On a wall of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is a quotation from Israeli historian Yahuda Bauer: "Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander." At first glance, the "above all" is problematic. Why is it not better to be a passive witness to evil than an active agent?
Michelangelo and Rembrandt depicted him bearded and robed, seated and downcast, absorbed with inexpressible grief. His hand cradles his face, wrinkled from a lonely and thankless vocation. He was threatened, put on trial, imprisoned, publicly humiliated and thrown into a pit.
In my mind, reductionism translates as “nothing buttery.” Belief in God, for example, is seen as “nothing but” the result of certain neuron firings in the brain. Altruism, formerly seen as spiritual or religious at root, becomes “nothing but” an expression of “the selfish gene.” Free will is reduced from spiritual and moral agency to neural determinism.
President Bush may truly care about the poor and about people down on their luck, and he may want the public and private sectors to join in efforts to help. But his actions suggest he is engaged in what the Wall Street Journal calls a “war on the war on poverty.”