Thursday, October 13, 2016

Who is to blame for human atrocities?

Dr. Thomas A. Dooley
The following paragraph was written by Dr. Thomas A. Dooley in his book Deliver us from evil (1956). After several months in medical command of the camp for the refugees who fled North Vietnam after the partition of the country, at the end of the French colonialism in Indochina, Dr. Dooley provided medical aid in Laos and was a founder of MEDICAL (Medical International Cooperation), a department of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Having set up their controls in the village of Haiduong, Communists visited the village schoolhouse and took seven children out of class and into the courtyard. All were ordered to sit on the ground, and their hands and arms were tied behind their backs. Then they brought out one of the young teachers, with hands also tied. Now the new class began. In a voice loud enough for the other children still in the classroom to hear, the Viet Minh accused these children of treason. A "patriot" had informed the police that this teacher was holding classes secretly, at night, and that the subject of these classes was religion. They had even been reading the catechism. The Viet Minh accused the seven of "conspiring" because they had listened to the teachings of this instructor. As a punishment they were to be deprived of their hearing. Never again would they be able to listen to the teachings of evil men.
Now two Viet Minh guards went to each child and one of them firmly grasped the head between his hands. The other then rammed a wooden chopped chopstick into each ear. He jammed it in with all his force. The stick split the ear canal wide and tore the ear drum. The shrieking of the children was heard all over the village. Both ears were stabbed in this fashion. The children screamed and wrestled and suffered horribly. Since their hands were tied behind them, they could not pull the wood out of their ears. They shook their heads and squirmed about, trying to make the sticks fall out. Finally they were able to dislodge them by scraping their heads against the ground.
As for the teacher, he must be prevented from teaching again. Having been forced to witness the atrocity performed on his pupils, he endured a more horrible one himself. One soldier held his head while another grasped the victim's tongue with a crude pair of pliers and pulled it far out. A third guard cut off the tip of the teacher's tongue with his bayonet... Yet neither the teacher nor any of the pupils died.
When news of this atrocity came across the Bamboo Curtain, arrangements were made for escape, and soon teacher and pupils were in Tent 130 at [our] Camp de la Pagode. We treated the victims as well as we could, though this was not very well.
In contrast to those in Auschwitz, these atrocities probably went unpunished, as often happens with those performed by communists.
The existence of human atrocities is the main argument of atheists against the existence of God, which can be summarized thus:
Human beings perform many atrocities.
A good God would not allow them to be performed.
They are allowed; therefore a good God does not exist.
Surprisingly, the same atheists who say that, also say this:
Human freedom does not exist, it is an illusion.
Therefore all our actions are determined (classical determinism) or are random (quantum indeterminacy) or both.
Surely they do not realize that the second reasoning invalidates the major premise of the first. If all our actions are determined, if we are just automata, then there are no atrocities, for we are not responsible for our actions.
Atheism is an immature doctrine which aims to avoid responsibility, by passing it to determinism, randomness or God; just as a child, caught in flagrant mischief, tries by all means to blame another.
It is true that many abuses are committed. There is a widespread human tendency to try to prevent abuses by prohibiting the use. Following this rule, since freedom can lead to abuses, atheists pretend that God, in whom they do not believe, should have banned human freedom, in which they also claim not to believe. If the alternative is that we all be automata, and despite the abuse, I think God has done very well in allowing freedom.
C.S. Lewis
In his biographical film about C. S. Lewis, Shadowlands (1985), William Nicholson introduces the following dialogue between the English author, who has just lost his wife and suffers a deep religious crisis, and his brother Warnie, who asks him:
- If you were God, would you let your creatures choose?
- Yes.
- If you could go back, would you have chosen differently?
- No.
I agree with Lewis (or with Nicholson). As an author of novels, I also create characters. If I could give them freedom, I would do it, even though they might abuse it and do things that I would not like them to do.
Moreover, Christians believe that God did do something to address the problem of evil: incarnate as a man and submit to our atrocities. Dr. Dooley, who was a Catholic, tried to mitigate the negative effects of our abuses of freedom by helping the victims, and gave his life while doing it. 
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
This is how he explains it in his second book, The Edge of Tomorrow (1958), which describes his fight against disease in northern Laos:
When they improved, we felt better. When they thanked us, those were our wages. This rich feeling of fullness after even a small service. This is how God tells us sometimes that He takes part in our work.
I don’t know what will be your fate, but of this I'm sure... you’ll always be lucky, if what you seek and find is: how to serve.
Finally, this is what Albert Schweitzer said about Tom Dooley’s work:
I don’t know what will be your fate, but of this I'm sure... you’ll always be lucky, if what you seek and find is: how to serve.


Manuel Alfonseca

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