Several weeks ago I received a copy of Culture, which is published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. I began flipping through this issue (Fall 2008, Issue 2.2) but got no farther than the first article: "Blueberries, Accordions, and Auschwitz." The article is subtitled "The evil of thoughtlessness." The author is Jennifer L. Geddes.
What was stunning were the pictures. (You can see all of these by looking at the issue linked here.) The picture to the right caught my attention, particularly after I read the opening paragraph.
You would think it was a series of photos from summer camp. The smiling faces look across a rustic wooden bridge towards the camera, react in mock surprise as the rain begins to fall, and finally run giddily towards the camera. One of them carries an accordion rather than the typical camp-song guitar, but the mood is one most of us remember fondly from summers gone by. They are obviously having a good time.
Only after a first glance, do you notice that the campers depicted are not teenagers in swimsuits, but adults in SS uniforms. The setting, it turns out, is not a summer camp but Solahutte, a retreat center for SS personnel near the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex in Poland. Trips to Solahutte were given to concentration camp employees as a reward for jobs well done.
The article (which contains several other similar pictures) discusses the "thoughtlessness" or the failure to think reflectively about our actions. The author makes reference to Hannah Arendt and says, "Arendt came to the striking conclusion that thoughtlessness — that is, the failure to think reflectively about the world around us, our actions, and their possible consequences — can be a moral failing of the highest order." (p. 5)
Jennifer Geddes, in the conclusion of this article, writes: "Their example, their failure to reflect carefully on their actions and the consequences of those actions for others, calls us to pay attention and think deeply about what we do, why we do it, and what effect our actions may have on those around us."
This is very sobering. Of course, it is sobering as I think about our culture today and our failure to reflect carefully on our actions. I wonder about our lack of reflection in regard to our actions in marriage and as parents. Finally, I also wonder about the lack of reflection in church today (at least as I have experienced church).
I am interested in your response to this. What does it mean to live with very little reflection regarding our actions and the consequences of these actions?