“I believe my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.”
These are inspiring words. At first glance, they seem uplifting and motivational. Until you look at their context. Adolf Hitler, one of history’s most heinous arbiters of genocide and mass murder against most notably the Jews but also any other minority population in Germany, uttered these words. These were dark times, and we appropriately look back on them with disgust, but humanity moved forward.
Here in America, we have had our own brushes with the dark side of history. As colonists and settlers, we populated the North American continent and created the world’s first nation based on democracy and freedom.
At the same time, we slaughtered thousands of innocent natives and justified it with grand slogans like “Manifest Destiny” and dismissed the inhuman treatment as unimportant because these people were “uncivilized” and not Christians. And although Native Americans still aren’t exactly treated in all fairness by our government and our people, as a culture, we have rejected this attitude towards them, and we have moved forward.
As the concept of freedom and equality began to evolve in the 1800s, many began to notice a discrepancy in which Americans actually had freedom and equality. Attitudes began to change on the notion of slavery and the contradiction between it and the American ideal of freedom. There were some that defended it, so much so that it caused a bloody civil war. We look back with disgust and see our ancestors use a book meant to teach humanity how to love and care for one another to justify hate and cruelty.
Preachers adamantly argued that God condoned slavery by selecting stand-alone quotes to use as propaganda to justify their personal views. Many used Ephesians 6:5 and said “slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.” We look back now with shame because we have moved forward.
Vestiges of this attitude remained in the middle of last century. Americans, and increasingly the world, watched as attitudes towards segregation in the South began to change. We watched in horror as police viciously released dogs and turned water hoses on peaceful protesters. We look back in disgust at a powerful political figure who spewed hate at his 1963 inaugural speech for governor of Alabama.