lundi, avril 24, 2006

The sword of righteousness

I would rather not pay him much heed. Frankly, I cannot bear to see such hatred. But Zacarias Moussaoui is once again front page news. Now that the closing arguments are ending, the jury is debating whether he should be put to death for his complicity in the plot that ended in the firestorm at the World Trade Center, the deaths of innocents at the Pentagon, and the loss of all passengers on Flight 93 when it crashed in Pennsylvania, probably on its way to Washington. Nobody much likes Mr. Moussaoui. Even his defense lawyer seemed to indicate that he thought of him as a lower form of life. The prosecuting attorney said that there "was no place on earth" for someone like him, a man who rejoiced in the death of the almost 3,000 victims and the suffering of their relatives. On the other hand, said Moussaoui's defense attorney, putting him to death would make him the martyr that he wished to be. The decision is "more about us than it is about him" he said. If I were a betting woman, I would wager that the jury goes for the death penalty. Perhaps members might see that as some kind of recompense to the relatives of the victims. Possibly they may agree with the prosecutor that he is simply too awful to live. Although I hope I am not right, my guess is that few will wonder what the decision to put a man to death means about them. What is the connection between Zacarias Moussaoui and the recent flap over the Gospel of Judas? It is this. Two thousand years after it was written, scholars and other sympathizers have risen to the defense of the Gnostics. For anyone who has had their head in a bag the past couple of weeks, Gnostics are those (and there have been many Gnostic sects throughout the centuries) who suscribed to the idea that there was were levels of truth not available to everybody. Why do they receive such sympathy? Partly because they lost, and losers are more interesting than "winners." But they continue to fascinate too because they were eradicated, not only from congregations but from much of the historical record. As Christianity became the state religion, as it acquired institutional power, the impulse to enforce orthodoxy became too great too resist (perhaps memories of Roman persecution were short). Over time, Christians, even when we have righteousness or truth on our side, have had a tendency to enforce it with means that are coercive instead of merciful and irrational instead of exemplary. Oftentimes we were intolerant of diversity when, if we truly trusted that God was in charge, we would have let error fade away on its own. It is scary how fast we can begin to think of ourselves as agents of the forces of light instead of servants saved by faith through grace. In hindsight, the pious weren't always too careful about who we chopped up, burned or tormented. But throughout the history of civilization, the wheat has been mixed with the tares. In the light of our history, I am reticent to be too quick to think that by putting one man to death we will eradicate that for which he stands. I also do wonder what it says about me, and about you. In assuming I am taking a stand against evil by killing a man like Moussaoui, I may be, in fact, become more like him. God is the only true and absolute good, the only One who is capable of deciding an appropriate punishment for the crimes to which Moussaoui has confessed. Is it not up to Him to make the final judgment? No one I know would argue that Moussaoui is a martyr. Many of those I know had friends or relatives, or friends of friends in the Twin Towers that unforgettable morning. But in our understandable zeal to rid ourselves of him and his hatred, we reinforce an unfortunate tendency to arrogate to ourselves that which is God's alone. In the process, the medicine we administer may, in fact, become that which slowly and subtly works its poison on us.

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