Not to brag or anything, but I’m basically the queen of entertaining people on long car rides. I have a seemingly-unlimited arsenal of activities and conversation topics to keep people entertained for hours, including a storytelling game that was very popular on bus rides with the jr. high youth group I helped with.
The one rule was: no killing anyone. I hoped this would keep all of our stories from turning into random murder sprees whenever anyone couldn’t think of a creative way to solve a problem, but a few of the participants did not like this rule.
“We can’t kill anyone?” one girl protested.
“Not even the bad guys?”
She paused, then tried again. “What if there’s a Nazi? Can’t we kill the Nazi?”
This moment is brought to you by the local jr. high Holocaust history unit, during which everything is gas chambers and Anne Frank and racism and death for a few weeks, until even a fourteen-year-old still addicted to boy bands realizes that what Hitler and Co. did was evil in its most blatant form and should never, ever be allowed to happen again.
That is true, and that is something important to teach to kids who are becoming thinking (voting, morality-forming, decision-making) adults. In case it needs saying, I agree that the Holocaust was sickening and terrible and every negative adjective I could possibly apply to it. I don’t want to diminish that in any way.
What concerned me about this little incident, and others like it, is that this girl was placing Nazis into a different category than normal human bad guys. They were their own circle of awful, so far beyond regular villains that they might earn an exception.
And I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. In fact, I think there are some really important, really awful consequences of our highly specialized hate for Nazis.
First, when we make Nazis into some inhuman “other,” we don’t admit that we are sinful just like them.
After watching The Sound of Music or reading The Hiding Place, we are quite sure: We wouldn’t have looked the other way like nearly every politician, housewife, schoolchild, pastor in Germany did. No. We would have been among the few who fought back, who took a stand, who knew what was right and acted on it.
Except…probably, most of us wouldn’t have. Maybe there are even issues right now where we’re ignoring a chance to take a stand, evils we’re allowing or even contributing to in our society. Because when there are threats and risks involved (even to things like our own comfort), we are not heroes, or even basically nice people who just wish we could all get along. We are capable of deeply selfish, sinful acts, just like they were.
And if we don’t acknowledge that, if we’re lulled into apathy by vague platitudes about our own ability to be different and more heroic, there’s a chance something as terrible as the Holocaust could happen again.
But also, and maybe more importantly, a special hatred for Nazis means we aren’t thinking of them as humans like us.
After the most recent Star Wars movie, was anyone else somewhat surprised that there were actual people under those stormtrooper helmets all these years? (Oddly familiar villain hoard member name, too…along with the decidedly Hitleresque speech scene, the “New Order” doesn’t seem to be hiding its inspiration with much subtlety.)
I had always assumed stormtroopers were just badly-programmed robots, and not just because they had terrible aim. (Though there is that.) I didn’t see them as people until The Force Awakens because I wasn’t supposed to. It’s a simple sociological fact that makes movie producers trot out legions of bad guy armies with gas masks, hoods, weirdly shaped helmets, and other seemingly impractical fighting gear. Namely, that it’s easier to hate people when you can’t see their faces.
Guys, listen: we have to see people to care about them. Do you understand the importance of that statement?
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a terrible example of literature and filled with stereotypes, but it got Northerners to see black people as actual people. That’s why it had the impact it did.
Humans of New York recently did a series of interviews with convicts. Though sometimes the comments on these posts, which work so hard to be affirming of everyone’s beliefs/life choices/fashion statements, annoy me (topic for another post), I loved the idea behind these posts, and the series on refugees before that: to humanize people who we often see as numbers or lines in a news report. When we see their faces, hear their stories, feel their emotions, or at least see those emotions in their eyes…we remember that they, too, were made in the image of God.
It’s the same reason I think Jesus answered an abstract question (“Who is my neighbor?”) with a story about a foreigner who looked after a wounded, bloodied man, going over and above social requirements even when the stuffy religious characters looked the other way. He wanted the audience not to see a moral rule, but a person. To think—who around me needs a good Samaritan? Who am I passing by every day when I should stop to help?
Every single individual and group throughout history has the tension of being made in the image of God (existence given dignity and value by God) and having a sin nature (using that existence to make really awful choices). Even the Nazis. Even us.
Let’s not forget that.