Sunday, November 10, 2013

Consciences Are Not Always Correct

In the daily meditation booklet on the Gospel of the day, the German war criminal Adolf Eichmann was given as the example of a civil servant who was an exemplary father and husband, who did his work well, but more, as the meditation points out, was expected. The Gospel passage is from Luke (14:25-33), where God is put before family. The point of the illustration was  that much more is demanded of a Christian who wants to be a follower of Christ than being a good family man and doing your job well.
Eichmann was apprehended in Argentina by the Jewish secret police and brought back to Israel to stand trial as a criminal against humanity.15 criminal charges were leveled against him, he was found guilty on all counts, and hanged in1962. Eichmann in his defense said that he was just following orders. He followed the law and was loyal to the government officials, which he was sworn to do. He had no remorse and died thinking that what he did was simply being a loyal German.

Expecting to see the face of a monster, those who witnessed the trial saw, instead, an ordinary, timid man. One of the Christians, after reading the meditation, didn't think the meditation booklet was the proper place to speak about Eichmann. After all, a military man has to follow orders whether he agrees or not. That, he thought, was basic. The Christian idea of what is demanded of a follower of Jesus is not something that is easily apprehended.

The  parishioner gave the example of the famous general, Gyebaek, of the Baekje kingdom. They were  invaded by a force from the  Silla kingdom that was 10 times larger than the general's forces.  Gyebaek is said to have killed his wife and children so they would not influence his actions and cause him to falter in battle. His actions are known by all school children of Korea. 

We as Christians have no difficulty in seeing the actions of Gyebaek as wrong headed and morally to be condemned, but in history there are those who  have  considered him a patriot who would even sacrifice his family for the love of his  country.  Catholic values that we have accepted are not seen the same by all.

We often hear the words "do good".  But what does this entail? we are asked in the meditation. Is it to do your best in whatever you do? Be a good family person, a good father, mother, a good worker, a good friend? This is not everything. There are times when even these relationships have to be sacrificed for something higher. Eichmann felt doing his job, supporting his family, following the law and being obedient to the ruler was everything.

Eichmann's code of conduct was as wrong as Gyebaek's and more morally objectionable but this he did  not acknowledge  and died without remorse.  This is not something easily understood, as the parishioner shows with his disagreement with the meditation. What tends to complicate the issue is that in over 90 percent of the cases there is no conflict between what is right and what is obviously immoral. A few cases where  there is a conflict between an informed conscience and  action, the decisions do not come easily, for the results will frequently cause pain.

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