Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center Ballroom was packed with students, faculty and others for a debate last Monday evening.
Like most debates, there were two potentially opposing viewpoints and a moderator. However, unlike most debates, the topic wasn’t politics.
This time, it was whether or not any God could exist after the crimes committed during the Holocaust, in an event titled “Did God Survive the Holocaust?”
“The topic tonight is very near and dear to my heart,” Provost Jack Kay said before the questions were asked and the opening statements were given. “And we can never forget.”
The pair taking questions for the debate were Dr. Guy Stern, director of the International Institute of the Righteous Holocaust Memorial Center at the Zekelman Family Campus, and Father John Pawlikowski, professor of Social Ethics at the Catholic Theological Union and director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union’s Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Center.
The debate was opened when Dr. Martin Shickman, the moderator, gave the pair permission to give their opening statements.
“Ellie Wisel asked ‘How can you believe in God after the Holocaust?’” Father Pawlikowski said. “I believe an equal question is: ‘How can you believe in humanity after the Holocaust?‘”
The two did not focus on the question of whether God exists, instead debating whether God could exist as their religions perceive him.
“We portray God as all powerful,” Pawlikowski said. “Why didn’t God step in and stop this horrible mentality? Was God punishing anyone through the Holocaust? Some Jews think unobservant Jews caused the Holocaust, and some Christians felt that their lack of acceptance of Christ caused it.”
“That kind of notion of God has to be modified.”
Both men shared a similar belief that the fault may not be in God, but instead is in man.
“If God cannot understand the person who has been persecuted, I am an atheist,” Stern said. “People who have been subjected to that kind of inhumanity accuse him of being indifferent. Kafka said he will not come on the last day, he will come after the last day.”
Both men denounced the perception that God is indifferent to human suffering, and stated that if such a conception were true, they should both be considered atheist.
“The use of God to kill is a fundamental misinterpretation and misuse of God,” Pawlikowski said. “We must constantly condemn that. That is not a God I want to worship.”