For Elie Wiesel, faith and hope are subjective powers, issuing from a person’s inner life, his or her choices in responding to life’s adversities. That is to say, faith and hope are not only directed to an afterlife but also to living in the here-and-now, this life. In particular, faith and hope are forms of suicide prevention, because they are necessary for human survival, for staying alive, for choosing to live rather than die, especially during the most inconceivable conditions of suffering, such as being in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Elie Wiesel often defined “hell” with one word — Auschwitz. He could do that, I suppose, because he himself lived through it, being a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote a book about it, Night, which chronicled his experiences of suffering, depression, hopelessness, despair, hunger, dehydration, starvation, emaciation, near-encounters with death and the witness of countless murders of Jews by the Nazis.
Wiesel remembered the most humane words which were spoken by a Polish man to the Jewish men upon their arrival at Auschwitz:
“Comrades, you are now in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Ahead of you lies a long road paved with suffering. Don’t lose hope. You have already eluded the worst danger: the selection. Therefore, muster your strength and keep your faith. We shall see the day of liberation. Have faith in life, a thousand times faith. By driving out despair, you will move away from death.”
For Wiesel, faith and hope did not necessarily prove that the prisoners in the Auschwitz would be released, that their future would be better. However, without faith and hope, suffering can become intolerable, leading a person to despair, even suicidal ideation or suicide itself. It is, then, psychologically speaking, better to have faith in the future than to give up on life. Similarly, it is better to hope, even hoping against hope, than to live in a state of despair.
The song “The Living Years” begins, “Every generation blames the one before and all of their frustrations come beating on your door.” Those words are true to life! No one seems to be wrong anymore! How easy and convenient it is to blame others, to not accept responsibility for one’s own life! The excuses are many: The problem is with “the man” trying to put me down, hold me back; no, the problem is with “the system,” the government, society, my upbringing, other people, etc. And the list goes on and on, with hardly ever admitting: “The problem is my fault.” “I did it.” “I made the choice to do what was wrong.”
A human is, above all, a creature of choice, a deciding being. He or she has free-will. The problem, then, is not always with “the system.” In fact, the problem may be with me. When it is, I need “to own it,” to admit that I am wrong. I am to blame.
Regardless of how difficult life is, such as a “poor” upbringing; defective genes “passed down” from my parents; growing up in a “rough” neighborhood, with lots of crime; and being raised by one parent, a person always decides how he or she will react to such conditions. I can choose, despite those conditions, to become a better human being, to decide to “make something” out of my life. In the final analysis, that choice is always left up to me.
The “stupid things” I did when I was young, I did them, not anyone else. Similarly, the changes I made to turn away from the stupid things I did, I, by the grace of God, chose to make those changes.
Surely, human beings are conditioned by external and even internal factors, but humans are not determined by such factors. Rather, because humans have free-will, they are self-determining, the “authors” of their own choices, the “causes” of their own moral acts. Jackson Browne, in his song “The Fuse,” is right, when he observes, “You are what you choose to be.” Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was also right in saying to Americans,
“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”
Is suffering incompatible with a good life, a happy life, one that is filled with meaning and purpose? No! But there are cultural and philosophical obstacles that prevent many men and women from understanding answering the question in the negative. Today, especially in the United States, there is a fear of aging and suffering, because American culture worships being and staying young.1 Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, former professor of psychology at Purdue University, observes that in American culture, “the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading.”2 It is also demoralizing to tell a person that his or her suffering is meaningless, discouraging him or her from being challenged by it.3
Despair: Suffering without Meaning
According to psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, since suffering is an inevitable part of life, those who suffer must try to find meaning to it. The alternative is to view suffering as a waste of life, a senseless or useless experience. Dr. Frankl writes, “despair is suffering without meaning.”4 Those who despair of their suffering may find life unbearable; as a result, they may want to die or commit suicide.
Attitudinal Values: Choosing to Find a Meaning in Suffering
According to Frankl, “Life can be made meaningful … through the stand we take toward a fate we no longer can change (an incurable disease, an inoperable cancer, or the like).”5 Since human beings have free-will, they must choose to see a meaning to their suffering. What makes the difference between despair and meaning? Frankl answers, the “attitude we choose toward suffering.”6 Speaking as both a medical doctor and a psychiatrist, he writes, “[M]eaning rests on the attitude the patient chooses toward suffering.”7 It is, then, better to choose to find a meaning in suffering than to suffer in despair. Frankl calls such a choice “attitudinal values.”8 He explains its meaning, saying,
“Caught in a hopeless situation as its helpless victim, facing a fate that cannot be changed, man still may turn his predicament into an achievement and accomplishment at the human level. He thus may bear witness to the human potential at its best, which is to turn tragedy into triumph.”9
Becoming Bitter or Better from Suffering
Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, recalls the negative and positive responses of prisoners to suffering in the Nazi concentration camps. He says that a person
“may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.”10
When a person’s situation or circumstance changes for the worse, then his or her attitude must change for the better in order to accept it.11
The kind of person, then, that one becomes in suffering is the result of “an inner decision,” not the result of suffering alone.12 To paraphrase Frankl in the first person singular:
What kind of attitude will I have toward my suffering? Will I become bitter or better by it?
