Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Arbeit macht frei

I wonder for how many centuries the Nazis will serve as examples of perfect evil. Maybe some find them passé already. I never will. What a story. Men who quote Goethe and appreciate Beethoven become such ruthless, vicious beasts when it suits their purpose. In Hitler’s case, he was even ready to destroy Germany for having failed him in carrying out his fantasies. Anyone who can’t generalize about evil from that isn’t trying.

Not that they were such perfect evil. They were human. Maybe the first Nazi who came up with “Arbeit macht frei” as a slogan for a concentration camp thought it might be true, that prisoners could be freed after they had worked for a time. Or maybe it was a statement that work would free someone from the misery of the camp in an existential way. By the time it was used at Auschwitz, though, as pictured, when people were mostly killed right away, it had gone beyond a cynical deception to be a cruel joke. That’s about as perfect as evil gets in this world, building on something that’s almost defensible into the most grotesque hatred, indifference and falseness.

Now look at how many lies are told today in politics and religion. I would be specific, but I don’t want to kick sacred cows today. I’d rather head in the direction of a solution to being surrounded by lies. Everyone knows some lies are being told. They just think their truths are exempt from that. Well there are plenty of people around to tell you anything you believe is a lie, too. Why not listen to what they say?

I listen to those who tell me that my personal relationship with God is a delusion based on my pride, insanity, or how lightweight they say I am intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, whatever. It amazes me how people tell me this as if they are the first person to think of that, whether in comments to me on this blog or elsewhere. OK, whatever my deficiencies, what do they have to do with hearing from God? So many lies are based on people not looking at the alternative possibilities. Some people believed “Arbeit macht frei” just because that’s what the sign said. Others would have called them naïve, but lots of people do this. They believe the first thing that comes to them or the first thing that comes to them from the universe of ideas that are acceptable to them.

Hearing from God wasn’t the first solution to life that came to me. I was once as devoted to being rational as anyone, rejecting obvious lies about life being all good or some religion being the perfect way to live. The way to live was to look at one’s situation and decide what the best course of action was. In doing that, everyone could mostly decide the same thing. Education is good. A well-paying job is good. Marriage is good. Children are good. Not hurting other people is good. Saving money and being responsible for one’s future is good.

Yet in doing everything right, one can find things going wrong. That doesn’t happen to everyone. Some people do everything right, and their lives proceed well enough. Then they can look down on anyone having trouble and say if he or she would just do things right, that person wouldn’t be having trouble. Ah, that’s how some lies get started. People overgeneralize from their experience. Then they oversimplify, as is our nature. In the end, these are people with good lives, but who know nothing about what they don’t know. Such are people who give me advice. Such are people who back the politics and religion of simple slogans. Such are people who came to Auschwitz and hoped it might be true that, “Arbeit macht frei”. It’s not just cynics who can see past that.

But it does take some experience that things are not what society says they are. The race doesn’t always go to the swift. The contest doesn’t always go to the strong. It is profitable to bet that way, but when that bet loses, the loss is not always because anyone did something wrong. In politics and religion it is. If the economy worsens, those in power are at fault. If some foreign policy goes bad, it’s likewise. In religion, anyone who winds up suffering has only himself or herself to blame for not following the right path. More than one religion sees it that way, because that’s a human idea, not God’s.

It is a human idea that the right path is defined by the right faith, the right works, or some perfect combination of both. It’s something under the control of a human being, whether rationally or as payback for something a person did in a previous life or to pay for sins of one’s fathers. It is justice, just like every ironic twist in an episode of Twilight Zone, including one where an unexpected person is suddenly staring at the wrong side of “Arbeit macht frei” (Actually that was a recent Outer Limits).

And that is a lie. Not everything that happens is just. Understanding that is as old as the Book of Job, but it doesn’t come easily to people. It takes looking at some setbacks oneself, to say, “I did nothing wrong,” then realize there were some things, but not enough to explain all this. It takes reaching out for whatever God one chooses, seeing the shortcomings in that God, and trying again with the real one.

Little of that reaches the level of popular politics or religion. I go around the blogosphere, where it’s so much easier than real life to see people working away at their false premises. Is there anything true here? There is. People’s perceptions of experience are true as being their perceptions, no matter how many lies color their interpretation. It’s not like every lie is as bold as “Arbeit macht frei”. Still something makes people work so hard to be free.

I would simplify my life. I would tell my clients only what they need to hear instead of everything I can think of that might help them, but probably doesn’t. I’m better at that than I was as a young physician, when I’m sure I overloaded patients with things they couldn’t remember. Now I have handouts. Now I also forget more easily than when I was young, which saves me time sometimes. If I forgot to mention this one to a client, how important could it have been? That’s what God says.

God also says He’d rather I attended to Him instead of to these clients, that I could do more good that way, as in Acts 6:2. So far I’ve resisted that, even though I understand the truth of what God has in mind, not so much for this world, but for Him. I don’t think it would be good for me to change the social benefits of working. God doesn’t either. It would be good for Him. He understands my resistance. He helps me with my clients even so, pointing out some resource or some problem I would have forgotten, not pointing out ones that aren’t so important. I haven’t become efficient to the point of only telling people what they need, but it works well.

And these dummies say I don’t know how to talk with God. Instead they work at life, thinking that will make them free. It will just make them dead like everyone else. Our world is full of lies, despite the truths one can find. I don’t see how human beings can free themselves, either as individuals or communities, but there is freedom through God. The only way to find that is true is through God, the real God. It is so tempting for people to say they know that when they have no idea who and what God is, or they wouldn’t come up with these lies about the path to God. God is available in many ways. One has to follow one that works, not one that spits out more hatred, indifference and falseness. It’s not hard to tell the difference. It’s hard to talk about.


elbogz said...

I guess if it weren't for God's grace, we would all be capable of unspeakable acts. I can't as a human being imagine how you could watch all that suffering and death and feel justified in your actions. Unfortunately we forget so quickly. From what I read the Spanish Inquisition was as bad as anything the Nazi’s did. In fact, some historians say that the Roman’s used the Cross to kill criminals because they didn’t want to spoil the ground. In essence the dirt was more valuable to the Romans than a human life.

I remember a sermon talking about sinners. We say, well, I’m a sinner, but I’m no Osama Bin Laden. But I think deep inside, we are capable of great evil. It is only the life of a narrow path that has any hope.


DavidD said...

Thanks Dave, I don't know if you had a chance to read the previous one, but what triggered that was thinking about how I could get caught up with comrades to be about as bad as anyone. If I had been a young man at a different time and place, that could have happened. Instead today I am comrades with the Spirit. It's so impossible to describe how that happened. It wasn't me apart from the qualities I learned to be crucial for a 12-step program - honesty, an open mind and willingness. I wish the importance of those for pursuing God were better known.