Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Godless Indifference

This afternoon I read a speech given by Elie Wiesel, the man who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a boy and who became a Nobel Peace Prize winning writer. He is famous for La Nuit (Night) which details his experience in the concentration camps and which rips out your guts and leaves them on the floor to be stomped on repeatedly by your own conscience, as they freaking should be, for humanity's sake!

The speech called "The perils of indifference" was given at the White House in 1999 partly in response to NATO's humanitarian role regarding the Serbian oppression of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, of which the US played a major part.

As is true of any great writers, Wiesel relates personal specifics that, in any context, are universal and important so that average Jills like me can translate them in the context our own time periods and plant the messages in our hearts. And since we never live long enough* to permanently fix anything worth repairing or to think of anything new, the words have to carry out the missions in remembrance. Our hearts have to do the cultivating so that our hands can do the renovating.

And I'm rambling.

Anyway, two specific universals that Wiesel planted in my heart today were these:

1. When in the concentration camps and according to Jewish tradition, people often felt, "that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one... Man can live far from God-not outside God. God is wherever we are. Even in suffering? Even in suffering."

and

2. "...to be indifferent to [suffering] is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred." The idea is that anger and even hatred can elicit some sort of a response, even if that response is fighting, denouncement, or disarmament. "Indifference elicits no response ... And therefore indifference is always the friend of the enemy...
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century's wide ranging experiments in good and evil."

I will respond to these ideas, but not today. I need to digest them fully first, and will respond in the comment section. I would love to hear your thoughts/responses/reactions to them.

*"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

8 comments:

Christine said...

I'm with you; I need some digestion time. But let me say I love this sentence:

"Our hearts have to do the cultivating so that our hands can do the renovating."

You're my friend for many reasons, not the least of which is that you say things like this.

Wern's Sis said...

G - this is interesting.

Can you elaborate on what he said in your point #1 "When in the concentration camps and according to Jewish tradition, people often felt, "that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one.." I am having trouble wrapping my brain around that comparison.

abandoned by God = unjust God
punished by God = indifferent God?

Or have I spent too many years at home and the old brain just isn't working?

Thanks

Mark said...

I think (though I may be wrong) what Ginger is saying is the other way round, namely that to feel abandoned by God opens one up to the idea that God doesn't care (ie, God is indifferent) whereas to feel as an innocent being punished by God opens one up to a sense that God is unjust.

Personally I think either experience can open one up to either judgment about God's nature (aswell as a number of others)

All of which IMO would be wrong. The Universe is made in God's Image, but and Image by its very nature is not the same as the Reality. An image is also quite transient, impermanent, ephemeral - the very nature of 'the flicks'. Likewise a photo may be burned. A sand painting blows away in the wind.

What I do think one can say with real certainty is that nature (and, sadly therefore, part of human nature) doesn't actually care. but that is NOT the same as saying the God doesn't care.

IMO God's created world does not operate according to God's essential attributes (my ways are not your ways) although I think it is also (seemingly paradoxically) true to say that one CAN discern *some* of his attributes in the miraculous function, beauty and, yes, eternal quality even of the universe.

i think the problem here, and this maybe goes to explain a lot of the seeming contradictions in religious texts is that both heaven and hell, God and Satan, Whole Universe and Separate Self, and a load of other paradoxes - cut through/exist together in the world.

One simply cannot get one's head round that, which is why we have to surrender our heads to the felt/seen sensed experience of it being God's Kingdom all around us, the incarnate Child of God which is the Christ Kingdom all around us.

But also (to fully honour Jesus' two sides) to recognise that both Satan AND the other Angelic forces rule the worldly system, just as a their combination rules our hearts. Until we as humans honour God by doing away with all out satanic traditions, keeping all our Michaelic(?) traditions and inventing new (Michaelic) ones wherever they are needed, the war in heaven will not end as we will continue to bow, partially at least to Satan and Satan in turn will continue to bow only to himself. ie we need to fight as Jesus fought, while at the same time remembering indifference

Therefore as I said, paradoxes abound in the teachings, of the Bible, Qu'ran (where one finds calls for tolerance mixed with intolerance) and of other texts eg Buddha Dhamapada (where we are called to fully love the world but completly detach ourselves from it at the same time), so, just like in the life we are called to surrender to for peace in Christ, at the same time we must fight.

This paradoxical path of struggle and peace, Israel and Islam (and Christ aptly sits right in the middle of this paradox) will bring us peace and also the inspiration to align our struggle with the struggle for worldly justice.

