When Humanism Becomes Fundamentalism
Mr. Wiesel goes on to describe how, after the Jews of his town were prohibited from conducting business, were made to wear the yellow star, were ghettoized, and had their valuables confiscated, and even after the deportations began, his family still did not suspect the murderous intentions of the Germans.
Their loyal Catholic maid Maria offered them a hiding place: A remote cabin in the mountains far from the Germans and their Hungarian accomplices. Maria begged them to come with her. She promised to feed and take care of them. The Wiesel family, after a hasty meeting at their kitchen table, refused Maria's offer. "We surely would have accepted her offer had we known that ‘destination unknown' meant Birkenau."
Two days later, the family was deported to the death camp, where Elie's parents, grandmother, and little sister were killed in the gas chambers.
Citing how kindly the advancing German troops had treated the Jews during World War I, Mr. Wiesel writes: "We all fell into the trap history had set for us."
The trap was not of history. History, if objectively observed, would have warned that in Europe both educated and uneducated, religious and secular, left-wing and right-wing gentiles have murdered, maimed, raped, and savaged Jews for the last two millennia. Jews at the advent of the Holocaust, no less than Daniel Pearl, fell into the trap not of history, but of humanism.
Humanism is the philosophy "that emphasizes the dignity and worth of the individual, with the basic premise that people are rational beings who possess the capacity for truth and goodness."
Jews believe that human beings were created in the image of God, which most Jews take to mean that all human beings are essentially good. Peel away the misguided notions of this or that system, and you have a good, decent, kind human being who would not deliberately choose evil.
But it's precisely the ability to choose evil that is the uniqueness of human beings. "Created in the image of God," as the sages inform us, means that human beings were created, like God, with free choice. Animals act from instinct. Humans have the unique ability to choose between good and evil.
The starting point of each human being's free choice varies, according mostly to his or her upbringing. Thus, I suspect that none of the readers of this article would murder for money -- even a lot of money. It is simply beyond our choice box, given the values our parents inculcated in us. But many of us would cheat on our income tax; others of us would not bother to report a bank error in our favor; while some of us would gladly pocket the extra change a supermarket cashier mistakenly gives us. Each of these scenarios poses a choice to the average, ethical human being. "Choice" implies it could go either way.
We are created by our choices. The person who chooses not to report a bank error in his favor will go on to choose to cheat in small ways, which will grow to bigger, more egregious deceptions. Enron executives are not born swindlers; they got there by a myriad of graduated choices.
But once they are there, do not trust them with your money! A person or a nation who has chosen perversity becomes perverse. "The capacity for truth and goodness" that humanism credits to all people can be deactivated by consistently choosing evil. The result is evil people, evil groups, evil nations.