The gift of compassion
Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?” What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago. And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too. Are you ready for this?
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi, which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury, real or imagined, shall be avenged. Somebody’s going to be really sorry.
When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” What kind of man was that? Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi, would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all their friends and relatives, and make their deaths slow and painful.”
His greatest legacy to us, in my humble opinion, consists of only twelve words. They are the antidote to the poison of the Code of Hammurabi, a formula almost as compact as Albert Einstein’s “E = mc2.”
I am a Humanist, or Freethinker, as were my parents and grandparents and great grandparents – and so not a Christian. By being a Humanist, I am honouring my mother and father, which the Bible tells us is a good thing to do.
But I say with all my American ancestors, “If what Jesus said was good, and so much of it was absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?”
If Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being.
I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.
Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations of today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago.
We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury. In this, the Age of Television, they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers, to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on…
But in our personal lives, our inner lives, at least, we can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle with this particular person, or that bunch of people, or that particular institution or race or nation. And we can then reasonably ask forgiveness for our trespasses since we forgive those who trespass against us. And we can teach our children and then our grandchildren to do the same – so that they, too, can never be a threat to anyone.
Christianity has had a war going on for years:
On the one side are the hawks. Generally, Conservative/Republican voting people who see the failure to use military action to punish evil as making an alliance with it against the sanctity of life.
On the other are the doves. Generally, Liberal/Democrat voting pacifist (or pacifist leaning) individuals who see the sanctity of life as being of paramount importance and would prefer to be killed than to take the life of another.
They both set up their concept of the sanctity of life as the centrepiece of the Gospel — and reaped the rewards of such: Huge money via a military-industrial complex on the one side and logical support for passivity on the other.
Everybody won — or something…
He saw how we as a civilization, a culture and as individuals have utterly failed to grasp the centrality of the gift of love, compassion and mercy Christ came to bring — and then we ended up playing stupid games balancing the remaining errors.
Christ’s question wasn’t about the sanctity of life in the first place — it was about vengeance, control and the ways we justify our greed and our evil against others. And, His position was that the alternative was forgiveness.
How quickly we forget He held love and mercy as the central commandment…