Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Irrational - Life, Death, or Both?

Scott Atran wrote a fascinating "op-ed" in yesterday's Huffington Post. I understood him to say that war and violence are rarely if ever about political or militaristic goals. Rather, human beings fight and kill one another because we instinctively and anthropologically are motivated to stand up for, and die for "moral values." Atran wrote:

The prospect of crippling economic burdens and huge numbers of deaths doesn't necessarily sway people from their positions on whether going to war is the right or wrong choice. One possible explanation is that people are not weighing the pros and cons for advancing material interests at all, but rather using a moral logic of "sacred values" -- convictions that trump all other considerations -- that cannot be quantified. (S. Atran, "Why War is Never Really Rational", para. #7) He added:

Unlike other creatures, humans define the groups to which they belong in abstract terms. Often they kill and die not in order to preserve their own lives or those of the people they love, but for the sake of an idea -- the conception they have formed of themselves. Call it love of group or God, it matters little in the end. (Ibid, para. #16)

I'm really fascinated by Atrin's statements as I understand them through my theological understanding of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. I mean, I get it on the one hand. People of strong faith and ideologies have fought to the death for the causes they support. Young men enlist in the military because they "Love their Country."

Crusaders fought a series of military campaigns for more than a hundred years for reasons including their piety (and the papacy's desires to expands its control). Muslims defended their homelands from European expansionism as well as revenge for Christianity's oppressive acts in Spain and Northern Africa (William Caffero, Crusades -, nd). Islamic Jihadists are most likely fighting for similar moral and political reasons today. Infidels (Western Capitalists and non-fundamentalist Muslims) have polluted the orthodoxy of Islam and such transgressions must be punished. Fundamentalism is rarely, if ever, rational. However, such battles are indeed very emotional and often completely irrational.

On the other hand, Jesus' Death on the Cross is a non-violent response to a horribly violent act. Jesus, the omnipotent God in human flesh, could have destroyed his and his people's oppressors at any given moment during his last days in Jerusalem.
His disciples wanted to fight in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus healed an inured assailant's ear. Pilate ordered Jesus' execution. Jesus offered forgiveness. There's a tremendously important theological truth for Christians to consider and live into here. If Atran is correct, humanity's first and often irrational instinct is to defend what's morally most important and fight to the death if necessary. God's first instinct, as understood through Jesus the Christ, is to gracefully and irrationally suffer from humanity's violence. God incarnate sacrifices life for the sake of others, including the enemy.

How miraculously incomprehensible.

I believe that Jesus the Christ makes the decision he makes because he understands that love and life exist beyond the Cross and beyond the World. Most human beings and societies don't seem to understand that truth. Maybe it's because we simply aren't intellectually built that way. Maybe we are supposed to choose war over peace? That seems really bizarre to me and yet we do so time after time after time. God's eternal reign, at least from a Christian perspective, comes into being through Jesus' invitation to Love God and Love One another. It was a completely irrational way of being during the time of the Roman Empire. It seems completely irrational today as well. However, each of us, as individuals, communities, and nations may choose to participate in the in-breaking of such a reasonable and holy reign of new life - should we be willing to think and pray outside of the box on a daily basis.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3: 18-22)

Here's hoping that we will chose to be inspired by God to be just a bit more foolish in holy and healthy actions throughout this week of Lent, and beyond.

Blessings Along The Way

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