Magi Mike's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Compassion

So Quite How Did Universal Love Become Murderous Vengeance?

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Our morals at core are instinctive, evolved because we are social animals and so living in groups must offer advantages over living separately as solitary animals. The benefits of living socially are that we can defend each other, care for each other, feed each other, and comfort each other, some of the characteristics Jews call hesed or “lovingkindness”, and Christ called “love”.

Journalists and sentimentalists are fond of referring to “our loved ones” meaning people special to us, but proving that Christianity has not penetrated into our souls. “Our loved ones”, Christ taught are all of our neighbors wherever they might be, for any one of them could literally move in next door tomorrow—even some of our enemies!

One of the great advantages of Christianity over most Pagan religions and philosophies is that it has a clear role model for ordinary people in that it relates not only some of Christ’s teaching, but also described how he lived and thought. In the days when people were illiterate or were excluded from reading the life of Christ in the New Testament for themselves, stories of the life of Christ as a role model for them to copy in their own lives was particularly important. Believers were expected to be Christs, to behave like Christ. Only the Cathars kept it up, and the Catholic Church ordered a crusade against them, and scattered them far and wide. There was no need of any particular understanding of theology or philosophy in everyday living so long as simple folk had a model of excellence before them.

It was easier than it was for, say, the Stoic who was expected always to act sensibly—which is to say with reason—explaining why Stoicism remained the preserve of literate and wealthy people in classical times. It was easier than it was for the Platonist who had to look to God Himself. One of the failings of Christianity was that a majority of Christians wanted to raise up Christ to the Godhead, removing him as a realistic human role model for many. Paul exacerbated this deification by making Christ the object of Christian worship as a risen god on the eastern mystery model, though he was more useful as a human role model, with God left sitting aloft on his unattainable seat of power and judgement.

Stoics missed a human role model to such an extent that they inclined to idealize philosophers in that role. Epictetus, the Stoic ex-slave who was a near contemporary of Christ, urged his disciples to choose a role model and to imagine he was always beside them to instruct and guide them in the ways of excellence. Christians, in Jesus Christ, had this model of excellence ready made inasmuch as he was a man of exceptional morality.

Not only that, he was, as the propounder of love of others as the key to proper morality and sociality, the object of deep affection. Christians were to love God and to love other human beings, just as they loved Christ first as a symbol of human excellence, and then as an aspect of God Himself. To love others as if each of them were God Himself was Christ’s central tenet, though later Christian leaders decided it was something they would rather not know. It was much easier to get gentile recruits who were simply required to have faith! Most therefore came to prefer just to love God while continuing to hate other humans except for the narrow circle of “loved ones” that most of us love without any effort at all. It seemed to meet Christ’s requirement sufficiently well, they mutually agreed.

Having the loving Christ notionally at ones shoulder, like the eminent person of the Stoics, is still the belief of many a Christian. Christ is their buddy, but few of them know him at all well. The image of him they carry with them is not the Christ of the gospels. The role model of the modern US Christian is a Rambo Christ or a type of Dirty Harry. Yet no reading of the New Testament gospels can yield anything like any such image. Christ as a brutal avenger is an atavistic decline from an advanced to a primitive morality, from mutual concern and universal service to reactive tribal vengeance for some dishonor, imagined or otherwise. It has been seen with pelucid clarity in the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, a wicked man, certainly, but no more so than many of our own tribal heroes, no more so than Bush, Blair, Clinton or even Obama. We have lost the ability, essential for compassion, of being able to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Christians, to follow the lead and tenets of the gospel Christ, ought not to gloat over human death, or to glorify it, yet that is what they do, even the most pious—they claim—of them. Society, which is the origin of the concept of God, has the right to protect itself from those who work to destroy it, but it should do it reluctantly and with sorrow not joy. Joy is for the lost sheep found, for the returning wanderer, not for finding and killing the wayward sheep or wanderer for causing those at home too much worry.

Society justly protects itself by due process of law, not by taking arbitrary revenge, and, when all that is left for society to do is to take a life in defense of itself, any human being and especially anyone who professes to be guided by Christ must make every effort to demonstrate the value and efficacy of human morality, which, when universally practised, would abolish the need for punishment.

Christians have been ready to castigate Islam as lacking tenderness, despite its pure monotheism and high general morality, because it lacked a suitable role model. For all the Moslem talk about their brotherhood, that was not their central principle—that was their universal submission to God. Curiously, modern Christianity has grown in the same direction. What was meant to be universal, and once was so regarded, is now so narrow that it applies only to “our loved ones”, with no love extended to enemies, nowadays innocent people thousands of miles away being bombed, shelled and machine gunned by our heroes, professional terminators armed to the teeth, and drone killing machines remotely piloted from some distant aircraft carrier.

