(I showed Kris the passage: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)
Kris: Well, of course, Jesus often hyperbolized.
Me: Yeah, but even if he is hyperbolizing here, his meaning is still along the lines of what he’s hyperbolizing about. I mean, hyperbole’s just an emphasizing tool; it’s not like irony, where you’re saying the opposite of what you mean. What’s he trying to tell us?
Kris: Well, you could take him literally, of course. Then he’d be talking about pacifism to the point of not even defending yourself from an attack. Like not responding to
Pearl Harbor. (Kris always goes to history in his responses
to my questions about scripture. History, for him, is the primary repository of
knowledge. For me, it’s personal experience.)
Me: That’s not what I’m wanting to do. Take it literally. What I’m trying to figure out is what Jesus is wanting me to take away from all this.
Kris: Well, Jesus himself wasn’t all that much of a pacifist. He turns the tables over in the temple on two occasions. He constantly offends people, calls them broods of vipers and not Abraham’s children. He says they’re fit for hell. And, you know, his disciples keep asking him, “Don’t you know you’re offending these people?” but he keeps on doing it. And, you know, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek,” but he was hardly meek himself. After he has offended the Pharisees on more than one occasion, he slips away. And Jesus says it’s bad to call people “Raca,” but he calls them worse than that. He says people are evil. He says, “Woe to you.”
Me: (I can’t remember what I asked him here; I was too busy transcribing Kris's response.)
Kris: No. I think Jesus is saying, in a given situation, we should respond first with generosity, not anger and violence. That, in the end, we’ll be measured by the same measure we use, so we should respond as we would want to be responded to.
Me: So, you’re saying, it wasn’t wrong to respond to
Kris: Well, pacifists—like the Amish and the Mennonites—might say it was. But, you know, they have some pretty severe punishments. Like shunning and exiling people.
Me: (I said something here. Don’t know what.)
Kris: Well, as I say, Patty. That panel discussion I went to years and years ago, when I was an undergraduate, about religious views on war, violence, was it justified? And there was this Mennonite on the panel. He wasn’t a typical Mennonite, I guess, because he was a theology professor or something and I don’t think Mennonites even have theology and stuff. Anyway, he thought that war was wrong in general, but that, in his opinion, some wars were justified. In the end, though, he said, “When we go to war, we should do it with great regret, with a heavy heart, and as a last resort.” But he also said, when we go to war, we should do it brutally and inhumanely. Because that’s what war is: killing people.