Father Dwight Longenecker: Tenderness Without Tyranny

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Gas chamber at Majdanek concentration camp

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker, The Stream, February 8, 2023

Dwight Longenecker’s latest book, The Way of the Wilderness Warrior, is a map for the spiritual journey. Read Fr. Longenecker’s blog, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.

The author of many short stories and two novels, Flannery O’Connor was a bright, witty and controversial writer. One of her most famous and shocking quotes is “tenderness leads to the gas chambers.” The quip was borrowed by fellow Southern novelist Walker Percy in his novel The Thanatos Syndrome, but what did O’Connor mean by the thought and why did Percy pick up on it?

Percy’s whole novel is a commentary on O’Connor’s quote. The plot of the novel involves a group of well-meaning scientists who discover a drug that, when put into the water supply, will make everyone happy. It calms people down, eradicates their stress and guilt and also functions as a contraceptive. The results are terrifying and hilarious. The local community begins to disintegrate into crimes of passion — adultery, child abuse and eventually violence, but no one really cares because everyone is zoned out and “happy.” …

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