Get access

“HEROISM ON AN EMPTY STOMACH”: Weil and Hillesum on Love and Happiness Amid the Holocaust

Authors

  • Timothy P. Jackson

    Corresponding author
    1. The Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory
    Search for more papers by this author

Timothy P. Jackson is Professor of Christian Ethics at The Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Senior Fellow at The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory. He is the author of Love Disconsoled: Meditations on Christian Charity (Cambridge, 1999) and The Priority of Love: Christian Charity and Social Justice (Princeton, 2003); his current book project is entitled Political Agape: Prophetic Christianity and Liberal Democracy. Timothy P. Jackson, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, 1531 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322, tjack05@emory.edu

ABSTRACT

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.

Ancillary