Writing on the eve of World War II, the French Christian philosopher Simone Weil lived in a world where power and force were running amok. The slave states of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia raised for Weil the worst spectre of the death in life. Slavery, she wrote, "makes a thing of [a man] while he still lives. He is living, he has a soul, yet he is a thing.” For a slave there “is no give and take, no open field, no free road over which anything can pass to or from them. These are not men living harder lives than others, nor placed lower socially than others. These are another species, a compromise between a man and a corpse. . . .One cannot lose more than the slave loses, for he loses all inner life.”
The Bible suggests that the Israelites lost God during their 430 years in Egypt. Sometimes I wonder whether the same thing has happened to me. As I trace my own history back 430 years, I discover interesting things. In 1577, Queen Elizabeth was on the throne. My Anglican faith was new, but born from a terrible and bloody struggle with Catholicism, as if religion were an armament of war. European explorers, including Sir Francis Drake, were off seeking treasure and bringing disease to the New World. Galileo would celebrate his 13th birthday in Italy. As I ponder life in 1577, I see, not so much a re-birth, a Renaissance, but a birth, the birth of the world I inhabit today, a world where many human beings have come to find God unnecessary. Now since God is life and God is love, to find God unnecessary is, at some level, to find love unnecessary. It is, at some level, to find the lives of others unnecessary. And the result of that kind of forgetting is that life and love and the earth cease to be sacred. The work of community feels less important. And when human beings begin to drift away from the bonds of love and obligation that create community, the result, almost always, is that human beings turn into objects. I wonder sometimes whether I love the Exodus story not only because it is a good and important and sacred story, but because it is my story. I stand in Egypt and I seek to remember God.