I can stand on the USS Arizona and commune with God. I can feel the lives lost and the horrors we visited on Japan after that. I cannot for a fraction of a moment understand. I cannot “believe” the reality of it all. For me this is not a way of dishonoring the lives lost that day or in the rest of the war, before or after that. For me, there is a truth beyond reality. I honor every life lost in the Holocaust and World War II on all sides when I insist that their memory live long after they are forgotten.
I am vocal about my religious beliefs and am vocal about defending the religious beliefs of others. It has gotten me into arguments on facebook and in bars. I do not believe in the Bible. I believe in my brother in law. The bible is his truth. I respect that and I respect him for it. Perhaps it is only because he knows my sister, but he has not tried to force feed anyone his beliefs.
I visited Hawaii for the first time, shortly after 09/11. 09/11 was a traumatic event in my life. I stood on the memorial above the USS Arizona and watched a few bubbles of oil released into what seemed like a pristine ocean. I heard a kid throw a temper tantrum because he wanted a granola bar.
I stood there and watched the oil float up to the surface and hear of the men still trapped below for 60 years. I have a very similar experience at many of the war memorials. On the college campus I attend, I intentionally walk across the “Memory Mall” so I can look at the flag on the way to and from my car. Occasionally I will walk to the base of the flag and marvel at the artistry of the memorial there. It is truly beautiful. It is composed of the seals of the different branches of service, but each has “echoes” running behind it that bring to mind the mystical arrangement of tombstones in national cemeteries that seem almost always in a line.
The other day, I posted something on facebook and was told it was insensitive and offensive. In response to a religious debate, a friend had posted something about how Hitler was a better person than the God of the bible. My response “Why must we invoke the name of the almighty Hitler to describe evil? I hope we evolve to the point where ‘Hitler’ and accounts of the holocausts are so unimaginably beyond our acceptance of human behavior that we can’t help but consider him fiction…” has been interpreted to be offensive to the memory of Holocaust victims and survivors alike.
It is my hope that by explaining my sentiment, you can read those words with the devotion to every human soul that was a victim and the soul of humanity itself, which I felt in composing those words. I could delete the comment or offer an apology, but I won’t. I think it is a truth worth grasping.
Much of what is described in the bible is so far outside of what we consider morality or the realm of possibility. What Lot’s daughters clearly plot and do is terrible, but in the scope of the circumstances, any biologist will tell you that these things are natural and the right decision for a species. Other things are more complicated because they are more intellectual in nature. Romans 1, for example, openly proclaims that God punishes people by making them homosexual. There are numerous places of murder and death, sometimes directly by the hand of God, as in the flood. God allows murder and rape, but since he created it all, he is responsible for it all. Let us not forget cancer.
Yes, there is plenty of inconsistency and things that no longer apply morally, but my point, the important point, is that there is probably a grain of truth in the flood myth. It is almost universal in disconnected cultures around the world. There are enough accounts in enough corners of the worlds, written in enough independently developed languages for me to believe that something horrible happened with water and most of the human population was wiped out. I believe that enough and know enough about how recently we’ve discovered things to know that in the language of the time, those may have been literal beliefs and truths. I know enough about how our knowledge has grown in the last year that I can wrap my head around how much words have changed in 2000 years. I know that when I say all “men” are created equal, I mean everyone who shares the same genus and species and that includes women and African Americans. I know that is not what our forefathers meant. I don’t think we need to edit the document because we have simply grown the meaning of the words.
Why don’t we look at the bible with those eyes? Seriously. And why would we not be proud when discrimination on the order of Hitler seems mythic? I do not think we should ever forget. I think each of those souls was part of humanity and I feel connected to them. I am sad, not that they died but that they suffered. I understand the difference. I thank them for their suffering, because through it, the soul of humanity learned. I will always wish we had learned that lesson earlier and that it required less suffering, but of all the things I suffer for, in my own miniscule way, I hope that humanity reaches a point where my tiny slice of suffering seems too huge to have ever been real. I hope that when I am forgotten my lesson will live on.
One day, I hope that someone reads of World War II and thinks that humanity could never have been that cruel. I hope that one day humanity will simply remember the evil that was and the evil that we need to steer our kids away from. I hope that all the angels are remembered by name and every evil man knows is remembered as “Satan”, as one indescribable horrible evil that is not considered part of our race. I do not know the names of the men who flew the planes on 09/11, it was “Satan.” I do not know who blew up the Boston Marathon, it was “Satan.” Remember the names of the angels. Go see the boots they wore and the camps where they were slaughtered by the millions and let us all evolve to where these seem too terrible to be the acts of men. Let us grow.
Hold onto the names and memories of everyone who suffered for it, for as long as we can, but if we never grow to the point where what happened to them is unimaginable, what was it all for?