We walk from Longford to Hilton through flatter and less picturesque country.
The paths are overgrown and prove nigh on impossible to pass. At the end of the day we both look like damp wrecks.
We stayed last night with a capable and dynamic couple from Zimbabwe who are building up their lives in the U.K. from scratch. They arrived penniless. They prove that Zimbabwe’s greatest export is their most capable and creative people.
We needed to move near to the Audi agent in Stamford to get our car fixed and so, most generously, our great friends the Browns, who live close by, are giving us an ad-hoc bed for Sunday night.
I was once asked if there are any circumstances that might conspire to turn me into a mass murderer? What about you?
Let’s start at the beginning. I am sure that evil exists and that it’s possible for people to become consumed by wickedness. For all sorts of reasons – weakness, lust, hubris, misguided teaching, several episodes of mischance – who knows what? – seemingly good people can end up travelling down the wrong path. It can be very difficult to backtrack once this road has been taken.
Of course, I am not condoning evil, but I would expect that few people whom we today brand as wicked – unless they are clinically mad – would have chosen to end their days universally renowned for their villainy. Stalin and Hitler are extreme examples, but I doubt that even they would have chosen the path of wickedness at the outset of their lives.
Written in the Stars?
So we must be careful. Are we all capable of great evil or is it only “other” people who commit such vile acts? Are we right to thank God that we have been spared wicked natures?
How self-aware are you? We have to be very sure of our own strength of character to be able to declare from the comfort of our armchairs that if we were to be really tested, we would hold out against wicked actions even in the face of death.
I went to RMA Sandhurst and served six years as an officer in the British Army. It was an easy life and, as Harold Wilson – bless him – turned his face against our participation in the US-Vietnam war, a time of relative peace.
However, if fate had seen me born 20 years earlier in Germany, I might have been sent to the Eastern Front where the initiation test for many new arrivals was to shoot unarmed Jewish women and children. To refuse would mean being shot as a traitor and a coward. Would I have been prepared to sacrifice myself or would I have passively accepted the prevailing lie that the Jews were no better than vermin? I might have ended up as a mass murderer. What about you?
Murderers and Martyrs
Jesuit Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549 and set about founding a number of churches. Sometime later he was expelled and the Shoguns demanded that all his thousands of converts should denounce their faith on pain of hideous torture and death – the age of Christian martyrs had begun. The persecutors produced a “fumie” plaque, a bronze portrait of Jesus in a wooden frame. Those who agreed to step on it were freed, while those who refused were killed in ways I will not describe here. Apparently the fumie imprint of Jesus was flattened by thousands of feet.
If you had been a believer, would you have refused to trample on the face of Jesus? If you had been born Jewish and sent to a death camp in 1942, what would you have done if you had been ordered to stoke the gas chambers?
Such questions haunt me, for it would be all too easy to take the road leading to hell. We can only pray that our moral fibre should never be thus tested.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote:
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”