Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Christian Buddhism

One of the problems that unfortunately besets a great writer is that the quality of their writing frequently obscures the quality of their thought. Mencken is perceived as a political satirist, which is a shame because he is really quite deep on the problems of democracy and democratic man. The other fellow in this club is G. K. Chesterton. Because of his stellar penmanship, Chesterton is known more as an entertaining writer rather than a deep thinker but, by God, he was deep.

Some of the greatest Thomistic scholars of the 20th Century have praised his works. Etienne Gilson reviewing his book on St Thomas Aquinas said;
Chesterton makes one despair, I have studied St Thomas all my life and I could never have written such a book.
He apparently wrote his book on Aquinas after reading only four books on the subject. Other Thomistic scholars have echoed similar sentiments. His intuitive understanding of Aquinas was better than their own, despite decades of study. The point that I'm trying to establish here is Chesterton's intellectual bona fides, and thereby his authority, on religious matters. Chesterton really was that deep.

The reason I bring up Chesterton at this time is because his understanding of Christianity serves as a good reference point from which to diagnose the problems which currently affect it. My thinking over the last few months has been preoccupied on this subject and the more I delve into the problem the more Chesterton's thinking impresses itself on my mind, and as a result,  I'm increasingly of the opinion that the Church is in the grip of several heresies which, in many instances, have the support of both liberal and conservative factions.

Chesterton understood that Aquinas was an antidote to a latent Manichaeism which still persists in intellectual disposition if not the explicit theology in the Church. (i.e Flesh bad, Spirit good). But he also recognized that there were other tendencies which were also present in the Church,  tendencies which were kept in check in the past but which have now become dominant and unbalanced it. Chesterton was aware that Church always contained within it a Tolstoyean spirit which though influential was never in control:
It is true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. ....... Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans were not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it.[ED] The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid.
What Chesterton meant by Tolstoyean was the philosophy of life which were embodied by Count Tolstoy at the turn of the 20th Century. Chesterton savaged this philosophy, seeing it as a sort of Christian version of Buddhism but recognised that it had a strong tradition within Christianity which was kept in check by other forces. It was a tradition of self-negation and in many ways was hostile towards human pleasures, seeing them as an impediment toward religious enlightenment. Self-denial was the path to holiness, pleasure to sin. It was pacifistic, anti-assertive, anti-identitarian and anti-carnal.
The emotion to which Tolstoy has again and again given a really fine expression is an emotion of pity for the plain affairs of men. He pities the masses of men for the things they really endure — the tedium and the trivial cruelty. But it is just here, unfortunately, that his great mistake comes in; the mistake that renders practically useless the philosophy of Tolstoy… Tolstoy is not content with pitying humanity for its pains: such as poverty and prisons. He also pities humanity for its pleasures, such as music and patriotism. He weeps at the thought of hatred; but in “The Kreutzer Sonata” he weeps almost as much at the thought of love.
Chesterton saw Tolstoy as a sort of anti-Nietzsche. Where as Nietzsche emphasised the will and ego, Tolstoy emphasised its negation.
The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless—one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan’s will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite’s will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is—well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads.”
It's important to recognise that what Chesterton meant by the Tolstoyean tendency in the Church was not the explicit philosophy of Tolstoy, rather the personality type and theological currents  that Tolstoy represented; that of brotherly love, hatred of the flesh in all of its manifestations, lack of self-assertion and non-violence.....i.e. the non-violent, universalist, religious ascetic. And if you think about it, this is precisely the type of religious person that is idealised by the contemporary Church. It's also a type that is idealised by many traditionalists.<

Chesterton recognised that, in the past, the Tolstoyean current was balanced by a more militant assertive strand of Christianity which kept it in check.  But what's apparent to me is that  this "militant" tendency has driven away or "annexed by the lamb in an act of imperialism". It's why we don't crusade anymore. The idea of lusty Christian male who enjoys his drink and likes a honest fight is seen as somehow corrupting of the purity of Christian Church, and it was precisely this type of man that was considered both holy and legitimate in the ages of the faith.  The modern church elevates the christian social worker above the christian knight. And given many of the utterances of the modern Church, it would  seem easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a soldier to enter the kingdom of heaven.  The modern Church is very uncomfortable with the notion of a righteous war or of any act of just assertion. i.e retributive justice.