Ennobled, Not Degraded, by Suffering
Of course, in itself, suffering is certainly not good. However, it can be turned into a good deed, a moral value, by the way a person bears up under it. Frankl teaches that suffering can “make” or “break” a person, either ennobling or degrading him or her. To support his teaching, Frankl quotes Plutarch, the ancient Greek historian: “The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune.”13 Frankl also quotes, approvingly, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevski: “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”14 Thus, for Frankl, “… the right kind of suffering is in itself a deed, nay, the highest achievement which has been granted to man.”15
Making Sense of Suffering
Therefore, suffering has meaning. As Jewish artist and Holocaust survivor Yehuda Bacon says, “suffering … can have a meaning if it changes you for the better.”16 Similarly, Frankl writes,
“[E]very life, in every situation and to the last breath, has a meaning, retains a meaning. This is equally true of the life of a sick person, even the mentally sick. The so-called life not worth living does not exist.”17
Suffering in itself need not be a waste of life. However, there is a lot of wasted suffering in the world, because many people will not choose to find a meaning to it, thus making their suffering senseless instead of making sense of suffering.
Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 31, 84.
Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis,” Acta Psychothrapeutica, 6: 193 (1958), quoted in Viktor E. Frankl, supra, p. 84.
Cf. Joyce Travelbee, Interpersonal Aspects of Nursing (Philadelphia, PA.: F. A. Davis Company, 1966), p. 170, in Viktor E. Frankl, The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: New American Library, 1969, 1st printing 1970), p. 124.
Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God (New York, N.Y.: Washington Square Press, 1985), p. 137. Italics are the publisher’s.
———-, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, op. cit., p. 15. Italics are the publisher’s.
Ibid, p. 24.
———-, The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: New American Library, 1969, 1st print. 1970), p. 131.
———-, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, 3rd rev. ed., trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books/Random House, 1955, 1986), p. 44.
———-, The Unconscious God, pp. 125-126.
———-, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1963), p.107.
———–, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 80.
———-, Man’s Search For Meaning, p. 105.
Plutarch, quoted in Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God, p. 126.
Fyodor Dostoevski, quoted in Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning, p. 105.
Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, p. 128.
Yehuda Bacon, quoted in Viktor E. Frankl, The Will to Meaning, p. 79.
Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, p. 129. Italics are mine.
Dred Scott, who was a slave in Missouri, gained his freedom by moving to the free-state of Illinois from 1833 to 1843 and the free territory of Wisconsin. Later in his life, he moved back to the slave-state of Missouri. When he did, he became a slave again.
In 1846-1847, he unsuccessfully sued Mrs. Emerson (his owner) for his freedom. In another trial in 1850, the jury’s decision was that Scott should be a free man.1 Mrs. Emerson, disagreeing with the decision, made an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. In 1852, the court overturned the lower court’s decision, again making Scott a slave. In 1852-1853, John Sanford, Emerson’s brother, took over the family estate. Scott filed another suit for his freedom in the Federal Court of St. Louis, losing the case to Sanford.
The Supreme Court’s Majority Opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857
In 1856, Scott and his lawyers appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, seeking his freedom. John Sandford, Scott’s master, argued that Scott was “a negro of African descent, whose ancestors were of pure African blood and who were brought into this country and sold as slaves.”2 Therefore, no slave was a citizen of Missouri, much less the United States itself.
Essentially, the Supreme Court declared that a slave, a black man or woman, (Dred Scott had a wife named Harriet and two daughters, Eliza and Lizzy), was the property of his or her owner and, therefore, neither a person with human rights nor a citizen of the United States. On 6 March 1857, Chief Justice Robert Taney gave the majority opinion of the court, saying that slaves
“are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”3
The Racist Views of the Justices
Taney does not even call blacks “human beings.” He says that they are
“considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.”4
Taney becomes even more offensive when, referring to the sentence “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, he says,
“[T]he enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.”5
The Supreme Court concludes its majority opinion, noting,
“Upon the whole, therefore, it is the judgment of this court that it appears by the record before us that the plaintiff [Dred Scott] in error is not a citizen of Missouri in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution.”6
The Injustice of the Court’s Opinion
To continue to enslave blacks, the Supreme Court had to dehumanize or depersonalize them, describe them as less than persons and, therefore, with no human rights. In essence, the court ruled that blacks or slaves, even freed slaves, are not persons but property. Of course, as property, they were owned, used and could even be abused by their masters or slave-holders. The court, then, justified slavery, making it the law of the United States.
