Thursday, January 23, 2014

The untenable concept of "love your enemy"

As readers of my blog will know by now, I don't believe the Bible is true, or actually represents a real god figure. But I do think the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament, who probably lived and probably taught much of what is attributed to him, is a pretty cool guy, a sort of Gandhi of ancient times. Granted, he would have had to be fairly delusional to believe that he was akin to or in some way connected to a God (if he said those things), but if the New Testament is remotely accurate in transcribing his teachings (which, to be honest, I am making an assumption that I cannot prove), then he was in many ways a radical breath of fresh air at the time. He lived judge not that ye be not judged, and like the philosophers, prophets, and priests from many religions (again, if they, and not their followers, actually said what's been attributed to them), emphasized principles more in keeping with humanism than were embraced at the time. And that's important, and laudable.
A close examination of Jesus' words, however (I highly recommend Matt Dillahunty's deconstruction of the Sermon on the Mount, for starters), reveals that, as much a "step in the right direction" as they were in a time of rigid legalism, stonings and jealous gods, they were often problematic in their own right. Sometimes, they were just bad advice. Doing away with "an eye for an eye" is excellent, but encouraging people to submit to abuse ("turn to him the other [cheek] also") is bad advice. In fact, it's horrible advice. Would you encourage your child to submit to more bullying? "Hey, how about another swirlie? Come on, dude, you sure you want to leave it at just one? Wouldn't you at least like to stuff me in a locker?" Would you encourage a battered spouse to keep putting up with abuse? (Alas, for far too long we did exactly that). The concept of not overreacting to injurious actions is laudable; the idea that we should further submit to injury is idiotic and destructive.

Love your enemy is another proscription that is, frankly, lousy and unrealistic. It's perfectly good advice to put away anger and hate, as those are personally destructive forces. But to love your enemy? It sounds all well and good until you really think about it. Since Jesus is supposedly a divine being espousing divine, eternal, absolute morality, there should be no exceptions. Pardon me for invoking Godwin's law, but should a Holocaust survivor love Hitler? Should one of Doctor Mengele's victims love him? Should a child who was raped love the pedophile who raped him or her? Should the parents of a murdered child love the individual who murdered their child? Are they morally failing if they do not? Frankly, no, to both questions. The healthiest course would be to process the grief and anger and eventually arrive at a place of peace, if that's possible (and, in such a case, who can say except the individual?), but it would be ludicrous to expect someone to love a person who was responsible for such hideous cruelties. These are all circumstances where loving your enemy seems wholly unrealistic and even dangerous. As obvious as it is, an enemy is not a friend; they are the opposite of a friend. Responding to the actions and behaviors of an enemy with the same reaction you would normally reserve for a friend is downright dangerous. Even a petty enemy is best distanced and regarded with suspicion; you are better on your guard, recognizing that this person is not your friend, than trying to convince your mind to hold them in a warm fuzzy place: that just opens you up to further suffering and injury.  It is simply unhealthy to hold high regard for someone who seeks to harm you.

And yet Christianity has enshrined this unrealistic and unhealthy goal as a tenet of faith. It is not at all uncommon in Christian circles to hear personal accounts of people loving their enemies (oftentimes from people you know damned well, as soon as they're done tooting their own horns, despise and actively work against their 'enemies'); you read about this in the papers every now and again, when something horrendous has happened, people say they forgive and love the person who wronged them. While I hesitate to criticize someone who is processing their grief, I would say again that, if this person is still their enemy, this is possibly not an advisable course of action; loving a person who means to harm you is dangerous! Now, if the person who wronged them or their family is not their enemy any more, that is a different story; in other words, if someone is seeking your forgiveness and/or they have no further interest in causing you suffering and no more malice directed at you and yours, are they still an enemy? Possibly -- and, if their quest for forgiveness is genuine, probably -- not. Now,I'm not attempting to diminish the personal strength that would be required to both forgive a former enemy, and then genuinely love them; I'm simply pointing out that there is a difference between forgiving a person who did something terrible to you and finding a reason to regard them highly afterwards, and holding in high esteem someone who either is currently or you know likely to cause you hideous injury: one is admirable and praiseworthy in its own right, and the other is foolishly endangering yourself and family. It's also worth noting that forgiveness and love are often conflated, as are love and the absence of hatred. You do not love someone simply by not hating them, any more than you love them simply because you've forgive their actions. Love is more than that.

Unfortunately, the real, practical dangers of loving someone who means to, would like to, or wishes you harm is lost in the fluffy nonsense of religious ideals about "love". When truly practiced as preached, the concept of loving your enemy is dangerous and destructive. Who are you to reject a predator, when God says to love him? And, when embraced in word but not practice, it breeds hypocrisy. Even if you hate your enemy with every fiber of your being (also, not a good idea), you must pretend to love them, because that's what Jesus commanded -- and who would disobey Jesus?! If you really loved Jesus, he'd give you the strength to embrace that pedophile.

As with many faith-based concepts, religion demands something impossible from us, tells us we're evil, sinful and thoroughly flawed for failing to meet an impossible standard, and then tells us that abject worship will allow us to rise to this impossible standard; religious community then adds pressure not only to strive toward such an untenable goal but to actually achieve it, adding the judgment and condescension of peers as an immediate penalty for failure, in addition to the more removed failure in God's eyes. It simultaneously promotes self loathing and, in actual practice, flagrant hypocrisy -- because our failure to do what is not within our nature is evidence of our wickedness (self loathing), but to admit it in a world of people pretending otherwise is to single ourselves out as faithless failures (rendering the easy route of hypocrisy appealing to many). And, as with many faith-based concepts, love your enemy is wrong and potentially dangerous.

1 comment:

  1. Read The Politics Of Jesus By Hendricks, Obery M. to learn why your interpretation of turning the other cheek is incorrect.
    from a pagan