by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Dec. 6, 1995)

The Greatest Threat

It sounds a bit presumptuous to identify anyone or anything as the "greatest" of its order. Yet there is a greatest person, a greatest commandment, and a greatest sin. A while back I read a piece that raised the possibility of naming the greatest threat to life, joy, faith, virtue, and all other good things.

Elie Wiesel survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps. He speaks and writes extensively concerning the Holocaust. It is his conviction that manís inhumanity to man during that awful time must not be forgotten ó lest it be repeated.

Something Wiesel said in a magazine interview has stuck in my mind. He said: "Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil. The opposite of love is not hate, itís indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, itís indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and to do nothing, thatís being dead."

Indifference. Maybe it is the greatest threat to virtue. It is easy, for example, to imagine the following . . .

People die, not because we steal their bread, but because we refuse to notice or care that they have none.

Community morality erodes, not because we introduce or practice evils, but because we are silent as others do so.

Neighbors are lost, not because we seduce them into sin, but because we fail to tell them that God has sent them a Savior.

It is better to question and argue with God than to ignore him. It is better to ask the hard questions of faith than to pretend they arenít there. It is far better to fight a personal vice or community ill and fail than to pretend there is no problem.

Surely the ultimate insult to Jesus himself is cool indifference. G.A. Studdert-Kennedy wrote of the cruelty of men who put Jesus on a cross and murdered him. In the same poem, he wrote of the gentler spirit with which Jesus would be treated if he were to come to our generation. We would likely just pass him by, causing him no pain and leaving him to his own devices.

In Studdert-Kennedyís poem, he pictured Jesus crouching against a wall and crying for Calvary. Is it impossible?

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