On Auschwitz I and II (Poland)

Forgetting them means letting them die again. (Elie Wiesel)

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

 

Night, night without end, no dawn comes. (Tadeusz Borowski)

 

We have to remember, always, but it’s never easy. (Alberto Israel)

 

Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace, and encounters among people. (Pope Francis)

 

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity. (on a plaque)

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It happened, therefore it can happen again. (Primo Levi)

 

Any denial of the facts is a denial of the truth (A. E. Samaan)

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Personal note: Everyone should visit Auschwitz I and II at least once in their life. I never realized that the two are a 5-minute ride apart. At Auschwitz I, exhibits as hair, suitcases, shoes, and belongs can rattle the soul – but the size of Auschwitz II (aka Birkenau) is staggering. For me, I’m glad we didn’t have a guide – therefore, at the chance to move and contemplate on our own.

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Next stop: Eger

Click here for past posts of this tour.

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On Religious Liberty

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Before Europeans came to America, Christian traditions and practices were well-rooted in Europe for over 1000 years. Catholicism was the predominant form of Christianity, at least until the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s The Protestant Reformation was a major schism is Western Christianity that ultimately influenced America – both before and after independence.

Whereas the US Constitution’s First Amendment (ratified 1791) granted religious freedoms for individuals and that government cannot establish religious preferences, I content that American has a long history of battling this ideal by continually challenging it in the name of religious preference.

As the Puritans came to America (1630) seeking religious freedom in their disagreement with the Church of England (Anglicans), they established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to establish an orthodox community seeking to save their perception of Christianity from the wayward Anglicans. Puritans saw themselves as the chosen people – the new Adam and Eve with the American colonies being the New Jerusalem – the new Israel.

Yet, I think of Puritan Anne Hutchinson, a well-spoken and well-versed Puritan who Puritan leadership banished for heresy.

I think of Puritan Roger Williams, who Puritan leadership banished, so he went on to establish a new colony of Rhode Island.

In the 1740s, Rev. George Whitefield (an Anglican cleric) came to America. Without a congregation, Whitefield, a vibrant orator, travelled throughout the colonies preaching a message of rebirth and revival to large crowds in towns and fields. Not only did Whitefield help spread Methodism in America, Whitefield and his contemporaries fueled the Great Awakening in America.

Yet I think of those who opposed Whitefield – the Anglicans whose doctrine did not support rebirth and revival. – and the Puritans who challenged Whitefield cause his message conflicted with their orthodoxy.

I think of the Evangelical Baptists from Pennsylvania whose preaching in Anglican-centric Virginia spurred harassment and imprisonment.

I think of the religious freedom voices uniting with the freedom of liberty voices. There’s Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777) supporting the non-Anglicans. Anglican opposition would prevent its passage for nine years. After this statute became law, it would serve as the framework for the First Amendment (ratified 1791).

As a young America grew, westward expansion followed. As people moved westward, revivals also moved across the frontier to save souls. Methodists rapidly grew in numbers. In time, they engaged is societal causes as orphanages, jails, caring for the poor, education, anti-slavery, and supporting women. They also saw education as an important role in creating good Christians for society. This activism favored a Protestant America in the New World.

Yet, I think of the large numbers of Catholics and Jews migrating to America in the mid-1800s – yet Protestants did not perceive Catholics and Jews as one of them. Protestants now became the persecutors of religious freedom by using schools to deliver anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic views.

I think how animosity between Protestant and Catholics would endure into the 1960s – and is same ways, still being present today.

The 20th and 21st Centuries provides the backdrop for increasing immigration of Muslims to America. Coupled with the presence of second generation Muslims, Pew Research projects Muslims will be the second largest group in America by 2040.

Yet I think about how anti-Islamic attitudes attempt to block the building of mosques in various communities. Let alone the general anti-Islamic rhetoric I hear in conversations and on the news.

I think about how political candidates who are Muslim face increased scrutiny – or as some politicians promote anti-Islamic and/0r pro-Christian views.

I think about today’s conservative Christians promoting anti-religious claims as the attempt to ingrain their beliefs through a variety of religious freedom laws throughout the country.

I think about the extremes attempting to establish a Christian America and those believing in the exclusion of religion from all aspects of public life.

