“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Power to Choose

Our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau yesterday reminded me forcibly of the power of evil. The sheer scale of the suffering undergone by the Jews, Poles, gypsies, Communists and other prisoners was horrendous. And it was part of a deliberate and evil (that word again) plan to "free the German nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies", in the words of Otto Thierach, Hitler's so-called Minister of Justice. Jews in particular were to be totally exterminated, being seen as sub-human vermin.

It was a task undertaken with meticulous and horrifying efficiency, carefully documented every step of the way.


But I don't believe in evil as an independent power in the world. No-one is born evil - there is no such thing as original sin. I believe that every human being has the power to choose between good and evil. However, the choices that each person makes will set them on a path towards a life filled with good deeds or evil ones, and the farther one walks along the chosen path, the harder it is to turn aside. As the Native Americans believe, "it depends which wolf you feed."

I have to believe that there is a divine spark "that of God" in everyone, but perhaps those people we call evil choose to ignore its promptings. And there are many degrees of evil; for example, I do not believe that the majority of German people during Hitler's Reich chose evil consciously, although the dyed in the wool Nazis certainly seem to have done. But the Nazi propaganda machine awakened the latent anti-Semitism in many German hearts, giving them someone to blame for their hard lives, and enabling them to believe its lies, and close their eyes to what was going on.

Yet there were some who turned their backs on the temptation to evil, and chose good. For example, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, the Catholic priest who took someone else's place in a starvation cell in Auschwitz - we saw the actual cell yesterday. Or the brave Poles who risked their lives to help the Auschwitz inmates by providing them with food and medicine, and organised escapes. And of course, Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews, as famously portrayed in the Spielberg film Schindler's List.

We all have the power to choose, every day, between acts that will make the world a better or a worse place for its inhabitants, not only our fellow human beings, but all living things.

I pray that when I am put to the test, that I will have the courage to stand up for the good, and deny the evil. Amen

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