Why the Court Could Not Reach an Unbiased Decision
It was extremely difficult, but not impossible, for the Supreme Court to give a just ruling in the Dred Scott Case. Chief Justice Taney was a “staunch supporter of slavery.”7 The court itself was pro-slavery. Most of the Justices had no opposition to the extension of slavery in the United States. Seven Justices ruled against Scott and two dissented, disagreeing with the decision. The Justices could not look beyond their bias toward blacks and evaluate Scott’s case objectively.
The Reversal of the Supreme Court’s Error
The Dred Scott Case is an example of how the United States Supreme Court can and does err in its majority opinions, thus violating human rights. The injustice of the court’s decision was eventually overturned by two amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The first is the 13th Amendment, Section 1, which abolished slavery, saying,
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”8
The second is the 14th Amendment, Section 1, which says,
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States….”9
The primary purpose of the 14th Amendment “was to make former slaves citizens of both the United States and the state in which they lived and to protect them from state-imposed discrimination.”10
The Philosophical Difference between Persons and Possessions
One can own an animal, such as a horse, cat or dog. However, an African American, a black human being, is not a domesticated animal but a person. One person cannot own another through purchasing or buying him or her. The reason is that only things can be purchased with money. That is why they are called “possessions.” But a person is not a thing and, therefore, should neither be bought nor sold. A person, then, regardless of the color of his or her skin, is not a possession, much less a piece of property.
The Philosophical Difference between Ends and Means
To buy a human being, to own a person, in order to use him or her, is the attempt to turn a person into a tool or instrument to be used for the benefit of others. A human being is not merely an instrument of production. No human being exists merely to be used, that is, to be taken advantage of by others. Such a relationship reduces a person to a means to an end. On the contrary, a man or woman exists for his or her own sake. A person, then, is an end, that is, has, first or foremost, value in himself or herself, not merely for other human beings.
Freedom, the liberties which Americans so richly enjoy, is not really free, because it comes with a “price.” In other words, a service man or service woman is always “paying” for the liberties, which Americans may easily take for granted. For instance, at the Kabul Airport today, 13 service members gave their lives for their country, the United States of America and, even more than that, the cause of freedom for the Afghan people. They, too, including their innocent children, have died for the sake of freedom in Afghanistan.
That the service members deserve the honor of the American people is made evident by the Pauline principle of give “honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7, ESV). Today, American citizens pause to remember and honor the service members who lost their lives in the service of their country; to remember, too, their families who now grieve over the loss of their fathers, mother, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.
Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NIV). Similarly, greater love has no person for his country than to lay down his or her life for it. Of course, American citizens or civilians may have great love for their country, but a soldier’s sacrificial love is far greater. Therefore, freedom is not cheap. In fact, its price is costly, inestimable. It cannot be purchased with money, which is a thing. Rather, it is purchased with human flesh and blood, the ultimate sacrifice of men and women in the military. Their lives and sacrifices are infinitely greater than money or anything it can buy.
Were their deaths in Afghanistan in vain? Absolutely not! In the words of the Gospel Song “If I Can Help Somebody,” made popular by Mahalia Jackson,“If I can help somebody, as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.” The lives and deaths of the 13 service members and the innocent Afghans were not in vain!
May they rest in peace and may their good work in time bear fruit in eternity. Amen.
Of course, virtually all people know that “there is a time to love.” It is, after all, the most important human virtue in life. But many people do not believe that “there is a time to hate.” They suppose that any form or kind of hate is wrong. Today, I want to explain why not all forms of hate are wrong; in fact, some are right. To support my point, I want to draw briefly from the writings of two heroes of the 20th century: Elie Wiesel, the prominent Holocaust survivor, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the prominent civil rights leader; both of whom won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Indifference: Worse Than Hate
Which is worse: hate or indifference? Indifference! Hate, at least, acknowledges the existence of someone. In other words, hate, a negative emotion, is at least directed at a human person. However, indifference does not even acknowledge the existence of the other as a human being. For an indifferent person, the other literally makes “no difference.” He or she, for all practical purposes, does not even exist.
