Sunday, July 27, 2014

Franklin owned slaves, Dr. Weigl cured Nazis

Thinking further about the issue of theologians (and philosophers) with less than savory pasts led me to be super sensitive to hypocritical sounding insights into the famous and thoughtful and whether or not their less than savory moments disqualify the whole of their thinking.

Watching an episode of "10 Things You Don't Know about . . . Benjamin Franklin" I discovered that Franklin owned slaves. He did see the contradiction between his ideas about freedom and liberty and the owning of slaves, which ultimately led him to be an abolitionist – but the fact is that he owned slaves. Should we then discard the Declaration of Independence – which was written by one slave owner and edited by another?

Listening to Weekend Edition of Fresh Air I heard the story of the amazing Dr. Rudolph Weigl, a Polish doctor who discovered how to create a vaccine to prevent typhus. According to the Fresh Air web site:

As World War II raged, typhus reappeared in war-torn areas and in Jewish ghettos, where cramped, harsh conditions were a perfect breeding ground for lice.

So the Nazis employed Dr. Rudolf Weigl to produce a typhus vaccine. Weigl created a technique that involved raising millions of infected lice in a laboratory and harvesting their guts to get the materials for a vaccine.

The fact that Weigl also supplied the vaccine for the ghetto doesn't matter. He collaborated with the Nazis. Some in his lab, apparently, attempted to sabotage the vaccine sent to the Nazis, but the good doctor would have none of it.

Would we, under any circumstances, dismiss Weigl's vaccine? Or the work of any scientist working for the Nazis who happened to discover something true and useful for humans (or animals or the environment). Of course not.

Why then do we have qualms about the theology conveyed by the human and frail vessels that are Luther, Yoder, Tillich? If they have any truth to tell us, it is true regardless of their negative associations.

No comments: