Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Invoking the Sacred

Since the death of Osama Bin Laden, I've found myself in the somewhat precarious position of standing on the principle of "Love thy enemy", a biblical reference. Yet I'm atheist. In a way, by using that phrase I'm sort of lazily employing an appeal to moral authority. I don't use it out of obedience to God, but as a touchstone of timeless human wisdom and intuition about social relations.

But what does that phase mean - love thy enemy? I guess for me, in my naturalistic worldview, it is is the humble recognition of human frailty, that due to events beyond our control any one of us could have been OBL - whether genes or environment. Interestingly, I've always found this to dovetail nicely with the Christian notion that we are all "sinners", in that humans are imperfect and face daily "trials" that challenge our attempts to have moral integrity. (There is a reason we refer to people who are able to pull this off as "saints".)

Maybe it is not even the "enemy" that is to be loved. Maybe it is the process of life's unfolding, and the recognition that there is no real reason for any of it, and thus nothing to dwell on. This is definitely not something that fits with religious tradition. Unless, you replace "no reason" with "divine reason" - which I think actually is a substitute that makes a lot of sense. In both, there is a demand of transcendence and acceptance that somethings simple are, despite our feelings either way.

And maybe the final emphasis is on the word love, the verb. There is an implicit selflessness, bravery and wisdom in that word. It is a word that binds us together, again in transcendence. It reminds us, by definition, of a joy in living. It reminds us to look for it in every aspect of life, including in the hearts of our enemies. Because in every man, even the cruelest and most "evil", there is love. We were all children once - "God's children", innocent, pure, hopeful and beautiful. And at some level we are all still children. We are reminded of that, especially when we want to forget it, whether by only looking at the worst in a fellow man, objectifying and dehumanizing him.

Religious phrases have great meaning for so many people, and reflect such ancient and honored traditions. I suppose that is why I find myself making my appeal in religious terms. These sacred words were written with deliberate purpose. They are not by themselves proof or an argument really, of anything. But they have meaning and a power that ordinary language does not have the benefit of holding.

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