Shall we ever comprehend the mystery of evil as exemplified at Auschwitz and in the Germans’ slaughter of six million Jews in Europe? The Holocaust has taxed our brains, baffled our imagination and poisoned our feelings for more than eighty years. Are we any nearer an explanation?
Yes, it was all the fault of Donald Trump and the Brexiteers. Well, not quite. I shall try to explain…
Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury led a retreat to Auschwitz for three days of prayer and theological and scriptural reflection. The Church of England’s communications office blathered the event as follows:
“The Archbishop was accompanied by members of the learning community – clergy from across the Church participating in continuing professional development and senior leadership training.”
Anyone who so abuses English as that communications officer does should be told to go away and wash his mouth out in soapy water. Let me translate for you:
“Justin Welby took with him a posse of his fast-trackers, clergy identified as likely to occupy senior management positions; men and women who spend their time attending meetings and learning to master the bureau-speak and Arslikan that will help their ascent of the ecclesiastical greasy pole.”
In a choice slice of Orwelliana, the communications office describes these individuals as “the learning community.” So did they learn anything on their trip to the death camp? This is where my opening remark about Trump and the Brexiteers comes in. One of the fast-trackers, The Rev’d Richard Pennystan, wrote as part of his “reflection”:
“How can I pray for America this week? They are facing the alarming historical parallels of a sociopathic populist leader being democratically elected by a protesting disaffected people. Hitler wanted to ‘Make Germany great again’.”
That falls short – just about – of making Trump responsible for The Holocaust, but it clearly identifies him as Hitler’s successor. Here’s another delicious piece of yah-boo from The Rev’d Stephen Hance:
“Many of us feel that some of the notes and themes of the 1930s have echoes in the language and discourse of our time, around Brexit, around the Trump victory.”
To compare the democratically-expressed will of the people in the Brexit vote and the democratic election of Trump with the rise of Hitler and the monstrous doings in the concentration camps only shows that the writer doesn’t understand either and disqualifies him from being able to say anything about these matters.
I hope you’re beginning to get the gist.
One parson, Ian Dyble, was so moved that he tried to express his impressions in what he refers to as “a poem” which he titled Gone:
“Hatred’s had it’s (sic) day, we’re better now, we’ve learnt,
We’ve had our fingers, and our fellow humans, burnt.
But was our hope to bury misery just a hope we hoped in vain?
Stop, listen! Can you hear it, is it all those notes again?
As a dim and distant melody plays a familiar refrain.
People who write such things – members of “the learning community” – prove by the phraseology they employ that they are not competent to comment on The Holocaust. Writing about the trial of the war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt is supposed to have invented the phrase “the banality of evil” – no matter that St Thomas Aquinas had used the expression 800 years earlier and, 800 years before him, St Augustine wrote of evil as banal, a mere nothing (privatio boni).
Yes, evil is banal and, reciprocally, banality is evil.
When we read these reflections from Welby’s babes, his fast-trackers in “the learning community,” we see that banality is still with us – and it remains evil.