I’ve been avoiding this topic for months. Every morning I read the news, and every morning my bleary eyes are assaulted with words like ‘beheading’, ‘terrorist attack’, ‘kidnapping’, ‘hostages’, ‘explosions’, ‘suicide bombers’. Sure, there have always been reports of tragedies of one sort or another, but for many reasons these stories evoke a much more intense response than reading about devastating earthquakes and plane crashes. Lately it’s been getting particularly disturbing and depressing. Easier to avoid those articles. To not talk about them.
But in the past couple of weeks I’ve been re-reading CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and listening to a pod-cast series on post-modernism, and watched the movie Selma, and all of these inputs began to converge on this question of how to respond to ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram.
What would be a natural reaction? After the disgust and nausea over the events themselves, comes the natural response from deep inside our gut toward the people behind those events: horror, loathing, outrage, anger and even hatred. And then we start entertaining thoughts of revenge. And secretly cheer when we read about coalition retaliation missions and pre-emptive strikes.
That might make us feel good. But is that kind of response really consistent with our world-view(s)?
If you’re one of the growing number of post-modernists, you’ve stepped away from that Old World mentality that there is such a thing as absolute truth. For you, in this day and age, everything is relative. “What’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me”. But that freedom comes with a price: you give up the right to cast judgement. You can’t any longer say “That’s wrong … it’s just obvious … you can feel it in your gut”, because you’ve thrown out any measuring stick by which that kind of call can be made. It might be wrong for you, but they’ll say loud and clear that it isn’t wrong for them. Sure, things would be different if they did that here in North America. Here, we have the laws of the land, and that measuring stick seems to look rather dimly on things like beheading people. But ‘over there’, they’ve declared a different measuring stick. Yes, those are new laws recently imposed by those aggressors. But history is full of examples of one group of people taking control over the land of another group and declaring “there’s a new sheriff in town now, folks”. Europeans have been notorious for this kind of thing (in North America, we’re still working out our relationship with the First Nations).
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like it either. But I’m allowed to criticize it if I still believe there is such a thing as an absolute truth. Post-modernists have given up that trump card. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The same goes if you’re committed to an atheistic evolutionary position. Richard Dawkins says “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”. If he’s right, then it is simply survival of the fittest And history will declare who’s the most fit to survive in that new ecological niche ‘over there’.
On the other hand, theists do believe in absolutes: right, wrong and truth. I may not be able to speak on behalf of all theists, but I’m certainly well acquainted with Christianity.
So what is the appropriate Christian response?
Do you start with a long list of Bible verses that speak of judgement, vengeance, retaliation. “An eye for an eye…“. Do you invoke concepts of ‘Holy War’ and ‘Divine Justice’?
Or do you go to those verses that promote more of a pacifist approach? It’s OK to die for your beliefs but not OK to kill for your beliefs. Realize, though, that pacifism does not mean do-nothingism. It means actually engaging the enemy face-to-face in a peaceful way. The way Martin Luther King did in mid-60s Alabama, and Gandhi did in India a couple decades before that.
Just don’t make the same mistake Dietrich Bonhoeffer made: starting off as a pacifist and ending with the take-matters-in-your-own-hands approach (for those who don’t know the story, he was a very well-known German pacifist pastor and theologian, but ended up getting the firing squad for being part of an unsuccessful assassination plot against Hitler).
If we’re looking for the right Christian response, perhaps we should look to what Christ would say, right? Although he felt every day the brutal occupation of the Roman empire, he never once said anything about resisting their many forms of inhumane treatment. Instead, he taught … and modeled … a very different response. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Unfortunately, ‘my neighbor’ includes my enemy. Ouch! What do I do with that!? I don’t know how to love them? I can’t just pretend they’re actually nice, respectable people!?
But CS Lewis held up a magnifying glass to what it was that Jesus actually said: to love that enemy “as I love myself”. CS Lewis continues: “how exactly do I love myself? Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbor” does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’…. you can’t love someone by trying. … In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I’m allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.”
Hate the sin, but love the sinner. And show care for the sinner. After all, isn’t that what we’ve all been doing toward ourselves ever since we were born? You love yourself despite your faults, your selfishness, your weaknesses, your evils.
He taught something else on this topic. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those that sin against us”. He modeled that too … while hanging on the cross.
And after loving them as we love ourselves, and forgiving them as we ourselves want to be forgiven, Paul (also very well acquainted with the Roman empire) pushes us one step further: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil … do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”, and he quotes from Proverbs “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head”.
Who said Christianity was easy? Whoever said it’s just a crutch for the weak or an opiate for the masses had no idea what they were talking about. In fact, if you ask me, it’s the post-modernist response which is the easy and cowardly way to deal with this.
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