Grief and shame

Grief is moving closer. It doesn’t leave my thoughts now, not for a single day. Grief, and shame, and disgust.


For the great temple of Palmyra, once magnificent in its ruins. Now even the ruins are just a little more than memory, showing the difference between desert and destruction.

Bel's temple in Palmyra, 1993

I saw the desert twenty-two years ago and was breathless. Look at the picture: in a way, this place was one of the symbols of the human quest for spirituality and the respect for life.


For the archeologist who was beheaded in cold blood.

For the children, women, and men who could not escape and were killed or forced into slavery.

For the countless others who suffer or die on the road to Europe. Two million: this is how many children they say were forced to suffer the war in Syria, one million to leave the country.

For the hundreds and thousands who die on boats that go down ever so often in the Mediterranean.

For the 71 children, women, and men who died in the smuggler’s truck a week ago (or God knows when), trying to flee Hungary, a country that does everything to make the life of refugees miserable.

Evil aspires to destroy creation, and the Islamic State is an eminent apprentice.

But destruction has arrived at our doorstep, too, and it was not the refugees who brought it along. We did.

What fills me with shame is that we didn’t recognize it and didn’t do what it takes to at least keep it at bay.

We in Hungary have a government that is actively hostile to refugees – they spend our money on hate speech and fences.

We have a government that slanders refugees by calling them illegal immigrants.

We have a government that plans to stifle all acts of solidarity, making it a criminal offense to even approach the southern borders of this country, and a criminal offense to help those trying.

Such a clever act to elminate packets of solidarity, they must think. Yet the volunteers, who were not even allowed to form an organization, have greater power that they think.

I have bad news: we elected this government. We are this government.

We are ever so anxious to protect our wealth and safety. We earned it by hard work, we keep saying.

But can we earn anything by being born into it? Does this make us better than people who just happened to be where war and destruction started? Worse still, given our history, isn’t it possible that we here in wealthy Europe and America are even responsible for their wars and poverty?

When we don’t want to help someone, we often choose to degrade them. That’s the road our government chose. That’s what ’anti-immigration’ or ’anti-refugee’ sentiment is about: a mantra that refugees are not who they say they are, and in disguise all of them are frauds at best and Islamist terrorists at worst. This sentiment is rampant all over Europe, and among many governments, too.

But if you give in to that sentiment – that’s the moment you are destroyed.

The moment you stop believing that the life of every single person is so immensely valuable that it’s beyond any judgment – you degrade yourself into nothing better than the adversaries in the Middle East – or in our own ranks. „God doesn’t create waste”, as a prominent Christian figure said recently on TV over here.

The moment you feel entitled to your wealth, freedom, and safety – and the moment you believe you don’t have to share them with others – is a head start down this road. This feeling has a name: greed.

Individual freedom is born from the recognition that every single life is infinitely important. No prerequisites, no exceptions. Ideally, this is the very value that Western thinking is built on.

We forget this so easily when we face adversity, real or imaginary. And when we do, we team up with the worst of evil. Against the refugees, we team up with the Islamic State, not just our government or governments, but we all who let them. And that fills me with shame.

There are always pockets of resistance. Volunteers who offer assistance, who go out to refugees and help them get where they want to go. They are but a few hundred people in this country – they are the better of us. And if you ask why they don’t help our own poor instead – well, there is no instead. And yes, those who go out to help our own poor deserve the same respect. And in many cases, you will find that they are often the same people.

I can’t help feeling the truth of this when our government tries to crack down on refugees and their helpers:

„Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

[C. S. Lewis: Mere Christianity, Chapter 2]

For many of you out there, the story of the rightful king might be something else. But there is one thing you can’t deny (and in matters of good versus bad, sometimes it helps to simplify): there is life – and there are enemies of life. We must choose – and when we choose life, we must fight its enemies. There is no in-between.

2 thoughts on “Grief and shame

  1. I love your compelling statement about our government. How we elected this formatting, how we are in fact this government. It’s obliviousness that drove us to do this. But, we need to change, we need reformation. Fantastic understanding and well-driven.


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