I’ve found myself re-reading the book “Eichmann Interrogated” which records the interrogation of the former Nazi SS Adolf Eichmann, who was one of the orchestrators of the Holocaust, with the Jewish police captain Avner Less. It’s an extraordinary account and even though I have read it several times, last night I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. Eichmann escaped Europe after the fall of Berlin in 1945, and like many Nazis, found refuge in South America. In 1960 Israeli secret agents abducted Eichmann, who was living in Argentina at the time. Avner Less spent almost a year interrogating Eichmann before he was brought to what was to become one of the most publicised trials of the time.
One of the big controversies that came out of the trial was a report made by an American journalist for the New Yorker, Hannah Arendt. Her theory on the “banality of evil” is still debated to this day.
Arendt’s basic theory is that Eichmann was a moral eunuch. He was a cog in a large killing machine. He never contemplated his role or developed a conscious to answer questions for himself. He simply followed orders, it just happened that the orders he carried out were instrumental in the extermination of millions. Arendt argues that even if Eichmann had not had the job there were hundreds of other German Nazis that would have fulfilled the obligations of his job without a conscience. It is the banality and sheer thoughtlessness, she argues, that are the root of evil. Evil continues precisely because of its inherent rootlessness and its constitutive disregard of the world. Evil, Arendt insists, is not an inevitable aspect of human nature, but instead arises from an unwillingness to understand.
And it’s that last sentence that captures me.
“Evil arises from an unwillingness to understand!”
Lack of understanding is certainly a serious problem that the Bible seems to note often:
Isaiah 42:40 (NLT)
You see and recognise what is right but refuse to act on it.
You hear with your ears, but you don’t really listen.
Matthew 13:15-16 (NLT)
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
Ephesians 4:18 (NIV)
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
We need to remember a few things:
1. We’re not so great ourselves. You’d think over the thousands of years of history humanity would have learnt something and yet, even after the so-called enlightenment period of 17th & 18th centuries, we are still doing some crazy and horrible things to each other and ourselves.
2. Engaging with understanding, that is, being intentional to understand those around us, is actually a Godly attribute. Lack of understanding in relation to people is considered by God a not-so-good thing. We should be encouraging one another to understanding.
3. God is grace. Grace forgives. Grace encourages unity and opens the door to redemption. How can we be more grace-filled in our lives with those around us? In our own brokenness God covers us with his love and grace. As He does with us are we prepared to do the same with others?