Smiling for 'Auschwitz selfies,' and crying into the digital wilderness
This tweet from Breanna Mitchell sparked a fierce debate over selfies and sacred spaces.
July 22nd, 2014
08:53 AM ET

Smiling for 'Auschwitz selfies,' and crying into the digital wilderness

Opinion by Craig Detweiler, Special to CNN

(CNN) - It is understandable why Breanna Mitchell’s sunny tweet from Auschwitz as “PrincessBMM” would spark a viral outcry.

A tour of a concentration camp, where so many Jews lost their lives, may move us to take photos or post responses - but few would include smiles, or selfies.

But Mitchell is not the first teenager to generate Internet outrage by her response to the Holocaust.

When Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House last year, he wrote in the museum guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully, she would have been a Belieber.”

While many have ripped into Mitchell and Bieber for their insensitivity, I don’t think they intended to be disrespectful to the dead.

Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices (mobiquity!), adolescent mistakes and hard lessons that used to be learned in private can quickly devolve into public drubbings.

This is what happens when new technologies clash with ancient understandings of the sacred. The problem is so pervasive that a Tumblr site, “Selfies at Serious Places” is dedicated to such faux pas.

We have very few spaces that our culture considers sacred, where an association with the divine results in a feeling of awe or reverence. Death may seem especially abstract to young people who haven’t been shown how to grieve, mourn or respect the dead.

So how might we help the emerging generation to develop a digital decorum that accounts for sacred spaces? Can we incorporate electronic ethics into religious instruction?

This summer, I have been teaching students at Pepperdine University’s London campus, which has given my family remarkable opportunities to see the places that define European history. Traveling with my 12- and 14-year-old children has raised questions about what is appropriate and where.

While some churches such as Westminster Abbey prohibit photography, others such as the Salisbury Cathedral allow all kinds of cameras. Our eyes, ears and spirits were far more sensitized in Westminster Abbey, where we were freed from “getting the shot.”

Once an hour, an announcement at the abbey invites visitors to pause, wherever they are, for a moment of respectful silence and prayer. How rare and appropriate to see a church encouraging us to pause en masse for sacred activity - rather than mere digital documentation of our visit.

The selfie could provide a sacred pausing if it didn’t involve so much posing.

It is one way to record a moment, to fix an experience as a reminder, “I was here.” It can be a lovely way to communicate to friends and family, “Wish you were here.”

But it also involves a level of performance that often pulls us out of the place itself. And a selfie can veer toward the humblebrag, advertising our summer vacation to friends.

The temptation with social media is to turn our friends into an audience. We cast ourselves as the star and think about how to entertain our followers. Tours of revered spaces become an opportunity to post a photo.

Should we travel to Amsterdam or Auschwitz to acquire content, to have something to share on social media?

We may sink into the spiral described by poet T.S. Eliot, “We had the experience, but missed the meaning.” Our digital devices create a conundrum: how to be fully present in the moment we are also trying to broadcast?

This summer, the line to tour the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam snaked down the block and around the church next door. So many students have read her poignant “Diary of a Young Girl” for school assignments.

Yet John Green’s best-selling, young adult novel, "The Fault in Our Stars," also awakened interest in Frank. In the novel, two teens, battling cancer, climb the stairs to Anne’s attic hideaway, where they experience their first kiss.

Older and established film critics questioned the appropriateness of the scene, but the target audience of adolescents found it powerful and inspiring. Where critics saw blasphemy and disrespect, teens edged toward the transcendent.

As Green writes in “The Fault in Our Stars,” “You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”

When our family toured the house, no photos were allowed. The crowd was remarkably respectful. People of all ages climbed past the bookcase that covered the back half of the house and concealed the Frank family.

While I paused with my kids to take in the reality of the books still on the shelf, a woman in her 40s pulled out her phone and snapped an illicit photo. No personnel saw it. No one chided her actions. Perhaps she shared it on Facebook in a respectful way.

