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Thread: Jesus and Pacifism

  1. #1

    Default Jesus and Pacifism

    I ran across a post on this board that referred to one of Jesus's most famous teachings, colloquially summarized as "turn the other cheek". It is often interpreted as a call for pacifism or submitting, but there exists other and more brash interpretations clarified by wiki:

    Straightforward interpretation
    In everyday speech, the phrase "turn the other cheek" is often used to mean something like "turn away from aggression and ignore it rather than retaliate." Morality lessons that teach turning the other cheek as a good or Christian value would typically emphasize nonviolence and non-confrontation.
    The most straightforward reading of the passages in Matthew and Luke, however, suggests that the phrase has a more radical meaning: a command to respond to aggression by willingly exposing oneself to a further act of aggression rather than retaliating, retreating, or ignoring it.
    Since the passages call for total nonresistance to the point of facilitating aggression against oneself, and since human governments defend themselves by military force, they have led some to Christian anarchism, including the notable Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, author of the nonfiction book The Kingdom of God Is Within You.
    [edit]Literal interpretation
    A literal interpretation of the passages, in which the command refers specifically to a manual strike against the side of a person's face, can be supported by reference to historical and other factors.[1] At the time of Jesus, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance.[2] If the persecuted person "turned the other cheek," the discipliner was faced with a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed.[3] The other alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding equality. By handing over one's cloak in addition to one's tunic, the debtor has essentially given the shirt off their back, a situation directly forbidden by Hebrew Law as stated in Deuteronomy 24: 10-13:
    When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God.
    By giving the lender the cloak as well the debtor was reduced to nakedness. Public nudity was viewed as bringing shame on the viewer, not the naked, as evidenced in Genesis 9: 20-27:
    Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness.
    The succeeding verse from the Sermon on the Mount can similarly be seen as a method for making the oppressor break the law. The commonly invoked Roman law of Angaria allowed the Roman authorities to demand that inhabitants of occupied territories carry messages and equipment the distance of one mile post, but prohibited forcing an individual to go further than a single mile, at the risk of suffering disciplinary actions.[4] In this example, the nonviolent interpretation sees Jesus as placing criticism on an unjust and hated Roman law as well as clarifying the teaching to extend beyond Jewish law.[5] As a side effect this may also have afforded the early followers a longer time to minister to the soldier and or cause the soldier not to seek followers of Jesus to carry his equipment in the future so as not to be bothered with their proselytizing.

    [edit]Righteous personal conduct interpretation
    There is a third school of thought in regard to this passage. Jesus was not changing the meaning of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" but restoring it to the original context. Jesus starts his statement with "you have heard it said" which means that he was clarifying a misconception, as opposed to "it is written" which would be a reference to scripture. The common misconception seems to be that people were using Exodus 21:24-25 (the guidelines for a magistrate to punish convicted offenders) as a justification for personal vengeance. In this context, the command to "turn the other cheek" would not be a command to allow someone to beat or rob a person, but a command not to take vengeance.
    Some[citation needed] point out that Jesus said "he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" from Luke 22:36 and the Old Testament laws regarding killing in self-defense to support this view. However, even Luke 22:36 could have been figurative as in Luke 22:38 the disciples point out that they have two swords among the twelve of them, to which Jesus replies "That is enough."

    The underlined interpretation is the one that I find most interesting because it is not a call for non-conflict but is instead advocating equality through passive aggressiveness and vengeful personal conduct. Whether turning the other cheek was considered vengeful back then, I'm not sure. Were servants required to expose a particular cheek to be slapped? If so, then alternating cheeks would be belligerent.

    However, he sets up the pretense as though he's reforming the old way of vengeance. "It has been said, and eye for an eye...". So it wouldn't make much sense if he was just reiterating the old tradition in different contexts.

  2. #2
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    Senior Member Array Lark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aleksei View Post
    Yeah, he tha man, totally the Son of God!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mystic Tater View Post
    The underlined interpretation is the one that I find most interesting because it is not a call for non-conflict but is instead advocating equality through passive aggressiveness and vengeful personal conduct. Whether turning the other cheek was considered vengeful back then, I'm not sure. Were servants required to expose a particular cheek to be slapped? If so, then alternating cheeks would be belligerent.
    The underlined interpretation is the one that makes the most sense to me. I don't think Jesus was telling his followers to be doormats. Rather I think he was saying to retaliate with nonviolence.

    I've been told by a theology professor that knows much more about this than I that among first and second century Christian writings it was very important to not respond with violence. That was really the criteria they used to determine whether a believer was "mature" or not. I think the underlined interpretation makes the most sense when you see the overall teaching as an alternative to violence.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member Array KDude's Avatar
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    "A call for passive-aggressiveness". Someone should draw up Soviet style posters with that message in mind. It's real inspiring. What Jesus taught took open defiance and courage (basically, I'll stick to the straightforward Tolstoyan interpretation). Passive aggression is cowardly, ambiguous, and nothing remarkable. Why would he waste his time in something like the Sermon on the Mount to teach what many already do anyways (assuming it's not just a modern phenomenon)?

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