“HEROISM ON AN EMPTY STOMACH”: Weil and Hillesum on Love and Happiness Amid the Holocaust1
Article first published online: 17 JAN 2012
© 2012 Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc.
Journal of Religious Ethics
Volume 40, Issue 1, pages 72–98, March 2012
How to Cite
Jackson, T. P. (2012), “HEROISM ON AN EMPTY STOMACH”: Weil and Hillesum on Love and Happiness Amid the Holocaust. Journal of Religious Ethics, 40: 72–98. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2011.00509.x
- Issue published online: 17 JAN 2012
- Article first published online: 17 JAN 2012
I do four things in this essay: (1) briefly rehearse the biographies of Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum, (2) outline and compare some of the key themes in their lives and works, noting interesting (and also troubling) similarities between them, as well as salient differences, (3) use their examples as lenses through which to look at contemporary attitudes toward altruism vs. self-interest, freedom vs. necessity, eating vs. fasting, and acting vs. writing, and (4) highlight both their strengths and their weaknesses as religious witnesses to the truth. An overarching issue throughout the essay is the relation between the soul and the body, but I am especially concerned with the relation between self-sacrifice and self-love—also known as agape and temporal happiness—when confronted by radical evil. When allowed to correct one another, Weil and Hillesum show us, I believe, how Christian agapism can refuse both hatred and false security, even in an era of terrorism and torture.