How we got this way is a subject all in itself but my preliminary thoughts see industrialisation and urbanisation as two vastly underappreciated forces which exposed structural weakness in the Church that were hidden by nearly two millennia of agrarian society life. The other major issue was the Church's response to these events which encouraged some deleterious theological trends.  Instead of engaging with society, the Church developed an oppositional attitude to it, largely led by the traditionalists, which encouraged a pietism and asceticism which they felt would successfully combat it. Unfortunately this "deeper spirituality" type of approach was an effective withdrawal from the affairs of the world whereas what was requited was an active engagement with it. The net result was to convert a formally militant expansionist Church into a passive retreating one. 

What has emerged in the 20th Century is something akin to a Christian type of Buddhism which sees the fulfillment of mans desire precisely in the negation of self. Suffering is glorified while righteousness is given lip service. Mercy at the expense of justice. The distribution of wealth instead of the creation of it. Prayer is glorified to fight evil while actual action to fight it is condemned. Indeed it would appear that righteous self-assertion has become foreign to the modern Christian ideal. The ideal Christian would appear to be a punching bag who gets comfort through his prayers to God which in turn strengthen him to continue getting a beating.  All of which is meritorious by the way.

Think about the destruction of the Christian communities in the Middle East by the children of the Allah.  We heard lots of prayers for their deliverance, we even heard a few Christian leaders decry their loss, but didn't see any of the Christian leaders make a call for Christian volunteers to go and put the hurt on the powers of evil like Pope Urban II.

As I said, we don't crusade any more.

Chesterton's genius was in recognising that in the ages of the faith the "Lion lay down with the lamb", noting quite well that this peace was not the product of the Lion becoming lamb-like but that something else kept them in balance. The something was Charity/Caritas which made sure that both the lion and lamb kept within their proper boundaries. Modern Christian Buddhism essentially emasculates the Lion, and for those of you who are perceptive these theological trends go a long way to explain the feminisation of the Church.


The Wrangler said...

But blessed are the meek, peacemakers etc... I struggle to find a scripture passage of equal clarity and authority about the need for lionocity.

Chent said...

Very insightful commentary. Like you, I am a Roman Catholic and I loathe this modern Christian passivity. We behave like a lamb to the slaughter.

Having said that, I wonder if there is not something else. Jesus was not a warrior and suffered like a lamb to the slaughter ("The Lamb of God"). The apostles were not warriors either. Stephen, like Jesus, died saying "“Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” (Acts 7, 59). So Christian knights don't have precedents in the New Testament (you should go back to the Old Testament: Maccabees, King David) but Christian Buddhists do.

Compare this to Islam. Mohammed was a warrior and their disciples were warriors too. Islam conquered by the sword (they wanted the blood of infidels). In Christianity, we want our own blood ("the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians").

I think that, besides industrialization and urbanization, another cause is the Protestant reformation and the extension of literacy. This produced the frequent reading of the Bible. When you read the New Testament, it is difficult to argue for Christian war. But medieval Christian knights didn't have such a problem. They didn't read the New Testament.

What do you think?

Chent said...

@The Wrangler

There are such passages but there are few and not that clear. Jesus getting angry, Jesus driving the Traders from the Temple, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34 (but the context does not seem to support Christian war).

MK said...