The wisdom in Ecclesiastes declares that there is “A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Yet we may not weep or laugh or photograph the same things at the same time.

We found even more incongruous responses to the Holocaust in Berlin.

Architects Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind navigated considerable controversies while crafting moving Holocaust memorials. They respected the concerns of families and survivors while making history relevant for generations to come.

But they cannot control the public’s response.

While my family walked reverently through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, others were playing hide-and-seek and jumping across the tomb-like steles.

At the Jewish Museum, we were haunted by the Holocaust Tower. When the door closed behind us with a thunderous boom, the huge, oppressive walls and darkness bore down upon us. Yet we also watched countless school groups cruise in, take a quick pic and hop out.

Should we be encouraged that so many young people were touring the museum?

Parents and educators are challenged to communicate the gravity of the Holocaust to the next generation. In “Night,” Elie Wiesel reminded us why we must continue to teach and speak and visit horrific places like Auschwitz, “For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”

Still, we cannot control what Justin Bieber or Breanna Mitchell post.

Where most of us saw disrespect in Mitchell’s smile, she claimed it was a moment of bonding with her deceased father. Their shared experience of studying about Auschwitz found fruition in her visit. Her selfie and smile was a positive form of grieving - and an affront to others.

Perhaps the wisdom of Viktor Frankl can help us navigate a world where privacy has nearly collapsed and everything is open to self-promotion.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl noted: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

We must continue to provide sacred spaces and opportunities for us all to pause, to turn off our devices long enough to experience the divine. But that space must also be open to indifference, to blasphemy, to selfies.

For even in its intense inward focus, the selfie posted on social media is also a cry into the void: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

May Bieber and Mitchell hear an affirming whisper rather than merely a massive outrage.

Craig Detweiler is a professor of communication at Pepperdine University and the author of "iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives." The views expressed in this column belong to Detweiler. 

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Death • Ethics • Europe • History • Holocaust • Internet • Media • Opinion • Sacred Spaces • Spirituality • Traditions • Trends

soundoff (705 Responses)
  1. alakhtal

    Cry Auschwitz Dachau Birkenau

    July 22, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
  2. prophet1965

    Face it, Kids these days are simply ignorant. End of story.

    July 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Doc Vestibule

    Science deniers make me roll my eyes but holocaust deniers make me want to vomit in disgust.
    It frightens me that very soon, the Ken Ham-ist response of "were you there? how do you know?" will be the blanket answer for Holocaust denial as the last eye witnesses pass from this life.
    Ernst Zundel didn't get half the kicking around he deserved.

    July 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
    • roysplitter666

      So that must mean that science is less important to you than you believing everything you have been taught about the Holocaust? There are two sides to every story, but in this case one side has screamed so loud that the other side has been forced to go silent – or face the consequences.

      July 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm |
      • LaBella

        Please, present your evidence that the Holocaust didn't happen.

        July 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
      • igaftr

        The "other side" would be the German people and government, who has acknlowledged the Holocaust.

        What other side is there?

        July 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
      • fortheloveofellipsis

        Roy, do you use this same nick over on Stormfront?...

        July 23, 2014 at 9:13 am |
    • LaBella

      I agree.

      July 22, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
  4. tomasseffect

    There are "sheeet" eat'n grins at places, then there is this "ash" eat'n grin at Auschwitz...what a completely ignorant stunt.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:51 am |
  5. bobbaft

    If Auschwitz is such an awful place, pave over it and quit complaining that people don't "respect" it the way you want it to be.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:42 am |
    • choconet64

      Because when we forget our past we are doomed to repeat it! You just can't erase every meaningful monument just because a few insensitive jerks don't respect it. God I hope that's not how you handle everything that is difficult or problematic in your life.

      July 22, 2014 at 11:47 am |
    • justatadnormal

      Well not that is just ignorant.