Or to put it another way, venus (love) had a baby with mars (war) and the baby was called harmony

recognising there are some things we can never change, however peaceful we are and however just the world we create together in God's name. and some things we MUST change, or fail our God

God may be able to change it, fix it all through a miracle that is not of this world but we cannot. We can only fix the stuff that we are doing wrong of our own volition, ruled by our obsession with self. ego, individual independence, personal and not equally shared (one political nation of equals under God) worldly power.

what we cannot fix is loss, sickness, death, destruction (and man's necessary (ie just) part in it).. these things must be, however hard to take - in a world of creation, time, happenings, needs for food, shelter, warmth - in short the history of life (and therefore change, and the universe as a whole or 'fiery lamb' as i put it in another post) they are a must, and our place in this cannot be avoided. life is filled with misery and loss. And passion (which is just another name for suffering..)

Though made in God's image all these worldly things - though about right and wrong are not to be confused with the Holy One (and, presumably the Heavenly Order) which is not a thing of this world at all. Only Immutable and Eternal, Absolutely Just, Uncreated.

Quite unlike the Passionate Fire of Christ which is fully in this world. The 'Not of it' part (of the call to be 'in it but not of it') is NOT the passion of Christ, the fire of the lamb. but quite the opposite of that. Pure stillness. Sublime detachment. Heavenly indifference to the concerns of the world..

Elena said...

If I may:

I've read a lot of books on the Holocaust, a lot. I've been reading them since I was 9, and they've mostly been from primary sources.

I will tell you what the Jews meant by comparing abandonment and punishment.

It's a very simple idea: to be abandoned by God meant that he was no longer present in one's daily life. You were at once a forsaken individual.

Many in the camps could not handle the idea of, in the midst of such evil, their God forsaking them. The proverbial icing on the proverbial cake.

I just finished Eyewitness Auschwitz. A primary source of a young man working in the crematoria of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Part of the Sonderkommando, he and his fellow prisoners were kept in isolation to prevent the spreading of the 3rd Reich's big secret: mass extermination. There were many times throughout the account (and throughout many others I have read) where people simply agree that God cannot exist in "this place".

The Jews felt their destinies were in the hands of God and trusted in him completely to deliver them from the hell that is the concentration camp. It was somehow easier for many to believe that they were being punished by God.

There are also the flip sides to these emotions and that separates the camps even further: those that believe they had been abandoned and are OK with that and those that are NOT OK with that idea. The same is true for the idea that they were all being punished, some accepted it and some could not.


One can see all rationales and definitely understand the thought process, but none other than the people there will ever know what that truly felt like.

Wern's Sis said...

Mark thanks for some clarification. And I just read Elena's post. Thank you so much for your comments. They helped bring depth and context to the conversation. (Side note: Post a pic on your profile so I can see your pretty face? It has been too long!)

My comment is no way, no how, is God indifferent to anyone's suffering. He also is not absent during that suffering, although so often it feels that way.

I can completely see how that may have been a part of the thought process for those enduring the Holocaust. There is no doubt I would've had the same thoughts witnessing and enduring what Elie Wiesel did.

Geez, I think that same thought sometimes when I am going through my own diminutive suffering each day! It is hard to imagine the depth of suffering they encountered. We see it in movies or museums or books, but how can we fully comprehend how truly horrible it was? Or what if something devastating happened to us - - like, say, the loss of our child?

However the perception during the time of our suffering is rarely the reality of the Truth which is God's complete sovereignty over all events, and His complete loving purposes and plans for us all. Despite the horror Elie Wiesel encountered, think of all the people he has impacted from those experiences. Some good has certainly come of it. But even as I write that cliched statement it seems shallow and insensitive.

More importantly than that point is the theological truth that God allows suffering to occur this side of heaven...this world is not perfect or fully good because of the fall of man. In the Garden of Eden prior to the fall, everything was perfect. A real paradise which will one day be realized again in heaven because as believers we can be reunited with a perfectly Holy God due to the bridge from earth to heaven Christ created on the cross.

But we live with such a temporal view - - seeing only this world and the sufferings in it - - instead of having an eternal view.

The more I come to terms with heaven being my true home, and this world being just preparation ground for eternity, the happier I am and the more truth and peace penetrate my heart. It is such a hard concept to grasp and one that will probably take the rest of my life here to put into action.

Mark said...

Hi Laura

The Eternal View IS possible in this life. Remembrance of God and a quiet, clear mind do make it possible.

This cannot change the reality our physical death but it is a valid way of seeing, existing outside of time. Perhaps you are getting a taste of it with the truth and peace you've been feeling. It's boundless

Thankyou, and to Elena too for your comments. And of course to Ginger and Rich, as always.