1. FYI your indent format needs fixing at: It's important to recognise
2. I always found GKC to be creatively deep but occasionally logically flawed. I remember nearly passing out when he casually denied human evolution. He was certainly no scientist or engineer.
3. The Gilson on GKC on Aquinas is exactly how I look at GKC; a creative genius but he wrote a LOT so can's be expect to hit the bell every time. His main talent was creative (making something out of nothing) so natch experts everywhere despair in jealousy.
4. I think you are on to something with the "Christian type of Buddhism" meme and "Lion lay down with the lamb" balancing act. I'm also not sure "pietism" or "asceticism" necessarily means withdrawal from the affairs of the world; it can mean a return to proper balance, of not letting the world today run us, who have our kingdom in heaven. From a GKC POV, it could just mean letting our ancestors and our progeny both vote for a change. Note a "militant expansionist Church" also likely held the seeds of it's own destruction built within it (e.g., once the expansion peaks it loses the will to live). But I do agree we have swung way too far now.
5. One oddity about GKC is that he was both obese and childless, both which limit his experiences (
6. Any books you can recommend about the themes you list here (not GKC but the theology) would be appreciated. It's an area I haven't seen explored very well. Where did you get your thinking from originally?

The Social Pathologist said...

@The Wrangler

Look a bit harder.

Psalm 144

Praise the LORD, who is my rock. He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle.

Hebrews 11:34

"quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies."

John 2:15

So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

In this last instance we actually see Christ using violence.

You've got to be quite careful when quoting scripture since the Bible has to be read as a totality. Sure, Christianity is not spread by the sword but a fair reading of the text indicates that righteous violence is sometimes justified.

The Social Pathologist said...


When you read the New Testament, it is difficult to argue for Christian war. But medieval Christian knights didn't have such a problem. They didn't read the New Testament.

Well Christ had lots of contact with soldiers and no where do we see him call for them to abandon the profession of arms. It is true that Christianity favours the peaceful over the violent, but it's a totally different thing to say that the Church is pacifistic as a result of this bias.

Take, for example, the famous passage of turning the other cheek and giving your cloak if someone wants to take it. Here's a vulgar thought experiment.

In this age of globohomo, suppose some gay guy wanted to rape me, do I spread the cheeks? i.e actively assist a vice. Or what if a thief wanted to steal my cloak to suffocate a child, should I give it to him? If you follow Christ's teaching literally, with no reference to context, you actually assist evil. It is this simplistic reading of the Bible without reference to its totality that has caused a lot of damage. So, yes, I do think that an amateur reading of the Bible comes with significant problems.
Mass literacy on its own is probably less of a problem than an attitude, effectively instutitionalised by Protestantism, that no matter how unqualified or unstudied, every man's opinion is equally valid. Amateur arrogance, not literacy is the real problem.

The Social Pathologist said...


1) Thanks, fixed.
2) Trying to bring religion by the sword, or by state power for that matter, is ultimately self destructive. Conversion has to come willingly. I think the genius of early Christianity was in precisely this approach.

On the other hand, we must no conflate a desire to avoid violence with a "sadomasochistic" interpretation of Christianity which glorifies in suffering and actively delights in it to the extent that it is eager for the negation of self i.e. being and essence. Some of the interpretations that I have read on Christs suffering are very difficult to square up with even a simplistic reading of the Bible. Christ prayed to spared the Crucifixion and he went to it more as a willing, if unenthusiastic, soldier than an enthusiast looking forward to a beating. He was the type of guy that didn't want to die but knew he had to do it to save his mates, so he did it. This "sadomasochistic" approach takes joy in suffering, where as the normal person see's it as an ordeal for some greater good. The normal person thinks that suffering sucks.

But the problem with this sadomasochistic approach is that it sees all pleasure as somehow hostile to the good. Hence, anytime man is happy with some natural pleasure, such as food, drink or sex, these guys come around scolding him for his fun. There is something anti-human about them.

3) As for my thinking, unfortunately most of it is my own. Though I've been hugely influenced by many authors.

For example, my thoughts on Christian Charity were influenced by Aquinas, Michael Houellebecq and Mother Theresa. The latter two being hugely influential.

Sociologically, the guy that got me thinking deeply about social analysis was Corelli Barnett, in his book the Audit of War. It wasn't so much the book, but the analytical technique displayed that really changed my thinking.

