My fellow believers, skeptics, seekers, cynics (and every cherished friend in between),
One of my favorite people in the entire world is a German friend (I will call him 'Lukas'), who has a way of finding time to serve others in ways that always amaze me. I was corresponding with him about a German Film series entitled ‘Generation War’ which is about 5 German friends who came of age during WW2. While there is no indication that they are religiously observant, they are what I might call, ‘God-informed’ people who have a confused, but genuine moral intuition.
reallyThey are drafted (except of course, one of the friends, who is Jewish... and fighting just to stay alive) who go off to serve the motherland during WW2. They become quickly disillusioned by the brutality and moral anarchy that was the Nazi regime....and war itself. The series is masterfully done. I commented to Lukas that one lesson is clear: The only way to resist collective (totalitarian) evil is to resolve that its better to ‘die a good man,’ than to ‘survive as a bad one?‘ Or, to be more succinct, what the series is asking is this: 'What is the purpose of life?' Is it to live long, or to live well? Is survival (and replication), as my Darwinian friends suggest, the highest good or is life about something higher than survival?
Lukas is a Christian and as such, faith habitually enters into our conversation. Here’s an (edited, for clarity’s sake) excerpt from our conversation... Forgive it's length. Note: When I use the term ‘good’ or ‘goodness’ I am referring to a relative/qualified virtue.
All the best,
The Daniel foundation
Well said! It seems to me that the way that God defeats evil is by contrast....more than by conquest. Evil (as Tolkien pointed out in ‘Lord of the Rings’) is so seductive that it will co-opt and employ us when we attempt to conquer/overpower it...at least in the interpersonal realm (Though, strangely, and inconsistently, I am not a Pacifist. I am more a ‘last resort activist’ at least in theory!?).
Goodness (that refuses to be converted) will always prove toxic to evil even though it may not appear so in real time. The problem is that contrasting evil with goodness is so very costly. Too often (at least when evil assumes extreme or totalitarian form) evil will either send into exile, or put to death, those who don't cooperate. That is, those who remain ‘good’ (or, again, those who refuse to be co-opted by evil). Think, Romans 1. Darkness hates light and so, 'goodness,' in order to remain itself (and therefore to contrast evil) must give up its own life. Strange as it seems, I suppose that is why it is written of Jesus, that ‘he triumphed’ over sin and evil ‘through the cross’ and not via ‘the sword.’ ‘Good’ people (those who remain good in the presence of extreme or totalitarian expressions of evil) are those for whom goodness is greater than life itself.
The Walking Dead or the Dead Walking?
It reminds me of the central dilemma in the TV series, ‘The Walking Dead’ which seems to me to be this: The characters are trying to decide whether its worth living a life that requires, for its very survival, that they become morally dead. In other words they are constantly asking themselves: ‘Is it better to live as an evil man or woman or to die as a good one?’
Fire, Lord Voldemort and Totalitarian Regimes
What is fascinating about the ‘Generation War’ series is just how progressive evil becomes. The friends begin by being conflicted and even refusing to partake in evil....but the longer the war rages, the more comfortable they grow, becoming an agent of it. I suppose that is because, if one doesn’t give up their life, opting instead to save it by partaking in evil, one will lose their capacity to resist it. Evil (and the idol that, I think, always animates evil) is insatiable. In the words of Jesus, evil (i.e. ‘the evil one’) ‘crouches at the door’ seeking to devour. Evil, like fire, or like Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter fame, cannot live on it's own. It requires an a fuel source it must consume to be sustained. And, consume it does, one person after another.
‘Do, or be the victim of, evil.’
For my part, I suspect I’d do the same as each of these characters, but I wish I’d have the courage to say ‘no’ and prefer taking a bullet to the back of the head to being the one to discharge said bullet to the back of someone else’s head. Easily said from a distance, difficult to do in real time. ‘Do, or be the victim of, evil.’ That’s the choice that so many in Germany (or, for that matter, in a host of countries and circumstances today) faced every day.
First party, second party or first party payment?
On a more local note, we face this dilemma in far less extreme ways in our daily lives. Every time someone slights/injures us, we have to decide whether or not to slight/injure them back (make them pay for their sin). Or, perhaps we pass along the bill for their sin/offense to another by taking it out on someone else (demanding payment for sin by a third party). Or, (if one takes seriously the portion of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us’ seriously) we opt instead to pay the bill ourselves by absorbing the cost (the hurt....the indignity, the humiliation, the injustice, the shame, the loss of status, etc) rather than by ‘striking back’ (first party payment) or ‘striking forward’ (second party payment) we are engaged in the wonderful, but often painful task, of ‘taking up our cross and following’ Christ (first party payment).
Living well vs Living long
I also think that there are times in which we will have to decide when or whether we are willing to not go along with something that we believe is evil/destructive knowing that doing so will cost us socially, vocationally, financially, etc dearly. What fascinates me about this film is this: While I’m only 2/3’s of the way finished with the series, but thus far, as you watch these dear people, who are (quite understandably) unwilling to lose their young lives (or at least, their freedom) I find myself thinking, ‘How tragic. Far better that they would have been executed than to become agents of the evil that has has morphed them into someone unrecognizable.’
It is a masterful 3 part series. Racy, to be sure, disturbing, for certain, worth fast forwarding at a few spots, tbh, but if you can endure the steam, the profanity and the brutality, 'Generation War' is profoundly instructive.
Note: Many thanks to morguefile.com for the image above.
Our next Men2Serve will be this Sunday March 8th at 9:30 am at the Bookworm! Before we begin doing work at the Bookworm, I will be interviewing a long time friend and former major league baseball player, (who, like no one else I know, understands both the blessings.....and the dangers/dysfunction inherent in organized sports today), Brett Illig. Interested in joining us for refreshments, to listen in on a brief interview of Brett and couple of hours of community service? We'd love to have you join us! If so, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org