Lenten Meditation 22 March 2012
“Scapegoating or sacralized violence is the best possible disguise for evil. … We all choose “apparent goods” inside of our own unrecognized frame of reference. Your violence is always bad and evil. Mine is always necessary and good.” (Page 135)
|Il Tintoretto: Cain and Abel|
There is something about human nature that needs to exhibit or express violence. It must be in our DNA, likely as a survival instinct from the dim past when all of life was dangerous and survival unlikely. “Only the strong survive,” is an adage I grew up with and one that operates daily in American culture. Violence needn’t always have a bloody victim as with Cain and Abel; that is to say, violence can be emotional or spiritual to affect the desired abuse on the one to which it is directed. In recent months we have seen in news reports the effect of cyberspace bullying on vulnerable children and teenagers, resulting in suicide. But physical violence is also perpetrated widely within families, by groups against other groups (gangs against gangs), by countries against countries. Within the past 70 years we have attained the ability to end all life on planet Earth, with the possible exception of cockroaches, through nuclear destruction.
My heritage is that of a bellicose people, the Scots, who, when they were not focused on killing as many Englishmen as they could, centered their fighting against one another in clan wars, and even at times sub-clan battles for dominance and power. Knowing my lineage helps me to understand how I respond, or at least am drawn to respond, when challenged. Most of the time I am able to control my responses in a learned behavior that manages to keep me from “over reacting” to situations that might become very nasty, either verbally or physically without choosing to subdue the violent streak.
Last night I watched a program on PBS entitled “What females want…And what males will do.” The focus was on mating behavior of prairie chickens, a type of monkey related to baboons, lions, and others, studying a variety of mating rituals seeking to discover how such rituals help perpetuate the species. In every species studied, the competing males acted in aggressive ways to assert their dominance over other males in order to spread their own DNA. Human dating rituals do not usually become as aggressive as what I watched on PBS, but occasionally we are not as far from “animal violence” as we would like to think we are.
Father Rohr has hit on a very important issue: we can justify our own violence in stunning ways, including theological—God blessed—ways. We need only look back a little over ten years to 9/11 to see the righteous indignation that immediately arose in our country against anyone of Middle Eastern descent, or individuals who even looked like they were Arabic.
Fortunately, we did not go to the extremes of the 1940’s internment of all of Japanese heritage, but violence was perpetrated on individuals, groups and houses of worship that was shameful. “Your violence is always bad and evil. Mine is always necessary and good.” We were able to justify wars against Afghanistan and Iraq that have now dragged on for over 10 years, costing thousands of American lives and untold numbers of both enemy soldiers’ and innocent citizens’ lives. We feared for our survival, so we responded in-kind, violence for violence. “An eye for an eye…” as I believe it was Gandhi who said, “leaves the whole world blind.” We easily justified—and continue to justify—our reaction to violence against us, which gives the Afghan's and Pakistanis justification to respond with their violence against us, which demands that we respond against them, and on and on.
Jesus calls us to a different path: if someone slaps your right cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone takes your cloak, give them your shirt also. Blessed are you when you are reviled and all sorts of evil are spoken wrongly of you. Need I go on? The story of Jesus’ last days, relived through the liturgies of Holy Week, draws us into the contradiction of our DNA against our faith perspective. Jesus, the Son of God, easily could have called down the angelic army to avenge the violence perpetrated against Him but chose not to act quid pro quo, tit for tat, violence to end violence, which is a non sequitor.
I wrote a couple of days ago about the phrase “children of wrath” that appeared in our Epistle lesson last Sunday in Ephesians 2. St Paul speaks to us in that passage of how we have been raised up with Jesus out of God’s mercy and not our own doing. For the rest of Lent, I am setting my heart on responding to any attack, real or imagined, although not likely physical, by seeking to remember that Christ has raised me from the death of violence into the life of mercy and forgiveness, forgiveness both for myself and for all others. And when I remember the attacks that have been perpetrated against me, I will, with God’s help, forgive those deeds of violence and give them into God’s hands. I will with God’s help. I will with God’s help. I will with God’s help.