Dangerous Guests

The late Philip Hallie was a Jewish professor of ethics who spent years researching a depressing topic: human cruelty. He found himself exhausted and demoralized by the many stories of Nazi atrocities. Then one day he came across a story about the small French village of Le Chambon, whose inhabitants saved thousands of Jewish people from the gas chambers. It was a tale of quiet courage that moved Hallie to tears--and inspires us even today with a vision of true heroism. The story begins when twenty members of the local police arrived at Le Chambon to hunt down Jews who had gone into hiding. The Huguenot pastor, Andre Trocme, stepped up to the police captain and announced that the village would not hand over a single Jew. It was an incredibly courageous thing to do. The Nazis had slaughtered entire villages for lesser offenses. Over the next four years, the people of Le Chambon rescued several thousand Jews, including many children. As Dick Keyes writes in his book True Heroism, "Although several of the villagers were arrested, and some lost their lives, there was no record of them betraying a single one of their dangerous guests during the entire occupation." Thinking of the story later that night, Hallie again began to weep. He later wrote that his tears this time were "an expression of moral praise." He found the story healing and inspiring. As Keyes puts it, "A moral consciousness deep within him was responding to a story of excellence and was demanding to be recognized." The villagers of Le Chambon deserve to be called heroes. What is a real hero? It is someone who gives us a vision of moral excellence. In a cynical age like ours, many of us no longer have heroes. But without heroes, we're left with no clear vision of moral excellence. No wonder our culture is in moral collapse. Jonathan Swift wrote that a hero is one who "excels in what we prize." If we have no heroes, we have "no one who is actually putting into practice," as Keyes puts it, "the things that we value and prize." And if we can't find anyone who embodies our ideals, then what hope do we have of living them out in our own lives? Our ideals become disembodied, abstract--things that we believe in only halfheartedly. That's dangerous, because without heroes we have no one to inspire us to rise up beyond our own mediocrity and our cynicism. We have no one to teach us how we ourselves can act heroically. As we recover from the presidential impeachment trial and its consequences, many parents are asking me how they can teach their children about decency, courage, and honor--about right and wrong. My answer is: Give them stories, role models that reflect genuine moral excellence. Beginning on Wednesday, I'll be spending a couple of weeks talking about heroes, both from the past and the present, from all walks of life. I hope you'll stay tuned. In fact, even if your kids don't normally listen to BreakPoint, invite them to listen over the next few days. For you and they will hear more stories that move us to behave like the villagers of Chambon, with quiet nobility.


Chuck Colson


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