Ag-gravatedA 'Sunrise of Divine Goodness'

A proposed RV lot on UT's Ag campus stirs debate Hitler's theologians on screen Seven Days

The blueprint for the lot, which Associate Professor of Landscape Design Garry Menendez requested from UT Facilities and Services when he got wind of the plan, features 13 RV spaces overlaying about three times as many car spaces. But as Menendez understands it, the plans could double in size and would include drains and hook-ups for water and electricity.

Clark worries that faculty and student wishes aren't enough of a priority when it comes to campus planning, and is reminded of the highly protested construction of the connector bridge in 2000-01, which entailed TDOT's tearing down many buildings to make way for the four-lane road rather than the less costly pedestrian/bike bridge that a vast majority of students and faculty supported.

Most people probably aren't familiar with the patch of green space behind the UT Trial Gardens, a little over an acre of close-cut grass used for research purposes on the Agriculture Campus. It's not exactly a wooded paradise, but some people would rather see it stay green than turn grey. As UT's notorious parking plight mushrooms, plans are in the works to turn this area into yet another surface lot.

"It's been kept kind of hush-hush," says Jay Clark, a post-doctoral researcher on the Ag campus. "As far as I know, a group of RV owners have gotten together and offered the university a chunk of change to pave the lot. Evidently, they are just selling off our land to people who want to park there on gameday."

The blueprint for the lot, which Associate Professor of Landscape Design Garry Menendez requested from UT Facilities and Services when he got wind of the plan, features 13 RV spaces overlaying about three times as many car spaces. But as Menendez understands it, the plans could double in size and would include drains and hook-ups for water and electricity.

"I wanted to give the plans to my advanced landscaping students to try and help mitigate this monster by adding some landscape elements," says Menendez, "But once I saw them, I knew the only thing to do was to fight it."

The plot contains two research sites, as is evidenced in the row of white tubs filled with different grass varieties. "I've got several studies where the lot is proposed to go in," says John Sorochan, Ph.D. "I'm in the second year of a three- to four-year study. You want to see how the different grasses look year after year. We would have to start the process over, but the people funding it would most likely just move the project to another university."

While building UT's status as a top research university has supposedly been a priority of late, the director of services on the Ag Campus, Mike Keel, isn't concerned about the fate of this particular site. "That area is not being intentionally used for research," says Keel, "Oh, except those portable tubs, but we can move them. We have a plant science facility out on Alcoa Highway with lots of space."

Keel sees the new lot as a necessity to accommodate student and faculty parking needs, but he says he hasn't heard about any RV owners wanting to fund the project. "We're exploring a lot of alternatives, but we have no funding at this point."

Likewise, Athletic Director Mike Hamilton doesn't know much about the negotiations. "I haven't heard anything about that lot. Periodically, every time RV parking comes up, the Ag Campus is suggested because of all the trees and plants," says Hamilton, "As an athletic director, I would be an advocate for finding a better parking situation for our RVs."

Clark worries that faculty and student wishes aren't enough of a priority when it comes to campus planning, and is reminded of the highly protested construction of the connector bridge in 2000-01, which entailed TDOT's tearing down many buildings to make way for the four-lane road rather than the less costly pedestrian/bike bridge that a vast majority of students and faculty supported.

According to a 2001 Campus Master Plan, one governing principle is to "create a pedestrian-friendly campus." One of the items in that plan says the goal is to "eliminate surface parking lots and on-street parking." It goes on to note the importance of protecting existing green spaces and replacing existing surface lots with "peripherally located garages."

One example is Lot 66, a large rectangular lot running perpendicular to the gardens. In the Master Plan diagram, it is slated as one of the surface lots to be replaced by peripheral garages. But Keel says, "We're very much in favor of turning lot 66 into a parking garage." Again, he says, funding is an issue here.

One question that's been raised in the past is whether the parking problem is being exaggerated. Clark took it upon himself to walk lot 66 for the past few weeks at the most crowded times of the day—11 a.m. and 3 p.m.—counting empty spaces. He consistently counted 24 to 66 empty student spots and 25 to 80 faculty spots. In regards to the proposed lot, he says, "This has nothing to do with what is needed by the students and faculty. It essentially boils down to a group of people wanting to buy land to park their RV's."

Of course, many would disagree with Clark's dismissal of parking woes. "Right now we have no place for faculty and staff to park," says Keel. "We get complaints daily." If a need is truly there, turning lot 66 into a garage would seem a more palatable option than creating more surface lots, in that it would prevent further paving of green spaces such as the one in question.

