Thursday, January 19, 2006

What You Should Think about 9/11

Even still, when I look at that Beslan photo, I feel grief. But with me, grief and anger are never far apart.

It’s easy, and right, to hate your enemies.

Jesus said love your enemies, yet Jesus comes again with a sword. There he is, Jesus, on his final Monday, his wide strides kicking up the dust as he rushes up the Temple Mount road, cold rage burning in his eyes, his fingers busy knotting together the strips of leather he is braiding into a whip. What is he planning? And he descends upon the moneychangers like fire from the sky, scourging them with his whip – not as severely has he himself would soon be beaten, but no less violent for that.

A violent and peaceful man. Contradiction? Of course not. Wisdom. What does “hate” mean? — and “love”? What does “enemy” mean? There is a hate that is simply the emotion that goes along with the craving for justice, and the willingness to exact it. Anybody else ever feel that? Or am I the only one.

As for “enemy,” consider the Indian tribe battling the US army in the west. Here comes the cavalry riding over the hill, first thing seen is the American flag. That flag was not a symbol of freedom and justice to those Indians. It is to me. It wasn’t a symbol of rescue, to the Indians. To the wagon train, to the settlers, yes. To me, our flag represents the highest attainments of mankind. Not to the Indians. And they were right. To them it was death, or oppression, or injustice, or at best ultimate defeat.

A tragedy? In the classical sense, yes – a man, or culture, undone by the flaws in his own character. But not a tragedy, in that there are forces of nature, and of history, that are inevitable, and their outcome cannot be called tragic without expanding the definition of the word beyond meaningful limits. Hurricane Katrina was not a tragedy, but a calamity. If a soldier aims his rifle at a brave, and kills a child instead -- yes, a tragedy, if an accident is the same as a tragedy. Yet there is somehow the idea of necessity, bound up in tragedy. Surely accidents aren’t necessary. The death of a child is so very many things, and there is no simple answer, and any answer there is, is not clear. How complex.

But this I know: 9/11 was not a tragedy, not a catastrophe. If there were no better word, then perhaps. But a better word there is. Atrocity. Deliberate, planned, brutal. What do we do with such as these? Love them? I will love them, as God loves those he sends to hell. I believe he does love them. But he loves justice too. Eventual justice. The traditional symbol of justice is a pair of balances – a glancing acknowledgment of a multiplicity of factors, too many for meaningful calculation. So we simplify and use symbols. And our love for them must be complex - if we are to survive.

What is necessary cannot be wrong. In this, perhaps we stumble upon a sort of key to the problem. If we are commanded to love, then to love is right. But how to love? What to forgive? There is no emotion, nor any instinct, that is wrong in itself. But when they are perverted, well.

Capitalism may certainly contain the seeds of its own destruction, to reference Marx – a man who has far more blood on his hands than Christ – other people’s blood, that is. (That observation is entirely original to me, incidentally. I feel I can get away with saying that.) Capitalism, and Western Civilization, might certainly fall prey to some greater force of history, some force that is truer to human nature and emotion and instinct, truer to the laws of nature and of nature’s God – if there should be such a truer force. Perhaps the TV preacher was right, and world leaders are smitten in old age by the judgment of God, and coastal cities are laid waste by the Mighty Arm of His Wrath. But given the inevitability of such things, it can only be the significance of timing that distinguishes such events from the merely random. Likewise, with all calamities. They will occur. As will tragedies. And as will atrocities, and injustice, and the demand for the redress of injustice. The most descriptive term I can find for this universe is "entropic." Justice is spermicidal, for the bad seed.

The Indian mother holding her slain child, weeping tears of grief and rage – her prayers went unanswered. The families of those killed in flames or falling towers or crashing planes – the dead remain dead, the guilty are outside our power to avenge – or in our grasp but unlikely to exhibit the remorse and repentance we desire so much to see. Perhaps we should love our enemies most, when they are outside the reach of our justice. This would have the virtue of obedience to God, while preserving our souls from curdling.

Jesus, tradition has it, was a carpenter -- his adoptive father certainly was. Perhaps Jesus made the cross of his own crucifixion, if it was a recycled cross. What is certain is that he made the whip he used on the backs of the moneychangers. It may be that he possessed the right to be a whipmaker, or rather a whip user, because of his use, on the cross. I don’t know. It’s too complex. What I do know is that moneychangers need whipping. And we should allow neither anger, nor grief – nor any other instinct or emotion – to pervert the craving for justice.



Miroslav said...

yes, the paradox of it all. I ache with you and am somehown broken under the weight of it.

I had been curious about that picture since you wrote that painful poem. I take it that its a picture from 9-11 yeah?

You write: 'Perhaps we should love our enemies most, when they are outside the reach of our justice.' ... I hear your emotion and pain, but certainly this is not a biblical thought is it? Give to the man who has just robbed you? Turn the other cheek? All speak to the hear and now, as if the power IS in your ability to act.

A paradox to be certain.

Another one that just destroys my definitions... Romans 12:19-21 : "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"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." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I mean ... first a tough commandment (to be nice and all), but then we are told to do it not out of genuine LOVE for them. No, instead we are told that it will "heap burning coals" on their head. WOW! Difficult stuff. Its like love them, ... to hurt them.

dissidens said...

I think not.

To heap coals of fire was not to sear scalps. The custom was to send guests home with a way to rekindle a home fire gone out. It sounds like cruelty to us, but it was take-out hospitality.

Or so I’ve been told was the custom.

In any case, I think we’ve lost the meaning of love. Love is not warm fuzzies and well-wishes, it is not moral indifference or cowardice, and it is not vengeance. Even Plato, who is not known to have attended Sunday School regularly, recognized that justice requires the punishment of the guilty; indeed the good man will desire it.

Love is not giving the beloved what is desired, it is giving her what is best.

Jack H said...

Greeting D, and thanks for your comment. My response to M here was posted as "Love the Enemy." I have a few other comments posted as "Not So Fast, Mr. Bond" -- regarding your suggestion re coals.

In any case, welcome.