Befriending Hitler… Befriending a Sociopathic God




In the previous post we considered the adage that ‘an enemy is simply a friend whose story I have not yet heard.’ In his book First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, Zizek critiques this, using the example of Hitler, questioning whether it would be right to befriend him:

“Is one then also ready to affirm that Hitler was an enemy only because his story had not been heard? Do the details of his personal life redeem the horrors that resulted from his reign?”

My arguement is that the adage does hold true, but pivots on the definition of friendship. Unless there is the possibility of empathy flowing both ways, then friendship cannot be a possibility. If it were possible to befriend Hitler, one would hope to be able to dissuade him from his actions. If there was no possibility of change within him (lack of regret or empathy is a hallmark of psychopatic behaviour) then friendship is not possible.

Connectedly, friendship is not possible unless there is some symmetry in power-relations. The soldier who is on duty to see a Palestinian home demolished may appear to be friendly in showing the family photos of his children, but cannot be deemed a friend if they then go ahead and carry out their duties.

Where does this leave this theologically? Clearly we are not framing God as enemy, but it is important to consider what we might mean if we are claiming ‘friendship’ with God. Is there any sense of symmetry in our relationship, and is there any possibility of a two-way empathetic flow? If God is unchanging, does this mean God displays sociopathic tendencies?

If we look at the list of symptoms, we get a pretty interesting picture:

Superficial charm, irrititable, impatient, prone to threats, angry, sense of extreme entitlement, child conduct issues, recurring difficulties with the law…

Doesn’t this read a little like the character we find in the early Old Testament? And if God is unchanging, why should this be any different now – as we see in the attitude in the picture above. We read Zizek’s comment again in this light: Do the details of his personal life redeem the horrors that resulted from his reign?

In the comments on the previous post, Clare wondered: suppose the Israeli soldier dumped his weapon and uniform and renounced his part in oppressing Palestinians. Would there be any chance of a relationship? It seems to me that this is the only way in which genuine relationship could occur, though this would be hugely personally costly to that soldier under Israeli law. This seems to resonate with the beginning of Philippians 2:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

So the only possibility of friendship is if this stripping away of power occurs. But, as in the case of the soldier, this can only make sense if power is genuinely removed… Our enmity with God is thus not overcome through God’s anger or might, but only through God’s weakness. A weakness that not only lays down weapons, but ends up crucified for it.


4 responses to “Befriending Hitler… Befriending a Sociopathic God”

  1. I can only that imagine that Hitler did have friends. They were also behind the horrors produced by the regime and not interested in trying to change his mind. Aren’t there a load of curious personal anecdotes about the Führer?

    It sounds to me, and I don’t mean to come off as confrontational, that what you are saying is that if Hitler was truly friends with someone like you and I, we might have been able to dissuade him from doing as he did. I know arguing from Hitler is considered bad form, Godwin’s Law and what have you, but I think the burden of proof is on the person supporting the adage in question. I’m personally not convinced.

  2. I don’t personally think that if Hitler was friends with someone so fine as you or I he’d have not done those things – because he was, the evidence suggests, a sociopath. I’m not sure he was reachable. So while Zizek uses Hitler as an example as to why the adage isn’t true, I’d suggest that he’s not a typical case because I’m not sure that friendship in the true sense was even possible.

  3. Wow – didn’t expect to see myself quoted in the next post!

    I’m intrigued that you’ve mentioned psychopathy as it sprang to my mind after commenting yesterday. As far as I understand it psychopathy can be basically described as a lack of goodly human characteristics with lack of empathy being a core facet. As you mention in the comment above, given such a personality how then can one expect to have a true friendship with a sociopath? It doesn’t seem possible to me either.

    Aside from the likelihood of sociopaths inflicting increased hurt to others there is the impact of corporations. The documentary ‘The Corporation’ brilliantly demonstrated how these businesses exhibit psychopathic characterisitics and the film is both chilling and inspiring to watch. Since the power wielded by corporations is arguably the root of much of the evil (environmental degradation, social justice etc) in this present world, it seems pertinent to wonder how far individuals within those corporations can be deemed responsible for the damage they cause and how much could be attributed to the whole body, as it were. Does one require an impoverished ability to empathise in order to be a corporation employee?!

    I think a key word in your comment above is ‘reachable’. I am aware that some medical professionals consider pyschopaths incurable. If a psychopathic person or corporation is unreachable what’s the implication for relationship? For example; is it pointless taking action (direct, political, by non-consumption of products etc) against a corporation if it’s never going to have any effect precisely because that business is incapable of relationship and empathy? Likewise; would it have been any use befriending Hitler if his brain was so wired that he was totally unable to form a true friendship?

    Sorry – there’s quite a bit there. But human empathy, self-awareness, honesty, ability to deal with fear and so on, these all deeply impact upon our ability and willingness to respond to the evils of our time.

  4. I think the corporate side is extremely interesting – and this impacts on the corporate aspects of the church as well as on financial corporations…. I think they both exhibit the levels of psychopathy that you talk about. Which of course means that people perceive God that way.