Archive for the ‘Evil’ Category

As a Logotherapist and Existential Analyst I’m often asked what my favourite Viktor Frankl quote is. Such a difficult question! There are so many profoundly moving and insightful words contained in his writings and now very firmly ensconced in his legacy.

If I had to choose though, it would be a sentence I’ve clung onto many times as I’ve faced adversity, failure and unavoidable suffering:

But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” (in Man’s Search for Meaning).

No further comment or exegesis is required…….

Ben Ferencz, who at the age of 97 is the last living Nuremberg Trials prosecutor, has issued a powerful reminder of the horrors of war, as reported in the Independent in the UK.

He said this:

“…the Nazi soldiers who committed atrocities were not “savages” but “intelligent, patriotic human being[s]”, and that war can make any normal person do horrifying things.

“Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage?”, he asked. 

“Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.”

A sobering and very insightful statement………

And so we still look to the day when ‘The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:3-4).

You can read the article here.

The text from the Holocaust Memorial Service held in Cliftonville Moravian Church on 29/1/17:

In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Micah brings to the fore a community that has suffered much hardship, but has brought justice and mercy to the forefront of their thinking.  Interestingly, there is a recognition that with such enormous injustice, reconciliation is difficult and takes time.  Nevertheless, Micah points to the way forward, and is calling the people to start where they are and get themselves, as we would say colloquially, that first foot on the ladder.  To do just that, takes courage and foresight and is primarily an individual endeavour rather than a strictly community-wide one, at least in the first instance.

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In the beatitudes, at the beginning of the remarkable Sermon on the Mount, we hear a powerful echo of centuries old Jewish teachings on ethics, where God seeks out the vulnerable, the suffering and the marginalised. And not only does God seek out those individuals he imparts his blessing upon them. But there’s one more thing: the beatitudes are a reminder that persecution of the righteous has always been with us – it is, sadly, not new.  We see it throughout human history.

In many senses then, the question that is posed for the 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day, ‘How can life go on?’, is at least partially answered in our two readings for today.  In the Old Testament, there are the intertwined themes of justice, mercy and reconciliation.  In the New Testament, we see God’s blessing on those who suffer and are persecuted. None of these things are remotely easy though, and perhaps that goes without saying. The horrors and sheer magnitude of the Holocaust hardly need to be reiterated; only those who have experienced first-hand the depravity of Man and the depths to which humanity can sink can comment. It is presumptuous for the rest of us to do so.

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One of those prophetic voices from the Holocaust, Viktor Frankl, is one of those remarkable people who survived and went on to write so insightfully and poignantly about their experiences.  When we read their words, their descriptions of unimaginable suffering and cruelty, it is difficult to believe what they endured.

Viktor Frankl, a Psychiatrist and Neurologist, lost all of his loved ones in the gas chambers, including his pregnant wife.  He went on to detail his experiences in that World famous book – ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.  Although it is a very slim volume, it is replete with compassion, determination, self-transcendence, and of course finding meaning in the most awful of situations. There are many lessons contained within it and it is one of these books that begs to be read again and again.

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Many people have found it to be life-changing, if that is not too grand a phrase. For me, as we gather here today to reflect on that phrase ‘How can life go on?’, there are at least three themes that we can draw on from Frankl’s experience.  These are: the ability to choose how we respond to the circumstances before us, how we view suffering and the centrality of love. These three categories are of course interlinked, but nonetheless we can tease them apart to gain more clarity.

 

The Ability to Choose How We Respond

 

Viktor Frankl’s experiences in the camps taught him a valuable lesson about choice.  He understood that even when everything is taken away from a person, we still retain the ability to choose our response.  To be more precise he wrote: ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way’. In essence he meant that we can respond to adverse circumstances by recoiling and giving up….or we can make a stand, by altering our attitude or perspective on a situation.

 

How We View Suffering

 

Frankl said this of suffering: ‘If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.  Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.  Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete’. He goes on to make the main thrust of his point: ‘The way in which man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.  It may (be to) remain brave, dignified and unselfish’.

 

So once again, Prof. Frankl present suffering, which he knew much more about in practice than we can even begin to grasp, from a different perspective, one in which we Christians can surely identify with.

