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Systems, Part 13: No Better Than Nazis

Another light piece on Trump, the Holocaust, ethics, Nuremberg Trials, and more!

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Alas! It has been too long since a Systems Post was published, but wait no longer. If you are new to my Systems Posts, you can start with Part 1 here.

I recently began reading Man’s Search For Meaning by the annoyingly optimistic Viktor E. Frankl, and if you don’t know what that is, it’s definitely worth looking into. The book is essentially made up of two parts: The first is simply a detailed account of Frankl’s experience inside a Nazi concentration camp for two years, and the second is his explanation of his psychological theory called Logotherapy, or treatment by introducing meaning into someone’s life.

This was coupled with a few talks I’ve listened to by Jordan Peterson where he introduced me to Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, a hefty commentator on the impact of the Holocaust and the Gulag. He was the one who famously said,

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This was related to the Nuremberg Trials, which took place after the end of World War 2, and were of utmost importance because they declared that there are, indeed, actions which are not permissible by humans, regardless of whether or not you were simply ordered to carry out the action by a superior. Interestingly, many of the men ordered to appear in Nuremberg committed suicide before the trails even began, begging the question, did they know that they had committed acts which could be universally defined as evil?

Of course, by stating that some action is universally evil, you must be prepared to describe why something is evil, and therefore, you must also be able to give an account of something good, the opposite of evil, and acknowledge the existence of the two. Beyond both of these, you must answer the largest question of all: Why? 

Why is something evil and something is good? And why should humans be held accountable for what they do? Granted, atheist and agnostic thinkers have struggled to define these boundaries and establish answers to the ethic question of Why since the Bronze Age, but no answers have readied themselves within their humanistic boundaries. As a Christian, I find myself (sometimes reluctantly) submitting to the boundaries set by Scripture, and even more so than the boundaries, the reasons presented within. Put simply, the reason humans should not be cruel to other humans (or to the environment for that matter) is because God made it. Humans especially have a unique spark of the Divine inside us, and to harm another human is to harm God Himself (Genesis 1, Matthew 25). This is not a place atheists can get to without acknowledging the fact that there are moral rights and wrongs that they themselves hold to, but can’t explain why.

Heck, zoom out far enough, and you’d see that the world would be much better off without human beings polluting it and chopping down miles of forest. Therefore, human continuation is not a strong enough argument for an ethical stance unless there is something special and worth preserving about us.

Now, when discussing these actions which were so reprehensible that they needed to be punished by a court of the entire world, we need to ask a couple more questions.

  1. Were these men unique in their evil, or, as Aleks pointed out, are each of us capable of the heights of evil they reached? Think about what it would take for you to perpetrate such vicious acts. Now, acknowledge that the fact that you can imagine doing them means you are, in fact, capable of doing such evil acts. You are not exempt from becoming a Nazi given the right circumstances. [Insert entire Gospel message here]
  2. What acts are happening today that future generations may compare to the Holocaust, and criticize us for standing by and doing nothing? After all, in the midst of the Holocaust, there were average citizens going about their business without a qualm while the gas chambers ran just a few miles from them. How terrible to look back and realize that you were one of these farmers who said and did nothing while the Nazi regime ‘experimented’ with human beings just a few clicks away.

I want to expound on number 2 for a minute. Let’s take the recent controversial event of America separating families at the border. I admit that I don’t know much about the events, but am just using it as an example because most humans on earth would agree that it’s wrong to tear apart a family.

Now, if you think this is wrong, who do you blame for the action? Do you blame the man at the top of the command chain, the president? Do you hold accountable the soldiers who were just following orders, but tore children from their parents because they were instructed to? Or do we all hold ourselves accountable because we saw it happen on Facebook shortly before flipping over to Netflix to laugh at some sitcoms? Are we the same as the farmers outside the concentration camps who insisted on voluntary blindness so that we did not have to act against injustice?

As a middle-class American, it’s hard for me to not see a direct comparison here, though you could apply it to any modern issue: sex trafficking, systemic racism, modern-day slavery, sweatshops, poverty and hunger, etc. Am I aware of sex trafficking? Yes. Am I doing anything about it? …..no. (The case could be made that many of us actually perpetuate the cycle every time we look at porn…or watch the Super Bowl.)

I’m still torn about what exactly we are called to do here. It’s not like the German farmers outside the fences of the camps could have stood up to the Third Reich and taken them down. What do we look back and expect them to have done differently? Maybe if we can answer that question, we can find clarity into what we should do, assuming you are in a similar position to me as an average, middle-class worker who is doing normal work and trying not to hurt anyone.

If these massive systemic problems stress you out as much as they do me, join with me in praying the only real prayer which can solve these problems once and for all: Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come swiftly and institute Your kingly system which will be just and fresh and beautiful.

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