Posted by Clark Bates
November 15, 2017
“What’s this ash in the air? Oh, it’s Wednesday, they’re just burning the disabled at the hospital…”
It’s amazing how someone can write a single line that makes your skin crawl. A line that makes you feel both repulsed and infuriated in a matter of seconds. Such is the power of words. More telling than the words themselves, is the reactions and emotions they illicit. In fact, the universality of these emotions tells us something very real about God’s existence and ourselves.
The line I quoted above comes from a television show that I love. I rarely encounter others who watch it, and even fewer who have read the book from which it’s based, nonetheless it is possibly the best show you’ve never seen. It’s called The Man in the High Castle and it’s only available on Amazon’s Prime service, which may contribute to its lower-than-warranted viewership. The basic premise of the series is that World War II has ended, only the Allies have lost. The entire Eastern seaboard west to the Rocky Mountains belongs to Germany, while the West coast to the Rockies is under Japanese control. Hitler lives, but is sick and dying. Rommel and Himmler are vying for power and Germany is on the cusp of attacking Japan, with Americans powerless to stop it. This is a familiar theme for many historical reconstruction novels and “what-if” science fiction fantasies, but what High Castle affords us that many other works have not, is the chance to live vicariously, while also horrified, in occupied America through the eyes of those in the midst of it all.
Could the Reich be right?
In this vision of America, the practices of Nazi Germany have never ceased. Jews are eradicated according the “Final Solution” of the Reich. In addition, the weak, terminally ill, or disabled are also exterminated with the same prejudice. The writers and filmmakers are not heavy-handed with this information. It isn’t depicted in Schindler’s List fashion, with Gestapo executions, rather it’s spoken of in general conversation and matter-of-fact discourse, adding to the horror felt by the viewer that, not only is this practice continuing, but it’s accepted as normal. The reality of this dark underworld that seems peaceful on the surface is slowly revealed as the show progresses, and as more is revealed, the sickening feeling one gets in their stomach as they watch, grows. The America built on freedom looks very much the same, but the moral standards which drive it have radically shifted.
What makes the approach of this show so effective and powerful is the acknowledgment of an age-old apologetics question, “Were the Nazis morally wrong because we disagree with them, or because what they did was objectively morally wrong?” If morality is guided by evolutionary principles and subject to the change of time and chance, it can be difficult to craft a convincing answer to this question. If morality is a matter of social survival and benefit, we are left with the question of “who’s morality?” If we say that the Nazis were wrong primarily because their actions were opposed to the social order, we presume that this social order existed for everyone. For many Germans aligned with Hitler’s kampf the actions in the concentration camps were necessary for the evolution of mankind. The übermensch (Supermen) could not come about without the purification of the species, which could only be achieved through the eradication of faulty mutations (whether they be genetic, racial or otherwise). To put it simply, the Final Solution was based on naturalistic principles.
If rather, we suggest that the Nazis were morally wrong objectively, then we must explain why. For many the only answer is something felt but not able to be verbalized. We intuitively “know” that what they did was wrong. This is what The Man in the High Castle demonstrates to us through its careful and methodical framing of the story. Even though the characters speak of executions and cremations as acceptable and commonplace, the audience knows it isn’t. This isn’t achieved through ambiance or background score to manipulate emotions either. In contrast, the score is mild and oftentimes lighthearted, painting even more perfectly the anachronism of what we see. The viewers are collectively horrified at this world, regardless of how morally acceptable the cast attempts to paint their actions. And this is not accidental.
How do we know they were wrong?
You see, it’s not that the writers of the show, or the book, actually believe that the Third Reich was morally right in their endeavors. It’s that they know that they weren’t, and by revealing a world wherein they reign supreme the answer to the moral question is made clearer, the Nazis would be morally wrong even if they had won the war and socially determined the morals of society. It’s at this point we should all look within ourselves and ask “Why is this the case?” “Why were they wrong?” and “How can we explain that?”
The answer can actually be found in two places of Scripture. In the first book of the Old Testament we read,
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
At the very moment of creation, when God chose to create the human race, He created them with a unique characteristic, specifically for their role on the planet. They were created “in his own image”. Given that God is not physical, He cannot bear a physical countenance, therefore this image is not a physical appearance. What it contains is a finite form of the character of God. As a result, human kind, unlike the animal kingdom, is endowed with the ability to discern morality, ethics and justice. We understand certain actions and attributes to be good, and others to be bad on an objectively moral level. Morally good actions are to be praised and encouraged, while morally reprehensible actions are to be shunned and, in many cases, require justice to remedy.
This is further explained in Paul’s writing to the Romans,
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
The apostle wanted his Jewish brothers to understand that simply because the moral law was given in writing to them, it didn’t exempt the rest of the world from the same law. What’s more, the Jews were in no position to judge the Gentiles who were without the written law, because their moral actions demonstrated plainly that the law was written within them. Another way of saying “the law was written on their hearts” is to say that “they were made in the image of God.”
A standard practice by which any theory should be measured is it’s ability to be lived consistently. If it cannot be lived, then there is a disconnect between the theory and reality, and the theory should then be questioned, if not abandoned.
It’s this universal sense of morality, of right and wrong, that provides a means by which we discern good from bad in this world. While many might deny it in theory, they cannot in practice, as is revealed through shows like the one above. A standard practice by which to measure any theory is it’s ability to be consistently lived. If it cannot be lived, then there is a disconnect between the theory and reality, and the theory should then be questioned, if not ultimately abandoned. The universality of moral offense as it relates to actions by the Nazis is an excellent indicator that this morality transcends the physical. If it transcends the physical it must exist beyond us, and if it exists beyond us it must be from something greater than us. A moral standard must be held by a standard-bearer (or a moral law requires a law-giver), and in this case that standard bearer must be transcendent to humanity, immaterial, and universal. This sounds an awful lot like God.