Love your enemies…turn the other cheek…these sayings make no sense. Yet, they do.
There is what I call the Cycle of Murder and Revenge. It’s a self-adjusting feedback loop, what I’ve heard called a cybernetic system.
All murder is caused by feelings of humiliation, which engender the desire for revenge. It’s an attempt to replace humiliation with pride. It’s the story of Cain and Abel and what the ancient Greeks called Hubris followed by Nemesis.
Hitler in Mein Kampf, spoke of the “shame” and “humiliation” of Versailles, after Germany had been crushed by the Treaty after World War I, even though the other combatants were just as guilty as Germany. Germany just happened to lose the war.
Hitler was bought to power by his promises to restore Germany’s “pride” and “honor” – and he did. And that led to World War II, which is still going on today.
Had the victorious allies forgiven Germany after World War I instead of seeking revenge, there would have been no World War II. That is what is meant by forgiving your enemies and turning the other cheek.
The first recorded war is the Bible was over the “rape” of Dinah. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, is “dishonored” by Shechem, a prince. The reason I write “rape” is that is doesn’t appear to be rape (the word is not used in the original texts): she moves in with him and they wish to get married. Jacob approves of this.
Jacob’s sons, however, do not. They consider their sister a whore and so to restore the family’s honor they kill Shechem and his entire tribe. They feel humiliated and so restore their “honor” by slaughtering an entire tribe of innocent men. They also kidnap the women and children and steal everything of value.
This story clearly came from a shame-dominated culture, as compared to the West, which is a guilt-dominated culture. This is why in shame-dominated cultures you read of such bizarre things as Palestinians killing their innocent daughters after they’ve been raped (there is at least no evidence Dinah was murdered by her brothers).
Jesus, then, was speaking to people from a shame-dominated culture, who would have blamed all their problems on other people, as those in shame-dominated cultures always do. He was being hyperbolic, as he usually was, but his point still stands.
He was telling people how to break the Cycle of Murder and Revenge. One way is to give up shame-dominated ethics (which does exists in the West), and that means to not see insults where they don’t exist. How, for example, were Dinah’s brothers exactly “dishonored” when she and her father didn’t think so? They were imaging the whole thing, which is the main flaw of shame-dominated cultures.
Another point is to not seek revenge, at least on a mass scale, which leads to war. Osama bin Laden called 9-11 “a copy” of the humiliations the United States had been visiting on the Middle East for 60 years. It was revenge, pure and simple. Then the U.S. sought revenge by invading Afghanistan and Iraq – and probably 99.99% of the people they killed were innocent. So then the survivors still seek revenge on us.
That’s why I call it a feedback loop, a cybernetic system. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kill the guilty if you have to; the problem with revenge is that it’s almost always indiscriminate (as in the slaughter of Shechem’s innocent tribe).
I suspect Jesus was being somewhat ironic, which means he was amused. He knew he was dealing with shame-dominated people who imagined insults and would have sought revenge on the innocent (he actually called them sheep). That’s what he told to them to “change their hearts and minds” (often mistranslated as “repent from your sins”).
It’s very difficult, sometimes impossible to forgive someone who does something terrible to you or those close to you. Who can forgive a serial killer? Yet a serial killer is but a drop in the ocean compared to the lack of mass forgiveness that causes wars.
In the 20th Century alone it’s been estimated that 177 million to 200 million people died in wars – and all of them were started for revenge.
The Cycle still goes on.