If there is a book that I've recently read that is would totally recommend it is Eugene Weber's, Peasants to Frenchmen, that approaches the phenomenon of modernity from a totally different, and valid angle.

I was also hugely influenced by Whittaker Chambers, Wilhelm Rhopke, Curtis Le May, Malcolm Muggeridge and George Orwell. There are others but their not coming to my mind at the moment.

And of course GKC. He has his faults but they're forgivable given all of his virtues.

Hoyos said...

@SP plus you get the problem I see of Marcionism all the time. The same God of the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament.

A million years ago I actually did an undergraduate thesis (3 and a half years, so not just a paper) on just war. The interesting thing I found is that the just war guys would tackle the hard passages that seem to speak for pacifism. The pacifism guys would just kind of blow off the hard passages for the righteous use of force. Yoder was the best pacifism apologist by a long shot.

In the New Testament, Paul uses the Roman law to his advantage and says in Romans that God gave the civil authority the sword. Jesus tells His disciples to sell their cloaks(?) and buy swords as I recall as well. Meekness is righteous obedience and peacemakers sometimes have to make peace by doing what Solomon says a wise king does, running the wheel over the wicked.

One of the more fascinating perspectives I got from a professor at my large Christian school. He said that the church's primary problem with joining the army seemed to be the pagan sacrifice you had to to take part in to join the "sacramentum". When alternative Christian friendly sacramentums were introduced it showed that there were enough Christians trying to join the army that the Roman Empire itself was changing policy; so not just ones and twos.

Vince S said...

I like your detailed analysis but I can't agree with your conclusion that the problem is that the Church shrinks away from conflict and especially acts of just assertion primarily due to its failure to engage with modern society (industrialization/urbanization) due to Tolstoyian theological trends. I think you might have gotten the cause and effect exactly backwards.

The fact is that the Church bitterly fought modern society in the 19th and early 20th Century. Read the withering condemnations of 19th/early 20th Century Popes against religious liberty and "Americanism", and the idea that political power stems from the people. Against any form of Scriptural higher criticism that might call into question the "traditional" interpretation of the text. Against any idea that scientific findings might call for theological revisions. And many other things.

And lost. The fervent hopes of traditionalists that Vichy France or Francoist Spain might bring about a golden age of the Church were soon crushed. If the Church had suffered humiliating military defeats every time it started a Crusade the "militant" tendency might have disappeared in the Middle Ages too. Almost no one, including most Catholics today, denies the basic principles of liberal democracy or religious liberty, or basic findings of science and higher criticism even when they contradict "tradition", except for the ultraconservative/radtrad fringe.

So, it's always simply easier to crawl into an epistemological bubble, lambast the "corrupt world", talk about how God's judgment will fall upon it (yes, any day now) and call for prayer and penance.

MK said...

SP: In this age of globohomo, suppose some gay guy wanted to rape me, do I spread the cheeks?

Comment of the month, easy. Channel GKC much?

Thanks for the book list. Many are brand new to me and in my cart. Q1: Have you read Corelli Barnett's The Pride and the Fall? If so, does it (or any of his other works) follow this analytical technique you like? Q2: what Mother T work should I start with?

The Social Pathologist said...


The interesting thing I found is that the just war guys would tackle the hard passages that seem to speak for pacifism. The pacifism guys would just kind of blow off the hard passages for the righteous use of force.

I've not studied the subject like you have but I've formed the same impression. As I see it, there is a fundamental dishonesty with this type of approach which sort of undercuts them from the outset.

I'm fascinated that you did a thesis on the subject, it's something we need to discuss later on. FYI, I've just purchased a copy of Nigel Biggar's, In Defence of War. I hope it's good.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Vince S

but I can't agree with your conclusion that the problem is that the Church shrinks away from conflict and especially acts of just assertion primarily due to its failure to engage

I've never said that the Church shrunk away from conflict. Quote:

Instead of engaging with society, the Church developed an oppositional attitude to it, largely led by the traditionalists..

