“I did a terrible thing and even though I know God will forgive me, I’ll never be able to forgive myself”. How many times have we heard those words? What do they really mean? My book, Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow
examines the issue of God’s forgiveness through the life of a World War II veteran who became one of New York’s legendary high school instructors.
The question above, and Mr. Barlow's story, is relevant to Conservatives and BigPeace readers because it is a uniquely American story. It also contrasts how people of faith deal with crisis, versus how atheists do -- and what results.
Edwin Barlow was a child of the Depression. He grew up down the street from his beloved Sacred Heart Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of an alcoholic janitor. The local clergy recognized something special in Edwin. He had an unusual attentiveness during services. He took his role as altar boy with the utmost seriousness. As a teen, he would drop everything to help a student with their homework. His devotion to his mother, particularly following his father’s murder, showed levels of honor and respect reserved for the saints. The boy had all the makings of a clergyman – and he expressed just such a desire on many occasions. Edwin was destined for the Church.
Two things kept him from the seminary. First, he insisted on working a full-time job after high school to help provide for his mother and three brothers. Second, the Nazis were cutting a swath through Europe. So complete was his love for mother and country that, even though he unquestionably could have received Conscientious Objector status, he permitted himself to be drafted in 1942. The seminary had to wait.
Here, at age 20, Edwin Barlow came to a crossroads in his life. Behind him lay a history of altruism, love of family and love of God. Ahead of him lay the horror that crushes men’s bodies and souls. He went willingly. He went courageously. Most of all, he went without a single doubt that he would be called upon to kill other men to defeat the Twentieth Century’s greatest evil.
What he did not know is how badly the war would damage his faith. When he returned from battle, he had indeed killed many other young men. He saw their bodies crumple as the steel from his rifle propelled into their bodies at lethal speed. Yet, despite confessing to his pastor, despite his penance, despite the knowledge that he killed men in a just war, despite knowing that he saved the lives of other men while in battle, despite his extraordinary sacrifice to provide money for his mother instead of working as a non-paid C.O. – he could not forgive himself.
God said, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, yet Edwin Barlow did kill. This mortal sin haunted him, especially because he’d repeated it too many times to remember.
Teacher of the Year
recounts the lengths Edwin went to in order to absolve himself. Edwin listened to his pastor. He heard what we have all heard: that God paid the ultimate price for all of our sins – the death of His Son on the cross. He heard Romans 8:1-2 “Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.” He heard that God would eternally be the vessel for his sins.
He heard it all, and yet it made no difference.
He also heard that an inability to accept God’s forgiveness might suggest that he did not feel worthy of it. That assertion was certainly true. He felt that a man had to be perfect in order to do join the clergy, so he abandoned this dream. He rejected the possibility of joining the Christian Brotherhood, as it felt like he was only partly committing to the clerical lifestyle.
The fact was that Edwin feared that God had abandoned him. He was in despair. He had no idea what path to take. He had no idea what his purpose was. He had no idea what to make of each new day. Worse, he’d contracted the disease of alcoholism while in Europe. He thought of how the alcohol had turned his father into a beast. He thought of the sin he committed every time he turned to the bottle.
While he went through the motions -- prayer, Mass, confession -- he felt he'd lost touch with God. Soon he became fearful that God might not even exist.
When he attended the College of the Holy Cross in Boston, he was introduced to the works of the Scholastics. Theirs was a philosophy and a theology that embraced Reason, and that through Reason, one could actually prove God's existence. After studying the Summa Theologica
, his faith was renewed. Of course God existed, and having found him again, Edwin slowly realized that God forgave all.
[caption id="attachment_192700" align="aligncenter" width="321" caption="St. Thomas Aquinas"]
And with God’s forgiveness came a revelation. Edwin Barlow suddenly, shockingly, discovered a new purpose. God wanted him to teach. The subjects he should teach seemed obvious at the time – math and physics – because he enjoyed those topics. Yet he also knew that a teacher had the power to deliver lessons even greater than any particular topic demanded. He realized that as a teacher he could also deliver the same types of lessons a priest does, but do so in a unique way.
When he finished his collegiate and graduate studies, he settled into a thirty-seven year career as an educator. And it was here, in his classroom, that Edwin Barlow became the clergyman he’d always dreamed of being. Not an ordained one, but one of a different stripe.
His classes became legendary not merely for the rigorousness of instruction, or for his insistence that students use every bit of their intellectual prowess, but for the subtle life lessons he delivered. Should a student show intellectual laziness; disrespect the subject, their intellect, or their instructor; let their attention wander; leave behind a piece of paper; drop something on the floor; or just exhibit plain old bad manners, they would find themselves on the receiving end of a world-class tongue-lashing. It might occasionally be lightened with some wry humor, but for the most part, everyone feared these verbal disembowelments.
Edwin Barlow was not being cruel in these moments. He was delivering a life lesson about Fortitude – one of the Four Cardinal Virtues. After all, none of the classroom behavior he despised would be acceptable in the real world. One’s job might be on the line -- the dream of being a clergyman, perhaps. And the fear the students had of their imperious instructor would be nothing compared to what they would feel should they ever become soldiers on the battlefield.
Now, imagine what might have happened had Edwin Barlow never had faith. What if he'd been an Atheist? He would never have had anything to hang onto and most likely would have drank himself into the grave. Imagine if he'd been a follower of Radical Islam. Is there the kind of forgiveness in that wonderful ideology that would not only have saved him, but driven him to become the powerful educating force he became?
For Liberals who embrace the moral relativism of Atheism and the misguided belief that radical Islam is somehow worthy of respect, they should ask themselves how they might have survived the travails that Edwin Barlow
did. I'm guessing they would have never stood a chance.
Lawrence Meyers is President of PDL Capital, Inc., which brokers secure high-yield investments to the general public and private equity. You can read his stock market commentary at SeekingAlpha.com. He is the author of "Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow", and "Inside the TV Writer's Room: Practical Advice for Succeeding in Screenwriting". You can also read his thoughts on public policy at BigGovernment.com, on journalistic integrity at BigJournalism.com, on popular culture at BigHollywood.com, and on world affairs at BigPeace.com.