From Generosity to Evil: Remembering the Holocaust

We have been meditating on Evil recently in our Daily Meditations but also on our human capacity for generosity. We have seen that the word generosity bears a rich etymology that includes genus, genesis, kin, kinship and kind in its roots.  Thus generosity calls forth both creativity and cosmology.

“Chronos Devouring His Child” by Francisco Goya; one of the artist’s “Black Paintings” responding to events of the time and his own mental health crises. Collection accession #P000763 at the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons.

More recently, in response to the Davos summit where the rich and powerful gather, we have meditated on that door to evil that is adultism which is, sad to tell, alive and well in our culture and in many of its leaders.  Some of whom mock the young instead of listening to them as they speak truth to the elders and the powerful, elders who are reaping such a harvest on the backs of young people and people yet to be born.  Eating the future.  Like Chronos. 

Last week was a remembrance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  A sober and somber remembrance indeed of humanity’s capacity for Evil. 

We should all pause and remember–not only the dead and the murdered but the murderers and all those complicit in the atrocities committed against fellow human beings for no reason other than their religion or ethnicity. 

What this day of remembrance tells us about ourselves as human beings and what destruction we are capable of raining on one another–how ordinary citizens can be complicit, a meditation on human nature in general.

Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag speech promoting the Enabling Act of 1933, which legally transformed Hitler’s government into a dictatorship. From the German Federal Archives, on Wikimedia Commons.

My uncle, who was in the army in Europe in WWII, assisted at the liberation of Dachau and told me stories about it when I was a child that I will never forget.  He was also my godfather, Uncle George.

If we are meditating on Evil—with the purpose of not stopping with meditation but inspiring profound and thoughtful action—it seems appropriate to consider Adolf Hitler who brought so much destruction into the world. 

He did not do it alone however.  He was an elected official in the German government and had countless enablers from business leaders to everyday citizens to militia groups to the media and even organized religion.

Masked members of the Ku Klux Klan carry the Confederate flag. Photo by Martin on Flickr.

There is a grave danger in simply projecting “Evil” on to any one person, Hitler included, and then thinking we have done with our reflecting on Evil. 

One reason that Evil is often depicted in ancient tales as being “faceless” is that it is not just one person.  It is “any person” and “every person” potentially.  It is Faceless.  Any one of us can be participating in Evil, consciously or unconsciously.  We are in it together. 

Cautioning that Hitler is not an exclusive incarnation of evil does not mean we cannot learn by reflecting on his role however.  We can.  And we will in the next few DM’s.

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, p. xxiii, 389-398.

Banner image: Child survivors of Auschwitz. Still photograph from the Soviet Film of the liberation of Auschwitz, shot by the film unit of the First Ukrainian Front over several months beginning 1/27/45. From the USHMM/Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography, on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Meditate on the teaching that Evil is without a face.  What does the tradition of Evil as “faceless” mean to you? 

Recommended Reading

Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.

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