This is a day of remembrance.
In 1984, I was able to journey to Dachau. I’d already read books about the concentration camp, and while I was there I watched their documentary film and saw the site.
In 1987, I went to Flossenbürg, where nearly 100,000 prisoners went through its gates and 3 out of 10 died there. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them. The international chapel there had stained glass windows or artwork donated by the many countries and cultures who lost citizens there. It was a solemn moment, sensing the souls of many whom history overlooks.
I am reminded today of a book related to the Holocaust that I read in the 1990s. It is by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton. Dr. Lifton is one of the most eminent pioneers of what turned into the discipline of “psychology of trauma.” He has researched and written on some of the most difficult topics imaginable, yet close to the core of what it means to respect the dignity of all humanity, and to push back the evil that we are all to capable of creating. The Holocaust. Hiroshima. Thought reform/”brainwashing” in Communist China. The trauma inflicted by the social conditioning in the Soviet system. The Aum Shinrikyo apocalyptic cult.
What follows is a quote from Dr. Lifton that I used in a research article I did on “Thought Control, Toxic Churches, and Lessons from The Hunger Games Trilogy.” I believe he offers us a thought-provoking message on this important Holocaust Remembrance Day …
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What gives Dr. Lifton the fortitude to do this kind of deep research into such difficult topics? He has studied real-world events that are as horrific as the fictional world of Panem and The Hunger Games. Where does he find the strength to carry on? I don’t know what Dr. Lifton’s spiritual views are, but I have often pondered this quote from the foreword in his 1986 book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide.
“One cannot expect to emerge from a study of this kind spiritually unscathed, all the more so when one’s own self is the instrument for taking in forms of experience one would have preferred not to have known about. But the other side of the enterprise for me has been the nourishing human network, extending throughout much of the world, within which I worked. Survivors were at the heart of it, and they provided a kind of anchoring … [We are] capable of learning from carefully examined past evil. I undertook this study, and now offer it, in that spirit of hope.” (page xiii)
Whatever Dr. Lifton’s philosophical or religious beliefs, clearly he embodies the concept of “redemptive investment.” Somewhere, sometime, it really costs someone in order to provide a meaningful blessing to others – even if those so blessed remain completely unaware of those who served to their benefit. Dr. Lifton’s research work cost him personally and spiritually, calling forth sacrifice and transformation through engagement with suffering. Can we expect our efforts at discernment in the realm of toxic churches and malignant ministers to involve it any less?