Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:10-12
We recently had the privilege of hosting a presentation in our church by Bernie Marks, a survivor of the "Holocaust", the attempt by Hitler and his willing accomplices to murder all the Jews of Europe. We were deeply affected by the account of someone for whom this was very personal. He lost his mother, younger brother plus two hundred of his relatives. Only a boy, he survived thanks in great part to the wisdom, foresight and frequent interventions of his remarkable father. They managed to hang on to life in the crowded, starving ghetto of Lodz, Poland, the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a couple of death-through-labor camps in Germany until final liberation by Allied troops very near the end of the war. As we listened to Bernie's account, accompanied by pictures and short films, I am sure there was at least one question on everyone's mind: how could people do such terrible things to other human beings?
Very sadly, such things are still taking place. While a significant number of psychopathic or sociopathic types found license for their innate vicious tendencies in the Nazi program to exterminate the Jews, Gypsies and anyone deemed enemies of the state, the majority of those who took part were people of sound mind and of what is normally regarded as good, moral character. But if so, how could they have carried out these atrocities?! They did it because they had been persuaded that those people belonged to a race or nationality that had already done great evil to them, their nation and loved ones and would do far worse if permitted to live. In other words, these were their worst enemies. Yes, sometimes they felt pangs of pity or doubts that this was their duty, but they quickly recovered by recalling what they had been taught: these were vermin, like rats, that had to be destroyed!
But who told them this? Yes, "Anti-Semitism" has a long history, going back even to Roman times, in fact, to Biblical times. (How about Pharaoh and Haman, for starters?) But it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that old-fashioned anti-Semitism was wedded to nationalism and the Darwinian theory of evolution to make an extremely plausible rationale for genocide. At the very time that racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular should have been going out of style due to the advancement of education, culture and civilization, these twin evils achieved their most horrible embodiment in the Nazi program for German national revival after World War I. Hitler and his colleagues had convinced themselves that the basis for all Germany's troubles, in fact all the problems in the world, was the innate evil of Jewish people and their conspiracy to enrich themselves through world domination. "Get rid of the Jews and all our problems are over!" they assured everyone. Most people who heard them and agreed with them thought simply of disenfranchising and deporting the Jews, but many were prepared to go farther if those measures seemed insufficient. The Nazis filled the minds of many Germans with an irrational hatred and fear of the Jews, as well as others deemed to be a threat to Germany's welfare.
Hitler wrote about these things in a book he titled, "Mein Kampf", meaning, "My Struggle". Later, when he achieved power, these ideas were made a staple of public education, state propaganda, the news media and even popular entertainment. Many famous, leading intellectuals and academics were recruited to support parts or all of the argument in favor of the need to "free" the world of Jews. For years this steady diet of misinformation and fear-mongering created a sufficient pool of willing participants to carry out the "Final Solution". The same thing happened in Rwanda in the 1990's when Hutu leaders in the government and in the popular media took the historic friction between Hutus and Tutsis, largely fostered by the previous colonial rulers as a way to "divide and rule" the country, and fanned it into a blazing inferno of fear that the Tutsis were about to rise up and destroy the Hutus. Thus the Hutus were provoked to slaughter around 800,000 of their Tutsi neighbors and fellow countrymen, not with bullets and gas chambers but with axes, machetes and clubs.
The terrible irony of both these genocidal episodes is that they took place among peoples who had long professed Christian faith. Not that persecution and genocide are by any means limited to Christian cultures but one would think that Christian faith would make such things impossible. It is true that the Nazis largely rejected historic Christianity as being "too Jewish" but the fact remains that many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust would have considered themselves "good Christians", whether Protestant or Catholic. In Rwanda, Christian clergy and even nuns cooperated with the killing program. One of the worst scenes of violence was in a church where frightened Tutsis were persuaded to go for shelter and then betrayed by the church wardens to the killing squads.
What could have prevented this? A key, missing element in the teaching of the churches in Europe, Africa and elsewhere is that "we struggle not against flesh and blood". Hitler said his struggle was against flesh and blood, that is, against the Jews who supposedly controlled both the banks and the Bolsheviks. The Hutu leaders said that their struggle was against the flesh and blood Tutsis who were seeking to annihilate the Hutus. It is one of the chief goals of Satan to persuade human beings to kill one another. He finds certain people, fills them with fear, anger and hatred for other human beings and persuades them that it is their moral duty to dominate, or even destroy them before they are destroyed by them. Such people persuade others until they have sufficient numbers to act on their fear. We must recognize this tactic of mankind's real enemy and nip it in the bud. Demonizing human beings is the first step down a dangerous and slippery slope that may lead to tacit approval or active support for acts of violence we would otherwise deplore. Instead, we should take up the struggle against the real demons that seek to destroy us all, both in this world and the next! Human beings, even the worst of them, are souls like us who need deliverance from the power of our true common, and very cunning, adversary.