Sunday, November 15, 2015

After Paris: Love Your Enemy—Really?

Jesus and Buddha: Your Enemy is your Teacher?

In the wake of terrorist attacks like that in Paris last Friday, what sense does Jesus’ famous (or infamous) charge to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you” make? The customary Christian treatment of this has been, at best, to say to Jesus “thank you for sharing” and return to business as usual. 

Hating the enemy is, after all, natural and normal. But, of course, hate breeds hate, which may be what Jesus was getting at. And, anyway, when he said “Love” he didn’t mean warm, fuzzy feelings. He meant something very close to what the Buddha meant by calling humanity to have a clear intention for the other’s well-being, plus a call to compassion for everyone you meet, That links with Jesus's repeating the Jewish maxim “Love your neighbor as yourself. Consider the other to be as human as you are."

Even then, Jesus: do you mean we should intend well-being for terrorists who shot innocents by the dozens at the concert hall in Paris, who blew themselves up and killed others at restaurants? Who killed themselves to kill others? Compassion? Give us a break!

Your enemy is your best teacher

The Dalai Lama, who knows the Buddha far better than I do, insists that “your enemy is your best teacher.” He ought to know, I guess, since the Chinese government has been hounding him ever since he decided they wouldn’t be good for his beloved homeland. 

Such a saying gives me a radical new slant on the meaning of  “love your enemy.” What if the problem with our ever-so-natural horror and hatred of the enemy is that it blinds us? Blinds us.

If we are angry—and hatred is distilled anger—our brain tends to block out any new information. If we are dealing with an enemy the last thing we need is blindness. We need to see, not just what we hate, but the actual human being who is behaving in ways that harm us (or that we fear will harm us). When we say, “How could anyone kill a concert-hall full of innocent people?” we need to hear it as question directed to us by ourselves—or perhaps the Spirit in us. A question that needs an answer. 

Seeing the enemy more clearly

“How could anyone act that way?” we say, not realizing we're inviting ourselves to find out, to get to know the enemy better, to see the opponent in the fullness of their humanity. What is the anger? the alienation? ignorance?—or the reaction to injury?—that leads to terrorist outrages?  Even if we want to strike back, we’ll act with more wisdom if we can see. And if we decide that simply striking back is insufficient, maybe risks jumping from the frying pan into the fire, seeing the enemy more clearly may lead us to more nuanced, varied, and effective responses. We will be clearer, also, on how to distinguish terrorism from Islam itself. 

Not humanity’s usual tactic.  But the Dalai Lama goes on. In response to a human rights activist who says anger is her driving force,  I heard him say, "BE angry! Anger is good! Anger is natural! But don't stay there."

The enemy can “teach” us by provoking deeper understanding. Understanding the sources of the enemy’s anger better,  compassion may arise, however wrongheaded we may think the enemy to be. We might even learn what injuries, real or imagined, provoke the enemy—unless we have some delusion that "we" are perfect, flawless, and innocent.  

Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to take some time to contemplate the enemy in prayer, to imagine blessing their fundamental, frail and fallible humanity, to ponder how to do such good as will lead to long-term solutions. Even if that involves restraining evil by force to begin, which is never a good place to end. 

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