Holocaust Remembrance Day was Saturday. People had posted a variety of stories in relation to this day. I can never forget my visit to Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich, Germany. It is a disturbing place to go. And a reminder of the evil that lurks in the hearts of humanity and what it is capable of doing.
But atrocities don’t start at the concentration camp. If that were the case, then I’m willing to bet that six million Jews along with thousands of others would not have died at the hands of the Nazis and who knows how many would have died at the hands of the Communists.
Rather, atrocities start with slogans. They start with fear. They start with anger. They start with words. The words contain meaning and lead to actions.
They start with ideas from “leaders.” Fear of the “other” – anyone different from the rest. Different because of skin color, country of origin, language, religious practice, sexual orientation and more.
These leaders play off of people’s fears and give them slogans that are meant to comfort. There is a focus on us first. Things are said much like “We need to take care of our own.” As if there is a difference in people where some should be excluded.
The Nazis had many different slogans. One that caught my attention was translated as “The German always before the foreigner and the Jews!”
Germany First might be another way of saying this.
But Germany isn’t unique in this. We’ve had our own share of people who have bought into the idea about Americans always before the foreigner.
Reach back into our history and you’ll see the American Party, or more commonly known as the Know Nothing Party. It grew in popularity in the 1850’s and even had members elected to Congress and ran a presidential ticket. With the advent of the Civil War, the party fell apart – members choosing to join either the Republican or Democrat parties based on their view of slavery. But the ideas never really died. The Know Nothings were deeply anti-immigrant and very anti-Roman Catholic.
There always needs to be an enemy apparently. And those that hold these ideas seem to have no problem forgetting their own family history of immigration that brought them to America. Apparently history starts when a person is born and ends when they die.
America first is never really about America or Americans. It’s about fear. Fear of anyone who is different – different skin color, different ways to worship and believe about God, different language, different ideas. There are many who can’t handle the differences. The biggest fear is that there are people who won’t comply with the greatest sin humanity has ever brought on itself – the sin of being right. It’s the first sin. The sin of knowing and wanting to be in control. It’s the sin of putting oneself in place of God and making the creator subject to the will of creation. How else can we devolve from deciding who is in and who is out to the point that those who are out aren’t considered human any more.
I’m not arguing that those who chant and believe such ideas as America First are Nazis attempting to kill people. What I am suggesting is that we should be really careful. It doesn’t take much for someone to go from America First to dehumanizing anyone who doesn’t fit the mold of what an American is supposed to look, sound, or believe.
Better still, instead of America first, how about we do something else. How about we say Jesus first? How about Love first? Grace first? Forgiveness first? How about we set our idols down – the idols of flags, slogans, and ideologies that are hell-bent on being right.
How about we remember what humanity is capable of and move away from a destructive path, instead of flirting with it.