Some musings on imago dei via Wallenberg
Tonight is the revival of our production of Wallenberg, an opera based on Raoul Wallenberg who gave Swedish passports to Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest during WWII, and who was subsequently imprisoned by the Soviets, never to be seen again.
There is a particularly disturbing scene, in which a Nazi officer (represented as a pig; the production has a slight nod to Animal Farm I think) has a Jewish man killed after Wallenberg objects that the man is immune, because he has a Swedish passport.
As I sat watching this scene during the dress rehearsal, the evil of such actions – things which actually took place – hit me hard (of course I knew this before, but one of theatre’s roles, I believe, is to take this things and poke us in the heart with them). How could people really have done such things to other people? Indeed, it is so inhumane that we represent it with a ‘filthy’ kind of animal. As my mind wandered and reflected on this, I was led to think about those who hold the kind of worldview that says we are merely animals ourselves – nothing more. I suppose that we should expect such behaviour, but does that make it ok? Of course not – does any of actually think that we are merely animals, and free to act as such? No, we believe in inalienable human rights; we recognise something in humanity that we don’t recognise in any other speicies.
It’s often claimed that Hitler was a Christian, and that it was in part to blame, but can this be true? We might, on a purely academic level look at the evidence and realise that Hitler had a very odd mix of ideological influences, and his view of ‘God’ was in fact more about his concept of a superior germanic people, with a huge dollop of nordic mythology thrown in. The evidence seems to indicate that the Nazis were rather anti-Christian and were cynically exploiting religious believers. But on a more basic level, we could simply ask whether someone who treats another human being – a fellow bearer of the divine image – really know and follow Jesus? Can we really take seriously the claim that someone who did such things really knew what it was to be a new creation in Christ, to be the recipient of underserved mercy and grace, called to love their enemies. I find it very hard to believe that someone who could do such things to their fellow humans really knew the One who says that we are all created equal, in His own image.
Without imago dei, we are but animals, are we not?