Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seduced again

An empire needs a lot of validation. In particular, it needs to make up stories about itself. If you are a powerful empire at the crossroads of the world, it might make sense to tell one like this: A vigorous young god grows tired of his mother's constant meddling, so he murders her and stretches out her corpse to form the cosmos. The many splatters of blood become stars, resulting in the pretty but violent world we all inhabit.

This is essentially the creation myth of ancient Babylon, but it lives on as what theologian Walter Wink has called "the myth of redemptive violence." According to this myth, a wrong can only be avenged through violence. At its most powerful, such violence is indeed a creative force, and the god, person or nation who exercises it performs an act of redemption.

The most stunning realization of the myth of redemptive violence I have ever seen is the movie Independence Day. After millions of people have been killed and an entire alien civilization destroyed by our nuclear weapons in retaliation, we are asked to leave the theater believing that we have seen a "happy ending." After all, "they" were not even human.

Before I go on to make the obvious parallel with current events, I would like to point out that there is another creation story with which we are ostensibly more familiar: one that grew up in the shadow of Babylon, and in opposition to it. In this story, God does not use violence to create the world. God stands outside of creation, yet cares deeply enough about it to find it good. We have also heard this story many times, but we may not realize how strongly it contrasts with the Babylonian creation myth - because it is the latter that still often guides our most important choices.

Things do not go smoothly in Genesis either, of course. Cain kills Abel, planting a seed of violence that grows and festers until it creates a cancer that seems impossible to eradicate. In many ways, our imaginations are still bound by the limitations of the creation myth of ancient Babylon.

We have been asked this week to accept that the death of Osama bin Laden is an act of justice. Perhaps it is. Let me be clear. I am not sorry that the man is dead. He was evil, and he brought what happened on himself many times over. We may well be safer because he is no longer alive.

Nevertheless, I have come to believe that a truly evil person can do no greater evil than to cause others to rejoice over his or her death. I refuse to grant bin Laden that final victory over my soul. I will not be happy that he is dead. He does not deserve it.

1 comment:

  1. "In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men"