Friday, December 07, 2007


In the last thread of comments, Mark mapped out my sermon for this Sunday (12/9). Here's part of the sermon: (To my Kaufman readers - there's more, so don't skip Sunday!)

The trial of the century happened in the late 60’s – and it started with a daring kidnapping – Israeli agents went to South America and caught the most notorious Nazi not yet convicted of war crimes – Adolph Eichmann. Eichmann was the architect of the Holocaust – he came up with the idea of gassing Jews because even if one bullet could kill three people, that was still too expensive! Nice guy!!! They took him to Jerusalem to try him and hang him. David Ben-Gurion wanted this to be a show trial – to put all the horrors of Nazism on display for all the world to see. Watching that trial was an Israeli journalist – Hannah Arendt – who then wrote a book called: Eichmann in Jerusalem. But the subtitle of the book is what caught everyone’s attention: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt says that the trial would have been easy had Eichmann been a monster. We want him to be a monster. We need him to be a monster – but he’s not. He’s just a petty beauracrat! He’s not very smart. He’s ambitious in the way small men are. He doesn’t have much of a philosophy of life. He’s only anti-Semitic out of convenience. He’s petty. But that’s more troubling – that small, petty, insignificant, ordinary people can do such atrocious evil! But that’s Eichmann. That’s not us. We would never do that. We know better.

Back in the 60’s, psychologist, Stanley Milgram, came up with a fascinating psychological experiment. Milgram told his subjects that he was studying the effects of negative reinforcement on learning – does punishment make us learn better? So he had two people – a teacher and a learner – and the teacher sat at a control panel where a button produced electric shocks. The learner was sitting behind a glass partition, and every time they got an answer wrong, the teacher had to press the button, and give them a shock – and with every subsequent shock, the voltage was increased. But here’s what you need to know – the real test subject was the teacher – the learner only acted like he was being shocked. There was no connection. No voltage. Milgram was wondering if the teacher would keep giving the learner electric shocks just because someone in a lab coat told them to! Finally, the learner started yelling in pain. They would say, “Stop. I have heart trouble.” Finally the learner would quit making sounds altogether – which meant they were passed out or dead! How far would ordinary people go? 60% of people never stopped hitting that button! They did outrageous, immoral, murderous things because someone with authority in a lab coat told them to! Milgram labeled his results the “Nazi guard syndrome.” But we’re not like Eichmann, are we? We wouldn’t do that. We’re Americans! We’re Christians!

Here’s the point of the lesson: Evil is not deep. It’s shallow. It’s superficial. Evil is the failure to see clearly. The shallowness of evil is the inability to see below the skin. It is superficial. It is to see the world in terms of “us vs. them.” How is it that Eichmann, who had Jewish friends, could be the architect of the Holocaust, and ship off millions of Jews to be killed? Because they didn’t have a name! They were a problem to be solved! If we can boil life down to “us vs. them” we can demonize anybody. It’s easy to hate people if all they are is “The Russians” or The Chinese” or The French” or “Terrorists” or “Catholics” or “Baptists” or “New Yorkers” or “Republicans” or “Democrats.” You can hate anybody who has no face and no name. Evil is the failure to see that all people were created in the Image of God, and that God created them all for Himself, and He will not be satisfied until all people and all things are redeemed for Him! Evil does not recognize human connectedness. Evil is shallow.

I try to be optimistic and positive, but evil is winning. We have allowed ourselves to be broken up a thousand different ways into a thousand different groups – and Christians are not helping – because we are real good at seeing the world as “us vs. them.” God’s desire is that walls get torn down, and in a world of shallow tribalism, that is a powerful message – but our churches look too much like the world – petty and selfish and fragmented!


joedarragh said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had this week with my daughter who told me that at school they were reading "the Diary of Anne frank" and watching a movie re the same subject. She told me that it interested her but it made her sad to the point that she dreaded it a little. I asked her what the value was in learning about something like that. After several answers that didn't completely satisfy me, we talked about the notion that if we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Seems like we have learned that lesson in many facets of life, but we refuse to learn it in the church setting. We keep stumbling over the same MO's and the same steeply entrenched traditions.

Evil is not NECESSARILY pictured as a devil with a pitchfork. I comes in many, many other less subtle forms-- none less pervasive however in the way it damages and destructs.

Dr Bill said...

The topic of evil reminds me of a good book on the subject from a psychological perspective: The People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck. He suggests that the word 'evil' from a religious perspective correlates to 'dysfunction' from a psychological perspective. Then another book about the evil of the Nazis: Escape to Freedom by Eric Fromm. In this book, he suggests it's our dependency on someone willing to take responsiblity for leadership that sets us up to be dominated by evil.

I find it interesting that people almost instinctively use the word 'Nazi' when something very dysfunctional is going on.... It's archtypal, a universal symbol for evil.

Charles North said...

Those are good observations. The point of this sermon will be that real evil hardly ever presents itself with horns and a pitchfork. We've all heard the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." So, the series makes these 2 points: We have exaggerated notions of evil, and shallow, trite definitions of good.

Helen said...

Charle's I miss your sermons that I have no clue what you are saying and have to come home and look up words in the dictionary. But, at least I stayed to listen to your sermon! Now there is a steady flow of people leaving after communion~ I wonder why :) LOL

jenn said...

I have to agree with Helen! Hey, what happened to my "word of the day?" I look forward to seeing y'all next week! I love y'all!!

Mark said...

i've always said that Pride is one of the biggest sins that those "in the Church" have to overcome. It is too easy to trade our confidence in Christ for a false pride that we've got it right. This shallowness (if I may steal from you Charles) leads to the "us versus them" attitude.

Charles North said...

Thanks Helen. Thats makes me feel appreciated. I sensed that people at BH - sorry, Baker Heights, were leaning in, not knowing what would come out of my mouth next! I'm glad you paid attention. They should move communion to after the sermon.

Jenn. Here's a good word of the day: I wish I could provide you with more SURCEASE to make you feel better! Yes, next weekend is going to be great - like a vacation. Let's make the most of it!

Mark - pride is the root sin. This is why I hate being called arrogant. I have seen arrogance, and I don't like it.