Saturday, 31 January 2015

Reflections on a Visit to Auschwitz and Islamic Extremism—my By the Way Column in the Medicine Hat News

Last Tuesday was the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death-camp. I visited it in 2006. I really didn’t want to, but I felt I couldn’t just slide on by. I needed to honour the victims by allowing myself to be a witness. I was stunned by the sense of methodical, orderly death-dealing on such an industrial scale. Just outside the fence was the comfortable home in which the camp commandant and his wife raised their children. What kind of switch has to be thrown in human minds and hearts to make that possible? I couldn’t get my mind around it. All I could do was shake my head and wonder at the enormity of the human capacity for evil. It was a quiet bus ride back to our lodgings.

Seventy years later and the news is now filled with accounts of brutal violence done by Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and by individuals in Sydney, here in Canada, and in Paris.

I didn’t want to write about this, really, but the atrocities above make me feel like I did when a difficult or disturbing passage came up in the Sunday readings. I had to resist the temptation to ignore it and slide on by to easier, less volatile matters. Instead I felt obliged to engage honestly with whatever it was and to try and figure out a faithful response for followers of Jesus.

The fact is that religion looms over all the above and I represent one of the religions involved. I feel sad and angry about what has happened and is happening. I worry about what my grandchildren may have to face. How shall I respond in faith?

I must begin with Jesus, the One I follow and serve, himself a victim of political and religious oppression. He made many challenging statements about how we Christians are to live with conflict and abuse. For example, he said he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Mt 10.34-39)—history has borne that out. Jesus also told his disciples they’d need a sword so they ought to go and buy one (Lk 22.36). Also, if I want to save my life, I must lose it (Lk 9.24)—not so comfortable with that. And then there’s “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6.27-28). That, I get, but I’m not sure how well I can do it.

What I know I can do is pray, and never lose heart, that peace will prevail, war will be averted, justice will be done and the innocent will be protected. So can you.