Mark

Ginger said...

Hi All,
I am SO pleased with the discussions that are happening here, especially on the I Want to Believe post! You guys are amazing!!

I'm still working with this post, juggling ideas in the circus that is my brain.

So far, here's what I have:

I'm not sure what is worse, the indifferent God or the wrathful one. The ancients (especially the Greeks)spent a lot of time running away from the Gods - as in, if they notice me something bad is sure to happen. Better to be ignored and live a normal life than to be singled out and cast into Hades as a result of Zeus' lust,and Hera's wrath, for example.

Our culture wants to have a personalized God, one that we understand, who cares for our well-being, who occassionally pets us for the good Godly things we do, and also who tells us what is sinful/wrong so that we can fix it -and do better - and get pet again. We want a personal guide through this life because it sucks to stumble around this planet in the dark, purposeless.

The thing is, it doesn't matter whether or not God is indifferent or personal. God is God, in spite of our definitons. And I think I'm hitting a little bit on what Mark said when I say that it is vanity that causes us to put a God shaped box on our mantels and say, "This is what God is. Look at how pretty she is."

What makes a difference is the second point. Human indifference is what causes suffering. In the speech, Wiesel says that he and the others in the camp with him felt that surely the West, when they found out about the camps and the atrocities there, would immediately come and save them. Surely people would care about human suffering, especially after Kristallnacht! Surely, "[the Allies] would have moved heaven and earth to intervene...[or]spoken out with great outrage and conviction." Surely. And they waited. No one came. For a really long time. And in that waiting is when people lost faith to an indifferent God (because really what's the point?). Or this is when they felt punished by Him.. again. Does that mean, then, that humanity (or lack of humanity) is what defines God? And if it is left to fallible man to define God, then what does that say about God? (it doesn't matter, right?)More importantly, what does that say about us? About me?

I think Wiesel got it wrong. Indifference does elicit a response.

p.s. thanks for the history Elena! That really painted a picture of what Wiesel meant by "the Jewish tradition".

Mark said...

Jack says: "Mum, you said that God is everywhere, right?"
"Yes darling"
"So he's inside this mug, right?" [Jack points inside the tea cup from which he's drinking his Ribena.]
"Yes Jack, sweetie"
"Got him!!!"
[Jack puts his hand over the cup.]

Happy Anniversary!

xx

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Godless Indifference

This afternoon I read a speech given by Elie Wiesel, the man who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a boy and who became a Nobel Peace Prize winning writer. He is famous for La Nuit (Night) which details his experience in the concentration camps and which rips out your guts and leaves them on the floor to be stomped on repeatedly by your own conscience, as they freaking should be, for humanity's sake!

The speech called "The perils of indifference" was given at the White House in 1999 partly in response to NATO's humanitarian role regarding the Serbian oppression of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, of which the US played a major part.

As is true of any great writers, Wiesel relates personal specifics that, in any context, are universal and important so that average Jills like me can translate them in the context our own time periods and plant the messages in our hearts. And since we never live long enough* to permanently fix anything worth repairing or to think of anything new, the words have to carry out the missions in remembrance. Our hearts have to do the cultivating so that our hands can do the renovating.

And I'm rambling.

Anyway, two specific universals that Wiesel planted in my heart today were these:

1. When in the concentration camps and according to Jewish tradition, people often felt, "that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one... Man can live far from God-not outside God. God is wherever we are. Even in suffering? Even in suffering."

and

2. "...to be indifferent to [suffering] is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred." The idea is that anger and even hatred can elicit some sort of a response, even if that response is fighting, denouncement, or disarmament. "Indifference elicits no response ... And therefore indifference is always the friend of the enemy...
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century's wide ranging experiments in good and evil."

I will respond to these ideas, but not today. I need to digest them fully first, and will respond in the comment section. I would love to hear your thoughts/responses/reactions to them.

*"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

8 comments:

Christine said...

I'm with you; I need some digestion time. But let me say I love this sentence:

"Our hearts have to do the cultivating so that our hands can do the renovating."

You're my friend for many reasons, not the least of which is that you say things like this.

Wern's Sis said...

G - this is interesting.

Can you elaborate on what he said in your point #1 "When in the concentration camps and according to Jewish tradition, people often felt, "that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one.." I am having trouble wrapping my brain around that comparison.

abandoned by God = unjust God
punished by God = indifferent God?

Or have I spent too many years at home and the old brain just isn't working?

Thanks

Mark said...

I think (though I may be wrong) what Ginger is saying is the other way round, namely that to feel abandoned by God opens one up to the idea that God doesn't care (ie, God is indifferent) whereas to feel as an innocent being punished by God opens one up to a sense that God is unjust.

