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‘The Moment When One Hand Will Have To Let Go’

We are appalled at the wholesale killing of the mentally-afflicted in Nazi countries, at the experiments carried out in mental hospitals, but it happened not infrequently to me later, in a different cultural environment, that I heard similar desires expressed by people who believed whole-heartedly in Democracy and even fought for it. In mental hospitals you pass rows and rows, hundred and hundreds of chronically demented men and women, drooling, staring into empty space, crouched motionless or rocking incessantly. In many cases their condition goes on for decades before they die a spontaneous death. Suddenly someone next to you is heard muttering out of the corner of his mouth: “At times I often ask myself, why don’t we really let them die a peaceful death, at least the hopeless ones, would it not be so much more humane?” It really does not make much difference whether the thought is spoken out loud by someone else, or passes as a faint shadow in the depths of one’s own heart, or appears as a fact reported from a faraway country. From a strictly pragmatic point of view, lacking a metaphysical concept of Man, there is no reason at all against such a step. We, in a non-dictatorial environment, are clinging to many patterns because of a Christian heritage, of which we are no longer conscious of vicarious suffering, or the Hindu teaching of karma, or simply in man’s immortal soul. In fact, most of us do not believe in any of these things. Thus, we cling with one hand to modern pragmatism, and with the other to the Hebrew-Christian philosophy. But the gap is widening all the time, and there will be a moment when one hand will have to let go.

— Karl Stern, Pillar Of Fire (1951)

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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