      July 22, 2014 at 11:50 am |
    • igaftr

      Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

      July 22, 2014 at 11:51 am |
  6. hal 9001

    It's difficult to read a person's mind from a picture. So many thoughts and emotions can be experienced by the human mind in such a short period of time – even relative to the time it takes to take a "selfie". From this picture, my best guess might be that this human form may have recently experienced a slight overdose of some form of sugar.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:31 am |
  7. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    What if she was at a Civil War site, or the Roman Coliseum? There are many places throughout the world where people have suffered horribly in the past. As we as a society get older and more removed from the event we lose personal connection to it and do not relate to event. I personally feel too close to the Holocost to treat it lightly...she doesn't. She is much younger and therefore more removed. This really shouldn't be all that surprising.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:29 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      I personally want to visit to pay homage to those who lost their lives at the hands of that mad man and his minions. I don't think this girl has done anything wrong outside of being a typical teenager. As time has gone on the history gets buried, we can only hope she took something away from this experience.

      July 22, 2014 at 11:36 am |
    • nateengle

      I've never been to Auschwitz but I have been to Dachau, and based on the way I felt at Dachau I think this girl's sunny smile is evidence that she's just oblivious to any educational value that she would have gotten from the visit if she had been paying attention to the history instead of her smartphone.

      July 22, 2014 at 11:57 am |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        I have no idea how you discern the educational value she received from a picture. She may have learned many things and yet not felt a personal connection. Your conclusion does not follow...

        July 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm |
  8. ljgathena

    Reverence as well as respect are taught. We have not taught these skills well – if at all to this generation. Many do not know how to be still and allow the spirit to take in what is around us. Add to that lack of knowledge the explosion of the digital age and this is the result. Without respect the narcissist in each of us will rule.

    Personally, I hate the whole selfie craze. Because of a family situation with a special needs child my husband and I can't travel together. The only selfies I have taken were to show my husband that I can concur my fear of heights – one from the observation deck of the Willis Tower and another from the top of Chichen Itza. Neither picture was shared on social media.

    Additionally, I don't "plug in" to electronics when I'm outside. I don't understand being at the beach or a park without being able to hear the surf/wind/birds/children laughing.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:27 am |
  9. nclarkwa

    It's too bad photos aren't allowed at the Anne Frank site. I think the more they were shared, the more awareness and remembrance would be spread. Selfies, however, are not limited to teenagers. Once in a while I get it, if nobody is available to take a picture for you, but in this case, like most often, it's just somebody making the moment all about THEM and begging for attention.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:21 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      "Selfies, however, are not limited to teenagers. Once in a while I get it, if nobody is available to take a picture for you, but in this case, like most often, it's just somebody making the moment all about THEM and begging for attention."

      That was one huge contradiction...it's okay to take the selfie but in this situation the girl (who you know zip about) is seeking attention-quite the leap from an innocent photo. Go judge the selfies taken in bathroom stalls and while the kid is wearing a string bikini-those are far worse than this but yet you're not whining about them!!

      July 22, 2014 at 11:26 am |
  10. rabideyemovement

    It's been over half a century. Let the girl smile. I wouldn't even think that people would care, except so many still (falsely) believe it was home to gas chambers and skin lamps.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:20 am |
    • LaBella

      They didn't have has chambers at Auschwitz?
      What revisionist history book are you reading?

      July 22, 2014 at 11:27 am |
      • rabideyemovement

        ^see what I mean?^
        Gas chambers were revisionist history in the fist place. What used to be called gas chambers at Auschwitz were only basic showers. They are now labeled as such, with a disclaimer noting they are not gas chambers.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:30 am |
        • igaftr

          You idiot.

          That was how they got the people in the chambers...they told them they were going to be given a shower, sent into the rooms and then gassed. The labels were there at the time to fool the people they were about to kill.
          Get an education.
          Where did you get your info from?

          July 22, 2014 at 11:35 am |
        • LaBella

          Oh. You're that guy.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:47 am |
        • G to the T

          Sigh... let me guess "No holes, no holocaust"?

          You sir are part of the reason things like Auschwitz can even happen.

