When all is said and done.
When we last "look ourselves in the mirror."
When we review our lives with our last breath.
When we are called to account for all we did in this life.
When "push came to shove" and we chose, one of the few things that will matter is the question: did we choose to act in a way that honored the life given to us by God and given to those we met along the way.
"Honoring life." A concept that is foreign to those who promote the culture of death. We are not speaking of "honor" alone, for even Hitler's most vicious SS squad had a sense of "honor." They certainly did and were proud of it! But they honored a madman responsible for the mass murder of several million people. They honored principles that exalted one group of individuals while devaluing others. They honored a system that striped people of their property, stripped people of their freedom, stripped people of their families and friends, stripped people of their jobs, stripped people of even the clothes on their back, leaving them, in the end, literally naked as they were "processed" and forced to march into the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other death camps. Even their dead bodies were eventually taken from their relatives, as the bodies were cremated in the ovens where an evil smoke rose over an evil government at an evil time.
Those who promoted the culture of death in Nazi Germany honored loyalty to the Third Reich. They believed that some people were more worthy of life while others simply were not! They respected principles such as "respect for SOME persons," "justice," and "the greater good of society." They had their own interpretation of what "respect for persons," "justice," and the "greater good of society" meant.
No, the Nazis were not just brute murderers, as some would make it out to be; they had high-sounding philosophies. Their actions were authorized by the Chief Executive of the Nation: the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler himself. Their actions were approved with the full authority of the courts and the legislatures. Everything was done with the appearance of legitimate government action. The leaders of society, the judges, attorneys, physicians and other scholars approved the actions that were taken, or, they were eliminated.
If you've ever read Hitler's writings such as Mein Kampf, (see http://www.fatherryan.org/holocaust/meinkampf/mk1.htm) you would know that Hitler was not a totally illiterate barbarian. He had a way with words, a perverted but convincing logic, and a power of persuasion. The German and Austrian people were enthralled with him - at least SOME were. Enough to form a core group of activist societal leaders who step-by-step, incrementally changed the laws, increasing the power of government while making the individual's rights subservient to the state, the nation, the "greater good." There were no rights that were to be guaranteed to an individual who challenged the agenda and authority of the government.
With a strange mesmerizing ability, a strength of voice, rhetoric and charm, Hitler transformed the very fabric of society. Though he acted quickly, he did not accomplish all of this overnight. It took years and the active cooperation and zeal of many followers, especially that of the scholars, academicians, and other societal leaders.
When even one person speaks with authority and takes a strong stand, there are sure to be some, somewhere, who will resonate to that message. Hitler was the wrong person in the right time and place in history to sweep the nation under his control. The people were thirsting for a leader who would bring back renewed national pride and power.
One of the first things Hitler did was to empower his followers with power in the armed forces, making the national army an instrument of brutality and absolute obedience. The officers of his army and police force became the eyes and ears of this leader and part of the ever far-reaching tentacle-like network reaching into every facet of society and individual lives.
One of the next things Hitler did was to have his officers seize and eliminate any person who stepped forward to oppose his plans, principles and ways of oppressing the people. These natural leaders, people who otherwise may or may not have had actual positions of power, had something Hitler would and could not tolerate: conviction of spirit, a strong belief in human rights that compelled them to speak out and condemn the evil perpetrated by Hitler and his thugs. These natural leaders were systematically arrested and executed, often on the spot, setting an example to terrorize those remaining.
People all over knew that anyone could and would be taken, that freedom and life itself were dependent upon absolute support and loyalty to "the cause." Those who questioned were killed or destroyed, one way or another.
As the balance of power shifted in favor of Hitler, the leaders who remained enacted additional laws. These laws controlled many details of daily life, assuring that there would be violators who could then be arrested, which would further terrorize the public into submission.
Those who excelled in serving Hitler were rewarded with respect, position, power, pleasures and wealth. These were the well-respected judges, attorneys, officers and police. Cultural pride was nurtured with zeal. The contributions of other cultures and societies was ignored or suppressed. Non-Germanic people had their possessions plundered; they were targeted for degradation, humiliation, servitude and death.
You may wonder how all this was possible. How could thinking people not only accept such evil but also enthusiastically embrace it and make it their own? They had pride. They had principles. They had education and skills. They had their own sense of honor. But they did not honor the individual. They did not honor life as something created by God.
The courts administered what they called "justice," ignoring the testimony of the disenfranchised, suppressed evidence that worked against the Nazi agenda. Decisions of the court were pre-determined, the results, a "sure thing." Those who were to be condemned, were condemned. Those who were to be executed, were executed. Defense before these courts was futile, although those who advocated reason and fairness did raise their voices.
Some survived. Somehow. But oh! the people who did not! What of their individual lives, their families and friends, their jobs, their relationships? Snuffed out with no more concern by the Nazis than someone swatting a mosquito.
