Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 11/3 Post

I don't have a complimentary list, Mike, and I find yours very helpful. So let me just work with that.

1. That which dehumanizes you or others is evil. This is a fine definition as far as it goes, but I would like to go beyond the anthropocentric and that anything that debases life is evil. Now we can include human acts of animal cruelty and environmental degradation as acts of evil as well.

2. Do not flirt with such evil or pretend it can be accommodated or tamed. I love your choice of verb. To “flirt” has a sexual connotation that may indeed be apropos, though we would have to flesh it out (yes, pun intended).

3. Never take up the weapons of evil to resist evil. Are weapons used in defense of oneself and one’s people evil? I admit to not being a pacifist, so this idea is a difficult one for me to accept.

4. Accept the necessity of personal suffering. There is a cost for resisting evil. If we are not willing to pay it, we cannot succeed.

5. Embrace humility. Humility is the antidote to pride, and pride is the fuel of much evil. I love the prophet Micah’s insight: “walk humbly with your God, (Micah 6:8). Why “your God” rather than just “God”? Because, so say the rabbis, each of us has our own idea of God and none of us has the whole of God, so Micah is telling us to be humble about our faith and our certainty.

6. Do not presume to judge how others respond to evil; be content to live out your vision. I have no problem with making judgments, and I believe there are evil responses to evil (torturing of prisoners, even terrorists, being one example). So I would argue that if we have a standard for resisting evil we should use it to measure the quality of other resistant movements as well.

7. Do not, in your mind or deeds or words, dehumanize your oppressors--treat them as you wish they treated others. This is one application of your first principle, and I wholeheartedly agree. There is an interesting documentary on the dehumanizing propaganda of the Japanese, Germans, and Americans during WWII. The Nazis dehumanized whole groups: Jews, Gypsies, Americans; the Americans did the same with its racist anti-Japanese cartoons; but the Japanese themselves limited their attacks to the Allied leadership and not all Americans or Europeans. Dehumanizing groups is the first step to annihilating them.

8. Make nonviolent resistance to evil a life's work. I agree. One who is only occasionally nonviolent is not nonviolent at all. Nonviolence isn’t a tactic.

• • •

So we are in substantial agreement regarding your list, but let’s not stop here. We are assuming that nonviolence is indeed the ideal, but why make that assumption? Especially when dealing with a sacred text that has God sanctioning the most horrendous acts of genocide.

God seems to have no problem with violence as long as it is done at His behest. God’s destruction of all land-based life outside the Ark (Genesis 6-9); God’s promise to drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites (Joshua 3:10); God’s sanctioning the murder of all the men, women, children, and animals of Jericho (Joshua 6:21); God’s command to commit genocide against the people of Amalek (1 Samuel 15;1-3); and the murder of all nonbelievers in the Book of Revelation make it clear that God is not a God of nonviolence. Can Jesus’ single teaching that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword (Matthew 26:52) turn the tide against the Murderous God of the Bible?

Since I believe the Bible is of human origin, reflecting the best and worst of what we humans are capable, I would argue (nonviolently of course) that violence is part of our DNA, and that seeking to impose nonviolence on instinctually violent creatures such as ourselves is itself an act of violence.

The question for me is this: Can we transform ourselves rather than simply control ourselves when it comes to violence? Can we literally change our minds and hence our responses? Can we, to use New Testament terminology, put on the mind of Christ, (1 Corinthians 2:5; 2:16)?

I think we can. When we cultivate a capacity for contemplative self-observation; when we can look at our capacity for violence without reacting; then we can be free from this instinct and be in the world in a new way.

Short of this truly revolutionary step, I think we can rely on the Golden Rule and refrain from doing unto others what is abhorrent to ourselves.

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