Tolerance

What is it about the “Other” that is so threatening?

In the wake of violent tragedy, can we just put down our own egos for a second and respond to pain, suffering and confusion with true compassion?

Can we?

Some of us can, I guess. But the rhetoric from leaders who wish to respond to violence with even more violence is in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus- and I can’t wrap my head around how they twist “turn the other cheek” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” into “Fight back or you’ll look weak” and “Hit hard, hit fast” and “Give everyone a gun” and still call themselves Christians.

It’s confusing, and I think we have to call it what it is- vengeful and hateful and xenophobic.

Period.

I’m tired of tolerating this rhetoric from “Christians”.

Anybody else?

What To Feel Upon The Murder Of A Murderer?

Like so many of you, I watched in horrified fascination as the Twin Towers were maimed and finally toppled, killing and injuring thousands of people and terrifying a nation. I also watched our president, almost ten years later, report that the man responsible for that action had been shot and killed in a raid on a compound outside of Islamabad, Pakistan. The President’s demeanor was appropriately somber and yet had hints of the triumphant. So many cliche`s come to mind:

Serves ‘im right.

An eye for an eye….
You reap what you sow.
Justice is done.
Mission accomplished.
He got what he deserved.
Hooray, Hooray it’s the First of May…etc.

I’m conflicted. As I watched the people gathering in front of the White House last night, I understood the relief they exhibited. I realized I didn’t want to understand the celebration.

On the one hand, the man was a terrorist, a murderer and a complete wacko. On the other hand, he was a human being- with all the dignity and flaws imbued thereof, and completely worth saving. Did he love? Did he show any kindness to another person? Probably.

Could he have repented for his actions? Would he?
We’ll never know.

This is not to impugn the sense of justice felt here- this man was directly responsible for the murder of thousands of fellow human beings. But if I rejoice in his death, if I celebrate it, am I giving up on the goodness of humanity I so profoundly believe in? Am I substituting revenge for justice? Is patriotism predicated on the murder of enemies? Is this the easy way out? Have I become the terrorist who has lost sight of the humanity of the people I kill?

Probably unpopular things to ask, but still, these questions haunt me.

Do they haunt anyone else?

Easter Revenge

Also published on The Bilerico Project.

I’ve been reading Michael McCullough’s book Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of The Forgiveness Instinct.

It’s fascinating. Part of his analysis involves human instinct, sociological observation and psychological study. What conditions lead generally to forgiveness rather than revenge? Is the (sometimes) ubiquitous theme of revenge in our popular culture (literature, film, games) really an unbreakable cycle? In the long view, he maintains, violence worldwide is significantly down. Murder in Europe is 1/3-1/4 of what it was in the 16th century. It challenged me to think, and also helped create an understanding of the current (global) human condition. It’s a good  book, and I recommend it.

Still, I can’t help reflecting on the American Christianist emphasis on defense, fighting, and the pursuit of our country’s honor by acts of revenge. It’s everywhere- Rambo has become us. But, it just doesn’t play out well if you pay attention carefully to the Gospels and early Christian tradition.

“Turn the other cheek”, and “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” seem to be conveniently forgotten and “an eye for an eye” (words never spoken by Jesus or his followers in the Gospels) adopted as a Christian rallying cry. In fact, these words were a Jewish attempt at early defense and protection of their new and still-fragile culture. Most experts agree that it was not meant to be taken (literally) out of the desert into global perpetuity, but it was an early attempt to codify a type of justice- which, in itself, was God’s province. They also note  that it directly contradicts the words and spirit of Jesus. And yet, Christianists use them to justify revenge and pervert justice.

So. For those Christianists who use an “eye for an eye” as a mandate from God, one question:

What would have happened if the Apostles and disciples had stormed Pilate’s palace in anger, swords and shields clashing with guards and innocents alike to avenge their murdered leader?

You’re right. Nothing. The whole message of Jesus would have been perverted, contradicted and probably would have died out shortly thereafter. After all, credibility is everything. Jesus didn’t fight, and except for an awkward attempt by Peter to defend him, neither did the Apostles. Jesus turned the other cheek, tolerating great physical and verbal abuse, valiantly and triumphantly loving in the face of tremendous pain.

That’s why we still remember him- despite the perversions of his message by some followers, despite horrible and terrible things done in his name, we can still remember the love and dignity of this man- if we try.

That’s a role model I want. That’s what I celebrate this week.

Happy Easter, friends.

HIV+ Man Infects Over 100 Women

My take on the story here at Bilerico.