Questions with No Answers

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

I’ve been having some thoughts running through my head for the past little while. I’ve been thinking a lot about evil. I know that sounds a little strange, but there have been a few factors that have contributed to these thoughts. I’ve been focusing a lot on ethics for the past while, trying to decide which system of ethics I think is most reasonable. That sort of plays into these thoughts. The biggest factor, obviously, is that I’m currently taking a course online about Evil. It’s a Religious Studies course, and it is all about how different religious systems and religious people define and understand evil. It’s been fairly interesting so far, and what I’ve found most interesting are the books that we have had to read. There are three in total, along with some other selected chapters, but I’ve just finished the second one of three. The first was by Helen Prejean entitled “Dead Man Walking”, and it talks all about capital punishment in America. Prejean was a nun who acted as spiritual advisor to several men on death row. I also just finished a book by Elie Wiesel called “Night.” Elie was a Jew who survived the horrors of the concentration camps. The book is so devoid of all descriptors, so matter-of-fact, and yet it’s so poignant. So I figured I should put some of my thoughts down while they are still fresh.

While reading this book, I found the events within it so foreign to me. He tells of German soldiers making their prisoners run and shooting anyone who falls behind. He tells of a son killing his own father for a crust of bread. All throughout the book, the question I had in my head was, “How on earth could this ever happen?” The horrors of the Holocaust have never seemed real to me, simply because it seems that I am unable to fathom them. How could a country of people systematically work to exterminate other human beings? It just doesn’t seem possible. And yet such acts are the norm rather than the exception in our human history. Indeed, they’re still going on today in some parts of the world. But I can no more understand those events than I can the Holocaust. So here I sit, analyzing it like the analytic person I am, because I simply cannot process it emotionally. It’s an impossibility.

The one theme that runs through the book is that of dehumanization. It’s never mentioned explicitly, but it’s ever-present. The obvious example is that of the Germans to the Jews. They forced them into ghettos, showed a complete lack of concern for their well-being, then herded them like cattle into train cars and shipped them off to forced labour camps, where the sick and the weak were exterminated with no remorse. Such things I can’t understand. The strangest thing about this situation is that many of these Germans were not “bad” people. Many of them took no pleasure in harming Jews. Many of them saw nothing wrong with it – it didn’t keep them up at night with guilt. In every other area of their lives, they were normal human beings – they had families and children that they loved, they had friends they cared for, and they had jobs and dreams and aspirations. And yet they killed Jews with no remorse, no pity, like a person squashing a bug. It simply was what it was, and that was all. How on earth is this possible? My mind can’t understand it.

But what I found even more fascinating – morbid as well, of course, but still fascinating – was that the dehumanizing did not just go from German to Jew. What is so entirely odd is that the Jews themselves began to view themselves as non-human. As their rights were removed, they became no more than cattle – they simply let themselves be controlled. And so, numerous times, Wiesel talks about how the dead were not mourned. Virtually as soon as someone was taken away, he was forgotten. Wiesel himself promised to say the traditional prayers for a man who knew his death was coming – but when it comes, Wiesel says that he forgot to pray. The man simply did not exist any more. And so the Jews saw themselves as non-human, to the point where a son can kill his own father for bread. The survival instinct kicked in, and the struggle to survive could only reach so far. How does an entire people lose their humanity within a few short years? It doesn’t even seem possible.

But much ink has been spilled about this event since it happened. Historians, politicians, psychologists, scientists, artists, and poets have all had their say about it. Social psychology in particular has found numerous traits of humanity, including a deference to authority that includes the willingness to kill someone if told to do so. The Milgram experiments reveal that a frightening percentage of average human beings were willing to give another person a shock that they believed killed the person – simply because a man in a white lab coat told them to do so. The concept of learned helplessness tells us that animals – whether human or not – lose their motivation to avoid pain if they begin to believe that their actions will not make any difference. Such concepts can tell us the mechanisms behind the Holocaust, but it still fails to answer the real question: How could it happen?

Looking outward, I can see similar situations happening even today. I have been avoiding talking about the torture of prisoners by American soldiers, but it is so entirely relevant to my point here that I must talk about it. Even in a land that prides itself on affirming the basic rights of human beings, its own citizens were willing to torture other humans. For what – for information? Is information – any information – worth enough to throw away one’s morality, one’s sense of human dignity? I don’t believe so. If we cannot hold on to our morals, then we lose what makes us human in the first place. But I see the same dehumanization at work in this situation as well. If we portray the prisoners – the “terrorists” – as somehow less than human, suddenly torture is permissible. Suddenly information becomes more important than the lives of these…terrorists. Of course, they are construed as terrorists even though they have had no legal trial, and thus apparently are not given the dignity of “innocence until proven guilty.” So sure, the details may be a little different. It’s not genocide based on race or religion. But is it truly any different than what Hitler did?

I have no real answers to these questions. Like I said, my mind seems incapable of processing such evils, such gross injustices as these. I wish most of all that I had an answer to the question, How can this evil be stopped, once and for all? The answer to this is more elusive still. But it must be asked, and it must be pondered, and it must be reflected upon. We need to remember these evils, to stick them into our brains and keep them there, so that we have some hope of not falling into the same trap ourselves. As Milgram’s experiments showed, we’re not immune to it ourselves. Such a frightening thought needs sombre reflection. Such questions need answers.

10 responses to “Questions with No Answers”

feeno

Jeff

I really can’t say it any better than your cousin, heavy stuff. Also a bit depressing, I didn’t really even want to respond. But it gives me a chance to say hello. Hello.

I heard on the news via the radio, I haven’t watched the news more than 5 times my whole life. I figure if something big enough happens, I’ll find out. Anyways back to what I heard, some guy shot and killed his wife and kids, then killed himself.

