February 5, 2006

Theodicy – Part lll (b)

Posted in literature, non-fiction, philosophy, psychology, theodicy at 1:24 am by Jerry

Transcendent Reason & Immanent Experience:

“Before the invention of automatic weapons, you normally had to see anyone you hoped to kill.” p.255.

“The German Jewish philosopher Gunther Anders… argued that crimes like those committed at Auschwitz are greater threats to the human soul, whereas what happened at Hiroshima poses the greater threat to humanity itself. For, he wrote, it takes more hardness of heart to lead a child to a gas chamber than to drop a bomb on her. We are far from what it takes to drive children into flames in which one knows one will oneself be consumed. Those who did the daily work of the death camps created an abyss between themselves and the rest of humanity. Some descriptions of them suggest an absence of soul that those who kill at greater distances from their victims need not share.” p.251-252.

“In contemporary evil, individuals’ intentions rarely correspond to the magnitude of evil individuals are able to cause.” p.273.

“Could it be proved that something about Auschwitz were essentially German, life would be easier for all of us.” (footnote – “..as Arendt remarked–collective guilt is a form of individual exoneration. Where everybody is guilty in general, nobody is guilty in particular”)… “If Auschwitz were only a national problem, the crimes of one nation would reflect nothing about the human race as a whole.” p.254.

“Nazis forced everyone from passive bystanders to victims to participate in the vast network of destruction. Their success in doing so revealed the impotence of intention on its own. To shut your eyes to Nazism, and even to profit from it, is not the same thing as to will the sequence of events that ended at Auschwitz.” p.274. (italics Neiman’s)

“Precisely the belief that evil actions require evil intentions allowed totalitarian regimes to convince people to override moral objections that might otherwise have functioned. Massive propaganda efforts undertook to convince people that the criminal actions in which they participated were guided by acceptable, even noble motives.” p.275.

“We are threatened more often by those with indifferent or misguided intentions than by those with malevolent ones… Brute sadists administered daily life in concentration camps everywhere, but they did not build them. Bad intentions and thoughtlessness were present enough in the architects.” p.280. (italics Neiman’s)

“Once we turn away from Nazi crimes to look at others, we will find murders carried out for motives that many of us share.” p.277.

After reading Evil in Modern Thought, I was overwhelmed by the significance of humanity’s inability to empathize with another person’s suffering. We may have related experiences (which gives our compassion far more authenticity), but our imagination is limited as to sharing the actual experience of suffering any other individual person bears.

This distance, whether it be physical, psychological, or both, makes it so much easier to not love others as well as we love ourselves. And if we don’t love ourselves either, that would add a whole other dimension too!

So I suppose for me, it makes sense for us to know ourselves subjectively/intimately, making it possible to become attached to ourselves. And if we become attached to ourselves and use all the power of our imaginations to try to know others subjectively/intimately, we may become attached to them, loving them, identifying ourselves with them. (Which makes me wonder about Jesus’ power to empathize.)

This is why I think Yann Martel’s next novel on Auschwitz is important (see previous post). I think he will be helping us to use our imaginations to bridge the gap between transcendent reasoning and immanent experience. The process of reading fiction (good fiction) offers us a chance to identify with characters (much like the use of parables I suppose). Then (using Brian McLaren’s terminology), the “Us-Them” becomes more of a “We”, individuals are in a communal process developing their compassion for individuals.

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