An Eye For a Wedgie
Although I am cautious about historicizing revelation, nevertheless, there are times that it is necessary to do so in order to avoid missing the meaning of a teaching. To cite one obvious example, you will often hear concrete and spiritually illiterate liberals citing the adage of "an eye for an eye" to brand an act as mindless and pitiless vengeance, when the opposite meaning was intended by that phrase. First of all, it has nothing to do with gouging out eyes or cutting off hands, but is a figure of speech intended to convey the then extremely novel idea that punishment must be proportionate if it is to be just -- that it must fit the crime. If someone steps on your toe, you do not respond by giving them a third degree nuggy or serious wedgie. In fact, there is nothing in the Torah about "wedgies," partly because underwear hadn't even been invented yet.
Uber-moonbat Mahatma Gandhi is responsible for one of the left's favorite wacksioms, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the whole world would soon be blind and toothless." But one of the reasons contemporary liberalism is spiritually blind and intellectually toothless is that it is painfully rooted in a false canal of justice, in that they specialize in rewarding bad or evil and punishing good. After all, the primary purpose of a judicial system is not to make us feel good -- as some commenters implied yesterday -- but to make civilization and community possible.
In my opinion, if all good people were to take Jesus' advice out of context and adopt the radical view that we are to turn the other cheek and not resist the evil doer, it would spell the end of civilization, not to mention very sore cheeks from the repeated wedgies. There is the individual and the community, the micro and the macro, but the very possibility of the individual is rooted in community. Therefore, any moral code that intrinsically results in the destruction of the community is for me a moral non-starter. It is narcissistic in the extreme, and there is nothing spiritual about it. There is nothing admirable about Tibet's pacifism in the face of the genocidal Chinese communists. Talk about turning a narcissity into a virtue.
Someone yesterday suggested that Sri Aurobindo was essentially a pacifist like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama (who is apparently not as one-dimensional as his followers -- see link at bottom), or Christian leftists, but nothing could be further from the truth. Nor, as the reader stated, did he believe that evil was simply here for the purposes of our spiritual instruction. For example with regard to World War II, he wrote that a victorious Germany would spell an end to
"freedom and hope of light and truth, and the [spiritual] work that has to be done will be subjected to conditions which would make it humanly impossible; there will be a reign of falsehood and darkness, a cruel oppression and degradation for most of the human race such as people in this country do not dream of and cannot yet realize."
Could these words not apply equally to the falsehood, darkness, oppression, and degradation of Islamist evil? Are we really supposed to turn the other cheek and return their evil with kindness?
Yes, absolutely, for what could be a greater kindness than risking American lives to liberate Iraqis from tyranny and for the first time give their nation of slaves the opportunity to develop their human potential? In the past I have made a joking reference to the idea that, "you take out two of our buildings, and we take out two of your countries." Now, if we had actually wanted to, we could have utterly reduced Afghanistan and Iraq to rubble. This would not have been an eye for an eye, but would have been a disproportionate response.
And in fact, our response to the terrorists represents the quintessence of Jesus' advice about transcending the merely symmetrical justice of an eye for an eye. In its context, I believe Jesus was suggesting that we should go even further than what the law calls for if we wish to be perfect, not to abandon the idea of justice altogether. And in my opinion, Americans are so steeped in Christian ethics that we can hardly imagine doing otherwise. I say this with both caution and humility, but to a certain undeniable extent we are no longer the people to whom Jesus was expressing these novel ideas 2000 years ago, because of the very efficacy of his teachings. In the ancient world, there was not even the conception of a benign leviathan such as the United States that conquers countries in order to liberate them. There was only Rome and other imperial powers, which operated along completely different lines, to say the least.
Perhaps a trivial analogy would be helpful. Imagine if Jesus had discovered the germ theory. As a result, he says, "You have heard from the Jews that ritual cleanliness is important. I say, forget all that. You're not as clean as you think. Just wash your hands several times a day, and you shall conquer communicable disease." Now in its context, this would have represented truly revolutionary and helpful advice. But today, we know all about germ theory. It is "in our bones," so to speak. We are all the beneficiaries of 150 years of awareness of the reality of germs, so the advice wouldn't mean the same thing to us. On the other hand, it is possible that sub-Saharan Africans could benefit from this sound hygienic advice -- just as the primitive Muslim world could clearly benefit from Jesus' advice about turning the other cheek and forgiving enemies. For radical Muslims are taught to return kindness with evil, and destroy only to destroy, not to build.
If you take certain statements of Jesus out of context, you will end up with a deranged and evil morality that is no better than the King of all Spiritual Hucksters, Deepak Chopra. Of our "primitive" Western morality, he has written, for example, that "America leads the world in executing criminals and is among the few Western countries that still retain the death penalty." Obviously the operative word is criminals, although to be accurate he should have said murderers. In the countries we are fighting, the criminals are in charge and murder the innocent, so he has hardly drawn a legitimate comparison.
Chopra has also written that "the U.S. has a higher proportion of its citizens behind bars than Stalin put into the Gulag," a completely idiotic statement in view of the fact that the Soviet Union was a prison -- as are Iran or Saudi Arabia. Chopra says that our prisons "are incredibly inhumane by any standard except a concentration camp." Yes, I'm sure he'd prefer to live in an Iranian or Chinese prison.
How on earth does someone become as morally deranged as Deepak Chopra? What is the source of such an enfeebled ability to reason in the realm of morality? It's not just that he's wrong -- rather, it is that he reverses good and evil, right and wrong, decent and indecent. So it's more than just moral ignorance. It's some kind of active process that bypasses his conscience and makes it dysfunctional. It is a moral dementia.
