Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 8/4 Post

I found what you're saying very helpful. Your second point raised a few things on which I'd like to hear your take.

You said, "The challenge for those of us within Christianity who oppose such perversion is how to stand against it without taking up its weapons: slander, double-talk, fear, hatred, violence and the like."

This is the challenge for all of us who oppose the hatred that passes for holiness and patriotism in our time. How do we stand against it? How do we not get infected by the fear when the airwaves are dripping with it? How do we hold to truth when the government has mastered Orwellian Newspeak that makes the very idea of truth questionable? And, how do we not take up arms when militarism seems to have replaced diplomacy around the world?

I don't think Jesus ever expected there to be such a thing as a Holy Roman Empire or a Christian Nation. Judaism and the Hebrew Bible is replete with rules of war and a warrior God who deploys human troops, but Jesus came at a time of Jewish political and military impotence, and pointed us in a new and different direction. I cannot imagine Jesus teaching a doctrine of "Just War." And John of Patmos' global holocaust in his Book of Revelation, based as it is on the apocalyptic fantasies of the equally impotent Qumran Jews and their War Between the Sons of the Light and the Sons of Darkness, is anathema to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Are those of us who follow Jesus (and I would count myself in that group as long as it is Jesus we are following and not the Christ for whom I admit no connection whatsoever) supposed to be conscientious objectors, pacifists, anti-war prophets?

Just imagine what might happen if all Christians suddenly said "no" to war. First, Israel would be attacked from all sides. Second, unless John Hagee is correct and the certain destruction of Israel would trigger the End Times and the Second Coming of Christ, Israel would blow itself up in a nuclear Massada that would decimate the Middle East with nuclear fallout and mass death that would make the region uninhabitable for centuries.

Oil production would plummet, and, unless T. Boone Pickens has his windmill farms up and running by then, the world goes dark, cold, and still in a few years at best. Food production falls, transportation of goods on a national scale (let alone a global one) is reduced to a trickle, and I don't get to use up my Frequent Flyer Miles on American Airlines. All of a sudden we are all living in Colonial Williamsburg except I don't own a cow, let alone know how to milk one.

The only thing that will keep America from being conquered by Communists or Muslims is the fact that by the time this happens China and Dubai will already own most of the country, so why bother?

OK, I'm having fun, but what do we do with the nonviolence at the heart of Jesus' teaching? It seems to have gone the way of nonviolence in India, and for the same reason: maybe community when it reaches a certain size cannot function without violence. Maybe Mao is write when he says that all power comes from the muzzle of a gun. Maybe you cannot overestimate the human passion for violence. After all we are the descendants of Cain not Abel.

I think the author of the Cain and Abel story believed this to be true. After murdering his brother, Cain goes off to found the first city. The Bible is telling us that once we humans move beyond simple agriculturally based communities we are doomed to murder and, as we organize into larger and larger groups, mass murder. Did Jesus see this and deliberately aim his teaching at individuals rather than at kings and nations as did the earlier prophets and the later Muhammad? Is this why he used agricultural metaphors rather than urban ones when trying to explain God and godliness?

I love to hear your thoughts on this, and while meeting to talk over Mexican food is always welcome, unless our readers come with us, you had better post something as well.


AaronHerschel said...

You're reading of Cain and Abel is fascinating. However, I'd have to point out that Cain kills Abel before he founds the city, and that Cain--not Abel--is the farmer. Murder is with us even in the "simple agriculturally-based community." There is no noble savage. There is only the savage savage.

Competition in nature is ruthless. While nature as a system may exist in harmony, this is not to be mistaken for peace. It is a shifting balance created by billions of internal conflicts between and among species from complex multicellular organisms to single-celled amoeba. How many viruses does your immmune system destroy daily? How many skin mites vie with other skin mites for the precious natural resources on the back of your hand?

Perhaps Hegel was right to posit that humanity is on an evolutionary track away from this sort of thing--but it seems a bit naive when one realizes that violent competition is bred into life at every level, and is intrinsic to both survival and reproduction. Consider that Abel too is a killer: a shepherd who slaughters part of his flock in order to offer their fat in sacrifice to the Lord. And this is the offering God prefers!

What do we do with this? I wish I had some conclusions to draw here, or some hopeful wisdom, or anything at all really. Unfortunately, my understanding hasn't gone far enough. But I'd welcome any thoughts you might have.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Rami.

Thanks, Aaron Herschel, as always your comments are thought provoking, and your articulation of your points clear and compelling. Damn it!

And of course you are right to correct me on my misreading of the Cain and Abel story. That's what happens when I am more interested in what I am saying than the texts I use to back it up.

Violence is simply part of the human condition. Perhaps we learned this from the skin mites (whom, but the way, I intend to attack brutally in a moment). The Jewish view is to accept this as reality and learn how to control and channel this violent energy for the good. I keep holding out for something more transformative ala Krishnamurti who says that we can expand our field of consciousness to the point where violence, while still present as a potential, has no hold on our behavior.