Judaism (6-7; November 29 & 31)

There’s this thing that writers sometimes do where they pull a fast one on you and change the definitions of the words they use without telling you.  If they’re good, sometimes they can manipulate a sentence so a specific connotation related to a word comes out more obviously.  Without being terribly specific, I think Avalos does this sometimes.

Chapter 6 and 7 are on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible and Academic Defenses of Violence in the Hebrew Bible, respectively.  But before I go into discussing the actual subject matter of these chapters, I’d like to ask a question:  who is this book for?  Is this an in-the-know presentation of a theory—like A Theory of Justice and the subsequent works by John Rawls?  Or is it just a general academic text?  If you look at it in comparison to Kimball (who I’d say writes for American Christians) or Juergensmeyer (people who have an established interest in the topic of religious violence), it is apparent that Fighting Words and Avalos are quite different.  If I had to venture a guess, I’d compare it to TOJ.  Fighting Words, to me, seems like a text written for an academic audience and, furthermore, for people whose scholarship lies in this specific area.  I believe this for one main reason—Avalos frequently flips between the way he writes—sometimes he over explains concepts that are easy to grasp, but sometimes he just assumes that the reader will know who this person is or why this location is important.  It may be condescending to simplify things, but there is no question that an academic of this area will understand the text.  Members of a popular audience, however, will come into conflict with several aspects of it.

In Chapter 6, Avalos addresses two positions that are taken on violence in the Hebrew Bible.  The first sees violence as historically accurate and defensible by moral standards.  The second, in abrupt contrast, denies that the violence actually occurred, or attempts to minimize its importance.  Although I grant that he says “scholarship on violence in the Hebrew Bible has been marked by at least two…”, I believe that he limits what he can address by doing so.  There could most assuredly be a third position—what if people accepted the violence, but sweep it under the rug?  Skeletons in the closet and all that rot.  What about a fourth position—accurate, but not morally defensible?  What about a fifth; couldn’t complete apathy be considered a position?  What Avalos should have done here is say that there are two positions he will examine (there are a lot of places and similar instances he should do something like this, but he epically fails each time).

Just a quick note, on page 115, Avalos states, “[T]here are notable dissenters who see that the Bible has function as an instrument to legitimize violence.”  I think this is a big point for him; admittedly, he doesn’t address it for very long, or very thoroughly, but I feel like he sneaks it in and assumes that its importance will leak through in some form of a subconscious catching of literary clues.

In relation to this point, I wonder if there is any time where it is appropriate to suffer?  Rather, I wonder if Avalos would say there is.  I know I’ve mentioned this before (first journal, I think), but the entire book of Paul can be summed up in three words:  “Suffer and die.”  The Bible certainly condones suffering—does that lend credence to notion that the Bible condones violence?  The entire New Testament, after all, revolves around the eventual death of the religion’s Messiah.  In Christianity, had Jesus never suffered and died…well, there wouldn’t be Christianity, would there?  Is all suffering then equal, or is what Jesus suffered more important?  Does it carry more weight?  Would people say that suffering is caused by sin?  Does the attitude “this life doesn’t matter, focus on the next” have a direct impact on people?  In my religion, suffering is caused (or if not caused, backed by) your Higher Self and your Younger Self determining that the suffering is actually beneficial to you on a more important level; for example, were I to fall ill, I am being permitted to fall ill because I will learn something from the experience.  I’m not going to lie, it can be a very frightening and disappointing belief, but it serves me all right.  

It was in this chapter, Chapter 6, that I made my first real connection to Avalos—it was one of those “oh” moments where all the pieces come together.  It was on page 118, when he states, while speaking about the story of Moses as an example, “This story is premised on the idea that God does not reveal himself equally to all, and it definitely shows the conflict that ensues directly from this inequality.”  Oh!  Christianity is a religion of inequality—so is Judaism; for that matter, aren’t most religions?  How did I not notice this before?  I mean, I had grasped the point, but I hadn’t been able to mutate into something applicable to my own life.  I don’t know how learning is for you, but it isn’t until I mold something so that it means something to me that I really get fired up about it.  I wrote in the margin, “If you view equality as a scare resource…” before I realized exactly what Avalos is doing. 

Smart bugger.

You know, in Chapter 6 he talks about violence resorting from group privileging and violence resorting from this or from that, and it’s all well and interesting, but when he hits Chapter 7, he really gets to the nitty-gritty people-will-scream-about-their-point stuff.  On page 160, he goes into what he entitles “The ‘Greater Good’”.  This brought to mind one of my favorite bang-your-head-against-the-wall ethics scenarios (man, if I’m not apologizing for question marks, I’m apologizing for something else—in this case, hyphenated adjectives that aren’t adjectives at all).  You are a visitor to a village that is not technologically advanced—it is in a Third World country and you are there doing research, or some other scholarly pursuit.  Well, I suppose you could be there for fun, but at any rate, you are there.  Because you’re a guest, the local government officials are driving you around showing off the area; while out and about, you happen upon the site of what will become an execution.  Ten rebel young men have been rounded up and are about to be killed by firing squad.  The commander, however, offers you his gun and informs you that because you are such an honored guest, you may have the privilege of shooting one of the infidels.  If you accept and shoot one, the rest go free.  If you deny the opportunity, he and his men will shoot all of them.

What do you do?

You have the opportunity to save nine men—but you will have personally killed another man.  Or you have the opportunity to keep your hands clean and watch ten men be killed—nine of whom may have survived, had you had the guts to step up to the plate (okay, yes, I side with the rebels, usually, and I also usually condone shooting the one). 

This situation is merely one in which it is easy to see the effects of collateral damage relating from ethical or unethical behavior.  Think about Bonhoeffer—he, in an effort to quench what he considered to be the ultimate evil, compromised his morals to attempt to ensure Hitler’s death.  His morals are the collateral damage in that situation.  Think back to Juergensmeyer—one has to justify an act of religious violence.

Is it okay, then, to have collateral damage if you have a plan?  Lenin, I think, or somebody, said something along the lines of (and excuse me, I’m paraphrasing), “It wouldn’t matter it three-fourths of the population were killed, if the remaining fourth were Communists.”  Think about that in terms of religious violence—insert into a Revelations context.  The people foretold to die in the final book of the accepted Christian Bible is high.  And intense. 

[!WARNING!:  The following two paragraphs are highly tangential (insert snort from Chuck who thinks that my entire journal and all my class participation is always that way) and you don’t have to read them if you don’t want to.]

It’s interesting to think of violence as the greater good, when all semester we’ve been seeing it as bad—religion has shifted between inherently good and bad, but for the most part the violence has always been considered negative.  And while I’m not saying I disagree—I’m a terrible softie and really don’t like violence in any form—it is interesting.  This is kind of a side note—okay, it is a side note—but I’d like to know why the bombing of German cities that we did in World War II is not more well known.  Is it not in the history books because the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have to be because of their magnitude?  Did they think that the U.S. o’ A already looked bad enough?  I’ve learned so much about America and what we as a nation have done since coming to college.  We create means to ends.  In my opinion, that’s not enough!  Every person is an end unto themselves—yeah, okay, sure.  We use people—all of us do.  But the consideration of thinking of them as people—as an end—is important. 

One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.  Sad words, but so true.  When’s the last time you saw a foreign massacre or event that resulted in a high death toll on the front page of the paper?  I’ll mark this as tangential.  Sorry!

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~ by spim on November 17, 2008.

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