I think you've misread me. The Church did oppose modernity but it engaged it in the same way that the Polish cavalry engaged the German Tank corps with a result that it was routed. The Church clearly did not recognise the transformation of society which by passed it. It was a transformation that was largely driven by technology, the population explosion of the late 19th C and the rise of managerialism. I'd really recommend that you read that book I suggested to MK: Peasants to Frenchmen by Eugene Weber. It wasn't philosophy as much as the "facts on the ground" which exerted it's corrosive effect.


Pride and Fall: No.
My understanind of MT came from digests of her diaries. I've not read any of her specific works. But the digests gave a very good description of the spiritual aridity she suffered while acting Charitably.

Chent said...

@Vince S

The fact is that the Church bitterly fought modern society in the 19th and early 20th Century [...] And lost.

In fact, once the official religion of the State in Europe was liberalism, the Church couldn't win. Francoist Spain was an exception (I was raised in it and was very successful as traditional society) but it was surrounded by liberal regimes: it could not last.

Read the withering condemnations of 19th/early 20th Century Popes

Yes, condemnations. They were useless. Of course, during the Middle Ages, Christianity flourished because their condemnations were very good. And pigs fly.

The loss of the Church was not produced in the realm of ideas but in the battlefield. In France it was the French Revolution. In America, it was the independence war. Once liberalism was the official religion of the State, Christianity could not do other thing than declining. They could complain and protest and condemn, but they were clutching at straws.

Hoyos said...

@Chent, disagree on the independence war. The war in America was fought on the ground with a large religious influence. The "black regiment" of congregationalist clergyman, to practicing Catholics like the signer of the Declaration Carroll. Christianity was the air we breathed for a LONG time. Even the deism of the founding fathers has been grossly overstated. John Adams was apparently quite orthodox and even Benjamin Franklin would better be described, as I understand it, as a heretical Christian than a deist (he believed in the power of prayer and even the bodily resurrection(!)).

It only really started to take a serious dive in the late 19th century because of a failure to adequately confront higher criticism, Darwinism, and to an extent Marx (who himself was influenced by American utopian sects).

The Wrangler said...

@the social pathologist:

I agree that violence is sometimes justified in a Christian context, it's just not as important to being a christian as meekness is.

The Beatitudes have a more prominent place in my church's liturgy than the violent parts of the psalms and, at least to me, they vehicle a clearer image of the Kingdom than the violent parts of the psalms. During some parts of the church year my parish sings "happy is the one who seizes Babylon's infants and dashes them against the rocks". Is anyone really comfortable with this? Does anyone actually understand why we still sing this?

Hoyos said...

@The Wrangler,

because it's all God's word. All of it. And it doesn't contradict, you need to integrate it. The fear of God is righteous because He is worthy to be feared. There's something deep in there that is not cuddly, and pink, and safe. You have to go deep there, you can't just pick and choose, it doesn't really work, it makes you the final authority and not God.

This is the definition of meek according to Webster 1828

"MEEK, adjective [Latin mucus; Eng. mucilage; Heb. to melt.]

1. Mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries.

Now the man Moses was very meek above all men. Numbers 12:3.

2. Appropriately, humble, in an evangelical sense; submissive to the divine will; not proud, self-sufficient or refractory; not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations. Christ says, 'Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls.' Matthew 11:29.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5."

Don't be a brawler, don't be a striker, don't be the guy who easily gets angered and gets in fights for no reason. Pass over whatever you can.

You can absolutely have that quality of meekness and it won't make you a worse soldier or fighter but a better one. It shows discipline. I don't know you, so don't take this personally, but there is a cartoon idea of masculinity that it has to be this uncontrolled, ape-ish, violent, macho thing. That's not what we're talking about here. You can be a meek man and an absolute killer as a fighter.

Jesus INTENTIONALLY went to the cross. He had a thousand opportunities not to go and He went, they didn't take His life, He gave it up. Perfect manliness and perfect meekness. And when He comes back, as I understand it, it is with a sword in His hand.