At least in part, this moral dementia seems to come from a radical leftist application of never resisting evil and always turning the other cheek. Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't come from orthodox Hinduism or Vedanta. The Bhagavad Gita, probably the most beloved text in Hinduism, takes the form of a dialogue between a frightened and equivocating warrior, Arjuna, and the incarnate god, Krishna. Arjuna is afraid to do what needs to be done -- which is kill the bad guys -- but Krishna responds,
"You ought not to hesitate; for to a warrior, there is nothing nobler than a righteous war. But if you refuse to fight in this righteous war, you will be turning aside from your duty. You will be a sinner, and disgraced.... Your enemies will also slander your courage.... Shake off this fever of ignorance.... Be free from the sense of ego. Dedicate your actions to me. Then go forward and fight."
Likewise, contrary to what reader Ned suggested yesterday, Aurobindo wrote in his Essays on the Gita that it "does not preach indifference to good and evil for the ordinary life of man, where such a doctrine would have the most pernicious consequences." He dismisses the notion that human beings are at a stage in their evolution that they can use "soul-force" (Ahimsa) alone to stop evil, as knaves such as Chopra and Gandhi would have it. In the face of such "soul force," the evil "in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes." Resort to passive resistance and "you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence."
"A day may come -- must surely come -- when humanity will be ready spiritually, morally, socially for the reign of universal peace; meanwhile the aspect of battle and the nature and function of man as a fighter have to be accepted and accounted for by any practical philosophy of religion."
And here is the key: for it is not compassion which causes Arjuna to reject his mission to fight evil. Rather, as Aurobindo writes, "That is not compassion but an impotence full of weak self-pity, a recoil from the mental suffering which his act must entail on himself.... [It is] also a form of self-indulgence... This pity is a weakness of the mind and senses -- a weakness which may well be beneficial to men of a lower grade of development, who have to be weak because otherwise they will be hard and cruel; for they have to cure the harsher by the gentler forms of egoism" [emphasis mine].
I believe this last statement is a key to Jesus' meaning with regard to evil, both fighting it and forgiving it. Again, as I always emphasize, I am not a Christian theologian -- as if you didn't know, so there is no need to remind me of that, and I hope it goes without saying that all card-carrying Coons are free to disagree with me (I say this because there appears to be an occasional trepidation on that score -- as if Dupree is authorized to discipline Coons in good standing, and not just trolls). Nevertheless, I am moved to respectfully reject certain popular and even authorized interpretations of Jesus for the same reason that I am moved to reject the Vatican's economically illiterate pronouncements on the evils of capitalism.
We must be able to say the following without flinching, both because it is obvious and because it is compassionate: the vast majority of the world still consists of half-civilized men of "the lower grade of development" who must take Jesus' words literally and become weak in order to avoid being hard and cruel. Folks, this is why we cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. It is not a moral problem for America to have nuclear weapons, because we have 2000 years under our pelts of curbing the will to power and showing compassion for the weak. Likewise, if Israel were anything resembling the psychotic delusions of Muslims, there would be no Muslims. Israel would have behaved like uncivilized Muslims and annihilated the so-called Palestinians long ago -- just as the Palestinians would do to Israel in a heartbeat if given the opportunity or if they had beating hearts.
Now, having said that, I must reiterate that I say it with great caution and with great humility, for it is nevertheless necessary for each individual human to internalize Christ's teachings about evil and forgiveness, and to always put them into practice in day-to-day life. It is part of what most of us in the West naturally do in the socialization of our children, in order to make them civilized. You will notice that they do the opposite in the Islamic world, where they specifically inculcate a spirit of hatred and vengeance in their children, something which Charles at LGF has documented ad nauseam. The Islamic world is in desperate need of taking quite literally the words, "I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Only in so doing will they be able to move beyond their present historical, developmental, moral, and psycho-spiritual rut.
I have heard it said by at least one teacher whom I respect, that Jesus' statement should be taken to mean "resent not evil," which again, most of us in the West already adhere to. How many in the West walk around still resenting Germany, or Japan, or Vietnam? But Muslims are still steamed about things that happened a thousand years ago. Likewse, backward-looking progressives will never get over the 2000 election, or Watergate, or the Gulf of Tonkin, or slavery, or you name it. They are the party of institutionalized resentment. Ronald Reagan hated communism, and appropriately so. But was he a resentful man? Hardly.
Furthermore, you will note that there is a symbiotic relationship between Islamists, who are "beneath" Jesus' counsel about turning the other cheek, and leftists, who are "parallel" to it, i.e., who take it literally in order to justify their weakness, cowardice, and moral vanity. Which is why, given enough time, the former will simply give wedgies to the latter before slaughtering them.
Did Christ teach love or is that just a liberal bias? In the current climate, it's hard to remember.... The reversal of Christianity from a religion of love to a religion of hate is the greatest religious tragedy of our time.... [We] can't join any sect that preaches intolerance, yet we can't fight it, either, because by definition fighting is a form of intolerance. --Deepak Chopra
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed. --Letter from Gandhi to Adolf Hitler
It is suggested that Sri Aurobindo was a forerunner of [Gandhi's] gospel of Ahimsa. This is quite incorrect. Sri Aurobindo is neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist.... Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in its basis; without a change in human nature it cannot come with any finality. If it is attempted on any other basis (moral principle or gospel of Ahimsa or any other), it will fail and even may leave things worse than before. --Sri Aurobindo, On Himself
It is absurd to want to abolish the death penalty on the grounds that one would not like to be in the condemned man’s place; to be in the place of the condemned man is at the same time to be the murderer; if the condemned man can earn our sympathy it is precisely by being able to recognize his crime and by desiring to pay for it with his life, thereby removing all antagonism between him and us. --Frithjof Schuon
A more nuanced view of the Dalai Lama (TW: Walt).