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s302.photobucket.com; Considering the place of violence in our times.

Good and War (by Benjamin Webb):

War is waged for many reasons. We justify it with a few. I believe most would like to see it as a necessary evil, or a means to the greater good. Humans have been philosophising about “the good” for millennia and this seems likely to continue. But if we are killing in its name, it seems reasonable to try and understand what good we are hoping to achieve. This is probably out of our reach, at least for now, so let us try and stumble upon a consensus on what path should be taken to reach our noble desire: Good.

For ages philosophers have believed that human reason, and the right interpretation of fact, will lead us to truth and ultimately good. Plato elevated reason and the realm of ideas to the extent that he believed it was only through thought that we could see truth. The physical world was seen only to be a pale reflection of the truth found in the ideal (The Republic Book 7). His metaphor of “the cave” famously explains this. For Plato the physical world acts as a distraction from truth.

Does “Reason” lead us to “Good”?

Of course, as humans keen to tout our inertial movement toward progress, we have developed our thoughts on understanding beyond those of Plato. We see people such as Locke reject this sort of mystic understanding of good and truth, and ground it more in our physical reality. For Locke we gain understanding through our senses. Thus, it is the proper application of reason to our experiences, and those of others, that will lead us to good. I present this contrast to Plato simply to show that notions of good have changed throughout history and will continue to. What remains relatively static is our belief in reason to lead us to good.

The Gospel of John seems to reinforce this notion by saying, “In the beginning was the [Logos], and the [Logos] was with God, and the [Logos] was God”, in essence deifying rational thought (John 1.1). In this light it is easy then to say that Jesus’ life is the expression of the cosmic rules that govern our universe. However, John does not leave Jesus in such a comfortable position. He adds, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1.14)

At the Intersection of Reason & Flesh

It is this intersection of reason and flesh that is so transformative. Jean Vanier, who founded L’Arche to help those with developmental disabilities, recently was a guest on CBC’s Ideas. He explains that ideas and humanity do not always coincide. He believes that ideas and thought produce a realm of power in which there is a “gradual separation from the body”. This is dangerous because power perpetuates itself, and thus cannot be trusted to make decisions that will result in good. However, he sees humanity, the realm of love, as an antidote to this problem. He says:

‘communion is through the body,’ and that those who are suffering are in need of ‘gentle touch’.

It is only by accessing our fragility, our need for others, that love can infiltrate the realm of power.

I believe it is this combination of reason and humanity that informs our understanding of Jesus as Truth. This is evident in many of his responses to the pharisees. John 8 sees a woman caught in adultery brought before Jesus. From the perspective of the people, she was objectively deserving of punishment. The realm of ideas had condemned her. Jesus uses this same realm to disperse the crowd. He forces empathy upon them by asking if any of the accusers have ever done wrong. Yet, it is Jesus final words that reveal that he is more than just reason. The fragility of her accusers is the explanation Jesus gives to reach beyond reason and provide a gentle touch. He does not accuse her because no one else can.

Then neither do I condemn you”

John 8.11

This example reveals that our quest for good must not only rely on reason, but also on our humanity. Reason is often used to justify our attacks on others. For example, throughout history rebellions have formed to overthrow oppressive powers. Violence against those who harm others may sometimes seem like our only recourse. As ISIS has emerged over the last several years the leaders of the West have all agreed that a concerted military effort is needed to stop them.

“10 Seconds of Humanity”

In 2014, Vice produced an almost hour long documentary that followed ISIS militants in their quest for a caliphate. In it there are garbled ideologies, blatant indoctrination, and unflinching lies. Yet, as a man from Belgium proclaims that they “will orphan [our] children as [we] have orphaned [theirs]” he engages in his fragility and shows us his humanity. He lowers his head and covers his eyes as the memory of the lost causes him to cry. The man leaves his realm of ideas for 10 seconds and reveals his humanity. In this moment Vanier’s sentiment that “what they need is gentle touch” is crushing. Fragility such as this gives us an opportunity to respond in kind:

Violence may be unavoidable, but if reason and humanity are to intersect we must learn to peer into the eyes of those we hate before we bear arms.

Benjamin Webb

 

References:

The Bible. New International Version, Bible Gateway. N. p., 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1&version=NIV

“The Islamic State (Full Length)”. VICE News. 26 Dec. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
https://news.vice.com/video/the-islamic-state-full-length

Plato. The Republic, “The Internet Classics Archive”. Classics.mit.edu. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html

Vanier, Jean. Interview by Paul Kennedy. Ideas. CBC Radio. 19 Sept. 2016.
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-rabbit-and-the-giraffe-jean-vanier-part-2-1.3766420

Benjamin Webb is an observer, thinker, and writer of the world at large.

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