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?


  1. "Vengeance is to justice what pornography is to sex."


    on Riparian Church today. Check it out!

  2. My brother told us once that a missionary from the Middle East had visited their church and likened the Western Christian view of Muslims to Jonah's view of Nineveh. We really don't like these people, we don't think they deserve redemption, and if they get it we are going to sit under a tree and sulk.

    So sadly true.

  3. ha! Pippi, I don't think that Christians limit that attitude only to Muslims.

  4. Since we're quoting the bard, one of the best illustrations of the cycle of vengeance can be found in the Capulets and Montagues. Human justice too often looks like that.

    Divine justice, on the other hand, looks like the return of Yahweh to Zion as a man on the back of a colt weeping for a people who would reject him. It's God joining us in the fullness of our humanity, even into death, to rescue and free us. It's a man praying for those mocking, torturing, and killing him to be forgiven.

    The symbol of divine justice is the Cross, which, if you see it truly, is indistinguishable from mercy.

  5. Oooh, Sandra's comment is a VERY good one.

    I posted on this, too, this month. I couldn't believe so many could be so un-Christian. And defend themselves for it.