tandey put his gun down. It was the ultimate act of mercy, and God allowed it because it is a timeless morality. At this point, I am referring to Jesus Christ as opposed to the Hebrew God, who doesn’t have much mercy. Allah doesn’t seem to have mercy against His opponents, either. So Jesus was proud of Private Henry Tandey that day, and He may have dropped a tear down his cheek knowing what destruction was set into motion, but since Tandey showed compassion he showed Jesus that humanity still has a chance.
6) God (Yahweh) was once again punishing Jews, just as He did in numerous Hebrew Bible stories. Heck, maybe he was punishing them for not believing in Jesus. He was also punishing homosexuals, Gypsies, communists, Russians, Germans, Americans, French, British, and any man, woman, child, or animal that died or suffered during World War II. Maybe He did it because they sinned, or according to the Holy Books, God can reserve punishment across generations. This is the 700 Club explanation, the same one used to explain why God allowed the Haitian earthquake.
As you can see these alternatives have still have issues. So let’s try atheism.
7) This proves God does not exist. No matter how you look at it, God allowed Adolf Hitler to live that day, yet God is supposed to be good and all powerful. Even if you want to attribute to wars being man-made and that they would happen without Hitler, the actual Holocaust crosses the line: God’s Chosen People were treated in ways that cannot even be described in this article. Heck, with a God like that, who needs Satan? With a God like that, who even needs the concept of Heaven, Hell, or worshiping such an absent boss?
Is there any wonder why atheism started to grow after both World Wars? Why do you think God is rarely in movies, fiction, or TV shows? So many works of art have zombies, demons, vampires, timeline erasures, monsters, serial killers, aliens, and other horrors that bring intense pain, stress, suffering, and death, but God does absolutely nothing. It’s like getting down and dirty is beneath him. The miracles of the Holy Books have been closed to new ones. The burden is on the religious people to justify it, not the atheist. To the atheist, this is just self-evident that there is no Unseen Hand pulling strings.
As you can see, this begins the road to nihilism if you are not careful.
8) Natural selection, Darwinism, survival of the fittest and morality. If you have a high level education, or if you have read any of Richard Dawkins’ books or even Discover magazine, you know that morality is a biological function, no different than “fight or flight” responses. We are apes, okay? Nowadays, scientists believe that cooperation and mercy were learned traits that helped certain tribes. However, those are recent beliefs. Previously, skewed social Darwinists (like Hitler and genetic racists) believed that such traits were weak.
In this case, Henry Tandey was weak to show compassion for an enemy, and that enemy went on to form an evil empire that crushed millions of people. There’s no God involved here, either- it was simply a decision made by a chimpanzee: an animal that made incorrect decision to show mercy on a predator that came back to haunt his family in England with an airstrike during World War II. Only the strong survive.
Here’s an argument that attacks the entire assumption:
9) That wasn’t Evil Hitler on the battlefield. Since we each create our own future, in many ways, it’s the same philosophical debate of: “If you could kill Hitler when he was a baby, would you do it?” We are assuming based on our own timeline, that Hitler would have always become an evil person (and, yes, he was- I’m making a moral judgement). Since Hitler was not evil on the battle field, whatever happened after that was up to him, and God may have seen possibilities of different earths and futures. There may have been an earth where Hitler used his talents for the betterment of mankind, like what Doctor Doom always does in Marvel Comics when he takes over the world.
Therefore we can’t blame God for not acting. The problem with this, however, is that we do expect God to know the future of our earth, unless we assume He just sees probabilities, which seems to limit his power. In fact, it opens up the can of worms about God having supreme power or not, and why He chooses to not interfere or not.
Now let’s try Buddhism.
10) In Buddhism, there is no “good” or “bad” when it comes to events. There are productive actions (“good” for an English translation, also “right” or “proper”) and productive intentions (“to avoid causing suffering and death”). Karma (action -> reaction), like gravity, and evolution, are natural laws of the universe. The more positive actions you create at the individual level, the higher chance of receiving the benefits of good seeds. However it’s not guaranteed in one lifetime. The concept of rebirth takes care of any seeds that didn’t sprout.
Karma is at an individual level, not at a macro level. Since we may have lived an infinite number of lives across space and time, we are only responsible for our own actions, not some future timeline tapestry.
Henry Tandey committed an act of mercy, which Buddhism says is productive. He also risked his own life to perform his duty and save his fellow soldiers by taking out the machine gun nests and repairing the bridge. Tandey was recognized as a hero, got married, had a good life, was respected by his peers, and lived to a ripe old age.
Hitler, who committed acts of unspeakable negative karma, suffered from syphilis and later on Parkinson’s Disease, and lived to see his empire crumble all around him. He was feared, hated, and mocked. In his final act he committed suicide as the Soviets occupied a crumbled Berlin.
There are many “good” things that came from World War 2, just as many “bad” things that came from World War 2. For one, the Jewish people finally got their own state (as opposed to being scattered and liquidated in so many other countries they attempted to live in), and finally came to a country which did not persecute them (many Jews fled Germany to the United States).
The United States becoming a superpower and world’s police man seems to be a better alternative to the Axis Powers and Soviet Union ruling the earth.
Either way, however, in Buddhism it is futile to assign such moral labels on something that is totally outside our hands and perspective (we don’t have a timeline television to see how things would have happened). Besides, it’s not the point: the point is individual choices create karma for the individual. Buddhism eliminates the awkward God problem.
Okay, what do you think?
How does your religion or personal belief system justify or rationalize Henry Tandey allowing Adolf Hitler to live? Which of my ten points make the most sense to you? Is there anyone up there monitoring the situation or are humans in full control? Did things work out for the best? Was Hitler actually correct when he said God saved him? Was he acting a role? Or are we no better than ants?