The Wrangler said...

Hoyos: Could you give an example of a meek absolute killer of a fighter?

Hoyos said...

@The Wrangler

You kidding? A soldier is no good to anybody if he jumps the gun and attacks because of emotion as opposed to whatever the battleplan is. He's also no good if he's peevish and apt to complain, or if he can't forbear injuries. He may not be meek in the rest of his life, but if he's not meek when dealing with superiors, the army itself can't work.

For specific examples:

Michael Monsoor, MA2 USN, medal of honor winner, noted as a practicing Catholic and a decent man by all who served with him. Jeff Struecker, legendary Army Ranger and practicing Christian, veteran of the Black Hawk Down incident. Two more MOH winners, Audie Murphy was known to have a mild temperament, so was Alvin York after his conversion and when serving in the Great War.

You're getting hung up on a definition of the word meek that isn't what the word means. It means not being easily provoked or irritated, submitting yourself to the Divine will, appropriately humble. It isn't passive or someone who never fights. It means someone who doesn't fight for purely personal reasons, who doesn't brawl over light matters, who obeys who he ought to obey.

For non military examples:

Feder Emeleianenko is an MMA fighter who is legendarily calm and considered a nice guy, so is Bas Rutten these days. Both are practicing Christians, although more of late. Good fighters have a tendency to meekly accept the guidance of their trainers. If for no other reason than if they don't they will get beaten in the ring.

You seem to have an idea of meek that just isn't what the word means.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ The Wrangler.

Here's another example.

Could you give an example of a meek absolute killer of a fighter?

I fully endorse everything Hoyos has said so far.

""happy is the one who seizes Babylon's infants and dashes them against the rocks"."

Once again, has to interpret this passage in light of the totality of the Bible.

As I understand it, this text comes from the imprecatory prayers in the Psalms. They are prayers to God to extract vengeance upon Babylon. Scripture also says "Man's anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." There are other relevant passages, and I don't want to get into a scripture quoting contest, but clearly men are not permitted to do kill the innocent.

However, as I see it, it gets darker from here since it would appear that what is not permitted to men may be permitted to God.

When God nuked Sodom I imagine there would have been a fair amount of "collateral" damage. i.e. Quite a few of the innocent would have perished as well. Turning Lot's wife into a pillar of salt seems a very harsh punishment for simply having a look: almost disproportionate to the crime. Scripture also says "Vengeance is Mine." Note very carefully here that He claims the prerogative of vengeance, which is not the same as justice. And that is a terrifying thought, since a vengeful God may do things that human beings are simply not morally permitted to do.

Many Christians have a hard time accepting the reality of Hell, finding it difficult to reconcile with the God's mercy. And yet the Bible is full of references to it, quite a few coming directly from Christ.

If you meditate on the nature of Hell, it's hard to square up any sin that is merits an eternity in damnation. Even Stalin and Hitler, given enough time and torture should theoretically be able to expiate their sins, and yet there is NO possibility of redemption. From a human perspective, sending a man to hell is a lot worse than dashing an infants head against a rock, at least the innocent theoretically gets to live in God's presence. There appears to be a hard edge to God's nature which I don't think is fully appreciated especially by Kumbayah Christianity.

Which brings up back to our Psalmist's curse. If the the Psalmist is blessing God for rendering vengeance on Israel's enemies, a prerogative that God has clearly ascribed to Himself, then he is being theologically correct. If on the other hand the Psalmist is a praying for someone to kill the kids, then he is wrong.

John Rockwell said...

"Take, for example, the famous passage of turning the other cheek and giving your cloak if someone wants to take it. Here's a vulgar thought experiment. "

Taken in their social context, these commands require no such things. "Resist not evil" is a well-known Jewish proverb (Ps. 37:1, 8; Prov. 24:19) and actually means, do not compete with evildoers by trying to outdo them in terms of getting back at them. Three examples for the teaching follow: Turn the other cheek; if someone sues you for your cloak, also give them your tunic; if you are forced to go one mile, go two. All three of these things refer to what amount to inconvenient, but nevertheless perfectly legal, impositions on the person. The "slap on the cheek" is a type of personal insult, so that the command to turn the other cheek is essentially a command not to start trading insults, but take the higher ground and turn away from the exchange.

