Here are some of the questions I feel challenged to address when I look at events that took place in Europe between 1933 an 1945:

– in the face of the human darkness embodied in Nazi atrocities and perpetrated by most participants in the horrors of the Second World War, am I able to continue believing in the power of goodness and light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome?

– is faith in God still possible in the shadow of the Holocaust?

To me it seemed sheer madness to pray in Auschwitz, and absurd to believe in God in this place. (Filip Muller Eyewitness Auschwitz)

– what do I see when I look into the abyss of human darkness?

– what vision of what it means to be truly and authentically human guides my life?

– what is the nature of evil? What are its origins and effects?

– how do I respond to the reality of evil?

– how do I respond to the evidence that people who do evil so often appear to thrive, even if only for a time?

– how do I respond to the reality that people who do evil are also capable of performing acts of kindness and compassion, while at the same time, people I might think of as being good and “civilized” can also participate in horrendous acts of injustice and violence?

– what do I believe might have the power to extinguish my humanity?

– what am I when stripped of all those structures in which I normally seek support for my sense of identity?

– what are the most elemental/primal human emotions?

– am I most authentically human when I resist or when I surrender?

– what is the source of the indomitable human resilience demonstrated so often in the midst of the horrific conditions that dominated so much of the world throughout the Second World War?

– what are the choices, decisions, patterns in my life that might cause me to choose dishonesty and self-delusion rather than honesty and awareness?

– what hidden unacknowledged self-serving agendas are at work in my life that might cause me to participate in, or at least turn a blind eye to, violence perpetrated against others?

– who am I willing to defend? who am I unwilling to defend? why?

– what realities in my community and/or my personal life might I be unwilling to see that could be preparing me to place a role in perpetrating violence?

– how do I know when I am turning a blind-eye to important things in myself or my community that might be tending towards injustice, prejudice, and violence?

– what choices and decisions might I be making today that might cause me to be more capable of violence in the future?

– what forces are at work in me that might cause me to choose to be passive in the face of evil rather than proactive in opposition to those forces that are destructive to life?

– what makes it possible for some people under pressure to respond with openness, compassion, and courage, while others cave in immediately and support violence and hatred?

– what are the cultural forces at work in my world that might cause me to align myself with the the abuse of power by those in authority rather than standing up for the most vulnerable?

– how do I support the legitimate exercise of power in ways that are life-giving rather than destructive to the human community?

– in what ways might I be guilty of dividing the human community into people I identify as being in my group and those I might choose to exclude from my group?

– why did church culture (like all other institutional cultures in Germany in the early twentieth century) fail so dismally to respond effectively to the rise of Nazism? What warning can I take from this failure for our institutional culture today?

What are we to learn from this interlude in history, during which moral intuitions so often were useless because physical and psychological constraints like hunger, illness, fear, despair, and confusion created an unprecedented nonethical environment immune to the promptings of those intuitions?” (Langer, Lawrence L. Holocaust Testimonies, p. 198)

– how might I play a role in creating institutional structures in my day that are open, respectful, and non-violent?

There are certainly many other questions that could be raised in response to the terror of the Holocaust. The important point is, not to rush to answers, but to be willing to sit with the questions. I need to allow these questions to break my heart open to the compassion that naturally flows when I encounter the deep vulnerability of my human condition.

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