Arabs were not averse to spreading their new imperial religion, Islam, by conquest, by coercion and by taxation (exempting Moslems and converts from it), rather than by love and example. Even so, the Christian world had been in turmoil for centuries, and Persia was decadent, so by keeping order in their conquered territories the Caliphs were preferred by their subjects to their predecessors.

Today’s nominally Christian western powers, led by the USA, have no compunction in murdering foreigners on an industrial scale by indiscriminate use of WMD, scarcely even for revenge, but often simply as a warning and an example to the survivors and onlookers. They now know just what to expect when they fail to submit to the will of the all powerful financial and military class of the US. There is no justice in it.

The attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan were nominally in revenge for the deaths of 3000 innocent office workers in the Twin Towers, yet the US and its ally, Israel, had conspired to rob a whole nation of its homeland of several thousand years, the very people of whom Christ was a member 2000 years ago, the Palestinians. The UK and US had spent much of the Clinton administration bombing Iraq under the pretence of a “no fy zone” and a stiff regime of sanctions, even before Bush engineered the invasion of 2003. An unknown number, but at least a million, innocents died in the two operations combined. These mega murders were to avenge nothing. They were directed at one man, a man protected for decades by the not at all worthy Christian leaders of a supposedly Christian nation.

The mass murder was to demonstrate western, primarily US, power, the US allies in these “coalitions” being simply to dilute the responsibility for unspeakable crimes against humanity by the USA alone. And already in earlier times the US had killed an estimated 2 million Vietnamese by the most horrifying carpet bombing and the use of chemical weapons that are killing and deforming Vietnamese babies still. Just what is Christian in this, only partial, litany of mass murder of innocent human beings? Millions have been killed to show that the US was not to be meddled with, or to avenge much lesser crimes albeit serious ones themselves.

Isn’t the point of Christ’s passion and death the lesson that taking human life must always be wrong? Christians consider that Christ was God, and pious Jews approved of his murder. If Christ were to return, he would have a good chance of being klilled at the instigation of some US Christian leader. God is everyman, according to the one Christians recognize as having the authority of His Son, one of the Trinity. When a slight to anyone is a slight to God Himself, as Christ taught, the leaders of the USA are carrying a burden of sin that far exceeds that of its well publicised enemies, those so wicked that they constitute an “evil empire”.

If the wickedness of a nation is to be measured by the number of innocent people it has killed then the USA is up with Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Polpot’s Cambodia—millions! The failure of successive Christian leaders of the USA to recognize the enormity of their own crimes, and their responsibility for them, and the grotesqueness of their boasted claims to moral propriety is an insult to the intelligence of anyone normal, but not, it seems many Christians. The fact that they nearly all remain mute in the face of these horrors shows that Christianity is dead in the modern world.

Cardinal O’Brien Exposes US Hypocrisy

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It is not often that I find myself agreeing with a Catholic cardinal. They are usually much more intent on defending Vatican politics than acting according to the ethics of the Christian god, Jesus Christ. Regrettably most Christian laypeople are no better. They haven’t a clue what Christ taught because they never read what the gospels have to say about him, and take all their directions regarding morality from their priests and pastors, or more often from their relatives and friends.

Interviewed by BBC Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, has emphasized to that vast Christian country, the USA, that they ought to act with Christian morality if they are to claim to be a Christian country. He has agreed with the Scottish government that it was right to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan found guilty of bombing a civil aeroplane flying over Locherbie in Scotland, on grounds of compassion. He is suffering from terminal cancer.

270 innocent people on board Pan Am flight 103 were murdered when it was blown up over town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. The cardinal agrees it was “an act of unbelievable horror and gratuitous barbarity”, and that bereaved people have a right in civilized countries to expect justice for such a heinous crime.

Two Libyans were brought to trial over the attack, Kalifa Fhima and Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi who was found guilty and made to serve a lifetime sentence in Scotland, the country where the crime occurred. Justice seemed to be done. But after about ten years of incarceration Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. To the chagrin of, it seems, most of the USA, the Scottish government agreed to the release of al-Magrahi on compassionate grounds. He was thought to have only three months to live.

The US since then has at all levels from the public through the media up to the political—congress—have been baying for some scapegoat, even demanding that the sovereign authorities of Scotland must appear before the Senate as if they were criminals, or, failing that, appearing before a Senate committee meeting in Scotland. The cardinal answers:

The Scottish government has made the decision and the Scottish government is answerable to the Scottish people—not the US government or US citizens. Everyone acted according to Scots law in releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds, having taken medical advice. I still think they did the right thing, although the man is still alive. We shouldn’t be crawling out to America, or having them come here and questioning us on our own territory.