It is not, as many Skeptics have supposed, a license to allow yourself to get beat up. The cloak/tunic bit must be recognized in terms of the ancient Jewish customary process of making good pledge on one's debts by handing over a valuable item as collateral; for most people in this time, items of clothing were the only thing suitable. In essence, the teaching is to provide surety of repayment of a justly-decided debt, even to those who are enemies.

Finally, the double-mileage command refers in context to the legal right a Roman soldier had to make any person carry their belongings for up to one mile. As you might imagine, this was not a popular requirement in the neighborhood of Palestine, but it was the law, and the teaching again is in essence, do it, and do it without complaint, even though the Roman is your enemy.

John Rockwell said...

"There appears to be a hard edge to God's nature which I don't think is fully appreciated especially by Kumbayah Christianity."

Many decry that aspect as the Sadist aspect of God who is psychopathic in his nature as they claim:

John Rockwell said...

In humanist morality. What normal man but a psychopath would torture for as long as possible men/women they find guilty.

The Social Pathologist said...

@John Rockwell.

Once again, I think the huge problem here is the selective quoting of the Bible without any reference to the other texts or even context, as you so rightly demonstrate.

Lot's of Churchmen, in my opinion, have stumbled in trying to remake God into a humanistic version of Himself. You simply can't. The problem may not be with God the problem may be with the Humanists.

I think people really have a hard time squaring up His mercy with His justice and lean so heavily on the merciful aspect that they try to explain Hell away. Unfortunately, any fair reading of the texts makes that position false.

John Rockwell said...

@The Social Pathologist

Its very hard for men to think of Hell as a just punishment. Given how it is understood as an eternal torture chamber.

Is it ever just for criminals to be tortured for their entire lives? It seems so contrary to our notions of Justice. And if done by a man is would be regarded as extremely evil and psychopathic.

A.B. Prosper said...

Hebrews and Psalms are Old Testament which is far different than Christian conception of Jesus

They often do not mesh well, so much so that many Christians I've met ignore it entirely

The Social Pathologist said...

@John Rockwell

And if done by a man is would be regarded as extremely evil and psychopathic.

Yes, it has been a struggling point for many Christians who find it hard to reconcile a forgiving God with a God capable of Hell. Many therefore have tried to "explain" Hell away and yet any fair reading of the New Testament affirms rather than denies its existence.

"Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom" (Prov 9:10)

I think we, as a culture, have lost the sense of Righteousness that comes with Justice. It's understandable since at a deep theological level Justice is problematic. Punishment is a privation upon the culpable and hence difficult to square up with an all powerful caritas which eliminates privation when actualised. It's been a while since I read up on this but I think even Aquina's take on it was not super-convincing. To quote Aquinas, "Justice without Mercy is cruelty and Mercy without Justice is dissolution." Hence any act of justice is going to have a dimension of some kind of cruelty.

@A.B Prosper.

They often do not mesh well, so much so that many Christians I've met ignore it entirely

Too true.

John Rockwell said...

"Yes, it has been a struggling point for many Christians who find it hard to reconcile a forgiving God with a God capable of Hell. Many therefore have tried to "explain" Hell away and yet any fair reading of the New Testament affirms rather than denies its existence."

"To quote Aquinas, "Justice without Mercy is cruelty and Mercy without Justice is dissolution." Hence any act of justice is going to have a dimension of some kind of cruelty."

Many of them will agree but I don't think its so much hell and punishment itself but the infinity of torture that it is that people have a hard time seeing it as just.

I think people wouldn't have such a problem of hell if lets say such punishment eventually ends in non-existence even after billions of years of torment.

Rather than torture that doesn't end ever.