Living in a Fallen World: A Review of The Shantung Compound by Landon Gilkey
Facing our sinfullness
Many of us don’t like to think we are really capable of any kind of serious sin. Oh, maybe the occasional white lie, or we “borrow” extra paper clips from the office for our personal use. But nothing like murder or stealing. Often this idea that “I’m not so bad – so why do I need a savior?” becomes the question that the non-Christian might ask. Others might like to say that human nature is basically good; it’s the rare bad apple that we hear about in news reports.
An interesting book I read for one of my classes this semester would seem to refute these ideas. Human nature isn’t as wonderful and most of us would like to think. In Landon Gilkey’s The Shantung Compound, we get to experience what it might be like to be in a prison camp. During WWII, all non-Japanese people in North China were held in internment camps during the war against Japan. These people were not treated horribly, but they lived in very difficult conditions, with little food, less space, and the daily potential for real harm. In the Shantung Compound, no one was tortured, some food and aid was provided through various humanitarian agencies, but the difficult conditions (severe weather, very little food, scarce medical supplies) took their toll on the population during the two and half year period they were there.
Time Magazine in a review of the book said, “The camp became a living laboratory, a miniature society that illustrated the human condition and moral dilemmas in a way that would not have been possible had more conventional conditions prevailed.” Landon Gilkey, the author, had been a young teacher and theologian during this time and the book is based on his journals.
What becomes clear is that while humans can be helpful and creative and compassionate at times, when the chips are down, humans care more for themselves than their fellow man. Perhaps this isn’t all that surprising to some, but I discovered that under some circumstances, I might not behave as wonderfully as I would like to believe. There are stories of power struggles over running the kitchen and violence erupting over too little space, Even though many of the people there were Christian missionaries, for the most part, they behaved no better than people who had no faith. Oops. The bottom line is that we are fallen and even the best of us can behave badly. That’s why we need a savior.
The book is an interesting and thought provoking read and an even more fascinating peek into the human condition. Perhaps while you are lounging by the pool this summer, complaining about your day-to-day difficulties, you could take a look at this book. It might convict you and it certainly will make you thankful for what you have.