Being Nice Isn’t Good Enough

Crisis Magazine | 4/23/2018 | Fr. Jerry J. Pokorsky
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We often hear that religion is a very private matter. It’s a nice sentiment. It’s inclusive and non-judgmental. And nice non-religious people are really quite pleasant to be around. Catholics can be nice people too. We drive to work to nice offices—I walk to work from a nice rectory—and we return to our households with a nice “live and let live attitude.” And nice people keep religion to themselves, aside from a pious bumper sticker or two.

The other day I found myself pondering a WWII photograph. It’s a famous picture, maybe you’ve seen it. A German soldier is about to execute a Jewish prisoner and the body of the prisoner will soon tumble into a mass grave. About a dozen soldiers are looking on. The facial expression of the executioner is not particularly cruel but it is matter-of-fact. The face of the prisoner, a split second before the soldier would pull the trigger, is angry and defiant. The prisoner doesn’t look like a very nice man.

Bystanders - Soldiers - People - Expressions - Horror

I zoomed in to view the faces of the bystanders. They are all soldiers, but they could have been people like you and me. I didn’t see expressions of horror. I didn’t see any of them averting their eyes. Nobody is weeping or expressing distress. And if any of them are praying they are keeping their religion to themselves. Individually, they look like they could be very nice people.

A couple of soldiers appear curious and attentive. One is stretching his neck to get a better look. Others seem to be bored. But all eyes are on the scene of the impending execution—a bullet in the back of the head. There’s a time for war, and there’s a time for peace, and there’s even time for entertainment. And this is high entertainment in the execution of...
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