Objections to Hate
Hate may also motivate a person to fight injustice and other forms of evil. Elie Wiesel observes,
“Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.”
However, some people may object to hate having any moral value, saying, “Hate is never right” or “Christians should not hate.” On the contrary, there is, in the words of the Jewish Scriptures, “a time to love and a time to hate” (Ecclesiastes 3:8a, NIV). Even Yahweh, the Lord, hates, among other things, “hands that shed innocent blood,” which is murder (Proverbs 6:17c). Wiesel, then, is correct: It is right to hate evil or morally abhorrent acts.
The Paradoxical Condition of the Living Dead
In a sense, indifference is the paradoxical condition of the “living dead.” Those who experience that condition are, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“Too unconcerned to love and too passionless to hate…, too indifferent to experience joy and too cold to experience sorrow.”
Essentially, King and Wiesel agree about the sad condition of indifference. Wiesel even goes so far as to call indifference “a sin.”
Insensibility as a Psychological and Moral Defect
The psychological and moral equivalent to indifference is “insensibility,” which is not being able to feel for others, to have sympathy or compassion for them. Insensible persons have become desensitized to pain and suffering. They are, then, numb to various kinds of injustices from which people suffer. At least hate, directed appropriately, say, at injustice or oppression, is indicative of someone being alive emotionally. A person, then, may rightfully hate indifference or insensibility.
Hating the Moral Act, Not the Person
Of course, it is wrong to hate a person. However, it is not wrong to hate that for which the individual stands. Nor is it wrong to hate a person’s evil acts. In fact, Yahweh, the Lord, tells his people to “Hate evil, love good” (Amos 5:15a, NIV). A moral education teaches human beings to love that which is good and hate that which is evil, while neither confusing an evil act with the person nor the difference between good and evil.
Conclusion: The Moral Application to Afghanistan
It is, therefore, right to be moved emotionally by the moral crisis going on in Afghanistan: To see Afghans, in their own country, attempting to flee from terrorists; to see Afghan mothers giving away their own children for a better life in another country; to feel anger at the prospect of innocent American citizens and their allies being stranded by one of the most powerful military forces in the world. It is also right to hate terrorism and what it does to the lives of its innocent victims.
Who can see such things and feel nothing? Who can witness the evil of terrorism and not care? Only those that are not “alive” morally, spiritually and psychologically. Rather, says Dr. King, “they merely exist.” Inside, they are “dead” and do not even know it.
In this article, I want to explore briefly the topic of aging, the process of becoming older. In 1965, The Who, the popular British Rock Band, released “My Generation,” a song which was written by the guitarist Pete Townshend. It was about celebrating the younger generation, even to the point of mocking the elderly or aged, saying, “I hope I die before I get old.”
America’s Cult of Youth
Not much has changed since “My Generation” was released 56 years ago, because today’s young people are still focused on “My Generation,” with its worship of youth, beauty and strength. For example, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (referring to a study by the academic psychologist Edith Weisskopf-Joelson) says that the fear of aging is an unhealthy trend in the United States, which stresses “the value of youth.”1 For instance, I recently went to Great Clips for a hair cut. On the walls of the room, I was surrounded by pictures of young men and women with various hair styles. I asked the woman who was cutting my hair, ‘Why don’t you have on your walls pictures of middle-aged or older men and women? They also matter; their lives are worthwhile.’ She laughed at my comments. Her response may be shaped by popular culture, with its cult or worship of youth. As Frankl rightly observes,
“[T]oday’s society … adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise.”2
I went shopping at the King of Prussia Mall and there they were again: Pictures of young men and women, adorning the walls of one store after another. To me, it confirmed Frankl’s point, namely, the idolizing of youth in American culture.
Having the Right Attitude about Aging
Contrary to the mentality about aging in popular culture, aging does not diminish a person’s value; nor should getting old be thought of as an impending “death sentence.” Aging may, in fact, depending on a person’s attitude, enhance the value of life, making it another meaningful stage of being human. What ages a person, then, is not only the adding of years to life but also a person’s attitude, specifically, having the wrong attitude about life.
Come to think of it, great things can happen when a person is old. Consider the following examples and then add your own: At the age of 58, Emmanuel Levinas was appointed Professor of Philosophy at Poitiers. Moses was 80 when he led the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage. At the age of 75, Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa. Joseph Ratzinger was 78 when he became Pope Benedict XVI. At the age of 67, Viktor Frankl received his license to fly a plane. Joe Biden became President of the United States at the age of 78. Let it not be said of a person that has the right attitude about life, “You are too old.” “It is too late for you.” Too old? Too late? It is never too late to be great!