Personally I think either experience can open one up to either judgment about God's nature (aswell as a number of others)

All of which IMO would be wrong. The Universe is made in God's Image, but and Image by its very nature is not the same as the Reality. An image is also quite transient, impermanent, ephemeral - the very nature of 'the flicks'. Likewise a photo may be burned. A sand painting blows away in the wind.

What I do think one can say with real certainty is that nature (and, sadly therefore, part of human nature) doesn't actually care. but that is NOT the same as saying the God doesn't care.

IMO God's created world does not operate according to God's essential attributes (my ways are not your ways) although I think it is also (seemingly paradoxically) true to say that one CAN discern *some* of his attributes in the miraculous function, beauty and, yes, eternal quality even of the universe.

i think the problem here, and this maybe goes to explain a lot of the seeming contradictions in religious texts is that both heaven and hell, God and Satan, Whole Universe and Separate Self, and a load of other paradoxes - cut through/exist together in the world.

One simply cannot get one's head round that, which is why we have to surrender our heads to the felt/seen sensed experience of it being God's Kingdom all around us, the incarnate Child of God which is the Christ Kingdom all around us.

But also (to fully honour Jesus' two sides) to recognise that both Satan AND the other Angelic forces rule the worldly system, just as a their combination rules our hearts. Until we as humans honour God by doing away with all out satanic traditions, keeping all our Michaelic(?) traditions and inventing new (Michaelic) ones wherever they are needed, the war in heaven will not end as we will continue to bow, partially at least to Satan and Satan in turn will continue to bow only to himself. ie we need to fight as Jesus fought, while at the same time remembering indifference

Therefore as I said, paradoxes abound in the teachings, of the Bible, Qu'ran (where one finds calls for tolerance mixed with intolerance) and of other texts eg Buddha Dhamapada (where we are called to fully love the world but completly detach ourselves from it at the same time), so, just like in the life we are called to surrender to for peace in Christ, at the same time we must fight.

This paradoxical path of struggle and peace, Israel and Islam (and Christ aptly sits right in the middle of this paradox) will bring us peace and also the inspiration to align our struggle with the struggle for worldly justice.

Or to put it another way, venus (love) had a baby with mars (war) and the baby was called harmony

recognising there are some things we can never change, however peaceful we are and however just the world we create together in God's name. and some things we MUST change, or fail our God

God may be able to change it, fix it all through a miracle that is not of this world but we cannot. We can only fix the stuff that we are doing wrong of our own volition, ruled by our obsession with self. ego, individual independence, personal and not equally shared (one political nation of equals under God) worldly power.

what we cannot fix is loss, sickness, death, destruction (and man's necessary (ie just) part in it).. these things must be, however hard to take - in a world of creation, time, happenings, needs for food, shelter, warmth - in short the history of life (and therefore change, and the universe as a whole or 'fiery lamb' as i put it in another post) they are a must, and our place in this cannot be avoided. life is filled with misery and loss. And passion (which is just another name for suffering..)

Though made in God's image all these worldly things - though about right and wrong are not to be confused with the Holy One (and, presumably the Heavenly Order) which is not a thing of this world at all. Only Immutable and Eternal, Absolutely Just, Uncreated.

Quite unlike the Passionate Fire of Christ which is fully in this world. The 'Not of it' part (of the call to be 'in it but not of it') is NOT the passion of Christ, the fire of the lamb. but quite the opposite of that. Pure stillness. Sublime detachment. Heavenly indifference to the concerns of the world..

Elena said...

If I may:

I've read a lot of books on the Holocaust, a lot. I've been reading them since I was 9, and they've mostly been from primary sources.

I will tell you what the Jews meant by comparing abandonment and punishment.

It's a very simple idea: to be abandoned by God meant that he was no longer present in one's daily life. You were at once a forsaken individual.

Many in the camps could not handle the idea of, in the midst of such evil, their God forsaking them. The proverbial icing on the proverbial cake.

I just finished Eyewitness Auschwitz. A primary source of a young man working in the crematoria of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Part of the Sonderkommando, he and his fellow prisoners were kept in isolation to prevent the spreading of the 3rd Reich's big secret: mass extermination. There were many times throughout the account (and throughout many others I have read) where people simply agree that God cannot exist in "this place".

The Jews felt their destinies were in the hands of God and trusted in him completely to deliver them from the hell that is the concentration camp. It was somehow easier for many to believe that they were being punished by God.

There are also the flip sides to these emotions and that separates the camps even further: those that believe they had been abandoned and are OK with that and those that are NOT OK with that idea. The same is true for the idea that they were all being punished, some accepted it and some could not.


