Spirituality for Today – August 2010 – Volume 15, Issue 1

Editorial – Learning

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

More than a year has passed since the world watched the heart wrenching vision of survivor Elie Wiesel standing outside of the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald with the German Chancellor and the President of the United States as he asked, "Will the world ever learn?"

A photo of Elie WieselElie Wiesel

This is an intriguing question – an exercise in ancient rhetoric. Will the world ever learn what? What does the act of learning convey? Mr. Wiesel poses a question that plumbs the depth of human faith and reason. Human survival has depended on the marvelous faculty of being able to learn. From our days of sitting in neatly arranges rows of desks among our peers before a blackboard and a teacher to reaching the musings old age, we gather from hard facts and lifetime experiences something we recognize as learning. Obviously, the import of Elie Wiesel's query is not his concern about the continuously increasing aggregate of human knowledge, but the necessity of a humane moral code.

Has the world learned much from the barbarous acts of Adolph Hitler? Wars still rage; despots still long to conquer the world; the value of human life is still very much in question. In desperate times, the facility of human virtue is put to the test. In much of the South the aftermath of the Civil War illustrated this fact: "Man seemed the prey of reckless despair, and, forgetting the laws of God and man, to give way to the phrensy [sic] of wild beasts." – Montgomery Advertiser, April 1865. Post World War I Germany was mired in similar torment. In such times of chaos, hunger, and despair, even an unscrupulous madman might rise to power. If cunning and clever enough, this individual would work to lead the people out of a condition of poverty and humiliation to one of pride and prosperity. Ultimately, the destruction of the nation would follow.

But what of Elie Wiesel's question? Has the world learned how to prevent such events from happening again? Have the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Great Commandment of Jesus to love God, self, and neighbor filled the conscience and heart of mankind? I think that the answer is self-evident. Not only can it happen again, atrocities never stop happening. Their size and ferocity vary, the perpetrators and the victims change, but their existence remain. Grace and sin, good and evil, truth and falsehood are decisions that trouble human beings today as much as they did in the past.

Hope springs from the enduring presence of God's spirit in the hearts of many. The possibility of not letting the goodness of men and women fade before the great challenges of life is eternal. If the power of God and the love that is God's Truth become anchored in the human conscience, humankind has its best chance to LEARN.

I tell you that as long as I am able to conceive something better than myself, I cannot be easy unless I am striving to bring it into existence or clearing the way for it.

– George Bernard Shaw

Human nature is what it is. The Creator depends on his creation – born in freedom – to choose the Christ-like path over all. Although victory is certain, the battle is never ending. Elie Wiesel has no doubt about what the world has to learn. In Christ, we can be as certain.