Sunday, June 12, 2005

Turning the Other Cheek in "Christendom"

Speaking of belligerence, Shrimplate reminds me I said something else at Eschaton I'd forgotten about. It's something a UCC pastor friend of mine pointed out to me.

"Turn the other cheek" is how conventional wisdom has rendered it, but, as usual, conventional wisdom is not, in its conventionality, wise. The original is clearer: "But to you who listen I say, love your enemies, do favors for those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for your abusers. When someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well. When someone takes way your coat, don't prevent that person from taking your shirt along with it." (Luke 6:27-29, SV)

As the notes to this version point out, "The coat and shirt are full-length outer and under garments worn in the ancient world. One who lacked both garments would be nearly nude." And, as usual, I digress. Why, the question of how to "love" your "enemies" can take a book all by itself.

"Turn the other cheek," though, is what's commonly misunderstood. As my friend pointed out, you slap someone with the back of your hand. If you are right-handed, you strike the right cheek, moving across the other's face. If they offer the other cheek also, you have no choice but to strike it with your open palm. That blow is almost never a blow, but rather a greeting or even a touch of intimacy, shared only with friends and family members.

So, to "turn the other cheek" is in fact to "love" your "enemy." And I mention this in context of shrimplate's observation, which I think is fairly accurate, if damning: "To be a modern American conservative Republican born-again churchgoer today pretty much means that you're really a Roman."

Which has been a critique of "Christendom" at least since it was raised by Søren Kierkegaard in 19th century Denmark.

Now, about going around half-dressed.....

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