Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Hard Command

In an article from the Washington Post, "Albania Takes Aim at a Deadly Tradition," an amazing truth about human nature itself is touched upon and passed over without realization.

In the realm of the Bible, the Sacred Scripture of the Catholic Church, a "given" is that vengeance is a major source of social catastrophe. As Gil Bailie says, "The first homicide, which is really a fratricide occurs [in my Bible] on page 4, and thereafter the thing is awash in blood. And it reaches its denouement by Christian standards at a ghastly public execution; then it finally culminates in scenes of apocalyptic violence ... What’s strange is that it just now dawned on us that this book is about violence. About violence, religion, and truth."

This story from Albania is about revenge and the thirst for blood too, and that Albania is somehow trying to address this "problem" shows how poorly modern (how Belloc hated that adjective; it only means current, but carries the airs of pomposity and strutting) social science understands the depth of the Christian message. For that, we must turn to a retired philsopher from the University of Chicago, Leszek Kolakowski. In his Modernity on Endless Trial [Univ. of Chicago, 1990], this hardened old humanist and no Christian himself wrote the following about the benefits of this biblical faith for the world:
Our natural forces can find no safe shelter against evil; all we can do is practice the art of balancing opposing dangers. And this is precisely what the Christian tradition affirms in its statement that certain results of original sin are inescapable, and that if salvation is possible, it can only be through grace.

There are reasons why we need Christianity, but not just any kind of Christianity. We do not need a Christianity that makes political revolution, that rushes to cooperate with so-called sexual liberation, that approves our concupiscence or praises our violence. There are enough forces in the world to do all these things without the aid of Christianity. We need a Christianity that will help us to move beyond the immediate pressures of life, that gives us insight into the basic limits of the human condition and the capacity to accept them, a Christianity that teaches the simple truth that there is not only a tomorrow but a day after tomorrow as well … the strength of Christianity does not reveal itself in a theocracy or in a monopoly on the creation of rules for all areas of civilization. Its strength in this interpretation is manifested in its ability to build a barrier against hatred in the consciousness of individuals …

The requirement of the renunciation of hatred was a challenge thrown down by Christianity to human nature, and it has remained so. If Christians are to be found only among those who know how to meet this challenge, who are disciples of Jesus in the sense that they do not escape from the struggle, but are free from hatred – how many have there been, and how many are there now in the world? I do not know. I do not know whether there were more in the middle ages than there are now. However many there are, they are the salt of the earth, and European civilization would be a desert without them. [84-85, 92 - My emphases]

What Kolakowski discerns as "renunciation of hatred" is the injunction of Our Lord to forgive and even pray for our enemies. It is a short circuit not only in the escalation of violence written of between two Albanian families, but that of all human beings who fall for the satanic injunction of vengeance as their "sacred duty."

Christianity has only recently begun the hard work of not scapegoating as Jesus taught us. Some have fallen into a kind of nihilistic paralysis in the wake of not scapegoating as the principle of culture-creating and culture-sustaining, but this is simply the failure of accepting the grace necessary to live the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount.

Other religions are just that -- religions -- that, by anthropological definition are built on sacred violence and hatred. Christians have the hard job ahead of living up to Our Lord's command: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father..." [Matt 5,44-45a]

And, echoing Kolakowski in a paraphrase, How many Christians are there who do not escape the struggle and are free from hatred in the world? I do not know. I do not know whether there were more in the middle ages than there are now. However many there are, they are the salt of the earth, and civilization would be a desert without them.

1 comment:

David Nybakke said...

Thank you Athos. Thank you.