I think about the growing number if Americans with either no religious preference or unabashed Atheism.

I think about the difference between school teaching religion and teaching about religion – with people worrying that the latter is about advocacy and indoctrination.

The US Constitution’s First Amendment is overtly clear. Yet, American has a persistent history of challenging the First Amendment in the name of their religious preference – a history of religious freedom advocates turning into inhibitors of religious freedom. Although the First Amendment has endured, I wonder if people understand it.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

On Time for a Light

Sadly, I don’t know much about the Jewish faith and its celebrations, but I have the utmost respect for the Jews and admire how they treat traditions. I do know that Hanukkah is an important eight-day celebration.

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. So, in the midst of hectic Christmas season, Happy Hanukkah to all – especially to a frequent visitor here, Nonnie.

On Christians, Jews, Vulcans, and Valentine

Although not published on this day, I happen to be writing this post on Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement. I’m not Jewish, but I do believe that not only do different religions have some things in common, but “other than your own” religions provide principles that are important in helping a person live a spiritual life.

On Yom Kippur Jews use prayer to be retrospective on their own life, and then seek forgiveness for their wrong doings against God. By looking within at they have been and how they can be better, Jews use three steps of repentance: recognize, acknowledge, and resolve.

We live in age of town hall cranks, self-serving politicians, reality-show television, smack talk, obnoxious talk-show hosts and their listeners who help proclaim the spews of evil and ridicule of others to dominate our society of greed and self-promotion and interest. Therefore it seems that all of us could use self-reflection to develop civility, ethics, compassion, and an outlook of pulling others through the difficulties of life.

I’m not a Trekkie, but I’ve seen my share of Star Trek episodes and movies. The scene that sticks in my mind is the initial Vulcan assessment of Earth humans because they were appalled at our behaviors, cultural divides, use of fighting, and many other humanisms, which seemed uncivilized and barbaric to them.

Although some think of Vulcans as emotionless, I believe that it is more accurate to say that they work to suppress their emotions through self-control in order to use reason and logic in their problem solving and decision making. I often wonder if Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry thought of Vulcans as what humans could be.

And then there’s Philippians 2:1-4 from Christianity:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

I can’t forget Tim Valentine whose blog I often read. Tim often writes about race because he truly believes that race should be irrelevant in human encounters. Although Tim realizes that society has made positive strides, to him advances are too slow as he wants people to treat each with civility and respect–regardless of race, religion, political labels, nationality, heritage, or whatever segments society uses to divide people.

So there it is, a religion embracing self-reflection for living a better life through care and compassion, another religion expressing love and compassion over selfishness, a fictional society stressing logic and reason to seeking meaningful solutions, and one person trying to not only practice what he preaches, but also promote for the good of all through respect for all. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if these principles were commonly practiced?

On Obama in Cairo

In his recent Cairo speech, President Obama attempted to reach out to Muslim nations. Although I unquestionably support his extended-hand approach, many obstacles exist.

Over 20 countries encompass this outreach. That’s 20+ countries, with 20+ cultures – some more moderate than others in terms of their interpretations to the Quran, treatment of women, views of the West, and in their beliefs toward Jews and Christians; over 20+ economies, each being differently integrated into the world economy; some with democratic governance and others not; plus many other differences. In other words, one size doesn’t fit all.

I do say this not to condemn President Obama’s efforts, but to shine light on the enormity of the task at hand; let alone it takes two to tango.

Then there are we, the Americans with many cultural differences within us – liberals and conservatives, Northerners and Southerners, Protestants and Catholics, Democrats and Republicans; East Coast, West Coast, and heartland; evangelicals, fundamentalists, and mainstreamers, supporters of a 2-state Israeli-Palestinian solution and those opposed, and who knows how many more – let alone our knowledge of Islam or lack of: What do we know? What misconceptions do we have? What do Christians, Jews, and Muslims have in common? What is the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni?

This is an example of life known as the intersection of fear and hope. Fear focuses on our own survival based on the harsh reality of the present, thus freezing us in an anti-neighborly role. On the other hand, hope is a positive movement allowing growth by reaching out. Bottom line is which path would you take?

Let us remember, it’s not all on Islamic countries as understanding and respect is important to all – we Americans included – thus the paramount need for learning so we know how to act at the intersection of fear and hope.