Monday, May 2, 2011

Enemy Death

After President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden was dead, I was glad to see that Rod of Alexandria and Joel Watts directed us to the words of certain Jews:

one young rabbi said:
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the [imperial] tax-collectors do the same?
and one wise king had already said:
17 Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble
And in quoting Matthew 5:43-46 and then Proverbs 24:17, Joel and Rod might have also quoted many, many others (i.e., 2 Samuel 3:32, Job 31:29, Psalm 35:15, Psalm 35:19, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 24:18, Obadiah 1:12, Micah 7:8). 

The history of the Jews is replete with enemies and responses.  In September of last year, Rachel Barenblat was re-learning and teaching the history and posted on "The early history of Jews in Muslim lands"; in October she noted "Jews in medieval Christendom" and a few of their "dreadful enemies" back then and over there.  And, on the day when much of the the world watched the wedding of a future king perhaps and his bride, the history of the marriage of enemy Adolf Hitler to his bride was overshadowed for a moment; and who then celebrated the next day remembering that racist, sexist, evil enemy's death?  I'm sure there were some but we were quieter, weren't we?

I think a lot about enemies, and about this very Jewish concept of loving enemies, or of praying for them, or at least of forgiving them at some point.  How does that happen?  I have enemies.  Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and some who are still very much alive.  The goal for me is not to get rid of enemies.  I just can't do it, often for very real and practical reasons.  "Vengence is mine" is one of those scriptures quoted around me when I was little, and often it seemed very sour-grapes and was mostly helpful because it helps you imagine God as your hit man. 

But I think that there's more to it than just hanging around waiting for the one and only God (who happens to be on my side) to take out my enemy, to kill him.

There is much to learn from the abused and from the oppressed here that echoes the real Jewish sentiments of enemy love.

And reading Anne Lamott, when President George W. Bush was in office taking out all of our enemies, I used to laugh at how she'd work out forgiveness of him, because God commanded her to do so, because this was a scriptural thing to do. She learned not to grit her teeth and not to drink the poison of resentments.

And reading bell hooks, I learn about "definition."  How Aristotle, the enemy of females, taught definition was to avoid ambiguities, to define precisely, to "objectively" put your enemies into little and much lower boxes so as to keep yourself free and above and alive; I think I blogged at least once about his strategy.  But hooks has a better way of defining.  Here's one of her definitions that includes the word enemy, and that acknowledges with some force who that must be:
Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago [in 1985]. It was my hope that at that time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.
("Feminist Politics: Where We Stand," Feminism is For Everyone: Passionate Politics, page 1)
Notice her phrases "my hope" and "broad enough" and "to include" and "open-ended" and the repeated, "to understand."   This is key to loving one's enemy, to real understanding, I believe.  Notice who this woman's enemy is, although she suffered much because of men:  "[one does not need to] imply that men were the enemy."  This in not mere rhetoric.

This is a way of opening up the possibilities.  It's akin to what Sappho does, to what Anne Carson helping us read and translate Sappho does (from her book, Eros: the Bittersweet).  It speaks to love, to hate, to how we divide unto death, or pray and forgive.  Yes, it's that Jewish idea, but here's from a Greek, from an English poet's perspectives that might help:
It was Sappho who first called eros "bittersweet." No one who has been in love disputes her. What does the word mean?....  Here is contradiction and perhaps paradox. To perceive this eros can split the mind in two. Why? The components of the contradiction may seem, at first glance, obvious. We take for granted, as did Sappho, the sweetness of erotic desire; its pleasurability smiles out at us. But the bitterness is less obvious. There might be several reasons why what is sweet should also be bitter. There may be various relations between the two savors.  Poets have sorted the matter out in different ways. Sappho's own formulation is a good place to begin tracing the possibilities. The relevant fragment runs:
ρος δατ μ λυσιμλες δνει,
γλυκπικρον μχανον ρπετον
Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me
sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up
_____________________________(LP, fr. 130)
It is hard to translate. "Sweetbitter" sounds wrong, and yet our standard English rendering "bittersweet" inverts the actual terms of Sappho's compound glukupikron. Should that concern us? If her ordering has a descriptive intention, eros is here being said to bring sweetness, then bitterness in sequence: she is sorting the possibilities chronologically....  But it is unlikely that this is what Sappho means....  Love and hate bifurcate Eros....  Paradox is what takes shape on the sensitized plate of the poem, a negative image from which positive pictures can be created. Whether apprehended as a dilemma of sensation, action or value, eros prints as the same contradictory fact: love and hate converge within erotic desire.
Notice how Anne notices how "Love and hate bifurcate Eros" but also how "love and hate converge within erotic desire."  This isn't mere rhetoric.  This isn't just poetry.  This isn't at all how an extremist like Osama bin Laden or Adolf Hitler or an elitist like Aristotle would do things.  Yes, I know they're all men.  But who is implying the nature of the enemy?  My enemies?  Love our enemies?  Pray for those who hate us?  What kind of contradictory poetry or rhetoric or Bible teaching is that?

My wife and I once attended a conference on Love and on loving enemies; it was led by a counseling psychologist whose area of research was sexual abuse, on dealing with the trauma afterwards, on confronting the abusers.  His best friend, he said, was a scholar on the Hebrew Bible.  They advised, he told us, to define our enemies, "but to use a pencil with an eraser."  He then gave several categories for abusers of others so as to begin to have strategies and boundaries for moving forward with them in life.  "But," he reminded, "as you define the people in your life, write with that pencil and be ready to use the eraser to make changes."  I like that.  It seems Jewish in some ways, Bible-like in some ways, feminist in some ways, poetic and Sappho-like and literary-with-real-life in some ways.  As I think about what Joel and Rod posted as they thought about the death of Osama bin Lin, killed by the United States of America as announced by its president, it's useful.  I have living enemies today.  And if I pray for my enemies, then how does that change them and me?  It does.  Rather than causing enemy death, it tends to make me question why they are my enemy, death deserving.  These sorts of words, then, and practices, are helpful.


Theophrastus said...

I think you need to re-read Chapter 9 of Esther and note the mass-executions, the public display of the dead, and the establishment of a permanent holiday.

(Note, however, that although plunder was authorized [8:11] it was not taken [9:10,15,16].)

J. K. Gayle said...

Re-read it. Thank you. (And I love your note, which doesn't ref the LXX, does it? But your note makes a wonderful fantastic point.)

Theophrastus said...

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk