Today is the first anniversary of the terrible attacks in Norway, perpetrated by a man with deeply fascist views. It is also the 70th anniversary of the day the Nazis began sending Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the death camps.

Extremism has many faces. Its motivation is hatred, ignorance and fear. We tell ourselves that if we were Germans in the time of WWII we would not have been party to the horrors. We tell ourselves that we would never have turned a blind eye as the world changed, gradually worsening until evil spiralled out of control. We would have done something.

But is that really true? Can any of us ever really know how we would react? If you knew your dearest friend was being tortured by the authorities, would you deny that you even knew him? Would you realise, too late, that you had betrayed him, left him to the most cruel death? Peter did.

Extremism is born of a hard-hearted fundamentalism that refuses to question, insisting its own world-view is correct. Those who question are deemed traitors, heretics, etc.

If we are seeking the truth, we must always question. Sometimes there may not be any answers, in which instance we must recognise our human limitations, the constraints of our brains. A thinking person knows it’s ok to say ‘I don’t know’.

In our society we have prominent ‘religious’ thinkers insisting they have all the answers, seemingly embattled against prominent ‘atheist’ thinkers insisting science has all the answers. They both end up looking  fanatical, with more than a whiff of fascist-like single-mindedness. Certainly rings warning bells for me.

70 years since the beginning of the Warsaw trains to Treblinka, and the estimated deaths of 6,000,000 Jews, along with the deaths of millions of mentally or physically disabled people, homosexuals, gypsies and ‘traitors’. My own son is ‘mentally disabled’. It sends a shiver down my spine. The words themselves are heart-sinking.

I have read a lot of different books about the holocaust over the years, in an attempt I suppose (in hindsight), to somehow categorise my own experiences of evil. I had no answers and I thought that by studying evil on a grand scale, maybe some kind of pattern, or reason, would result. It didn’t. One is left with a sense of how awful it all was, but with no real answers as to how it happened, or why. How can human beings do that? For the same reason I have read about the transatlantic slave trade (which caused an estimated 10,000,000 deaths and untold suffering for those who survived).

In the end, there is only one lesson that can be learned: WWII brought out the absolute worst of humanity, but it also brought out the absolute best, in the actions of those who risked everything to avert fascist world domination.

WWII is by no means an isolated incident. Stalin was responsible for an estimated 20,000,000 deaths in the Soviet era, and Chairman Mao is reckoned to be responsible for 40,000,000 deaths, incidentally both in the name of pro-atheist communism, so the oft-quoted ‘religion is responsible…’ is entirely false* (for clarification, see comments below). The less palatable truth is that a wolf in sheep’s clothing hides among the sheep, especially sheep who are too scared to think for themselves lest they become victims of the wolf too. 

Every November we say ‘lest we forget’ and then we do forget, and carry on about our lives in the same unthinking way. Extremism is born of hatred, ignorance and fear. Jesus said that if you even look at someone with hatred, you have committed murder in your heart. He demonstrated time and again that one must question the perceived status quo (throughout the gospels!). If fear is your motivation, then your motivation is wrong. 1 John 4:18 says

 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

So where do we begin?

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:18

In the light of all the above, all I have left is a quiet ‘Amen’.