Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cleaning out the closets

I found this, from mid-May. I will admit I wasn't impressed with Tony Hendra's The Messiah of Morris Avenue (to each his own), but I am very impressed with this:

Why subversive? Because revenge, the opposite of forgiveness, makes the world go round. Individuals, groups, corporations, nations operate on the principle that pay-back is normal, that if you do ill to me, I am justified, even legally obliged, to do at least as much ill to you. But in truth revenge is self-destructively futile. Life is not an action movie where the good guys pay back the bad guys and live happily ever after. In the real world, no-one believes themselves or their cause to be evil; so no act of revenge goes un-revenged. The endless daisy-chain of payback, preaches the new Messiah - whether it's mass murder masquerading as national 'defense' or the legal murder of those who've murdered - must be broken.

Forgiveness is the only way to do that. But while the world believes forgiveness to be weakness, in truth it takes great courage. Just as killing those you feel threatened by is far easier than learning to live with them, payback is the weak and spineless option, the way out no-one will give you a hard time for. Forgiveness on the other hand takes true grit. (If for no other reason than that payback is big, big business. The Pentagon's new budget, almost three-quarters of a trillion bucks, will make it the tenth largest economy in the world. But I digress, because of course the Pentagon is not in the business of payback).

Subversive forgiveness may be, but, unfortunately, it's the core message of the guy from Nazareth. What's not to understand in the preachment: love your enemies? And even if the Aramaic (via the Greek and Renaissance English) is open to a slightly different translation, his choice not to defend himself against his enemies -- or even allow himself to be defended -- when they came to arrest him, is unambiguous. It's what defines Christianity against the other two Abrahamic faiths. You don't have to believe that the story's historically true; the example of its protagonist in the defining narrative of Christianity is unmistakable. Violence even in your own defense, is not acceptable. You cannot be a follower of Christ and kill your enemy; you cannot be a Christian and not forgive him. The history of Christianity is largely the history of grappling with this highly inconvenient truth and its manifold implications.
Hendra notes that "Mark Twain famously said: if Christ did return, the Christians would crucify him." I don't doubt it for a moment. But that's the point: forgiveness is subversive. He then connects the message of the man from Nazareth to Jerry Falwell:

I saw Jerry Falwell as an enemy. I believe he was America's enemy and for good measure Christianity's. (As his ilk still are). And I agree with that fine old atheist Samuel Clemens that if Christ had returned, FalIwell would have crucified him. And while Falwell's lies and distortions should have been combated by every non-violent means necessary, and the evil and hurt he caused, documented and remembered, that doesn't mean that the retribution Falwell sought to exact on others or threatened to, must be taken on him now, in any form. Which includes crowing that death has somehow found him out, or hoping that he went in pain or that he's up to his eyes in hot sewage in the Ninth Circle of hell or -- as was my intention -- dancing a triumphant two-step on his grave.

No, this is the moment for forgiveness. I hope that Jerry has met again and been reconciled with, the force of love and forgiveness that at some point in his life, he must have encountered. And while I never imagined I would ever write these words: may his turbulent and misguided soul -- however far it may have gone astray -- now find its way home and rest in peace.
If you still aren't sure forgiveness is subversive, check out the comments at Hendra's post. At least two rail against the idea of forgiveness for any reason.

It's all about the problem of power, and the problem of evil, and the problem of using power, any kind of power, to "fight" evil.

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