          July 22, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
    • igaftr


      July 22, 2014 at 11:32 am |
      • rabideyemovement

        Catch up. This isn't antizionist nonsense. It's modern history with the propaganda carefully excised. There simply were no Nazi gas chambers.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:35 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          We're sorry the education system failed you!

          July 22, 2014 at 11:37 am |
        • igaftr

          You catch up...Considering the FACT that I have spoken to MANY survivors, eye witnesses...I will take their FIRST HAND accounts over your BS...Where did you get your info from...site specific credible sources.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:38 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          So the 1st hand accounts from victims, including surviving Sonderkommando who were forced to deal with the corpses, as well as the video and photographic evidence from the time, not to mention the original blueprints for the gas chambers and their ventilation system, oral testimony and written journals both personal and professional from the likes of Dr Horst Schumann, director of the Euthanasia Centre at Sonnenstein, detailing the plans...
          Have you ever met a holocaust survivor? They're not making it up.

          Do you think the moon landing was faked too?

          July 22, 2014 at 11:47 am |
        • ljgathena

          Have you spoken with a survivor? I have – a very dear woman I met as a child. She shared many stories with me over the years. The first time I asked about her tattoo I was in first grade and her response was one you would share with a child – "It's the markings of a mad man who wanted to rule the world." As I grew older and could understand the true evils of the world her stories were much more graphic.

          She was the only member of her family who left the camp alive. Her mother, grandmother, aunt and 4 siblings were all taken "for a shower" and never returned. She didn't know where her father, grandfather, uncle were taken. They were separated at a train station and she never saw them again.

          If we do not learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it...

          July 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          How can you go about denying evidence like the Posen speeches?

          July 22, 2014 at 12:04 pm |
        • fortheloveofellipsis

          "Catch up. This isn't antizionist nonsense." Actually, it's raving paranoid schizophrenia, but it still could be antizionist nonsense as well. Two birds with one stone, if you will...

          July 23, 2014 at 9:25 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Falsely believe?
      There were no fewer than 7 buildings that housed gas chambers as Auschwitz alone!
      Have you any idea how many canisters of Zyklon B, both used and unused, were found there?

      July 22, 2014 at 11:36 am |
  11. ignaciocruzlara

    we need to stop with the hyper sensativity. we jews can smile at Auschwitz, it shows that the jewish faith continues to grow and flourish. keep up the smiles Breanna, dont let the freaks out there bring ur happiness down.

    July 22, 2014 at 11:09 am |
    • pstaniaszek

      I want to make a quick point: there are many Jews killed in Auschwitz. However, we need to remember, that it is a place where many Poles, Gypsy's, French, and many other nations died. My wife's father, who was Polish freedom fighter, has spent five years in Auschwitz, Birkenau, Mauthausen and Gusen. He was NOT a Jew. About a girl? Let her learn from mistakes. It is not a place for happy faces and laughter. We should teach youth more respect. That is all...

      July 22, 2014 at 11:25 am |
      • agnieszkakownacka

        thank you for bringing that up, i was going to write the same thing.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:37 am |
      • igaftr

        Along with them went many others as well. Mentally ill, h0m0$exuals, atheists ( Hitler believed being gay or atheist was mental illness) were also sent.

        July 22, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I've always found it interesting that a lot of Jewish holidays basically boil down to "they tried to enslave and/or kill us, but we're still here" (Sukkot, Chanukkah, Purim, Pesach, Tisha B'Av etc.)

      July 22, 2014 at 11:27 am |
  12. mysticnox

    It's not about "intended". It's about "not being taught to think critically". Kids nowadays are left to do whatever they want. If they do something wrong, it gets blown off as "kids will be kids".

    July 22, 2014 at 11:07 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      She didn't break a law; she didn't desecrate the place...she took an innocent photo of herself. Get a grip and focus on the real issues in this world!

