“When Hitler attacked the Jews
I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church —
and there was nobody left to be concerned.”
Pastor Martin Niemoller’s words, often quoted and amended. I understand these were the original but may be wrong. The point is well made, however.
I was moved to look these words out again on reading two newspaper articles (links below) on the effects of the current economic belt-tightening on disabled people. If the cuts to the most vulnerable in our society were not bad enough – especially when laid against the continuing obscene bonus culture at the top of the financial and business sector – it is the language employed by those in power and their apologists to make these cuts acceptable to people who would otherwise, in their common decency, be opposed to them. When I read that disabled people fear to go out after another news item that carries directly or indirectly the implication that all disabled people are scroungers, I can barely express my anger. And if it is not the disabled it’s the young, or the immigrant, or the refugee, or the old for living too long, or the so called lazy. And it might be pure self-interest to say if I don’t speak for you, who’ll speak for me when my time comes. But it might also be a recognition of our common humanity.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” (John Donne Meditation XVII)
It is not the death only of another human being that diminishes me, but also the denigration of that other soul.
We play this game at our peril, at the peril of our society, at the peril of local communities, at the peril of our own souls.
Some will say that for a minister to make such comments as this is to be involved in politics rather than religion. Well, as I’ve said before in this blog, if religion is not about politics it is pointless. More than that, at the heart of the Christian story is the idea that humanity is made in the image of God, that there is something divine in each of us. Granted that is harder to see in some than others, but it’s where I begin. Following Jesus isn’t just about singing songs in church on Sunday, it’s about living out a life of love and grace in the world. And tough as it might be for some of us getting out of bed on a Sunday morning, day to day discipleship is harder still but it’s where it’s at.
I am my brother’s keeper!