As evidenced by the above sign, which Clark guesses to be the work of a concerned student, an RV lot will likely meet with protest. "If this was something that students or faculty or the university were benefiting from, I wouldn't be so upset," says Clark. "Essentially, [the proposed lot] is prostituting the university."

The level of church involvement in Nazi Germany has been kept behind a thick smokescreen, with some church officials and holy spinmeisters claiming that most Christians showed steadfast defiance of Hitler from the very beginnings of the Third Reich. It's convenient to say that the church has always been a beacon of righteousness, but the Rev. Steve Martin, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, feels that a revisionist view of history is more harmful than the truth.

His documentary film, Theologians Under Hitler , is an attempt to offer a truthful look at the often horrible aspects of World War II. "By looking at our past mistakes, we can make clear decisions in the future," Martin says. "This project comes out of my love for the church." The public premiere will be at his home church, First United Methodist, on May 22 at 5:30 p.m. Martin's past documentaries have been on PBS, and have won wide recognition.

Focusing on the writings of Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch and Gerhard Kittel, all of whom were top-tier German theologians in their day, Martin's new film focuses on the writers' individual religious philosophies, elucidating the ways in which theology plus nationalism helped yield the necessary conditions for Hitler's rise to power. With the combination of intense nationalistic feelings during a crippling depression and the fusion of religious dogma and the State, the final equation became faith in God equals faith in Hitler.

In essence, according to the film, German theology of the '20s became a tool to explain to the "völk" that Germans were "God's people after all." Because the story of Germany is largely a Christian story from a historical standpoint—with the Hapsburg family, Martin Luther, and the Holy Roman Empire—Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth University, who was interviewed for the film, says that everyday Germans came to believe that their country, just like Jesus, had been crucified.

"I don't think there are too many films out there that look at the bad side of the church," Martin says. "If you look at all the stuff on the History Channel, it's all kind of black and white . That doesn't sound like reality to me. [Reality] is always harder to discern." Martin says his documentary shows that in 1933, without any hindsight bias, there was a good deal of grayness, and that it wasn't terribly easy to distinguish the good from the bad. Mike Pinner, a professor at ETSU and consultant on Martin's documentaries, warned audiences at the film's screening on April 20 at Grace Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge that this level of blind allegiance happened to the finest intellectual and industrial nation in the world, with post-WWI sanctions and economic collapse providing the catalyst. "It's stunning," Pinner says, "in just four years the Nazis were in complete control."

In the film, Doris Bergen of Notre Dame claims that the theological movement of the 1920s was actually "anti-intellectual and anti-theological," as the clergy seemed to ignore Martin Luther's doctrine of Two Kingdoms, wherein the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man should be kept separate. There were Swastikas draped over altars. Paul Althaus wrote that, under Hitler, it was "the German hour of the Churches," and Emanuel Hirsch called 1933 "a year of grace," the year in which the Nazi party officially gained political clout. Gerhard Kittel, who had once written on the connections between the Jewish and Christian people, became totally anti-Semitic, arguing that, as a Christian, he had a duty to shun the Jews, because they had been offered Jesus and refused to accept him. That logic—more casuistry than logic, actually—helped to steer German politicking toward the Fascist state we read about in history books.

The purpose of the film, Martin explains, is to find historical connections that are pertinent to us today. "I don't mean to say that our current situation is anything like Nazi Germany," Martin adds. "I only want the audience to leave with a set of questions, 'If all this was unfolding around me today, how would I act?' I just want people to pay attention, because the nation is not always benevolent."

Martin's and Pinner's newest documentary delves into an exploration of strange, and frightening, psychoses, and seeks to rejoin how humans could carry out such atrocities against each other. And, more importantly, the film asks, how do we keep something so terrible from happening again? One man at the last screening compared the German theology of the 1920s and '30s to that of Jerry Falwell, who recently said, "Blow 'em all up in the name of the Lord."

Martin and Pinner are currently campaigning to raise money in an attempt to get their film screened on PBS. If successful, this will be their third documentary to be picked up by PBS. Back in July of 2001, Martin and Pinner released Muslims in Appalachia , which was picked up by 45 PBS affiliates after Sept. 11. Now, with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, who was conscripted into the Nazi army before becoming a prisoner of war, Martin and Pinner have made another film that has become timely out of happenstance. But, as Steve Duncan said after viewing the documentary on April 20, "It'll give some evangelicals [those who need it] a kick in the pants."

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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