I occasionally look at David Virtue’s site and found an article on his visit to Prague and his reflections about missionary work in eastern Europe in the Communist era and the evaporation of Christianity in our time. He also visited Auschwitz in neighbouring Poland, and his reflection was the following:
I was given a conducted tour of Auschwitz and saw man’s inhumanity to man, confirming in me, forever, the Doctrine of Original Sin and man’s total depravity. Many of my Polish friends could not finish the tour as it was too painful for them.
I have visited Oradour sur Glâne here in France, and Dachau concentration camp during a visit to Munich, east Bavaria and Austria. I have to admit I had the same reaction. Why don’t we have an earth-splitting meteorite or an Ebola pandemic? Why not an all-out nuclear war? Why don’t we all commit suicide? This is often the reflection when we are faced with pure evil and when we go to places where massive atrocities happened. The atmosphere in these places is tense and anguishing. Those of us with an ounce of empathy feel the full horror of what once happened.
At the same time, man is flawed and has always been flawed. There is still the divine image within us all, the “spark”, which must be allowed to shine through our prayer, conversion to God, virtue and good works. Man is also capable of sublimity through the divine image within us. This is something we must not forget. There are just people, as there were during World War II. There were times when German soldiers risked their lives by helping Jewish people to escape the SS, and many people earned the title of Righteous Among the Nations (חסידי אומות העולם) during those dark days, and some sacrificed their lives.
There is evil in the world, but there is also good. Many things can restore our faith in the good part of human nature, and not only when people help others in distress and danger. We also have a great capacity for solidarity and friendship. This is something I find with people who are enthusiastic about boats as I am, perhaps more than with people going to car rallies or other gatherings of common hobbies. In the Church, there are the Saints who showed the way through the Light they had within them and Christ’s Transfiguration.
Would you hurl that cold black meteorite or “death star” at earth, seeing great beauty in nature and human imagination alongside the death and ugliness. Would you nuke a whole country rather than sort the good harvest from the weeds? This is the issue I have with capital punishment in the case of a single human being, even one who has committed a heinous crime. Who is to judge that this person is beyond redemption?
The attitudes of some religious people frighten me, and further illustrate some of the matters I discussed yesterday in my article on original sin.