Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Post #7 - The Role of Faith

It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

For Christians, the singular criterion for evaluating any action is this: does it conform to the example of Jesus Christ? We are to refrain from focusing on the "speck” in the eye of the other, in this case the Iranians, without first remembering to take the "plank” out of our own (American) eyes. (Matthew 7:3-4) Better to err in the direction of forbearance, than to tilt toward smug and superior chauvinism.

Some will fear that such a path entails a risk that the adversary might take advantage. But can’t that be said about any conflictual situation? When, exactly, would it be prudent to “turn the other cheek?” The law of love represents a higher calling than prudence or even self-preservation. Jesus' approach was truly radical:

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also...You have heard, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…"  (Matthew 5:38:44)

Monk/author Thomas Merton, in an essay "St. Maximus the Confessor on Non-Violence," (The Catholic Worker, September 1965, later included in Passion for Peace: The Social Essays of Thomas Merton, edited by William Shannon, (New York: Crossroad, 1995):

"The love of enemies is not simply a pious luxury, something that [the Christian] can indulge in if he wants to feel himself exceptionally virtuous. It is of the very essence of the Christian life, a proof of one's Christian faith, a sign that one is a follower and an obedient disciple of Christ.... [A] superficial…Christianity…denies Christ by refusing to obey His commandment to love."

Galileo, in justifying the departure of his astronomical observations from the consensus wisdom of his time, said, "The Bible tells how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."   Similarly, we might say about modern-day politics:  "The Bible does not teach us who are enemies are -- but how to treat them."

The Book of Proverbs (6: 17-19) provides a list of seven things that God hates:
  • A proud look
  • A lying tongue
  • Hands that shed innocent blood
  • A heart that devises evil thoughts
  • Feet that are hastening to do evil
  • A false witness who speaks lies
  • One who sows discord among brethren

Hazrat-e-Masumeh Square, Qom, Iran
We must never delude ourselves that these are to be imputed only to our adversaries. Surely “a proud look” is the sin that detractors around the world are most likely to lay at our door, with some considerable justification. Much "innocent blood" has been shed by our forces and their surrogates, as noble and well-meaning as their efforts might have been. The run-up to the Iraq war included well-known instances of “false witness,” if not “a lying tongue.” We are as responsible as any country for “sowing discord” between Sunni and Shi'a, between Kurdish and Persian, and between Iranians and Afghanis, if one looks back over the history of the past several decades with an open eye and an honest mind. It was, after all, the United States (under the Reagan administration) that organized, armed and trained radical Islamists in Afghanistan -- the group that was the forerunner to the Taliban, and progenitor of Al Qaeda. "Sow the wind; reap the whirlwind."

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