 

The Centrality of Love

 

This, at least for me, is one of the most stunning, and perhaps surprising insights provided by Viktor Frankl in his short autobiography of his life in the concentration camps.  He says this:

 

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

 

Remarkable.  So here Prof. Frankl is setting out how love works.  When we love someone, then we enable them to be the person they can be; we give them permission, if that’s not too clumsy a term, to move beyond any perceived limitations and to flourish. In any case, we’re reminded of God’s take on this.  Consider 1 John 4: 7: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God’.

 

Conclusion

 

In the fifteen or so minutes we have in a Sermon, we can merely scratch the surface of the topic we have before us.  But as we reflect on the question ‘How can life go on’, we at least have a framework.  From the biblical narratives that tell us of God’s constant presence to Viktor Frankl’s insights into human freedom, the nature of suffering and the centrality of love.  From the Holocaust this remarkable man has left a lasting legacy that helps us immeasurably in facing our own suffering; and it is very much compatible with our Christian worldview.

 

We can see a way, because of Viktor Frankl and his lived example, that life can go on.  By remembering the Holocaust, not just on Holocaust Memorial Day, but every day that we live and breathe, we can lament the senseless carnage, but we can also be thankful for the defiant nature of the human spirit.

 

AMEN

 

Friday past marked Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, and the International Holocaust Memorial Day across the globe. Each year people come together, from across religious and cultural divides to remember the genocides that have scarred humanity deeply and irrevocably.

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Many moving commemorative events have taken place; some have been very public events, whilst others have been very private.  I watched Auschwitz survivors gather at the former camp in Poland on the 72nd anniversary of its liberation, and I marvelled at the stoicism and dignity of those elderly survivors.  Having visited Auschwitz several years ago – an experience that I will never forget – I simply cannot understand why seemingly ordinary people can inflict such horrors upon their fellow human beings.  But then darkness and unfathomable cruelty are part of our collective human nature; for those that committed such atrocities, I am reminded of Proverbs 6:18 where it is written that there are those with ‘a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil’.

We now know the staggering statistics for the Holocaust, where six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered in ghettos, mass-shootings, in forced work camps and extermination camps. The scale of the suffering was, and still is, incomprehensible.

There were other groups of people that were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.  Consider political opponents, priests, ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsy people, Slavic people and gay people amongst others.  But there is one group that is sometimes overlooked: the mentally ill.

The Mental Health Foundation website published a powerful article to remind us that those with psychiatric conditions were deemed, in that most egregious of phrases, to be ‘life unworthy of life.’  The prevailing eugenic ideology in Nazi circles was driven by defective science and woeful ignorance.  The consequence of this was that an estimated quarter of a million people living with varying degrees of mental illness were murdered. That few people spoke up against this outrageous programme is chilling.

As we reflect on the voiceless and the persecuted, the question of speaking up and speaking out against injustice comes to mind.  As the Holocaust Survivor and Author Elie Wisel once wrote: ‘There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest’. This maxim is applicable today as it was before and during the Holocaust. Our world does not want for examples of injustice and persecution; it is therefore our duty as Christians to raise our voices, to challenge and cajole, and to remain informed and vigilant as to what is going on, on our doorsteps and in the world around us.

Every blessing,

Scott

Viktor & I: An Alexander Vesely Film (2010)

Screening on Thursday 26th January, 7.30pm @ The Strand Arts Centre, Belfast
Part of Holocaust Memorial Day

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Viktor & I is about famous Holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Filmmaker Alexander Vesely travelled the world to document the personal and unique side of this important man. For the first time in film, people will see Dr. Frankl through the eyes of those closest to him. A defining character of the 20th century, he was not only a genius, doctor and survivor of Nazi terror and tragedy but a man who lived, believed and loved. Making his US directorial debut, Vesely shares intimate glimpses of his eminent grandfather who, amidst great suffering also gave us all hope.

Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie, Logotherapist & Existential Analyst, will give a brief introduction to the film, while Prof. Paul Miller, Consultant Psychiatrist and Trauma Specialist, will give a short postscript talk on trauma and human responses to it.

Tickets £4.  To make a booking, or for further information, visit the Strand Art Centre’s website at: http://www.strandartscentre.com/movies

Thomas Merton.  Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Thomas Merton. Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

At the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, I, like so many others, pray for peace.  In a world torn apart by conflict and war, peace is sorely needed.  And so I pray for peace in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan, as well as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  And then there are those conflicts and insurgencies that we hear little about – the Mexican drug war, the Libyan civil war and the Kashmir conflict – I pray for peace there too.

