Robert, you quote in your First Things post today a line from Hassan Nasrallah that epitomizes the mysterious and frustrating thing about dealing with this culture. He’s being blankly honest. They aren’t expecting to win, militarily; they are fighting to achieve “honor” and fighting against “humiliation.”
These are not terms that make sense in America; we think being honorable means being fair, honest, just, even gentle, in the sense that “gentleman” is supposed to evoke. But that is the effect of steeping the teabag of Christianity in 2,000 years of Euro-American hot water. Without the teachings of Jesus, honor means fighting to preserve “face.” It sets the tribal group at the besieged center of the universe and takes on all comers.
In the Middle East we’re up against something much more primitive in the human spirit than we are used to encountering. Understanding it won’t tell us any better how to cope with it, but at least we’ll see it more clearly.
And in that light, I’ll defend the pope’s appeal. Jesus was speaking to an oppressed minority, citizens of an occupied country, when he told them to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. This advice did not free his people from oppression, but then again, neither did open revolt forty years later. But it did allow his followers to live in his spirit, no matter what assailed them. The following centuries, when Christians were even more crushed and humiliated, were indeed the seed of the Church. Powerlessness can be power.
Today we Orthodox Christians observe the martyrdom of the Maccabees (honored, like other Old Testament figures, as saints who lived before Christ’s incarnation). In the morning Synaxarion, I read how the mother, Solomone, saw the torture and death of each of her seven sons¯or as it’s described, “her children’s triumph over the enemy.” Christianity is upside-down from the idea of “honor” we confront in this Hezbollah statement.
I think we can expect Christian leaders to do no less than issue the same call to unilateral love that Jesus gave¯nonsensical as it is if worldly power is the goal. We can expect that these few solitary Christian voices will not be heeded, anyway. But that’s no reason to dilute the strange and unsettling Christian message.
(Access contributors’ biographies by clicking here .)