In 1965, Townshend was 20 years of age; today, he is 76. However, I would suppose that he doesn’t want to die. He is, undoubtedly, happy to be alive. The reason is that whether a person is 20 or 76, life is still a gift; it is still good to be alive. Therefore, old age is a challenge to live life well, to “carve out” ever-new meanings to a person’s life.
1. Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 31, 84.
2. ———-, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 152.
In a song on Chicago II’s (1970) double album, Robert Lamm and Terry Kath wrote the lyrics to “It Better End Soon.” It was an anti-Vietnam War song about the fundamental longing of human beings to live, not die. Speaking for the America people, Kath sang,
“No more dying!
No more killing.
No more dying.
No more fighting.
We don’t want to die.
No, we don’t want to die.”
Similarly, in his book The Tragic Sense of Life, Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936) admits what most people feel in the depths of their being and even admit to themselves, namely, that there is a sense of immortality in the human heart. In other words, human beings, in general, recoil and rebel at the thought of death. Deep inside, humans gravitate toward being, living, not dying. As Unamuno writes,
“I do not want to die –
no, I neither want to die
nor do I want to want to die;
I want to live
always, always, always.
And I want this ‘I’ to live –
this poor I that I am
and that I feel myself to be
here and now.“
Likewise, Dylan Thomas (1914 —1953), the Welsh poet expressed well the natural aversion of human beings to death, especially their own death. In Thomas’ words,
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
There is, as Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014) writes in “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965), a song by the Byrds,
“‘A time to be born, a time to die.’”
Curiously enough, Seeger quotes from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which is in the Bible. “’A time to be born, a time to die’” (Ecclesiastes 3:2a) is a natural truth, a biological fact, about life. However, the line which Seeger does not quote in Ecclesiastes is that the Creator of human beings “has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b, NIV).
The longing for immortality, to live forever, is in human beings, because their Creator placed it there. That is why they do not want to die. They want time, but they also want more than that, namely, eternity. That is also why, throughout the world, many people believe that death does not have the final say over human beings. There is, then, more to living in this world than dying in it. In the words of the movie-character James Bond, “The world is not enough.”
Human beings, whether they know it or not, are in search of meaning to their lives. That search is a peculiarly human phenomenon. In other words, trees, dogs, bids and insects do not care about a meaning to their existence, but humans do. They have questions about being alive, such as “What is the point of living?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Why is it worthwhile to continue to live?”
In popular American culture, on the album Chicago VII (1974), the band deals with the human search for a meaning to life in the song “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long.” For instance, in the lyrics by James Pankow, there is the refrain,
“I’ve been searchin’
To find an answer
Now I know my life has meaning.”
So the point is keep on searching, until you find your answer to the question, “Why does my life have meaning?” For some, maybe the answer is love. For others, maybe it is work. For still others, maybe it is family. Then again, maybe it is helping others. Still again, maybe it is all four pursuits.
Human beings are not meant merely to exist but to live, to find a meaning to their lives. In the words of the Good Book, “Seek and you shall find.” That saying reminds me of the refrain from a song by the Rock Band U2, which is “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Viktor Frankl gives the following advice advice to someone that is questioning life’s meaning and searching for it but not, at the moment, finding it:
“[T]he courage to question should be matched by patience. People should be patient enough to wait until, sooner or later, meaning dawns on them. This is what they should do, rather than taking their lives – or taking refuge in drugs.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Insight Books/ Plenum Press, 1997), p. 134.
During the Shoah or Holocaust, there were, fundamentally, two different responses to belief in God and religion. First, not a few people rejected the existence of God and religion, becoming atheists. For example, in 1987, in Clifton Park, New York, I met a very nice man, a Holocaust survivor, who said that he entered the concentration camps believing in God, being religiously Jewish. But while being in the camps and after liberation, the man said that he could no longer believe in a God that would allow “innocent” babies, children, young and old adults to be senselessly murdered. The gentleman became a “secular Jew,” being ethnically Jewish, while rejecting the religion of Judaism.
The second response to God’s existence and religion was given by Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. In his book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl observed,
“A]mong those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those who religious life was deepened – in spite of, not because of, this experience – by far exceeds the number of those who gave up their belief.”1
The lesson for today, I suppose, is that it is extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to eradicate the notion of God from the human mind and expunge the religious longings of human beings. They are, indeed, “incurably religious.”
Hence, Frankl concludes,
“God is not dead …, not even ‘after Auschwitz.’”2
1) Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Insight Books/ Plenum Press, 1997), p. 19.