      July 22, 2014 at 11:22 am |
      • mysticnox

        Honey, there are still things that you just don't do. They are social unwritten laws. And making light of the holocaust is one of them when she's grinning like a twi t. It's obvious she didn't take the place with the seriousness it deserves. You get a grip. Just because something isn't illegal doesn't make it right. You show respect for the suffering of the people that died from this, you don't turn it into a joke.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:39 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          Name calling the kid doesn't help your case. Any law that is not written doesn't exist. Grow up!

          July 22, 2014 at 11:42 am |
        • mysticnox

          Wow, you're so completely clueless. Do you know how to tie your own shoelaces or do the republicans do it for you?

          July 22, 2014 at 11:46 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          Wow, you're quite the judgmental tool! Not clueless at all. I just think people are making a much bigger deal out this than need be! People take selfies at monuments of all sorts, this one is not much different...ma<B.ss murder of grandiose scales is sadly not unheard of. If you wanna whine about selfies, start whining about selfies where it shows actual cruelty in this world.
          All she did was take a photo, we know nothing further of what she took away from this visit...hopefully she learned something.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:53 am |
        • 123elle

          If she were really a tw it she wouldn't have gone there in the first place. She would have gone shopping or partying instead. I'm sure the picture was a thoughtless moment rather than a desecration. She's just young and lighthearted, and it's actually a blessing that she has not experienced any horrors in her life - historically it's incredible luck that she hasn't. She just doesn't quite understand the enormity of where she is. I'm sure as she gets older she will become more discreet.

          July 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
      • striider

        You just don't get it, obviously. Fact is, her lack of respect and decency are true problems in the world...

        July 22, 2014 at 12:07 pm |
        • TruthPrevails1

          What you're not comprehending is that it is a photo...if you put anything more into that than what it is, it is you who has the issue!! While she should never forget what that place was, it is not up to you or I to judge this kid. Whine if you see a photo of someone desecrating the place but that is not what she was doing here and it's rather simple-minded to get upset over one of many many photo's to have been taken at this place and many other monuments of mass murder. Grow up and focus on the more important, hard pressing issues in this world!

          July 22, 2014 at 12:15 pm |
  13. dustieryder111

    stop whining people....move on...............

    July 22, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • larper2

      I hope someone comes in and does a selfie on your or a loved ones grave and see how you feel...

      July 22, 2014 at 11:21 am |
      • TruthPrevails1

        Grow up! People take photo's at monuments all the time, just because you don't like it doesn't make it wrong.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:31 am |
      • LaBella

        Larper , I hope you're not going to be one of those vindictive morons who inundate her account with vindictive death threats because you fancy yourself some blazing SJW.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:37 am |
  14. marykay759

    She wasn't smiling for her dad. Her blog name says it all "Princess BMM". Spoiled brat.

    July 22, 2014 at 10:43 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      That's quite the judgment I guess they didn't teach you not to judge lest you be judged!

      July 22, 2014 at 10:47 am |
  15. LaBella

    I don't think I've ever taken a selfie. I'm just not that interesting....

    July 22, 2014 at 10:41 am |
  16. nclaw441

    It is natural to smile in photos. What would we have her do, cry? Frown? Turn her back? Not memorialize the event? It is not as though she is grinning from ear to ear or appearing in any way to take the matter lightly.

    July 22, 2014 at 10:31 am |
    • observer


      What in Auschwitz makes the dim bulb happy?

      July 22, 2014 at 10:42 am |
    • LaBella

      This seems to be a very minor thing to get upset over. The Bieber thing was, too.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:44 am |
      • bankerdanny

        How would you feel if someone took a smiling selfie in a place where your family was murdered. In a place that is famous BECAUSE your family was murdered there?

        July 22, 2014 at 10:50 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          Skip the judgment! It's a photo, all the kids are taking them these days. While the site where the photo was taken holds power in memories and the reminder of the work of a mad man, people go to murder sites and pay homage, taking photo's all the time. Death and the horror's surrounding it are part of us and we should start concerning ourselves with the bigger issues in this world and stop judging on small things like this...rather shallow to be upset with her.

