your enemies

Jesus says many difficult things in his famous Sermon on the Mount, recorded by Matthew in the 5th chapter of his gospel.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfection is hard. How do we love enemies who behead children and attempt genocide? How do we love a government that has little regard for "collateral damage"? How do we love neighbors who use their own women and children as shields, hoping for them to be collaterally damaged? Christians have a hard time with this. Even the professionals do. Father Dwight Longenecker, whose book I reviewed last year, has a hard time. Blessings on him for taking down an earlier post which more directly chose the route of all who seek to justify killing, dehumanization.

The militants of ISIS are no longer men, they are animals, or demon wolves (Longenecker's toned  down term). Same thing goes with Boko Haram in Nigeria. It helps that these two groups, as well as Hamas share the same religion. Islam is the cause of this wickedness, not human nature. Christians don't do this. Christians in Nigeria aren't committing atrocities against Muslims. They are undisciplined soldiers.

In World War 2, the Japanese weren't humans, they were the yellow peril. They were caricatured in the press. They also committed genocide in China. See my book response on The Rape of Nanking. Yet on August 9th, 1945, the United States dropped their second plutonium bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, the center of Japanese Christianity since the 1500s, killing around 70,000 human beings, including the Cathedral full of worshippers in St. Mary's, or Urakami.

In WW2, the Germans weren't humans either. Just as they dehumanized Jews and Slavs, justifying in their minds the wholesale slaughter of fellow human beings, the Allies, dehumanized them as well. In the classic book Ordinary Men, about how local Germans dehumanized themselves as they dehumanized others, we learn the same thing we learned from the Rape of Nanking, "the veneer of civilization is exceedingly thin." I finished another book recently about the Eastern Front, but from a German soldier's perspective, the memoir called, Adventures in my Youth: A German Soldier on the Eastern Front 1941-45 by Armin Scheiderbauer. Last year I read a memoir by a Russian fighter pilot on the same front, Over Fields of Fire: Flying the Sturmovik in Action on the Eastern Front 1942-45 (Soviet Memories of War) by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova. Both the Nazi and the Communist happen to be human beings. Certainly the stories do not recount any atrocities they might have committed, but they were not automatons nor demon possessed dogs. The recent German mini-series, Generation War (now on Netflix) tries to make, dramatically, the same point.

Many of those who participated in atrocities during the war became essential allies to the victors shortly after the war. Those who had killed in the name of ideology resumed lives of non-killing. They returned to their families. They started new families. Although the reasons were mostly political, the Allies, driven by the United States treated most of their formerly dehumanized enemies with grace. They were invested in. They were trusted. They were given clean slates. Justice did not happen for most.

It is possible to love your enemies. As a follower of Jesus, it is my calling. The early church saint Tertullian wrote, "To love friends is the custom of all people, but to love enemies is customary only for Christians."

Yes, the Islamic militants are slaughtering hundreds or thousands of people, some of whom are Christian. Yes, the Israeli Defense Force is killing hundreds of women and children in Palestine. Yes, the Christian Germany killed 20 million humans. Yes, the Christian America killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Yes the Christian America killed thousands of civilians in Iraq, maybe more in Afghanistan. The body count for the United States goes back hundreds of years. Consider this article and book. By sheer body count, one might say Christianity is the problem. But that's simplistic, isn't it?

Is the problem ideology, fundamentalism, religion? Or is the problem humanity? What is the solution? Not dehumanization. Forgiveness and generosity has worked in the past. Is it possible to have a government that responds with an open hand instead of a closed fist?

In response to 2000 lives taken on 9/11/01 we have given up another 8000 lives of soldiers, 52,000 wounded and $4 trillion paid out (but the costs for the wounded extend for decades and the financing for this war will continue extend for decades as well.) We can't afford justice. Pretty soon, the only option we will be able to afford is the one Jesus proscribes, forgiveness.

Maybe we should revisit the path of rehabilitation.

Maybe Jesus has been right all along.


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