Thursday, May 12, 2011

The End of the World Is at Hand

My very secular almost-13 and 14 year-old daughters were talking about why we said "two thousand-and-two" for 2002 but "twenty-ten" for 2010.

The 13yo: "saying the thousand makes it more duh-duh-duh…you know creepy-like…which sounds more dramatic: 'the world will end in twenty-twelve' or 'the world will end in the year two-thousand-and-twelve?'" (all the while speaking with the creepy voice).

I interrupted to remind them "2012? Nah, next weekend! May 21st" and the 14yo got a little freaked: "I don't like it when people start to talk about the End of the World."

The 13yo reassured her: "It's all right. The giant Jesus statue in Brazil will come to life and collect up all the good people and take them away somewhere cold so they'll be safe."

(for more info on this upcoming Rapture date:  an overview, and right from the horse's mouth... er... horse's something)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And Dawns the Morning After

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.
       (The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare)

The assassination of bin Laden is the kind of event that ought to make one pause for philosophical thought.  Perhaps now that the first blood-drunk frenzy is exhausting itself, the spiritual hangover will promote reflection (or self-indulgent ranting and whining for those who don’t want to do the harder work).  Such a moment forces the deeper questions to the forefront of the mind. 

What is vengeance?  How does it differ from justice?  Is justice punitive or redemptive? What is mercy? Is it different than justice? Which of the three—vengeance, justice, mercy—are compatible and which mutually exclusive? What are the immediate reflexive answers to these questions and do those answers change after reflection?

What does love do to the equation? Does compassion for one person or group necessitate a lack of compassion for an opposing person or group? Do mercy and justice look different when considered by an individual versus a state or a social system? What about whether the object of compassion is an individual versus a state or social system?  Does that change the outcome of the discussion?

Ought a state to have a conscience? Is the moral compass of a state a mere reflection of the individuals in positions of power or is there some external collective natural morality to which states ought to adhere?  What would it be?

Is justice blind? Should it be?  Can it be?

Is mercy ever strained to the breaking point?

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of a Man, the Death of a Myth

I have no pleasure in the death (execution? assassination? can we call a spade a spade?) of bin Laden but I am immensely grateful that he is no longer able to provoke the ruination of lives, families, social systems and countries. I still have hope that he can find the redemption of God, however that happens.

I feel a wary relief in the face of ongoing political realities. But, also I feel a clean, fierce joy for the resolution of a chapter of grief for those who lives were destroyed by bin Laden's megalomania. I regret that it was required of us (us in the collective humanity sense, not the political entity of the US) to kill him to protect, respect, and accept the people he threatened. But sometimes that is necessary—we cannot honor the holiness of humanity in the one at the expense of the holiness of humanity in the many.

I can have no room to gloat—that is as irresponsible for me as letting an abuser continue abusing, it makes me as spiritually abusive as the dead one—but neither will I feel guilt for my terrible gladness nor condone guilt for those unable to separate gloating from a deep-seated satisfaction at a horrible job finally accomplished. 

Someone pointed out the contrast between these two verses: 

 Proverbs 11:10 (New King James Version) “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation” and 

Prov. 24:17 "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles lest the LORD see it and be displeased." I don't think there is necessarily a contradiction here. There can be jubilation at the cessation of the wicked one's evil machinations that is not a rejoicing in the degradation and humiliation of the enemy. Too often, I agree, the two are combined in one long, vicious scree of sadistic joy, but it is not inevitable.

I’m frustrated with both those who glory in the death of bin Laden, gloating at his assumed eternal torture in hell, and those who heap guilt on anyone not saddened and burdened by the death.   Those who gloat demonstrate that the line between good and evil runs right through each of us and that sometimes the good and the evil masquerade as the other.  Those who heap guilt make no distinction between gloaters and those who take grim satisfaction in a necessary gory responsibility to take life in order to preserve life.  When we preach about the sanctity of life of perpetrators of this magnitude (those who will not be socially redeemed by lesser means than death) and claim that it is not our place but God’s to order their death, we denigrate the sanctity of the lives he destroys.  When abusers are protected more than his victims, something is seriously wrong.

When, as is sometimes the case as it was here in bin Laden's, it is necessary to end a life in order to preserve, protect and cherish other lives, I am willing to accept responsibility for that killing—whether it requires my personal participation or my spiritual ownership. But along with that acceptance of responsibility—and no little satisfaction at its accomplishment—comes the responsibility to be creating a world where bin Ladens are universally unacceptable and unable to flourish and where the victims of bin Ladens (which all of humanity has been to some degree or another) are given the resources to grieve, to heal, to love. 

May this event be not only, as I heard someone report on National Public Radio, “the punctuation at the end of an old story”, the last gasping of a lust for reactionary radicalism, but also the end of an era marked by tribalism and parochial terror.  May we all channel our passions into compassion, love and service.