          July 22, 2014 at 10:55 am |
        • LaBella

          I had family members murdered in the Holocaust. So, your post is moot.
          She's not smiling because they're dead. She's smiling because she's a self-absorbed teenager who's alive.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:13 am |
        • igaftr

          I felt the most solemn I have ever been when I visited there, but I am also glad to see happiness in that place.

          I am certain, though I don't remember, that I likely made a few jokes...inappropriate perhaps, but humor has always been part of how I deal with strong emotion.

          I am glad she went there and won't forget what happened there, but a moment of happiness...think of those who were there...they were sometimes able to laugh occasionally as well.

          Just be glad she learned at this site, and be glad that a little happiness can still be shared from there.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:24 am |
    • bankerdanny

      It is natural, but that doesn't mean you can't overcome that.

      Have you ever visited a concentration camp? I went to Dachau on a school trip in high school. There is a sense of solemness about the place that is very hard to describe. You are standing in a place where tens of thousands of men, women, and children were systematically starved, tortured, and murdered for no reason other than their religion.

      I don't believe the young woman meant any disrespect. But that doesn't change how disrespectful her act and the expression on her face are in that place. It is sad that the adults that likely brought her there didn't take the time to make sure she understood appropriate behavior.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:48 am |
    • striider

      Man (or woman) you must be looking at a different photo if what you see isn't the girl who is, in fact, smiling from ear-to-ear!

      July 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm |
  17. nclaw441

    I notice that the writer is smiling in the photo used to accompany this story...

    July 22, 2014 at 10:27 am |
    • LaBella

      Clearly author stock photos should have several different staged emotions to match the tone of whatever they're writing about. This one should have used "the wailing and gnashing of teeth" photo.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:40 am |
  18. Vic

    True faith/belief, morality, etc., are from the inside out, not the other way around, and that necessitates "Free Will."

    While we instinctively realize it, we are not the source of morality, it is independent of our subjectivity, it is from above, I believe. In a spare of the moment, we can make a debacle, that's a reality check of the truth of the matter.

    Let people be people, let them choose. We can educate and advise —plant the seed— but we cannot force faith/belief, morality, etc., they have to come from the individual at "Free Will." That's the difference between "Faith/Belief" and "Religion," I believe.

    July 22, 2014 at 10:12 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Pardon me for inserting another installment of Doc Vestibule's Primer in Moral Relativism, bu of course we are the source of morality.
      Morality is a covenant by and for people that enables us to live together.
      Concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals.
      Effective cooperation is a learned skill and the successful religions recognize this.
      Christianity reveals this truth about ourselves most poignantly in the character of Jesus Christ. His message is one of peace, charity, modesty and forgiveness – the traits most important to develop when living in a society.

      But moral relativism is still a truism. Ethical codices existed prior to the Abrahamic religions and have evolved independently since.
      People are inherently selfish. We instinctively do that which is least painful. Children do that which is least painful to themselves. Maturity comes when we are able to put aside our own immediate comfort and do that which is least painful for the group. Were it not for our ability to reason this out and cooperate, our species would not survive. As individuals, we are prey animals – soft, squidgy, slow and bereft of in-built offensive capabilities. As a cooperative group, we have become the dominant species in nearly every eco-system on Earth.
      But it takes a mighty big stick to beat the selfishness out of us! Historically, it has been a God sized stick capable to inflicting unimaginable devastation in this life and the hereafter.

      A prime example of the reality of moral relativism is cannibalism.
      Our culture has a very strong cannibalism taboo, but it cannot be "human nature" or something "written on our hearts by God" to feel repulsed by it as virtually every branch of the human species has praticed it at some point in their development.
      The Aztecs believed in transubstantiation. They consumed their human sacrifices in the belief that the dead literally became a part of the God to whom they were given.
      Binerwurs in India ate the sick amongst them to please Kali.
      The Karankawa, an indigenous Texan tribe, ritualistically consumed their enemies to gain their strength.
      The Wari, The Kuru, Fore, Caribs, Fijians, Popayans, Serengipeans, are all fairly modern examples (within the last 500 years).
      Indeed, Christians from the 1st Crusade consumed the fallen Arabs at Maarat.