Praying for peace is essential, but so too is listening to those wise words by that monk, spiritual writer and activist Thomas Merton, when he reminds us the genesis of war and peace takes place within our souls.  Thus he wrote:

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

That we need to first look inwards is obvious to Merton; may that seed planted in Merton’s mind be transposed into our souls in 2015 and beyond.  And so I wish you a peaceful and reflective New Year!

(P.S. Please do like the Merton Fellowship for Peace & Contemplative Living in Ireland’s facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/MertonIreland) or bookmark our website (www.mertonfellowship.wordpress.com)).

Bust of Sophie Scholl in the White_Rose_Memorial_Room, Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Munich (Source: Adam Jones)

Bust of Sophie Scholl in the White Rose Memorial Room, Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Munich (Source: Adam Jones)

The iconic and heroic figure of Sophie Scholl still speaks to those of us who espouse non-violence in the modern age.  Scholl, who was a member of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany, paid for her activism with her life. Her implacable opposition to the nihilistic ideals of the Nazi party led to the guillotine, a fate she met with dignity.

 The White Rose was comprised of University of Munich students and a member of the philosophy faculty there. The group’s modus operandi centred round an anti-Nazi leafleting and graffiti writing campaign, which began in June 1942 and finished just under a year later.

 Six of the most prominent members of the group, including Sophie and her brother Hans, were arrested by the Gestapo, tried for treason by a Nazi court, found guilty and beheaded shortly thereafter.

Playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag said of the White Rose: ‘It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the 20th Century… The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me. I know that the world is better for them having been there, but I don’t know why,’

 Sophie Scholl was driven by her conscience and her faith.  Baptised a Lutheran she was influenced by a powerful anti-Nazi sermon delivered by the then Catholic Bishop of Münster.  Indeed her faith was a motivating factor throughout her short life, although she struggled with it during times of eternity.  Some quotes come to mind:

‘The only remedy for a barren heart is prayer, however poor and inadequate’. (As quoted in a letter to her boyfriend, Fritz Hartnage)

I’m still so remote from God that I don’t even sense his presence when I pray. (As quoted in At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl).

I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties. It forgets the great way home that lies before it.  (As quoted in Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman who Defied Hitler).

One of my favourite Scholl quotes, which is disputed, but insightful regardless of its provenance, is as follows: The real damage is done by those millions who want to “survive.” The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes’.

 A great place to start if you want to find out more about Scholl, is to watch the feature film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.  Based on historical evidence, the film depicts Scholl and her fellow White Rose members in a way that makes one think deeply about the issues surrounding non-violent resistance and the courage required to follow its path.  The film’s website is: http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/scholl_html/flash.html

In this film one encounters a man who lived life to the full, and crucially, lived out his own philosophy.  He understood the import of Socrates’ maxim: ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. Also, like Socrates, Frankl understood what it is to be human and to experience the panopoly of emotions; he experienced the nihilism of Auschwitz, the heights of academic and professional achievement, and the satisfaction of seeing his therapeutic theories impacting positively on so many lives. And of course as prisoners, Frankl and Socrates understood exactly what freedom was and its importance.  Moreover, that both experienced imprisonment and the transcendence of suffering as intrinsic to the out-workings of a philosophy centred on meaning, was absolutely crucial.

The basis for Frankl’s brand of therapy and existential analysis was conceived before the Holocaust, but was moulded and tested in the horrors of the concentration camps.  Rather than destroying his faith in the goodness of humanity, his suffering at the hands of others cemented in his mind the basis for the logotherapeutic relationship.  And in-so-doing, Frankl returned again and again to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s words: “When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”

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We know much about Frankl’s theories and philosophy from the publications he has left behind and the proponents of logotherapy and existential analysis. With the release of Viktor and I we now have a detailed exploration the life and character of Viktor Frankl.  His grandson Vasily has done a fantastic job of interviewing a diverse range of associates, friends and family of his famous grandfather.  What emerges is a portrait of a man who is generous, humorous, humble, intensely intellectually curious, and yes, perhaps even slightly vain.  The most touching parts of the film are where the interviewees relate stories of Frankl in tears as he recounts, in very private moments, the dreadful cost of the Holocaust on those he loved.  And then there is that magnificent moment when an almost blind Dr. Frankl shuffles across the stage to kiss his tearful wife as she receives an honorary doctorate from Northwestern University; in that poignant instant, we see a man who loves deeply and exudes gratitude.

