Saturday, December 30, 2006

Just Another Killing

The last thing my wife said to me last night when she came into the bedroom after turning off the computer was, "They killed Saddam." This morning I awoke to the story all over the newspaper, and to all the questions that are being asked. Will Saddam's execution bring peace? Will it bring about greater stability? Will it be the end of one chapter in Iraq's history, and the beginning of another, better one?

Everyone seems to agree the answer is "probably not."

I saw profound irony in the statement of President Bush, that Saddam received "the kind of justice he denied the victims of his brutal regime." In fact, this kind of "justice" was all too prevalent under Saddam's reign. His execution is just another killing, and all the trappings of officialdom cannot make it otherwise. His death, like all the other deaths that came before and all the deaths that will come after, will not bring peace.

Lately, as a part of my morning reflections, I have been reading the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After finishing with the newspaper, I read his sermon "Loving your Enemies." The sense of tension and counterpoint in this sermon could not have been greater. Following are a few excerpts from; you can find the text in its entirety here.

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system...

It’s not only necessary to know how to go about loving your enemies, but also to go down into the question of why we should love our enemies. I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love...

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.

What might have happened if we had loved Saddam? What if, instead of breaking his neck with a rope, we had kept him alive in a place where he could do no further harm to others or himself, treated him humanely, allowed him to read, and offered him access to moderate Muslim clergy? Might he eventually have recognized the horror of his actions? Might he one day have repented? Yes, I know this is a one in a million chance, but such things do happen. A change in Saddam would have a chance of bringing about change in Iraq; then he might indeed have become a symbol of a new chapter in the country's history. Now, he is merely a symbol of the fact that the Shiites are executing Sunnis, instead of Sunnis executing Shiites.

Every person who commits acts of great evil contains within himself or herself the key to understanding that evil, and so to redeeming, transforming, and healing it. When we kill that person, the key is lost forever.

My morning meditation was from Mark 13:12-13, "You will be hated by all because of my name. The one who endures to the end will be saved." What does it mean to endure to the end? Perhaps it means, in the midst of hatred, to abide in love, not to succumb to hate or to the tactics of those who practice hatred. It means remaining steadfast in the confidence that love is, as St. John Chrysostom says, τό ισχυρόν, the greatest power, the strongest force on earth.

It doesn't come by the bullwhip
It's not persuaded with your hands on your hips
Not the company of gunslingers
The epicenter love is the pendulum swinger

If we're a drop in the bucket
With just enough science to keep from saying fuck it
Until the last drop of sun burns its sweet light
Plenty revolutions left until we get this thing right.

The Indigo Girls, "Pendulum Swinger," from Despite our Differences

5 comments:

seth said...

sampson,

thanks for this...

OSC said...

If you would, please permit a comment from one who stumbled upon your blog.

What if, instead of breaking his neck with a rope, we had kept him alive in a place where he could do no further harm to others or himself, treated him humanely, allowed him to read, and offered him access to moderate Muslim clergy? Might he eventually have recognized the horror of his actions? Might he one day have repented?

From a strictly Christian perspective, ministry by a moderate Muslim cleric might have induced a political/sociological change of heart--perhaps. Yet what ultimate purpose would have been served by that? Nothing really big. So Saddam might have been a nicer guy. In the balance of eternity, nothing would have changed. The rest of his days might have been lived with more morality. But morality alone doesn't do anything for anyone. Only faith in Jesus Christ makes an eternal difference, and that's not something the man would have been likely to receive from the tutelage of a Muslim cleric of any ilk. If yer gonna dream, dream big, man. Lament the fact that he died clutching the Qur'an instead of clinging to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Sampson said...

Seth, you're welcome. You've got a great blog.

Dear OSC,

I would not want to rule out the possibility of Saddam's becoming a Christian; after all, jailhouse conversions are not uncommon. But I disagree that the only good that could possibly come out of Saddam's being kept alive is that he might one day convert to Christianity. There is inherent value in treating another person with respect and dignity, irrespective of whether that person converts as a result. Freedom of conscience, including the freedom to practice one's own religion unimpeded and unmolested, is a Christian value; it is a matter of doing unto others as one would have done to oneself.

Furthermore, I disagree that only through faith in Jesus Christ is it possible for anything of abiding value to come out of a person's life. History has given us many examples of people who were not Christians, and yet whose lives have made a profound contribution to our understanding of what it means to be human, enriching Christian and non-Christian alike.

Feel free to stumble in anytime.

S.

Mimi said...

Thank you, you have put into words what I have felt since I heard the news.

Johanna said...

Dear S,

Did you ever see "The Widow of St. Pierre"? Thank you for saying it out loud.