Saturday, July 19, 2008

Let 24,000 People Die Today. Amen.

From http://angelsoulblade.blogspot.com/2004/08/let-24000-people-die-today-amen.html

Let 24,000 People Die Today. Amen.


A few days ago I saw Costa-Gavras' film Amen., a movie on Nazi Germany. By the end of the film, I had become quite compelled to sign up with Compassion Australia and sponsor a kid. Whu-what? Let me explain.

Amen. (the titled includes the full-stop) tells the story of SS Lieutenant Kurt Gerstein, a real historical character who was both a true Christian and a member of Himmler's 'Death's Head' order. Though a Protestant, he was a tool of the murderous regime of Adolf Hitler. To a certain extent.

What Gerstein did not initially know was that his invention, which was originally used to maintain the health of Waffen-SS soldiers, was also being used to create Zyklon-B, the gas used to mass-murder millions of Jews, Gypsies and other 'sub-humans' in Auschwitz, Treblinka and other extermination camps. As a Protestant, Gerstein was quite appalled by how his creation was being used, and his conscience would not let him allow this to continue.

In the film he uses various ways, including the deceitful use of his position as transportations supervisor for the chemical, to make sure that shipment after shipment of Zyklon-B are never used. Gerstein also pushes his pastor and other Protestants to get German Protestant clergy as a whole to condemn this action. Of course, any student of Nazi Germany would know that most Protestant churches were too busy praising Hitler as the savior of Germany from economic depression. Most had already become part of the Nazi-endorsed German Christian church, save for a few pastors like Martin Niemoller, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Incidentally, the actor who played Gerstein, Ulrich Tukur, also played Bonhoeffer in Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace). Needless to say, Gerstein's plea fell on deaf ears with the Protestants around him. Or at least that's how it goes in the film.

But in Amen. Gerstein is not alone in his plight to make the horror that the Nazis are trying to hide known to the world. He is not the only main character in this movie. A Catholic priest happens to hear Gerstein's plea to the Bishop, and joins him in his cause. To death. While Gerstein continues to try to convince his fellow Protestant that his cause is just and worthy, Riccardo, the priest, uses his connections to ask the ranks of the the Catholic church, even the Pope, to condemn Nazi Germany's murder of millions. But again, any historian of the era knows that Pope Pius XII remained silent about the mass murders committed by the Third Reich. Why?

Here comes the true start of my explanation. Bear with me.

The answer Riccardo keeps on getting as he tirelessly campaigns before the cardinals of Rome, the Pope and even the American ambassador is that he should be patient. Yes, the old men in the safety of their palatial religious bastion keep telling him that he does not know the art of diplomacy, and that success is made of patience. And at that very moment thousands of Jews are being deported to the factories of death!

I see a few parallels here with what is happening today. When Gerstein appeals to the Catholic bishop of Berlin, the clergyman initially refuses to see him, ironically saying that it would not be appropriate for him to be associating with an SS officer. And Gerstein is there to give the bishop evidence of the Holocaust! Similarly, a lot of Christians today refuse to associate with 'worldly' people, maybe just because they swear, go clubbing or are living together outside marriage. And these people are the very people that can help us make the difference in our communities! They are the ones with the skills, knowledge, contacts and experience to help us do real life-changing stuff in people's lives! I'm not saying that everything that they are doing can be justified by the fact that they can help us do our kingdom-work. I'm just saying that we should leave the judging to God and accept those people with love. In fact, by doing this and working with them we are showing them Christ's love and even Christ!

Another parallel is the self-righteous advice given by the Catholic bigwigs to Riccardo. (Before I move on, let me make it clear that I am NOT anti-Catholic. I went to a Catholic school and I love Catholics!). They tell him that patience is a virtue essential to victory, but I cannot help but empathize with Riccardo's furious response that while they are saying those words thousands of Jews are being gassed and burned to death. Those people simply cannot wait and be patient. In this case patience is something that humanity itself cannot afford. This self-justifying apathy can also be seen today in the actions of the global Church.

In the six years of war that Germany waged, the Nazis killed six million Jews, as well as millions of other 'racially impure' people. Today, 15 million die each year from hunger and hunger-related diseases, six million of them under 5 years old. That's an average of 24,000 per day, 1,000 per hour and one every 3.6 seconds (
http://www.elca.org/hunger/facts.html). A brother of mine once said that Christians 'conspire' to murder these 24,000 people everyday. How? By not caring. With apathy.

The world currently contains 6.3 billion people, but it can actually produce food for 7 billion, or two loaves of bread per person per day. The problem is not that there is not enough food to go around; it is that there is no even distribution of this food. Rich countries produce more food than the poor, and the logic of free market economy has no space for compassion. Poor countries are forced to buy food from the rich, and thus end up with ever-increasing piles of debt. It can be said that the rich are living off the poverty of the poor. And let's face it. Most prominent Christian communities live in the countries that are economically well-off.

Now I will be fair AND honest. Many Christians in developed countries -including so many Catholics!- are even at this moment campaigning tirelessly to help save as many of the dying poor as possible. Some are rich and others are less wealthy, but often they give up the luxuries and even the basic needs that they are used to for this cause. And they are heroes. But there are also too many Christians that cannot see beyond how they can be 'blessed' and see how they can keep the the dying millions alive with what they have been blessed with. Yes, I'm talking about YOU, prosperity theologians! You and your Benzes and condominiums and your televised parody of the true Gospel!

But I will be honest. If anyone were to admit that they have not heeded James' advice to put prayer into action regarding the poor (James 2:15-17), I would be the first to put my hand up. God knows how much money I've wasted this year when I could have kept so many people alive with that money. Those who know me would be able to tell how much I spend on my more expensive hobbies. And I grieve for my hypocrisy. In my weakness I am confused by what I should do and what I would do. And that is why, perhaps, I can start by signing up with Compassion Australia. Having explained this, I would also like to ask others who claim to follow the Man who was rich but became poor for our sakes to follow His example.

At the end of Amen. the priest Riccardo attaches the Star of David to his habit, much to everybody's horror, including the Pope's. The bishop cries blasphemy, just as Caiaphas did at Jesus' trial. Yet I think what Riccardo has done is follow his Lord's example; he becomes one of those who are persecuted so he can help them (Isaiah 53, Matthew 25:34-45, Hebrews 4:15). Like the bishop, there will be people who are too preoccupied with religious protocols, diplomacy and liturgy to understand what we are doing. But if we claim to be Christians -'little Christs'- we would do well to honor our claim. We should put people before profit, world hunger before wealth and sacrifice before success. We would do well to put our own version of the 'Star of David', or any symbol of suffering, on our proverbial breasts and care about the 24,000 strangers dying today, even to the point of death (Hebrews 13:3).


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