The Evil of Indifference

Some are guilty, but all are responsible

Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) was one of the most prominent Jewish theologians and philosophers of the twentieth century. Born in Poland, he moved to America in 1940. Maintaining that religion and justice were inseparable, he was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. His books include The Earth Is the Lord’s (1950), Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion (1951), The Sabbath: Its Meaning to Modern Man (1951), Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism (1954), God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (1956); and The Prophets (1962).

This article is part of the Arc of Justice series.

There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an expression becoming the rule and being in turn accepted.
The prophets’ great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.

The prophet is a person who suffers the harm done to others. Wherever a crime is committed, it is as if the prophet were the victim and the prey. The prophet’s angry words cry. The wrath of God is a lamentation. All prophecy is one great exclamation point: God is not indifferent to evil! He is always concerned, He is personally affected by what man does to man. He is a God of pathos.

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