Friday, May 13, 2005

Love your enemies

What are your thoughts about using religious faith as an excuse for so much violence? Violence is not my understanding of the Christian notion of love. I know you address these ideas often in one way or another, but how about some more? How about good old Dobson?
Well, begin with what Levinas said; it is a cogent explanation behind the command "Love your enemy":
The trial by force is the test of the real. But violence does not consist so much in injuring and annihilating persons as in interrupting their continuity, making them play roles in which they no longer recognize themselves, making them betray not only commitments but their own substance, making them carry out actions that will destroy every possibility for action. Not only modern war but every war employs arms that turn against those who wield them. It establishes an order from which no one can keep his distance; nothing henceforth is exterior. War does not manifest exteriority and the other as other; it destroys the identity of the same.
Violence is a matter of control, and control is exerted through discontinuity. If I disconnect you from yourself (Cartesian language invades our thinking everywhere!), I destroy you at an existential level, at the level of "the identity of the same," the self. Violence allows me to do this. It takes you away from your "self," and when you are playing "roles in which [you] no longer recognize [yourself], I have won. The root of the effectiveness (and the supposed terror) of terrorism: if you are terrified, you will betray not only commitments (the "social contract" that protects our "civil liberties," for example) but your own substance, and you will "carry out actions that will destroy every possibility for action." Or, as Jon Stewart said last night, run around like headless chickens in all directions, with no idea what you are doing. Blind action as inaction. Due to one of course private plane, government in Washington, D.C., if only for half an hour, ground to a halt.

Violence and the threat of violence, whether it is physical or political, seeks the same end: control. Dobson doesn't care about judicial appointments; what he cares about is power, and he uses the violence of political threats and "grass roots" pressure groups to achieve his aims. Simply another type of violence. As Levinas says, the concept of totality dominates Western thought. And fixed in this concept is war; because through violence, all things necessary are deemed to be possible. Which makes war the most necessary of all.

Listen to the remarks by Tom DeLay last night at his "testimonial" dinner. Every victory he proclaimed was couched in terms of morality, but spoken in terms of authority. And authority is always backed by violence. Which is precisely why Jesus said: "My kingdom does not belong ot this world. If it did, my followers would be fighting to save me from the clutches of the Jews." And when Pilate asks: "You are a king, then?", Jesus answers: " 'King' is your word." (John 18:36-37, REB)

I should note here that "king" was what Israel demanded for itself, too; and God, through Samuel, tried to dissuade them from that course. Centralizing of power in one person is not a doctrine of Christianity, or of Judaism. Teachers are one thing; rulers another.

Kings, you see, can only rule by violence. It's as necessary as the velvet glove. Even when the urge toward totality is tempered, it is never quenched. So the prophets came along, to remind the king that only violence tempered with justice, which mean care for the poorest, the weakest, the most vulnerable, was even close to being acceptable:

"These are the words of the Lord: Deal justly and fairly, rescue the victim from his oppressor; do not ill-treat or use violence towards the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
Woe betide him who builds his palace on unfairness
and completes its roof-chambers with injustice,
compelling his countrymen to work without payment,
giving them no wage for their labour!
Woe to him who says
'I shall build myself a spacious palace
with airy roof-chambers and windows set in it;
it will be panelled with cedar
and painted with vermilion.'
Though your cedar is so splendid,
does that prove you a king?
Think of your father: he ate and drank,
dealt justly and fairly; all went well with him.
He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor;
then all was well.
Did not this show he knew me?, says the Lord.
But your eyes and your heart are set on naught but gain,
set only on the innocent blood you can shed,
or the cruel acts of tyranny you perpetrate."--Jeremiah 22:3, 13-17, REB
Doesn't get much plainer than that: injustice is violence. Care for the poor and the lowly is justice, and is not violence. One way is totality, which is war. The other way is....

Well, Jesus demolished the pursuit of totality in a single command: "Love your enemy."
But to you listening I say: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you; pray for those who treat you spitefully. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also; if anyone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you; if anyone takes what is yours, do not demand it back." (Luke 6:27-30, REB).
And yes, I really think he meant it. No room for violence there, because violence, and war, are merely expressions of power, the instrument through which totality seeks to establish its presence, which presence is, by definition, absolute. But as this passage makes extremely clear, there is no power without resistance. A friend of mine has pointed out that when you strike someone's cheek in the Arabic countries, you do it with the back of your hand. To turn the other cheek is to offer them another strike, but the return blow comes with the open palm, the side used for greeting a loved one.

There is no power without resistance, no violence or war without cooperation. And before you ask: yes, I am that much of a pacifist. Or at least, I strive to be.

How to get there, well, that's a spiritual question. A topic I want to get to, before too long. But right now, I have papers to grade.

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