Jim Forest, well known author as well as founder and leader of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, sent out an email to members of the OPF, which I felt was just too rich not to share with others. Jim, who wrote a biography of Thomas Merton (Living with Wisdom), offers a quote from Merton. Jim wrote:
Having read Hannah Arendt’s book about the trial in Jerusalem in 1961 of Adolph Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, Merton was inspired to write an essay: “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.” Merton wrote:
One of the most disturbing facts to come out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane…. [Eichmann’s job] happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state…. Apparently he slept well. He had a good appetite….
The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.
It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will he obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake. We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.”
The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be “sane” in the limited sense that he is not impeded by disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly tier, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly “adjusted.” God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.
And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? (Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, pp 45-49)
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