The Archbishop of Canterbury and Great Britain's Chief Rabbi recently visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, site of the horrifically large Nazi German death camp and now a memorial to its victims.
The statements of both men are up at the Archbishop's website and are worth reading in full.
These words from Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks caught my attention on first read:
"Yet this did not happen far away, in some distant time and in another kind of civilization. It happened in the heart of enlightened Europe in a country that prided itself on its art, its culture, its philosophy and ethics. More than half of the participants at the 1942 Wannsee Conference that decided on the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Question' –total extermination of all Jews – held the title 'Doctor'. String quartets played in Auschwitz-Birkenau as the factories of death consumed the victims."
It is all too common for certain Western elites to point at "religion" as the source of all intolerance and evil in history. And religion, as The Bible itself warns, can provide all kinds of hypocrisy and ungodliness.
But Rabbi Sacks points out that all human beings are in the same boat when it comes to choices of good and evil. Academic titles, artistic taste and lofty words drip from monstrous people who inflict great horrors on the world. The most prolifically murderous movements in history have espoused atheism or presumed to create an occultism of their own. Evil can manipulate religion or work without it, contrary to what some secularists believe.
As I posted a few days ago, groups of teenage girls have been abusing nursing home residents in two Minnesota communities. Some commenters on the news articles seem perplexed because the girls are attractive, as if good looks preclude ugly deeds.
Paul's Letter to the Galatians 6:1-6 recognizes the reality of evil, our need to confront it, and our need to do so humbly, realizing that we are all capable of the wretched acts we judge in others:
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.
It is because evil is a stain on the human condition that Christians welcome a Savior. If some people were predictably "good" and others not, there would be no need for divine rescue. The perfect people could just clean up the world based on their own superiority.
But the fact that we are all prone to evil, regardless of our religion, cultural trappings, education or any other markers, should lead us to at least consider the Bible's insight, challenge and hope:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Letter to the Romans 7:21-25a