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The Banality of Good and Evil: Moral Lessons from the Shoah and Jewish Tradition (Moral Traditions & Moral Arguments) [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   326
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.25" Height: 9"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 5, 1999
Publisher   Georgetown University Press
Age  22
ISBN  0878407154  
EAN  9780878407156  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...

People who helped exterminate Jews during the shoah (Hebrew for "holocaust") often claimed that they only did what was expected of them. Intrigued by hearing the same response from individuals who rescued Jews, David R. Blumenthal proposes that the notion of ordinariness used to characterize nazi evil is equally applicable to goodness. In this provocative book, Blumenthal develops a new theory of human behavior that identifies the social and psychological factors that foster both good and evil behavior.

Drawing on lessons primarily from the shoah but also from well-known obedience and altruism experiments, My Lai, and the civil rights movement, Blumenthal deftly interweaves insights from psychology, history, and social theory to create a new way of looking at human behavior. Blumenthal identifies the factors -- social hierarchy, education, and childhood discipline--that shape both good and evil attitudes and actions.

Considering how our religious and educational institutions might do a better job of encouraging goodness and discouraging evil, he then makes specific recommendations for cultivating goodness in people, stressing the importance of the social context of education. He reinforces his ideas through stories, teachings, and case histories from the Jewish tradition that convey important lessons in resistance and goodness.

Appendices include the ethical code of the Israel Defense Forces, material on non-violence from the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center, a suggested syllabus for a Jewish elementary school, and a list of prosocial sources on the Web, as well as a complete bibliography.

If people can commit acts of evil without thinking, why can't even more commit acts of kindness? Writing with power and insight, Blumenthal shows readers of all faiths how we might replace patterns of evil with empathy, justice, and caring, and through a renewed attention to moral education, perhaps prevent future shoahs.

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More About David R. Blumenthal

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David R. Blumenthal is Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies in the Department of Religion at Emory University. Among his numerous other books are "God at the Center "(Harper & Row, 1988/Jason Aronson, 1994) and "Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest" (Westminster/John Knox, 1993).

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
uneven but interesting  Feb 22, 2009
This book seeks to do a variety of things: to explain and define what Blumenthal calls "the banality of good and evil", to describe a few Jewish texts that address prosocial deeds and character traits, and to suggest a plan of action. By "banal", Blumenthal means evil (or good) that is "normal, prosaic, matter-of-fact, and rationalized as a greater good." A Nazi bureaucrat who regularly kills as a matter of procedure is acting in a "banal" way; killing in a fit of rage is not. Similarly, one who protects others from that bureaucrat, and thinks of this act as reflexive and normal, is acting in a "banal" way; one who agonizes over a once-in-a-lifetime good deed, less so.

How do people (and in particular, Nazis) come to act banally? Blumenthal summarizes a variety of studies, and suggests that a variety of factors are relevant: peer support/pressure, childhood upbringing (German fathers tended to be angry and authoritarian), practice in doing good or evil, and a strong desire to submit to authority.

Blumenthal's description of Jewish ethical norms is excellent; he cites a variety of sources and addresses a wide variety of issues. However, Blumenthal does not seem to believe that religion is especially likely to promote good behavior. For example, he writes, without citing any basis for this conclusion, that "Jewish ethical preaching has not worked to make ordinary Jews significantly more caring people." This statement, if not wrong, seems to be to be at best unverifiable. (He makes similar statements about Christians, pointing out that even though a few rescuers acted out of religious conviction during the Holocaust, many did not).

His sets of guidelines for encouraging prosocial conduct is a bit weaker; he sets forth some guidelines, but it is not always clear who these guidelines are addressed to (employers? schools?)

Blumenthal also has (or had, at the time of the book) a strong ideological bias towards the political Left. In complaining about the organized Jewish community, he wrote that "The Israeli peace movement, for example, has not been led, or even well-populated, by people who identify as `religious.'" - implying that supporting the peace movement is ethical behavior in the same way that charity is ethical behavior. Of course, this book was written in the 1990s, before Israel gave away territory to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and got war in exchange; my suspicion is that today, Blumenthal's position might be different.

Write your own review about The Banality of Good and Evil: Moral Lessons from the Shoah and Jewish Tradition (Moral Traditions & Moral Arguments)

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