      Sociological evolution is leading us away from religion – not because Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc are negative in and of themselves, but becuase they are necessarily sectarian and divisive.

      Universally accepted ethics can never be based on the supernatural. Any proposition that relies on faith can and will be twisted by unscrupulous individuals for their own gain. Its just far too easy to manipulate those who are willing to suspend critical thinking and accept something without evidence

      July 22, 2014 at 10:28 am |
    • observer


      If morality came from above, our laws would be based on the Bible. Fortunately, they aren't.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:34 am |
    • Vic

      "In a spur of the moment,.."

      July 22, 2014 at 11:01 am |
  19. Doc Vestibule

    While Auschwitz is certainly a solemn site, I wouldn't classify it as religious shrine "where an association with the divine results in a feeling of awe or reverence".
    Awe at the depth of man's inhumanity to our fellow man would be more apropos.

    July 22, 2014 at 10:09 am |
    • igaftr

      "Awe at the depth of man's inhumanity to our fellow man "

      That is all I felt when I went there. I had an extreme emotional reaction to my visit, which was far deeper than I could have imagined.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:13 am |
      • bankerdanny

        Me too. I'm not Jewish, but visiting Dachau when I was 16 was a very emotional experience.

        July 22, 2014 at 10:52 am |
  20. mk

    Why do we need to teach people how to feel or react?

    We don't, we just need to stop judging.

    July 22, 2014 at 9:58 am |
    • Andulamb

      Why? Some things are wrong or inappropriate.

      This girl may be a history buff, and she was thrilled to finally visit Auschwitz. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt. But it's the selfie itself that is the problem here, not the smile. The problem with selfies is that they are narcissitic. The same goes for Bieber's comment - which seems to imply that Anne Frank only counts if she's a Justin Bieber fan, and absolutely makes clear that Bieber can't stop thinking about himself. The girl here doesn't just show Auschwitz. She has to show that she's there. Selfies scream LOOK AT ME! There's a time for that. But there's also a time for humility. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting people know that non-stop self-importance is wrong.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:22 am |
      • mk

        Just because you didn't take selfies when you were a teen doesn't mean you didn't do other things to be "self-important". We all used some means to feel important. If she had not taken a selfie, does that mean she was feeling humble? Maybe, maybe not, but don't look at this picture and decide that she didn't feel humble. Maybe to her, this was her way of showing how awed she was.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:24 am |
    • bankerdanny

      So you don't think we should be teaching our children what behavior is and is not appropriate?

      And she is not 'reacting'. A reaction is a spontaneous instinctual response. She is ACTING, making a concious choice to take a smiling photo in one of the saddest most solemn places on earth.

      July 22, 2014 at 10:56 am |
      • TruthPrevails1

        Stop the judging...it makes you no better than the kid you're whining about.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:01 am |
        • larper2

          The definition of a selfie is to make a funny emotional face of how the person feels about the subject.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:27 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          larper: IT IS A SELF PHOTO!! Stop making it out to be more than that...very small minded of you! Maybe she was happy to be visiting and paying homage to the lives lost...who are any of us to judge?

          July 22, 2014 at 11:29 am |
        • LaBella

          There are rules for selfies now? Your post is the first I heard of it. Gotta call bs on that one.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:33 am |
        • bankerdanny

          Did I say whe is a bad person? No. In fact, in my comment above I specifically say I do not think that. I am not judging her, I am juding her actions.

          And if you don't want people to comment on your actions, keep them to yourself. Once you share on social media you pretty much lose the right to complain about how people react to what you share.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:37 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          banker: You judged the kid based on a photo...re-read what you wrote and skip the hypocrisy!

