Oct 5, 2006

I'm with Samson

Rod Dreher marvels at the forgiveness displayed by the grandfather of one of the slain Amish girls.
Could you do that? Could you stand over the body of a dead child and tell the young not to hate her killer? I could not. Please God, make me into the sort of man who could.

I can understand the therapeutic value in letting go of your hatred. Hatred can be a noxious emotion that eats you from within. Several years back, I worked with a friend on a series of articles on victim's rights advocates. Many had channeled their hatred into the cause. But many were obsessed with hatred, unable to let go decades after the crimes visited upon them and their loved ones. This led to mothers ignoring their other children while lobbying parole boards to keep their slain daughter's killer behind bars. I cannot blame them for zeal. And I cannot say that I would behave any differently. But from an outsider's perspective, I can say that it did them no good.

So I can applaud the Amish man who forgives the murderer of his grandchildren. But here's the thing: He's already dead and beyond the touch of any man. I'm not sure I'd be applauding him if the murderer had been apprehended alive and the Amish man was lobbying against his execution.

I cannot understand the Christian ideal of forgiving any and all sinners or hating the sin but loving the sinner. Of course, I'm a Jew, if not a particularly observant one, and the God I know doesn't really advocate turning the other cheek. Quite the contrary.

Meir Y. Soloveichik discusses the Jewish and Christian traditions of forgiveness, using Simon Wiesenthal's story The Sunflower as a jumping off point. Wiesenthal was unable to forgive a dying Nazi for his sins and asked Christians and Jews whether his decision was just.
“When the first edition of The Sunflower was published,” writes Dennis Prager, “I was intrigued by the fact that all the Jewish respondents thought Simon Wiesenthal was right in not forgiving the repentant Nazi mass murderer, and that the Christians thought he was wrong.”

Indeed, the Christian symposiasts did sound a more sympathetic note. “I can well understand Simon’s refusal [to forgive],” reflects Father Edward Flannery, “but I find it impossible to defend it.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu cites the crucifixion as his source. Arguing that the newly empowered South African blacks readily forgave their white tormentors, Tutu explains that they followed “the Jewish rabbi who, when he was crucified, said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If we look only to retributive justice, argues Tutu, “then we could just as well close up shop. Forgiveness is not some nebulous thing. It is practical politics. Without forgiveness, there is no future.”

It may be practical to forgive South African apartheidists for their sins to keep the country together. Just as it may have been practical to let a few old Nazis remain to keep the trains running in Berlin, or to let a few old Ba'athists retain their status in Iraq. But Tutu would not have had us strike back at the Taliban for harboring al Qaeda after 9/11. Is that a moral response? A Christian one? By not striking back after we are hit don't we embolden our enemies and put more lives in danger?

I'd say a dash of righteous hatred is not only necessary for our survival, but just. And I'm with Samson.
So the Philistines seized [Samson] and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. . . . They made him stand between the pillars. . . . Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.”

And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, . . . [and] then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life.

Via John Podhoretz.

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