Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Have Faith in Humanity: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

I just recently finished Gerda Weissmann Klein's memoir about surviving Nazi Germany: All But My Life

In it, I found that she dared to raise questions that I myself have had when thinking about the Holocaust and the terrible atrocities committed by the Nazi's.  Klein asks: 

Why did we march?  Why did we let them slaughter us?  Why did we not try to fight back?  What difference would it have made if they would have killed some of us?  We were dying anyway, and they would kill the survivors sooner or later in any case? 

Our group shrank to a quarter of it's original size.  Why should I hope?  I thought.  Why should I be free and the others dead?  Why should I think that I should be the privileged one?  But these thoughts were dangerous.  I had to hope.  I had to go on to the end.  (Kindle Locations 3103-3118)
In some ways, I wish this quote had come first, but if you notice the Kindle locations, you will see that this quote is the second one that appears in her book.  She actually answers point blank earlier in the book, but I wanted to include the above quote as well because of its power.  She also writes:

Why?  Why did we walk like meek sheep to the slaughterhouse?  Why did we not fight back?  What had we to lose?  Nothing but our lives.  Why did we not run away and hide?  We might have had a chance to survive.  Why did we walk deliberately and obediently into their clutches?

I know why.  Because we had faith in humanity.  Because we did not really think that human beings were capable of committing such crimes.  (Kindle Location 1469)
Many academics and others, pre-World War II believed that humanity was on an upward swing toward a more just and better society.  They believed that every day, things were getting better and better.  The Enlightenment had lifted the chains of religion and superstition allowing us to shift away from the wars over religious doctrine.  Being free would mean we could achieve our unlimited potential.  Progress was the catchword.

But this worldview was shattered first by World War I and then by the discoveries of the atrocities of World War II.  Faith in humanity was reduced to rubble by these events.  Oh, it still exists in certain places.  There are still some who buy into the ideology that we are still on a path of progress and that such evil either cannot or will not ever happen again.

But I personally believe this is a delusion--a denial of the true reality of human nature.

You see, I have faith in humanity.  I have faith that there is goodness in humanity; that there is compassion; that there is justice; that there is a desire for peace and prosperity for all.  Yet, I also have faith that humanity has a dark side; that it contains within it evil, hatred, prejudice, selfishness, and a willingness to kill those who do not conform to one's own point of view.

Put it another way, I believe that within each and every one of us is a Mother Teresa and an Adolph Hitler.

Does that offend you? 

Good.  I will not offer any apology.  You should be offended.  I am offended at myself.

It is my particular point of view; a point of view shared by Orthodox Christianity, that every human being is both saint and sinner.  Every human being is capable of great good and great evil.  No one can escape this reality.

Some people are shocked by senseless death like the school shooting in Newtown, CT.  Not me. 
Some people are shocked by the greed of banks who seek to make a fast buck and contribute to financial meltdown.  Not me.
Some people are shocked by racial hatred and prejudice.  Not me.
Some people are shocked  and dismayed by partisan politics.  Not me.
Some people are shocked by people who fly airplanes into buildings.  Not me.

Nothing surprises me when it comes to the evil that humans are capable of doing.  Nothing.  I know my faith.  I know my history.  People are capable of evil.  Even the sanest of individuals has been known to suddenly snap.  Evil is a present and tangible reality.  Some people don't like the term anymore, but I really don't care.  I call it from the perspective of faith--it's Sin: both the things that we do and the nature that is within us.

And I know no amount of law giving and law making will prevent it.

God tried that approach.

He tried giving the Law and asking people to adhere to it. 

And what happened?  Did people follow the Law?

That's a rhetorical question.  So, God had to seek a different path.  A different way.

The Law led to death.  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

But Christ came to bring the answer.

Christ came to offer a different way.  That way is revealed in the Good Friday/Easter Sunday paradox.

Today, we begin preparations for that event.  Today, we stop to ponder our fallen, human nature; to ask for forgiveness; to combat the sin within ourselves by repentance, fasting, prayer, and works of love; to prepare our hearts to receive the Good News of Easter.

Yes, I have faith in humanity, but it is surpassed by my faith in Christ.  For humanity still commits atrocity, but Christ has promised to rectify it.  For this I hope.

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