On April 3, our local newspaper, The Waterloo Region Record, carried a front-page feature about the travelling Anne Frank Exhibit, an international project of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The exhibit had recently arrived at Cameron Heights Collegiate high school in Kitchener, where it was the center of attention for a number of high-school students, 35 of whom had trained as guides for tour groups signed up to visit the exhibit from schools throughout the Waterloo region.
Anne Frank, a 14-year-old Jewish girl who died in 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, provoked thoughts in the students about how this kind of horrific evil could be avoided in the contemporary world. One young woman told the press that “People are people regardless of what their religion, race or beliefs might be.” She made no reference to age, a significant omission since euthanasia for the elderly and abortion for the very young are prevalent in Canada. “We try to learn from history as much as possible,” commented an eleventh-grader.
What we learn, it seems, is that while we see the errors of history, we fail to see a connection between them and the present day. We travel through life looking at reality through a rear-view window. Yes, the concentration camps were places of great evil. But how can we understand why so many members of the Third Reich zealously participated in what went on in them? What was in the air that goaded people into going along with such a moral monstrosity?
A friend of mine took his young son to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Ironically, the boy was refused admission because he was wearing a pro-life T-shirt. The slogan “never again” was contradicted by this action, since abortion is an iteration of the very philosophy at the center of the Holocaust. My friend pointed out the incongruity to the admission attendant, but without success. Just what has the Holocaust taught us?
The truth shall make you free: These words of Christ are often jarring to people. Flannery O’Connor knew this well, which is why she remarked that “the truth shall make you odd.” Try telling a citizen of the contemporary world that abortion is a form of domestic violence. The expected reaction, even at the Anne Frank Exhibit, will be a firm and angry denial.
The agreed-upon sentiment of the teenagers quoted in the story was that it was “important to listen to youth and not discount what they are saying.” But youth does not speak with a unified voice. We know of young people at various universities who have been violently opposed to pro-life displays. In some instances, professors have lost their jobs or have failed to be promoted because they chose to defend unborn life.
“I urge you to remember and learn from the past,” the local mayor told the young people at the opening of the exhibit. But the great problem is, how can we understand what is going on in the present? The moral environment in which we live tends to be invisible to many, as it was to the Nazis. Media guru Marshall McLuhan emphasized how difficult it is for people to see what is going on in their own environment. As a Catholic, he knew we need to live by perennial ideals, not ones that happen to be trendy. The perennial ideal that was violated at Bergen-Belsen was “Thou shall not kill”—one that is routinely ignored in today’s world as well.
One student quoted in the newspaper article referred to the recent deadly attack on Moslems in New Zealand. Does she even know about attacks on Christians by Moslems in Nigeria? How can the young be expected to understand media bias, which has a mesmerizing effect on so many of their elders? According to John Allen, papal biographer and editor of Crux, “the low-end estimate for the number of new Christian martyrs every year is around 8,000, while the high end runs to 100,000. That works out to either one new martyr every hour, or every five minutes—in any event, a human rights scourge of astonishing proportions” (cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2019/04/21/easter-attacks-on-churches-in-sri-lanka-are-tragic-but-hardly-surprising/). It is good that these youngsters are learning about the Holocaust, especially at a time when many are not; it would be good, too, if they were learning about present-day Christian persecution, one of the least covered stories of our time.
Abortion harms the family. This is only too-well documented. When the family is harmed it becomes more difficult for children to gain the proper moral perspective on things. They tend to be pawns in the hands of popular leaders. As theologian Stanley Hauerwas has stated, “Without the family, and the intergenerational ties involved, we have no way to know what it means to be historic beings. As a result we become determined by rather than determining our histories. Set out in the world with no family, without a story of and for the self, we will simply be captured by the reigning ideologies of the day.”
Concentration camps represent Hell on earth. They are not being repeated as such. But a new kind of horror has replaced them. In his Preface to the 1962 edition of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis maintains that the greatest evil in the contemporary world is not in concentration camps. Rather, he states, “it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with while collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.” In other words, the new Hell on earth is a “bureaucracy.” The modern abortuary, approved by elected politicians and our betters in Hollywood, exemplifies what C.S. Lewis had in mind.
After the New Zealand tragedy, one bookstore saw fit to remove Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos from its shelves. This is a maladaptive response, considering that Professor Peterson, in strongly opposing chaos and categorically affirming the Golden Rule (see pages 59-60), is really part of the solution, not part of the problem of violence.
“There is much work to be done,” according to the teenage docents of the Anne Frank Exhibit. This, of course, is a truism. But what is the nature of the work that needs to be done? It is understanding what is going on in the present world and recognizing the inclinations toward evil that are present in each one of us. We are fallen creatures and cannot exempt ourselves entirely from what is wrong with the world. Let us all make the strenuous effort to become instruments of peace.