[percy-l] "...to the gas chamber..."

Karey L. Perkins karey at charter.net
Thu Mar 6 11:18:11 EST 2003


Percy is speaking in this interview with Zoltan Abadi-Nagy about the hidden
dogmas of the secular point of view:  Dogma 1 -- rejection of human
uniqueness and thus of the uniqueness of man's symbolizing capacity.  Dogma
2 -- the noble savage (no original sin).  That is, secular humanism preaches
the absence of any "unique and fatal flaw [in man]... that cannot be laid to
the influence of Western civilization."

He concludes that critiques are necessary, not just of fundamentalist
beliefs, but of secular humanism and scientific inquiry (for the latter to
be "free").  "The warning:  if it is not, if it is subject to this or that
ideology, then do not be surprised if the history of the Weimar doctors is
repeated.  Weimar leads to Auschwitz.  The nihilism of some scientists in
the name of ideology or sentimentality and the consequent devaluation of the
individual human life lead straight to the gas chamber"  (p. 396,

In an earlier essay he spoke of the "theorist-consumer" which I think
relates to this as well...especially the "theorist" part -- which is not
concerned about the particular individual.  I think it also relates to
"ideology" which he uses above.  And also to "utopian" visions, which Hitler
had, which is concerned about the creation of perfect society at the expense
of the individual.

So I agree with you that "sentimentality" is a reductive way of viewing the
situation.  It seems more like this:  If you are sentimentally attached to
your ideology or theory or utopian vision at the expense of true empathy and
compassion for the particular individual before you....well, "to the gas

Which is why God came to us as a particular individual.

Relating to current events -- I've had a hard time swallowing some of the
patriotism since 9/11 -- not that I'm not a patriot or not for my country,
but really, it smacks of Percy's "sentimentality" and seems dangerous --  in
danger of subsituting for true religious feeling.  It can become idoloatry
(another aspect of ideology/theory/utopian vision commitments at the expense
of the individual).   Loyalty to and commitment to and sentiment for country
before God (i.e.: more importantly than God) -- that IS idolatry.
Marginalizing of the "other" (the Muslim or the middle-easterner, now; the
Jew then) because they are not "American" or "Christian" is idolatry and
ideology, and it arises from sentimentility for YOUR "side" or theory or
vision or ideology.    In addition, it's easy to do if these people are
"theories" but once they are real people, it's impossible (or more
difficult) to do.

When God is first, we are all one before Him.


----- Original Message -----
From: marcus at loyno.edu
To: karey at charter.net ; percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:20 AM
Subject: Re: [percy-l] "...to the gas chamber..."

Is the list discussing the remark that sentimentality leads to the gas
chambers?  (I'm coming in late.)

The Percy list has visited this phrase before, and maybe these discussions
are still available.

I recall making a small demurrer.  It wasn't just sentimentality that led
the way to the gas chambers, though that seemed to be where the quote took
the discussions.  There was (and is) also anti-semitism which doesn't
require sentimentality to thrive.  The causes of the holocaust, as everyone
here realizes, is an enormously complex subject.  The focus only on
sentimentality is extremely reductive.

Check the archives.

Marcus Smith

>MessageWhen, what context or work, did O'Connor use it?
>----- Original Message -----
>From: Robert_Pauley at oxy.com
>To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
>Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 8:26 PM
>Subject: RE: [percy-l] "...to the gas chamber..."
>It was Percy quoting O'Connor.
>R. Pauley
>  -----Original Message-----
>  From: Karey L. Perkins [mailto:karey at charter.net]
>  Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 5:35 AM
>  To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
>  Subject: [percy-l] "...to the gas chamber..."
>  I wasn't sure if it was Percy who had originally said this, or Percy
>quoting Flannery O'Connor or someone else.  I recently came across it in
>"Signposts in a Strange Land" in the epilogue "An Interview with Zoltan
>Abadi-Nagy" -- last line (p. 396, Picador).
>  Am I correct in assuming this is a "Percy original" and this is the
>time the phrase had been said?  Or is he referring to another use of the
>  By the way, I just finished Tolson's biography of Percy ("Pilgrim in the
>Ruins") and I thought it was fantastic.
>  Karey
>An archive of all list discussion is available at
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy
>An archive of all list discussion is available at
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy

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