          July 22, 2014 at 11:40 am |
        • LaBella

          She didn't write this article. Detweiler did.
          Chances are, nobody but her followers would have ever known about this had Detweiller and folks like him hadn't pointed out such an innocuous event.

          July 22, 2014 at 11:43 am |
        • CNN Belief Blog EditorCNN

          Quite wrong, LaBella. The tweet generated a huge internet response and several mainstream media articles. Use your Google machine.


          July 23, 2014 at 10:29 am |
        • boonieman

          I think perhaps you might enhance your perspective and broaden your POV on this particular subject, i.e., "selfies", by studying the broader phenomenon in a cultural context. Instagram and selfies have been catered to by technology companies producing the latest smart devices. Both of these categories of picture taking come under the photographic subheading 'proof of existence' photos. This is the most distinguishing characteristic of selfies.
          And I agree with those posting here who point-out that the act is an expression of narcissistic behavior. That is precisely why Instagrams and selfies have been marketed to teens.
          That having been said, there is the larger cultural context of "the confessional society". Blogs, Facebook postings, MySpace, etc., all perform the function of promoting these confessional digital relationships. Not only does this signal the dearth of photography itself, the transitioning away from human contact and person-to-person communications becomes the overarching concern. As critical thinker Giroux states: "...reveling in private issues now becomes the ground for celebrity status, promoting a new type of confessional in which all that matters is interviewing oneself endlessly and performing private acts as fodder for public consumption. Facebook "likes", lists of "friends", and other empty data reduce our lives to numbers that now define who we were. The confessional society does more than produce its own private dats storm and exhibit a narcissistic obsession with performing publicly the most personal and intimate elements of the self; it also allows one to flee from any sense of moral responsibility or genuine friendship."
          As for the Princess' misguided selfie, would those who brush it off feel any differently if the piles of emancipated human corpses were stacked up behind her? Acknowledging the madness of the history which transpired here, in essence, they are. Which leaves this selfie an example of extremely poor taste and lack of maturity.

          July 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
        • LaBella

          Detweiller didn't author this article?
          Oh. I thought he did.
          And I did say "Detweiller and folks like him.

          July 23, 2014 at 10:42 am |
        • CNN Belief Blog EditorCNN

          Yes, Detweiler did. But to suggest that only he and "folks like him" are interested in/have responded to the tweet is incorrect.



          July 23, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
      • mk

        I have a friend whose mother died when she was 12. She said all she did at the funeral was laugh. She didn't know why, she knows she was sad, it is just how she reacted. It wasn't disrespectful, it was probably her way of coping. We all have seemingly inappropriate feelings or reactions at times. It doesn't mean we weren't taught respect.

        July 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
    • ljgathena

      mk, do you have children? Children have to be taught – period. Part of the problems with our society today is the result of poor emotional teaching. We don't teach respect, we don't teach patients, we don't teach inclusion. Education includes more than letters and numbers.

      July 22, 2014 at 11:40 am |
      • joey3467

        What exactly are we not teaching patients.

        July 22, 2014 at 11:55 am |
        • ljgathena

          Sorry, I'm working on worker's comp reports – injured workers = patients. A work based carry over error.

          July 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm |
      • mk

        Respect can be taught, but you feel emotions, you can't teach people how to feel. Some people cry when they're happy. If you don't, does that mean you haven't been taught to feel such an emotion? People are different.

        How do you know that her selfie wasn't her way of showing respect? You're assuming that her selfie was just being egotistical. Maybe she wanted to put herself there to show herself to be in such an awe-inspiring place? You don't know what or how she was feeling or what the purpose of taking a selfie was.

        July 22, 2014 at 12:05 pm |
        • ljgathena

          I fully understand that everyone is different. I have a child with profound autism. We have worked with him for a full decade to understand certain emotions and how to react to others when they show them.

          We don't have to teach the emotion, that does come naturally – even in my son. However, we do have to teach children how to react to emotion in themselves and others. I'm not judging this girls picture or the fact that she's smiling. My response was to your comment regarding not having to teach the reaction.

          July 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.