“God Himself will not help us ignore evil, but only to defy and to defeat it.”
I was recently watching Judgment at Nuremberg. If you have never seen it, it's a powerful film with some fine performance. Indeed, Maximilian Schell won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Interestingly, after finishing this move he portrayed Saint Joseph of Cupertino in The Reluctant Saint. Saint Joseph was not a bright light - and I couldn't help but wonder if Schell was inspired in any way by the nominated (as Best Supporting Actor) portrayal of a developmentally limited man by Montgomery Clift in Judgment at Nuremberg.
The movie raises number of moral issues, including the culpability of government officials who did nothing to oppose the growing evil - and indeed were often complicit in it. The four judges on trial in the movie all had "rational" explanations for their crimes, including that they were willing to sacrifice people for the good of the nation.
The movie also addressed the issue of people who say they did not know the evil that was going on.
That ignorance may have been due to a number of causes.
Some people might have been genuinely ill-informed, isolated, impoverished, caught up in mere survival, or mentally challenged that they really did not know. I have sympathy for them.
Others are harder to excuse.
Some people were lazy and relied on others to keep them "informed."
Some people deliberately tried to avoid becoming informed.
Some people were aware - partly, or wholly - but chose denial.
Some people were aware - partly or wholly - but chose to lie.
Some people were aware - partly or wholly - but were too afraid of potential repercussions to do anything.
Some people simply didn't care.
The degree of quilt varied. Certainly the men on trial in the movie deserved to be sentence to prison. But the people of Germany - indeed, of the world - who allowed this evil to occur were not exempt from blame.
As the Chesterton quotation that begins this post suggests, God is not on the side of those who ignore evil - for whatever reason. We are called to recognize and reject evil, not to wallow in ignorance. Indeed, as he observed, “We cannot be vague about what we believe in, what we are willing to fight for, and to die for.”
The movie and the cooperation with evil of so many people reminded me of the evil of abortion in our country. Some people have been directly involved in the killing of more than 60 million babies. Some allowed it to continue through elections, their refusal to acknowledge what organizations like Planned Parenthood really do, and by their failure to act to change the culture and the laws.
Too often they plead that they did not or do not know. Too often, they do nothing to become informed. And they allow the supporters of abortion to justify it because it is supposedly better in some way for individuals, society, the economy, and so on. Some call it a right, or a good thing.
It's like a 1984 twisting of language.
We are seeing what Chesterton noted: “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.”
Although some involved with abortion have faced charges for related crimes, it is unlikely that others will face a tribunal like that depicted in the movie for the crime of abortion itself. After all, as those accused in the film could legitimately contend about what they did, while it may be a crime against humanity, it is legal.
And those who plead ignorance will not be confronted with the evil they tried to ignore.
At least not in this life.
For in the end, there will be a Final Tribunal that with render a Final Judgment.