I’m going to see Slavo Zizek this evening. He is at the LA Library and we got tickets! In preparation I have been listing to all of my archives of his talks – including the last time he was at the LA Library. His conversation partner that night was Jack Miles (author of God: a biography) and the topic that night was violence.
As I listened again I was struck with how timely the dialogue was in light of our conversation about Jesus and (s)words last week – as Tripp and I prepare to go into the podcast studio this week to record a TNT about that, as well as leaving the church.
In his book ‘Violence’ Zizek addresses the idea of emancipatory or redemptive violence embedded in Christianity – a topic that we have discussed at length. But at one point Miles has to correct the philosopher. It concerned that issue of ‘turning the other cheek’. What Miles has to flesh out is that a master would have hit a slave – not by striking him on the right cheek – as he would an equal – but the left with a back hand. The command then is that if someone strikes you in this way (on the left cheek) show to them the right as well and in this way provoke them to a greater of level of violence than they had originally intended – accomplishing two things:
- exposing their violence
- positioning your dignity in the face of that violence
I have also been reading Walter Wink’s Jesus and Nonviolence. He clarifies it this way:
There are three general responses to evil: 1) passivity 2) violent opposition 3) the third way of militant non-violence articulated by Jesus. … Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil.
Wink outlines that third way later in the book with a series of bullet points:
- Seize the moral initiative
- Find the creative alternative to violence
- Assert your own human dignity as a person
- Meet force with ridicule or humor
- Break the cycle of humiliation
- Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position
- Expose the injustice of the system
- Take control of the power dynamic
- Shame the oppressor into repentance
- Stand your ground
- Force the Powers to make decisions for which that are not prepared
- Recognize your own power
- Be willing to suffer rather than to retaliate
- Cause the oppressor to see you in a new light
- Deprive the oppressor of a situation where a show of force is effective
- Be willing to undergo the penalty for breaking unjust laws
- Die to fear of the old order and its rules
This type of thinking is as revolutionary as the day it was spoken in that famous sermon by Jesus. The binaries and dualisms that we operate in are just failing us at every turn. The overly simple either-or options are a trap.
Here is the simple reality: loving your neighbor is a big enough challenge that it has kept many thinkers for many traditions busy trying to figure out who (exactly) is one’s neighbor. and what does love look like. We follow a teacher (in this ‘way’) who goes past that debate and says “Love your enemies”. Let’s be honest – that doesn’t make any sense! If I love them … they would not long be to me an enemy
I end with a Wink: Love of enemies is, in the broadest sense, behaving out of one’s own deepest self-interest; “that you may be sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:45).