King Rat


James Clavell’s gritty first novel (King Rat) was about the fight for survival in the Chiangi Prison Camp in Singapore during World War  II.  He had spent half the war there himself and had learned much about how inhumanely humans can act toward one another when they are forced to compete for scarce resources to meet their most basic needs.

Instead of uniting together against their common enemy, the men fought against each other.  They formed gangs that stole food and other essentials from other prisoners and sometimes even committed murder in order to take what another man had.  The only rule was survival of the fittest.

Because their captors failed to provide enough food to keep the men healthy, the prisoners devised ways of breeding and raising rats under their huts.  These rats provided a source of nutrition for the men that helped them stay alive.  But rats breed quickly (a single pair could be responsible for the addition of 15,000 rats in just one year).  There were always more than enough to eat, so the men took to gambling with them.

They would throw a rat into deep pool and bet on how long it would be able to tread water.  The strongest could stay above the surface for twenty-four hours or more.  But a strange thing happened if they added a second rat to the pool.  Both rats would inevitably be dead in less than an hour, no matter how strong they were.  Instead of working together for survival, the rats spent all their energy trying to claw up on top of each other.

The metaphor wasn’t lost on the men of Chiangi.  They realized that they were just like the rats, trying to claw up on top of the other gangs.  Feeling powerless to retaliate against their captors, they focused their anger and frustration on those around them.  But in the end, all the infighting exhausted their minds and bodies, and many died in Chiangi who no longer had it in them to fight.  The shift in paradigm brought life-giving change to Chiangi.

I wonder if there isn’t a bit of truth in the metaphor for those of us in the Church.  With all the competitiveness and fighting between different churches and denominations, have we forgotten that our real enemy is outside the Church?  How much energy, time and resources are we expending in order to prove others to be wrong in their practices and doctrine?  And what if we ignored all but the “salvation differences” and worked together to push back the Enemy?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

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Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

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