Viktor and I is a film that can only increase one’s admiration for a man who suffered appallingly, yet in and of that suffering found meaning and therefore led a life of self-transcendence and service to others.  His legacy will live on, both in logotherapy and existential analysis, and in the hearts of those who knew and loved him most.

You can find out more details about Viktor and I, and order the DVD, by visiting:  http://www.viktorandimovie.com/

Dr. Michael Stone, a Forensic Psychiatrist from Columbia University, is perhaps best known in popular culture as the the host of the Discovery Channel show, ‘Most Evil’.  In ‘Most Evil’, Stone developed and employed a ‘scale of evil’ which took into account a number of factors with the aim of categorizing perpetrators of heinous crimes.

Exactly how one defines evil is hugely problematic and depends on your theological, philosophical and sociological stance, as well as your understanding of psychopathology.  We have increasingly become uncomfortable, and I would argue for very good reasons, in applying the term ‘evil’ to describe an individual as opposed to a set of behaviours and moral choices.

And this vexed issue becomes particularly relevant when it applies to children. In Dr. Stone’s ‘Big Think’ contribution entitled ‘The Psychopathology of Evil Children’, he explains that a very small percentage of children express callous and unemotional (CU) traits which consist of a persistent pattern of behavior characterised by a disregard for others and a lack of empathy.  Although these traits and associated behaviours cannot be ‘cured’, there are behavioural and pharmaceutical approaches that can, albeit to a very limited degree, ameliorate the negative effects explains Dr. Stone.  This raises the interesting question of whether we can identify a neurochemistry or genetics of  ‘evil’ as Dr. Stone seems to suggest; my own thoughts are that this reductionist approach is not likely to yield all the answers we need.  Moreover, the prospect, and indeed practice, of branding children as intrinsically ‘evil’ does not sit easily with me and may even be counterproductive.

 You can watch Dr. Stone’s ‘Big Think’ interview here:

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The prospect of a military strike on Syria by the USA is causing consternation across the globe.  The sheer hypocrisy of the US position is staggering; here we have a country that has actually used WMD on a massive scale in Japan during WWII, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, but now finds it convenient to take the moral high-ground on chemical weapons (which incidentally they used in WWI).  What they also conveniently forget is their widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the devastating consequences this caused, again for the innocent civilian populations.  And then, more recently, there’s the use of depleted Uranium in Iraq – used of course by the British and the US forces).  In a recent article by

  • John Pilger in The Guardian (

Sunday 26 May 2013) he highlights makes the following point:

‘Among the doctors I interviewed, there was little doubt that depleted uranium shells used by the Americans and British in the Gulf war were the cause. A US military physicist assigned to clean up the Gulf war battlefield across the border in Kuwait said, “Each round fired by an A-10 Warthog attack aircraft carried over 4,500 grams of solid uranium. Well over 300 tons of DU was used. It was a form of nuclear warfare.”‘

Frighteningly, when Pilger went on to interview Dr Jawad Al-Ali, an internationally respected cancer specialist at the Sadr teaching hospital in Basra, he received a shocking insight:

‘”Before the Gulf war,” he said, “we had two or three cancer patients a month. Now we have 30 to 35 dying every month. Our studies indicate that 40 to 48% of the population in this area will get cancer: in five years’ time to begin with, then long after. That’s almost half the population. Most of my own family have it, and we have no history of the disease.”‘

If any other country had been responsible for such indiscriminate suffering, they would be accused of perpetuating war-crimes. But of course that hasn’t happened, nor will it because the people who are dying are weak, powerless and bereft of a voice.

It seems to me that unless moral ‘red lines’ are applied across the board, there will never be peace.  Picking and choosing which events to be outraged about is as nonsensical as it is disingenuous. Sadly, in the Christian tradition we all too easily forget what Scripture actually says on these issues: ‘So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).  What is wrong for one person or group to do is wrong for all – a simple rule for a consistent ethic that values all equally.

Yes, the US is right in demanding a response to the abhorrent use of chemical weapons, but military strikes are not the answer.  In fact they may even make the situation worse and draw other players into a catastrophic regional war. Moreover, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost and more refugees created in what is already an unstable situation. The conditions for a ‘just war’, which I’ve heard several US decision-makers refer to, have not, and will not. be met.

What will happen in the end is that a negotiated settlement, assisted by the international community, will need to be reached.  Bombing will not bring this to fruition – only diplomacy and sustained pressure from the International Community can do that. And once that is done the perpetrators of chemical warfare can be brought to justice.