One can see all rationales and definitely understand the thought process, but none other than the people there will ever know what that truly felt like.

Wern's Sis said...

Mark thanks for some clarification. And I just read Elena's post. Thank you so much for your comments. They helped bring depth and context to the conversation. (Side note: Post a pic on your profile so I can see your pretty face? It has been too long!)

My comment is no way, no how, is God indifferent to anyone's suffering. He also is not absent during that suffering, although so often it feels that way.

I can completely see how that may have been a part of the thought process for those enduring the Holocaust. There is no doubt I would've had the same thoughts witnessing and enduring what Elie Wiesel did.

Geez, I think that same thought sometimes when I am going through my own diminutive suffering each day! It is hard to imagine the depth of suffering they encountered. We see it in movies or museums or books, but how can we fully comprehend how truly horrible it was? Or what if something devastating happened to us - - like, say, the loss of our child?

However the perception during the time of our suffering is rarely the reality of the Truth which is God's complete sovereignty over all events, and His complete loving purposes and plans for us all. Despite the horror Elie Wiesel encountered, think of all the people he has impacted from those experiences. Some good has certainly come of it. But even as I write that cliched statement it seems shallow and insensitive.

More importantly than that point is the theological truth that God allows suffering to occur this side of heaven...this world is not perfect or fully good because of the fall of man. In the Garden of Eden prior to the fall, everything was perfect. A real paradise which will one day be realized again in heaven because as believers we can be reunited with a perfectly Holy God due to the bridge from earth to heaven Christ created on the cross.

But we live with such a temporal view - - seeing only this world and the sufferings in it - - instead of having an eternal view.

The more I come to terms with heaven being my true home, and this world being just preparation ground for eternity, the happier I am and the more truth and peace penetrate my heart. It is such a hard concept to grasp and one that will probably take the rest of my life here to put into action.

Mark said...

Hi Laura

The Eternal View IS possible in this life. Remembrance of God and a quiet, clear mind do make it possible.

This cannot change the reality our physical death but it is a valid way of seeing, existing outside of time. Perhaps you are getting a taste of it with the truth and peace you've been feeling. It's boundless

Thankyou, and to Elena too for your comments. And of course to Ginger and Rich, as always.

Mark

Ginger said...

Hi All,
I am SO pleased with the discussions that are happening here, especially on the I Want to Believe post! You guys are amazing!!

I'm still working with this post, juggling ideas in the circus that is my brain.

So far, here's what I have:

I'm not sure what is worse, the indifferent God or the wrathful one. The ancients (especially the Greeks)spent a lot of time running away from the Gods - as in, if they notice me something bad is sure to happen. Better to be ignored and live a normal life than to be singled out and cast into Hades as a result of Zeus' lust,and Hera's wrath, for example.

Our culture wants to have a personalized God, one that we understand, who cares for our well-being, who occassionally pets us for the good Godly things we do, and also who tells us what is sinful/wrong so that we can fix it -and do better - and get pet again. We want a personal guide through this life because it sucks to stumble around this planet in the dark, purposeless.

The thing is, it doesn't matter whether or not God is indifferent or personal. God is God, in spite of our definitons. And I think I'm hitting a little bit on what Mark said when I say that it is vanity that causes us to put a God shaped box on our mantels and say, "This is what God is. Look at how pretty she is."

What makes a difference is the second point. Human indifference is what causes suffering. In the speech, Wiesel says that he and the others in the camp with him felt that surely the West, when they found out about the camps and the atrocities there, would immediately come and save them. Surely people would care about human suffering, especially after Kristallnacht! Surely, "[the Allies] would have moved heaven and earth to intervene...[or]spoken out with great outrage and conviction." Surely. And they waited. No one came. For a really long time. And in that waiting is when people lost faith to an indifferent God (because really what's the point?). Or this is when they felt punished by Him.. again. Does that mean, then, that humanity (or lack of humanity) is what defines God? And if it is left to fallible man to define God, then what does that say about God? (it doesn't matter, right?)More importantly, what does that say about us? About me?

I think Wiesel got it wrong. Indifference does elicit a response.

p.s. thanks for the history Elena! That really painted a picture of what Wiesel meant by "the Jewish tradition".

Mark said...

Jack says: "Mum, you said that God is everywhere, right?"
"Yes darling"
"So he's inside this mug, right?" [Jack points inside the tea cup from which he's drinking his Ribena.]
"Yes Jack, sweetie"
"Got him!!!"
[Jack puts his hand over the cup.]

Happy Anniversary!

xx