I thought about that and my reaction was the same as yours when you were reading about the Holocaust. My mind as well had a hard time figuring out why someone who knew he was gonna kill himself would care about killing his “loved ones” first?

Something too I will never understand is the whole dehumanizing of any person, let alone entire races of people.

I wish I had answers for you my friend? Although I believe the bible addresses this topic, it doesn’t mean I really understand it.

I did try a little over at DC on the topic last week, actually got some props from some college guy studying Mr Loftus’ book in his class. (Pedro)

But I know that there are over 100 comments on the subject and still no clear answer?

Actually I like ZAROVE’s comments, it didn’t sound like you did, but at least you don’t believe “banning” people is the best answer. Hopefully he can just come back under a new name. But if he misspells to many words we’ll know who he is?

After tomorrow you’ll have a couple of sermons to check out on line. (if interested) I’ll get you the info next week. But you wont hurt my feelings if your not interested. It’s really no big deal.

It sounds like your staying pretty busy, is this online class something from Waterloo or something your doing on youre own?
Because of your busy schedule I wont bug you about my Pastors book, but let me know when you get around to reading it. I know you wont pull any punches with your critique, but I am hoping you like it?

I didn’t realy have a lot of time to spend on the computer last week, I was pretty busy. But if I don’t post a few comments on John’s site now and then I feel like they are missing something?

Hope you have some time off for some fun stuff this summer?

Later Brudah, feeno

Jeff

Hey feeno,

Yeah, I don’t agree with a lot of what Zarove says, but I still think he should be allowed to say it. Sometimes it seems that John rules his blog with an iron fist, lol.

Anyway yeah sure, send me the link to your sermons, I’ll check ’em out. And I’m actually almost done the book you sent me. Seems like I have more time on my hands than I thought! Well, it’s also a pretty easy read as well, so that helps. When I’m finished, I’ll make sure to send you an email with my thoughts about it, so you can let your pastor know 🙂

Yes, the course I’m taking is offered through my university, but I’m taking it online. It’s definitely an interesting course, but not the most uplifting, that’s for sure. But yeah, I’m trying to have some fun this summer as well. I’ve had a few chances to hang out with some of my friends, but it’s a little difficult with most of them home for the summer. Oh well, such is life! I’m trying to have a social life anyway 🙂

Catch ya later!

Jeff

feeno

Hey, I just read what you wrote about not dancing and being sad about the song was gonna end etc. over at DC, I had no idea that the Jeff, John was referring to was you? Cool. The whole blog is about what you said. Please check out my response, I think it has merit, it kinda of lost a lot of it’s meaning due to my other responses?

Jeff

Alright, I’ll check out your sermon when I get some time. But yeah, I was pretty surprised to see my comment up there on the main page! Go me. Of course, it’s not really my words anyway, since I just took that from someone else 😛

Anyway, to be honest, I really don’t understand what you were trying to say with your comment. My comment was essentially an argument against the idea that life is meaningless without a God to give it some sort of purpose. As such, eternity doesn’t really factor into it lol. Or maybe that’s not the comment you were talking about, I’m not sure. Unless you think the part about straw hats was what had merit? Haha well I’ll leave the discussion about straw hats to you Yankees…up here we wear toques 😛

feeno

Cori-Beth
I wanted to click over and say hi but I can’t get through? Hope all is well. I guess we’ll talk again when Jeff has his next post. Maybe he’ll listen to you because your fam, tell him to lighten it up some. What’s a “sticky”? Is that computer talk or some weird Canadian code?

Peace out brown trout, feen

Cori-Beth

A "sticky" means I bookmarked it! And tell Jeff to lighten up??? Don't think it will help much as I'm the same way with expressing myself. Although, I guess I could lighten up a bit sometimes as well! (-:

Can't get through??? Not sure what what you mean by that. Do you mean my blog??? Ahh, I see, the "share my profile" box was unticked! Weird. Should work now. Yes, it does! Woo hoo! Something to do with my facebook page importing the entries, I think…

It's almost midnight, so don't mind me…

Corinne<><

feeno

W'dup
I know you probably aren't impressed by this but I have to tell someone. Last week you did not receive a softball report. That was because we lost, and primarily we lost 'cause I suck. But we were still 5 and 1 with one game to go for the championship (first session only) but then last night in the bottom of the last inning we were down 13-8, our lead off hitter made an out, then we had 7 or 8 straight hits to tie the game before we made another out. Then with 2 outs we won the game, we won the championship, got the trophy and bitchen' T-shirts.
I know I'm a dork for doing this, but I'm wearing my T-shirt now. (I almost slept in it). The team we played were a bunch of young studs who were very good sports, had they have won they would have been the champs. That's all I got, thanks for letting me "brag" a little.

I saw how you gave DenCol an earful, I don't agree with him doctrinally on to many things, but he's trying to do what he thinks is best? I actually find him amusing, I don't think John does, his patience with him is running thin.

Talk with you soon, Peace, feeno

Jeff

Hey feeno, congratulations! Sounds like an impressive game…and of course you need to wear your t-shirt for at least a week straight. You have to show it off to everyone, of course!

Lol yeeeeaaah DenCol…sometimes I find him amusing, and other times I just find him plain annoying. Depends on my mood, I guess. At times what he says is polite and reasonable, but in my opinion, people who think that they "know" the truth tend to get a little bit arrogant. And I say that having been one of those people. I don't have a problem with people that have different beliefs, but when they start telling you that they "know" they're right and you're wrong, things get a little hairy. So I try to have a bit of fun with this DenCol character, but sometimes it gets to the point where I literally just have nothing to say. The discussion seems to have sunk to the point that no continuing discussion will ever bring it back up lol.

Much better talking to you, let's just put it at that. After all, I get to hear all about your softball games 😀

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