The world will not collapse without me

In Judaism, there is the idea: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

This is very good. And yet, it is but half the equation. As much as each person is a whole world, there is also a sense in which the world really can and does go on without us. But far from diminishing us, this perspective can give us tremendous peace.

On the Feast of Christ the King, I was at Emmaus with the Community of the Beatitudes for mass. During his homily, the priest traced history of nationalism and totalitarianism throughout the twentieth century. Then, he said, “Today the conflict is more with my individual kingdom, my personal sovereignty. Today we don’t have much sense of the common good because we think it’s against our personal good.”

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How human he was

Although it was half a lifetime ago for me, I remember watching the film Dead Man Walking in a high school religious studies class. I also remember that this single film affected me deeply and challenged whatever limited thoughts I had had on the death penalty at that point.

Now that I am currently in Texas, I took the occasion to read this fascinating transcript of a conversation between Debbie Morris, Helen Prejean, and Rabbi Elie Spitz on Krista Tippett’s program On Being.

As the moment of the man’s execution approached, Morris said:

Debbie Morris was abducted and raped by a man who was eventually killed by capital punishment. In the interview, she discusses her ambivalence about his execution and describes her reason for wanting her perpetrator dead as having been motivated more by fear of him than out of a desire for revenge.

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