Hatred, Hollowness and Holiness
As we remember the horrors of the Holocaust, we reflect on the hypocrisy of our own society and how we need a fresh vision of the holiness of God in order to prevent such things happening again.
It’s Holocaust Memorial Day and I am sitting manning a stall at the University of Dundee to encourage awareness of this horrific event in our recent history. There are posters on the stands beside me, and a host of leaflets and flyers on the desk. And yet perhaps only two or three people have even bothered to stop and have a look. Hundreds have walked by. Of course everyone will say they are against ‘that sort of thing’. Of course no one wants genocide or hatred – or at least that is what we want to think – when we can be bothered to think. But there is something seriously wrong. Not just in the complacency of the passersby, but also in the apparently smug self-righteousness of those of us involved in the ‘Stand up to Hatred’ campaign. We are the Right Ones. We know the Truth. We are the active soldiers for what everyone recognises as decent and good and tolerant. We campaign against hatred. And yet there is something hollow and shallow about it, even as we sincerely fight for our cause.
When you read the material that is handed out, something is not quite right. Yes, it is true ‘that the evils of prejudice, discrimination and intolerance are still with us. We categorise, stereotype, discriminate, exclude, bully, persecute, attack – because of race, religion, disability, sexuality. We damage and are damaged as a result of our refusal to accept our common humanity.’ I believe that statement – which is why I am happy to hand it out. However, I do not believe that our society believes it – nor even the organisation that produces the material. For example, I am handing out material about the horrific death of David Morley, a barman in London who happened to be homosexual and who ‘was believed to be the victim of a homophobic attack’. No one in their right mind would condone such a senseless act of violence, nor should anyone wish harm on someone because of their sexuality. Yet I have a couple of problems with associating this ‘hate crime’, as the literature calls it, with Holocaust Memorial Day. Why?
Firstly, it is only a short step from condemning violent homophobic attacks (which we should do) to condemning those who dare to think differently from the absolutist standards of our current elite as homophobic and therefore equivalent to Nazis. Our society tells us over and over again, through soap operas, government spokesmen, the education system, and the media, that homosexuality is perfectly normal and acceptable. I happen to believe that the Bible is right – that just as sex outside marriage is wrong, so sexual acts between people of the same gender is ‘unnatural, degrading and perverse’ (Romans 1:24-27). I believe that all human beings including myself are sinful and that homosexual sin is no worse than any other sin – but it is still sin. And for that belief I will be discriminated against, banned and possibly even sued and put on trial. The irony is that the absolutist ‘might is right’ philosophy of the Nazis is not being espoused so much by those who dare to disagree with the prevailing establishment view, but rather by those who in the name of tolerance practice a fundamentalist intolerance. Dare anyone disagree, and the thought police will soon be on to this heinous hate crime.
Is it not absurd that by teaching the Bible I am in danger of being charged with ‘hate crime’ and equated with the Nazis? Is it not ironic that in this Brave New World the Orwellian prophecy of hate crimes has become a reality, and that the world now thinks (though it was ever thus) it is ok to hate Christians who actually believe the Bible, and to discriminate against them, in the name of anti-discrimination? The Bible teaches me that I am to love all human beings, whatever their sexuality, that I am not to regard some types of sin as more heinous than others, and that I am not to regard myself as being in any way better than someone else. We are all sinners in need of redemption. But that does not allow me in the ‘name of love’ to justify what is wrong, and to call pure what God has called perverted.
The antidote to the horror of the Nazi genocide is not the hollow and often hypocritical actions of those who would seek to make and judge ‘hate crimes’. In fact, there is a great danger of just exchanging one form of human intolerance for another – just as in Nazi Germany it was easy to blame the Jews for all the ills of society, so in our growing fundamentalist secularist culture we are increasingly seeing that Muslims or evangelical Christians are portrayed as the Root of all Evil. The answer to the Holocaust is not to be found in the spineless moralism of whatever group happens to be dominant in the society at the time. Strangely enough, the answer is to be found in hatred and holiness.
Firstly, we are to hate evil. Not excuse it. Not justify it. And not try to explain it away. We are to hate it. There is an incredible scene in Schindler’s List where Schindler tries to justify the actions of the sadistic camp commandant by suggesting that he is only behaving this way because he is under stress, and because of the pressures of the war. In the light of the commandants shooting Jews for sport, it seems, and is, a shallow and pathetic excuse for such evil behaviour. In the same way it is astounding that there are people who argue that there is no such thing as evil. Richard Dawkins puts it very starkly in his book The Blind Watchmaker:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
The trouble with the atheistic anti-God secular philosophy is not that it turns all of its proponents into Nazis. Thankfully, most atheists live inconsistently with their philosophy. And most of our Western Atheists are in fact Christian Atheists – wanting the fruit of Christianity whilst rejecting the roots. The problem is that once the philosophy of the blind, pitiless, indifferent universe without good or evil is adopted, there is no basis for hating evil and loving good. How can you hate what does not exist? That is why the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell stated ‘Dachau is wrong is not a fact.’ He thought it was wrong. But that was just a feeling. But for the Christian, ‘Dachau is wrong’ is a fact. We hate the evil of the Holocaust because it was real – not because it was a passing feeling or temporary fashion of philosophy. ‘God is dead’, said Hitler’s favourite philosopher, Nietzsche. ‘We have killed him and the whole of Europe is filled with the stench of his corpse.’
But God is not dead. He is holy. And in His holiness He hates and abominates evil. ‘Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong’ (Habakkuk 1:13). If I, as a sinful, impure human being, with a limited vision and a part-blinded conscience, can still feel hatred of evil, then one can only imagine the hatred of an absolutely pure, omniscient God, who sees into the very core of our heart and being. I may have a sense of the Heart of Darkness – God knows it. Absolutely. And in Christ He has been there. He has carried it.
God’s holiness is awesome. It is pure. It is beautiful. The trouble is that sometimes those who are meant to be the ‘holy ones’ of the Lord neither understand nor reflect that holiness. We have reduced it (and by implication, the Holy One) to a series of trivialities associating holiness with a type of clothing, a ‘peculiar’ language, a certain tone in preaching, a set of cultural and moral shibboleths, ecstatic gibberish, a false humility and a narrow and distorted view of both God and man. Eugene Petersen speaks of the holiness revealed in the book of Revelation as ‘a holiness that is neither cramped or distorted, but spacious; an illumination that goes beyond the minimum of showing what is true by showing it extravagantly beautiful; a nourishment that is the healthy feeding of our lives, not the frivolous adornment of them.’
That is why we need holiness. Without holiness we will not see the Lord. And without holiness we will not really see the evil. And here is the frightening thing: when I am a moralistic relativistic humanist I can see, at least partially, the evil that others do and rightly be horrified by it and campaign against it. But it is ultimately hollow. A game with no winners. But when I see the holiness of the Lord, His brightness and purity show up the ugliness and the evil, not least in my own heart, and like Isaiah I cry,
Woe to me, I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.Isaiah 6:5
I search for and find atonement, forgiveness and peace, not in my darkness but in His light. Only the atonement offered by Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice for sin has the power to break the darkness and set me free.
And that is why, coming back from manning the desk at the Holocaust Memorial Day, I sat down and watched yet again the whole of Schindler’s List. For me it is still the most profound and moving experience. It ripped me to shreds. The tears flowed, the anger burned within and my heart turned to worship. ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ If this were not true, then this world is the hell of the blind pitiless universe. But, thank God, it is true. I long to see the King in His glory. How my heart burns within me! And how I long to serve Him and to tell others of Him. Holy is His name.