The Criminal, Justice and Parole Division of the Scottish Government earlier had said:

The perpetration of an atrocity should not be a reason for losing sight of the values people in Scotland seek to uphold and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live the values of humanity and compassion.

Cardinal O’Brien thought it was a clash of cultures. Americans were focused only on retribution, but Scotland had a culture of care. Through their justice system, Scots have cultivated a culture of compassion, but many Americans had an attitude towards the concept of justice which amounted to a culture of vengeance:

In many states—more than half—they kill the perpetrators of horrible crimes, by lethal injection or even firing squad—I say that is a culture of vengeance. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—that is not our culture in Scotland and I would like to think that the US government, and these states that do still have capital punishment, would learn something from us.

The Americans are not in good company in their eagerness to punish its citizens and others by the most severe sentences imaginable, including terminating human life—something they are excellent at, whether at home or abroad. Since 1976, 1,221 people have been executed in the US. Its execution rate is only outdone by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and China. In Iraq, international experts estimate a million innocent people have been murdered consequent upon the Bush invasion. A few decades back the figure in Vietnam was two million innocents, and in both places many continue to suffer today because of the utterly barbaric and inhuman methods used to secure victory.

Americans are good at revenge. What they are not good at is justice.

Cardinal O’Brien thinks it is in the midst of such inhuman barbarism, that we must affirm our humanity. In moments of grief and despair we must show the world that the standards of the murderer and his disdain for human life are not our standards. Though they plunge to the depths of human conduct, we will not follow them. Americans should “direct their gaze inwards” rather than fussing about the Scottish justice system.

Suspects are not guilty until proven to be, yet anyone “suspected” of terrorism, under the oppressive laws brought in by Bush and Blair in their respective countries, are assumed to be terrorists. Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter lost her life in the atrocity, and other British people who were bereaved in the bombing, were never satisfied that the trial of the Libyan suspects was fair. He wanted the trial to be held in Scotland precisely because in the USA…

…both men would be judicially executed by a system which operates perilously close to the doctrine that might is right, and that truth can be bought. Moreover, for those deemed to be the enemy of “God’s Own Country” the quality of the evidence against them might be less important than the opportunity for vengeance to be seen to be done—that death should be delivered summarily. Unfortunately the notion that God is on your country’s side has led men to commit so much malevolent slaughter down the ages that the whole name of religion can be criticized.

Swire knew Scottish justice was among the best judicial systems in the world.

Those who seem to lust for this man’s death should look not at the details of why he was released, but the question of whether he really was guilty… Meanwhile let us join with the Cardinal in giving thanks to our God if we admit One, that this man, who may well be innocent has not been judicially executed in our names.

The point Swire is making and that the Americans, baying for a victim rather than justice, ignore is that the evidence which condemned al-Magrahi was apparently bought by the US government. The chief witness linking al-Magrahi with the flight received $2 million for his exertions. Now, to people in the UK who, like Dr Swire, notice these things, something smells horribly foul. Al-Magrahi was released quite properly for compassionate reasons, but it looks very likely that he ought never to have been locked up in the first place. The outcry from the US then makes more sense—US perfidy and deceit might be, for once, exposed.

The GAP (Great American Public) never notice bad smells that the US government give rise to, even when it blows off in their faces. Americans are too angelic to be evil. And, in any case, the GCN (Great Christian Nation) simply has no idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and therefore no moral basis to judge—no Christian one, at any rate. The cardinal might have quoted the gospels:

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Matthew 18:21-22

Here is the GCN that will not forgive once, even for a dying man whose guilt is far from certain. Of course, the Christian will say forgiving seven times let alone seventy is pure stupidity. OK, but then you are not a Christian are you? Or they will complain it is too hard for a mere mortal, even if God can manage it. But Christ also said:

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Luke 6:36

Their own God, God the Son, directs them to be merciful just as their own God, God the Father, is in heaven. They just have no excuse at all. The clear implication is that they must be merciful if they expect God to show the mercy to them they expect post mortem. Even so, they will argue that their faith is sufficient, because their pastors tell them so, but these words of Christ are not just optional extras. They are imperatives—commands. Faith is not sufficient. Christians have to do things to be saved. Too bad they only listen to the TV evangelists who are in it for the bucks they get out of the ignorant. These are not Christians but the opposite.

It is novel, though, for a senior cleric to be pointing out the hypocrisy of the Great Christian Nation!