For those of you living in a bunker in Bora Bora and only connecting to the internet to read this blog: as expected, it’s been a rough week and it isn’t over yet.
The rest of us know this; and while I do not make my political position a secret, I do avoid discussing it most public forums. I am not going to change that now.
However, I am going to talk about the dangers of scapegoating, the practice of pointing to someone or to a group of people and saying “all our problems are because of them.”
Let me tell you a story.
Following the Great War, Germany was punished by the victorious powers to the point of ruin. When the worldwide Great Depression hit around 1929, it only made a bad situation all the worse. The German people were in a terrible situation and barely surviving. This led to a variety of political and social experimentation as people looked for answers. A lot of people had lost faith in the democratic process. They wanted things fixed, and they didn’t care how it happened.
Enter the Nazis.
The Nazis, in spite of their name, were authoritarians, not socialists. They gave the people of Germany a simple answer for their plight: “It is not your fault things are like this; it’s those other people.” In this case, “those other people” included any group that had been on the fringes of German society: Jews, Roma, communists, the physically and mentally impaired, and more. The Nazi solution was simple–and Final–kill them all.
On November 3 and 4, 1943, about 43,000 Jews were killed in the Majdanek, Poniatowa, and Trawniki concentration camps in “Operation Market Harvest.” It was the largest death toll for a single event in the Holocaust.
How did it get there?
- Distrust in the democratic process led to authoritarian extremists in power.
- A willingness to blame societal problems on groups that do not fit the image of “normal.”
- An unwillingness to see how the two above statements combine to create an environment where extremist beliefs lead to extreme actions.
I see this happening all over in our society today. We seem to have all had come to the conclusion that a Good American(TM) is one who is X,Y, and Z and not A,B, or C. If anyone is not X,Y, and Z or is A,B, or C, they are a Bad Person(TM) and should have no rights, should be punished, and should be ostracized from polite society.
And right now, people are saying “Oh yeah, those other guys are just like that!”
No, I mean you. No matter what you call yourself or where you stand on the political/social/economic spectrum, I mean you.
Beams and motes, people, beams and motes.
First, we need to recognize the value of ALL other human beings. If we disagree with them, we need to figure out what legitimate roots exist for the way they feel and believe. We cannot attribute negative qualities to them just because we disagree with their conclusion. We need to accept their right to exist, function, thrive, and believe. We need to believe them when they say they have a problem, that something hurts them, that they experience injustice. We need to evaluate claims from a position that values what others say. We might come to different conclusions but we need to not dismiss the investigation. We can tell them that their beliefs are wrong, but we cannot tell them that their existence is wrong, nor can we secretly believe it.
Second, we must learn to live by faith, not fear. Fear drives us to mistrust of institutions and systems and people. If we start with the premise that all human beings are valuable, if flawed, we must allow all to participate in the process of figuring out our problems. As Christians, we trust in God that he works in history, and even if we cannot see it, there is a greater purpose at work. We must continue to act as we have been called to act, following the example of Christ, and make moral choices no matter what the consequences of those choices might be. Faith drives out fear.
Finally, we must be willing to re-evaluate our own positions, admitting that we, too, are flawed. Be willing to consider that the other person might be right long enough to think through their views. Admit that even if you are not wrong, you might not have the best understanding or solution. Everyone has room to grow.
Remember, treating other people the way you want to be treated is our starting point. The goal is to love everyone, even as Christ loves us.