Another of Santayana’s Teaching Moment
Maybe We Will Learn This Time

Americans along with the rest of the world is facing another onslaught of a pandemic like the Spanish flu in 1918. That pandemic resulted in about a third of the world’s population being infected. The estimates of the death toll ranged from 17-100 million.

An exceptionally large hospital room

A century later, there are 10 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world with nearly a half million deaths. America has nearly 2 ½ million cases and over 120,000 deaths, which is roughly 25% of the confirmed cases and the deaths worldwide. We had the good fortune of catching the virus late in comparison to the rest of the world. We could have addressed this pandemic early had Trump not delayed taking COVID-19 seriously.

While facing COVID-19, we are facing racism. We have white cops and white vigilantes killing black male. As with COVID-19 and white racism, Trump did not start addressing either until it was too late. The results of his inaction with COVID-19 and racism in America, we are facing unimaginable times. In both the coronavirus and racism, people are dying, and it didn’t have to be like this. This photo is of a protest rally against white racism in America. All the racial and ethnic groups are protesting cops killing black…and many are wearing masks.

One of the thousands of protests across America

George Santayana warned us a century ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We have another chance to address both COVID-19 and racism. Anirban Basu, a health economist at the University of Washington, said that the death rate in America could reach 350,000 and 1.2 million by the end of 2020. The New York Times reported that it could range from 200,000 to 1.7 million by the end of this pandemic in America.

As far as racism, blacks have faced beatings and killing for centuries. Between now and the end of blatant white racism, how many blacks will have to face systematic racism, which would include beatings and killings?

In the midst of the mess we find ourselves, I am teaching a world religion class online. It addresses the development of a list of world religions. Last week, I posted the following essay, which is about Frau Evans, Dr. Martin Niemöller, and Dr. Dietrich Ritschl. They also were like George Santayana. They wanted us to learn from the past.

(The photo of Frau Evans is from my college yearbook. This is the source for Dr. Martin Niemöller. This is the source for Dr. Dietrich Ritschl.)

This photo is of Donald the Dumb dealing with racism. He is ignoring COVID-19 now.

The election will be on November 3, which is 132-days from now.

Dear Class,

We have successfully addressed the search for meaning in life by both African and Native American religions. This week, we will discuss Hinduism and Jainism. Jainism was the first of two attempts to reform Hinduism.

I’m in the beginning stages of writing an essay for my website. It is about Frau Evans, Dr. Martin Niemöller, and Dr. Dietrich Ritschl. Frau Evans was my German teacher while I was in college. She was one of the nicest people in the world. She cared for her students. I did alright grade wise even though she tried to correct my pronunciation of German all the time in the language lab. She would correct me like a loving mother tried to teach a small child. However, she would be correcting me while pronouncing my first name with what sounded like owllll.

Frau Evans was born in Munich prior to WWII. Often at the end of the week, we talked about what it was like during that time in Germany. We could ask anything, and she would answer our questions. I remember her talking about how the Allies forced all Germans visit a concentration camp after the war. Since she lived in Munich, she and everyone else had to tour Dachau. She honestly was surprised what the Nazis had done to Jews and others that Hitler didn’t like.

We were shock that she didn’t understand what was going on at the time. She said that there were rumors about the camps, but no one pushed to find out more information. We asked about what the churches were saying. The official German churches also turned a blind eye to the hundreds of camps all over Germany.

As chance would have it, she met an American officer who was stationed in Munich, which was in the American zone. They dated, fell in love, married, and came to America. That is how I had her as my German teacher.

Dr. Martin Niemöller also was a German and spent seven years in a German concentration camp. Prior to being a prisoner of the Nazis, he was a pastor in a Lutheran church. He didn’t ask what was happening like Frau Evans. However, he finally woke up to the real world. Reflecting on his mistake he wrote this statement, which was the most important assertion about how to live life. Read it and don’t forget it.

"First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

One of the nice things about being old is that you have seen a lot of life over the decades. The present day is a great deal like when I was your age in the 60s. However, this time it is like a double helix. It is our DNA molecule in our real world. One helix is COVID-19 and the other is systemic racism, which are both linked together.

What are churches and mosques saying about our time? Niemöller warned his country about his not caring for a litany of people about which he wasn’t related. He didn’t care until no one cared for him.

At the national level, Trump wanted to ban Muslims from entering America even if they were Americans. Those who go to Christian churches, did any pastor mention that in a sermon? That is blatant racism and xenophobia. Also, Trump doesn’t like Hispanics and the list goes on.

We have had racism in America for four centuries. What is being said in mosques and churches about racism toward blacks?

When I was in graduate school, I had another German professor, Dr. Dietrich Ritschl, as one of my professors in the history of theology. He, like Dr. Niemöller, spent time in a concentration camp during WWII, because he and several others were involved in an attempt to kill Hitler.

One day in class, Ritschl asked when did Christianity die. A couple dozen students just sat there speechless. Finally, he wrote on the blackboard 313 AD. On that date, Emperor Constantine stopped the persecution of the early church, which quickly lead to Christianity becoming the state religion.

Finally, George Santayana warned us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This class is more than merely three hours closer to your graduation.


We certainly are living in troubled times in America. Each of these three Germans tried to teach us and the world. The question is whether we are listening.