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American Incredulity And The Enigmas Of Viktor Frankl

This young woman [sick, in Auschwitz] knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was started and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here- I am here- I am life, eternal life.’

-From Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, p. 78

In another place, Frankl records a conversation he enjoyed with his wife, who was not physically present at the time. Perhaps trying to justify his claim to skeptical readers, Frankl comments later:

A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing— which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.

On the one hand, contemporary readers might chalk the numerous numinous experiences described in the book as delusions which emerge from physical starvation, lack of sleep, lack of water, lack of medicine. While we should not judge Frankl harshly, an emaciated man immersed in the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp has lost touch with reality.

On the other, are contemporary Americans in the best place to judge that another has lost touch with reality? Does it not seem possible that a man stripped of the essentials, honestly and desperately calling out to God in prayer at every hour, incapable of luxury and distraction… does it not seem possible that such a man is more in touch with reality than an American who has never known genuine want, rarely called out to God in desperation, and lives his life surrounded by fat things, lustful things, television and omnipresent distraction? Can someone who comes from a society where Kim Kardashian plays a significant role truly judge another man to have lost touch with reality?

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