Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Weapon of the Spirit Has Been Unleashed

Breitbart reports that Matt Drudge considers discovering prayer to be the most important thing that happened to him in 2013:
"It's the year I discovered prayer," Drudge told the Wall Street Journal when asked the best thing about 2013. "It changed my life. And I didn't think my life needed changing."
 The came across the foregoing article at Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit. In juxtaposition to this article, Reynolds had also linked to another article--"How I Rediscovered Faith" by Malcolm Gladwell--and it is from this latter article that I took the phrase "weapon of the spirit." I have to say that I am grateful that Mr. Reynolds linked to both of these articles.

There is a certain fortuity in my coming across Gladwell's article. In his article, he recounts the story of the small town of Le Chambon, France, in WWII. Gladwell writes:
Le Chambon is in an area of France called the Vivarais Plateau—a remote and mountainous region near the Italian and Swiss borders. For many centuries, the area has been home to dissident Protestant groups, principally the Huguenots, and during the Nazi occupation of France, Le Chambon became a very open and central pocket of resistance.

The local Huguenot pastor was a man named André Trocmé. On the Sunday after France fell to the Germans, Trocmé preached a sermon in which he said that if the Germans made the townsfolk of Le Chambon do anything they considered contrary to the Gospel, the town wasn’t going to go along. ...

Before long, Jewish refugees—on the run from the Nazis—heard of Le Chambon and began to show up looking for help. Trocmé and the townsfolk took them in, fed them, hid them and spirited them across borders—in open defiance of Nazi law. Once, when a high government official came to town, a group of students actually presented him with a letter that stated plainly and honestly the town’s opposition to the anti-Jewish policies of the occupation.

“We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews,” the letter stated. “But, we make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the Gospel teaching. If our comrades, whose only fault is to be born in another religion, received the order to let themselves be deported or even examined, they would disobey the order received, and we would try to hide them as best we could.”

Where did the people of Le Chambon find the strength to defy the Nazis? ... They were armed with the weapons of the spirit. For over 100 years, in the 17th and 18th centuries, they had been ruthlessly persecuted by the state. Huguenot pastors had been hanged and tortured, their wives sent to prison and their children taken from them. They had learned how to hide in the forests and escape to Switzerland and conduct their services in secrecy. They had learned how to stick together.

They saw just about the worst kind of persecution that anyone can see. And what did they discover? That the strength granted to them by their faith in God gave them the power to stand up to the soldiers and guns and laws of the state. In one of the many books written about Le Chambon, there is an extraordinary line from André Trocmé’s wife, Magda. When the first refugee appeared at her door, in the bleakest part of the war during the long winter of 1941, Magda Trocmé said it never occurred to her to say no: “I did not know that it would be dangerous. Nobody thought of that.”

Nobody thought of that. It never occurred to her or anyone else in Le Chambon that they were at any disadvantage in a battle with the Nazi Army.

But here is the puzzle: The Huguenots of Le Chambon were not the only committed Christians in France in 1941. There were millions of committed believers in France in those years. They believed in God just as the people of Le Chambon did. So why did so few Christians follow the lead of the people in Le Chambon? The way that story is often told, the people of Le Chambon are made out to be heroic figures. But they were no more heroic than the Derksens. They were simply people whose experience had taught them where true power lies.
 The reason this passage struck me so hard is that I have just started reading Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, and have been wondering how civilized people, people at least nominally Christian, could do what the book describes them as doing--or failing to do. And I had to ask myself if I would have been any different.

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