"Justice" you see, no longer meant "justice" for all. A "person" no longer meant all persons. "Rights" were not for all. They were only accorded to those deemed to be "persons" and who served the cause. The misuse, brutalization, torture and extermination of others were seen as "ethical." How? Through re-definition of all the basic terms of life and society, through re-defining how the people were to view the world. The media was completely involved in promoting the new worldview, reinforcing the system of beliefs that made all of that possible.
The "good" was no longer seen as what was good for each individual. Rather the "good," or "beneficence" became anything and everything that would further the agenda of those who "knew better." Those who did not serve their agenda? Slated for death.
And now, you see, we have come full circle. The American nation - so, so righteous in its fight "to make the world safe for democracy." So righteous in its condemnation of the evils of the Nazi tyranny. But America did not enter World War II primarily to save the oppressed and to stop the killings. We entered the war because we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and because Nazi Germany had invaded several other nations in Europe.
Hitler had dared to trample boundaries among nations and disturb the international equilibrium. We fought to defend ourselves from attack and to restore sovereignty to our international friends, the French, the British and other nations. We took credit for liberating those who survived the concentration camps when the war ended, and we did liberate them. However, had Hitler kept his Nazi tyranny confined to Germany and Austria alone, I doubt we ever would have declared war.
Just as the USA tolerated Saddam Hussein's atrocities against his own people in Iraq for decades. We launched the Gulf War I when Hussein entered Kuwait, disturbing international boundaries and threatening to disturb the stable flow of oil from the Middle East. And again, in Gulf War II, which is currently ongoing, the USA did not enter Iraq primarily because of the suffering of its people or to stop the mass killings of its people. The justification given for the war was to stop international terrorism. Again, we took credit for the liberation of the Kuwaiti people and later the Iraqi people, but that was not the primary goal of entering into war.
Yes, there were some in the USA, even many, in the mid 1900s who agreed with Hitler, with his program of "eugenics," "euthanasia" and extermination of those deemed to be less worthy of life. Hitler and the Nazis glorified man and his achievements above all. They were enthralled with the greatness of man and science. They bowed to no other god but their own self-interest and pride. They used the force of law to validate and impose their views upon all. Yet they were not so different from elements within every society, even in our own time, here in the USA.
Genetics, selective breeding, forced sterilization, abortion, euthanasia and the elimination of the unfit - these were the tools Hitler's followers used in their attempt to create a "purified" Aryan race. These are the same tools used or advocated by his modern day heirs, the culture of death proponents, the right-to-die advocates. If one carefully reads the internal writings of leading advocates for the so-called "right-to-die," you will find references to eugenics, population control, and elimination of those whose "quality of life" is unacceptable. You will find clear definitions, RE-definitions of what it means to be a "human," relegating some people to the "nonperson" category.
"Eugenics" and "bioethics" are not new terms; they were used in Hitler's time. Euthanasia began as Hitler's program to medically murder the vulnerable. A "good death," he asserted. He started with "death to the mentally ill and disabled: having them summarily executed outright, with the nodding approval of many physicians and nurses of the time. He moved on to "death to the Jews," death to the "Gypsies," "death to the Christians," and "death" to those who spoke up for human dignity and equal rights for all.
The currently vanishing generation of those who lived during those times, witnesses to the atrocities committed in the name of Hitler's "greater good," knew and knows the truth. When all is said and done, when you "look in the mirror," review your life, when the end comes, will you have chosen to honor the life given to us by God? Or will you have bowed to the gods of personal power, pride, the glorification of man and his achievements without acknowledging the source of each person's gifts?
For all we do, and all we achieve, all we "understand" is little compared to the infinite Greatness, Beauty and Love demonstrated through God's Creation. This wonder includes even one child or one adult, one person, even the disabled or mentally ill.
These questions that confront us are not the sole concern of Christians or the Jewish people or any one portion of humanity. They are universal questions basic to the human condition; these questions must be answered by each of us, in all places, throughout all of time.
And again, I ask, when all is said and done, will I, will you have chosen to act in a way that honors life? You see, your choice, just like every other person's choice, makes all the difference. Collectively, we as individuals, determine the future of our world. Ultimately, the dignity of man rests not in the glorification of man, but in glorifying God and all of his Creation, even the least of those among us. Will we, out of fear, refrain from speaking up, refrain from confronting those leaders around us, refrain from risking all to save our fellow man?
In Hitler's time, so many were terrified of saying anything, of being judged, condemned and losing everything. In our own time, so many just don't care. In our own time, so many do not understand the consequences of the small changes in laws, here and there. But that is where it all began before. Either you will choose to care or you will not. Either you will choose to act or you will not. For evil only flourishes when the people remain silent. And evil flourishes when the people do not act. What will we see when we review our own lives, at the end? Have we honored life?