George, Trayvon, and Spider-Stomping
We light this candle as a symbol of our faith.
By its light may our vision be illumined;
By its warmth may our fellowship be encouraged;
And by its flame may our yearnings for peace, justice and the life of the spirit be enkindled.
Song: Come, Come, Whoever You Are
Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Love yet again come
Two Creation Stories
The Babylonian story of creation
“In the beginning, Apsu, the father god, and Tiamat, the mother god, give birth to the gods. But the frolicking of the younger gods makes so much noise that the elder gods resolve to kill them so they can sleep. The younger gods uncover the plot before the elder gods put it into action, and kill Apsu. His wife Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos, pledges revenge.
Terrified by Tiamat, the rebel gods turn for salvation to their youngest member, Marduk. He negotiates a steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches [his mother] Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots an arrow that bursts her distended belly and pierces her heart. He then splits her skull with a club and scatters her blood in out-of-the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full-length, and from it creates the cosmos…..
“After the world has been created, the story continues, the gods imprisoned by Marduk for siding with Tiamat complain of the poor meal service. Marduk and his father, Ea, therefore execute one of the captive gods, and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods.
from Walter Wink, Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence
In the Jewish story of creation, God creates the earth, the seas, light, the sky, plants and animals, and repeatedly the story says “And God saw that it was good” – ending with:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. ” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1, New International Version
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said “…the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice…”
Lesson: George, Trayvon, and Spider-Stomping
One day when our daughter was not yet two, when we went to pick her up, her babysitter, Bindu, was showing her how to stomp a spider. “Oh, no” we said. “Please don’t teach her to kill spiders.” Her sitter said “But the children are afraid of spiders, and killing them teaches them they don’t need to be afraid.” Ever after, we were reminded to explain to our kids that we didn’t kill things just because we were afraid of them, and put spiders and insects out of the house, out of the tent, wherever.
Thirty years later, in our Tai Chi class, a member stopped in the middle of the Tai Chi movements and stomped a spider near Robert. Robert was taken aback, but reacted fairly politely, observing that spiders are mostly harmless and eat other insects. We remembered the story of Bindu and shared it after class.
Last week, months later, we were in the hall after class, and our instructor stomped a spider, and apologized, remembering our previous reaction, saying “I can’t help being afraid of spiders.” Robert repeated the line that spiders are predators that save us from insects. I, of course, didn’t think quickly enough to say what I later realized:
It is not the spider that we need to protect, as much as ourselves. Every time we kill a spider because we are afraid, or because they creep us out, or because the webs are inconvenient, we justify to ourselves that it is ok to kill because we are afraid, because we are uncomfortable, because something is inconvenient. Most of us will not ever be in a situation where we can or will kill another person because we fear them, because we dislike them, because they are inconvenient, but sometimes people are, or put themselves there.
George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin was the result of fear and of what is called moral disengagement. We can’t know what was going through George’s head, of course, but from the reports we have a pretty good idea. He was afraid of people being burglarized in his neighborhood, he was afraid of young black men in hoodies, and he lived in a culture, our culture, where we have been taught that violence is an acceptable or even courageous or heroic solution to fear, to discomfort, to inconvenience – where we have enacted laws that say not only that poisons to kill pests are good, but it is our right to carry guns, and to shoot people we think are threatening.
After I started thinking about spider-stomping, George, and Trayvon, two of the ministers whose blogs I follow, one UU and one Presbyterian, posted sermons on the myth of redemptive violence, a concept developed by Walter Wink, a Methodist minister and theologian. He contrasts the Creation myth of Babylon, one of the oldest surviving myths, with the Jewish creation myth of Genesis, which was written when the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. John Shuck says “The myth of redemptive violence is the myth that violence saves as long as it is in the hands of the good guys and not the bad guys.”
Walter Wink says:
In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. …order is established by means of disorder. Chaos is prior to order. Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.
The implications are clear: human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god.
Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquillity that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer themselves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.
In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.
The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show – the “Tammuz” element, where the hero suffers – actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self.
When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.”
In the creation story in Genesis, on the other hand, God keeps saying that all Creation is good, and that people are made in the image of God.
The ancient Indian religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism — all posit a different story: a universe that is benevolent, people who are basically good, and the principle of love. All religions seem to have had times when the myth of redemptive violence ruled, sometimes for centuries, but the thread of love and non-violence is always there.
Here is the story of Jesus’ arrest.
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Matthew 26:51-52 New International Version
I’m not sure that Jesus meant “those who live by the sword die by the sword,” as it is sometimes quoted, and which makes more sense, on the surface – those who fight can naturally expect to get killed. He didn’t say “those who live by the sword” – he said “those who draw their sword” – in other words, even those who are willing to do violence. And I think he didn’t mean literally dying – he meant that we die to goodness when we are willing to do violence.
I mentioned “moral disengagement,” which is the process of convincing ourselves that ethical standards don’t apply to us in particular circumstances. One way of morally disengaging is to find a moral purpose for inhumane behavior – the way of redemptive violence. Another is the displacement of responsibility – to authority or to a group. We can also disengage by minimizing or ignoring bad consequences, or by dehumanizing others.
For some, it is easy to justify George Zimmerman, just as Bernie Goetz was justified or even held up as a hero in 1984, when he shot four alleged muggers on a New York subway. Goetz was eventually convicted only of illegal possession of a firearm. The myth of redemptive violence says these men were protecting themselves and others from evil and chaos. For others, Goetz and Zimmerman are evil racists.
For some, it is easy to feel compassion for Trayvon Martin. Others have vilified him, to justify the redemptive violence.
But if we believe in karma, the natural consequence of our actions, or that even the willingness to hurt others damages us, then we need to feel compassion for, to see God within, both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. And we need to see the willingness to hurt others, or moral disengagement, our justifications for damage, in ourselves. Every day acts like spider-stomping, or acceptance of the premise that a movie hero is a hero for overcoming evil with violence, increase our belief that it is sometimes ok, or even courageous, to hurt others.
Every day we are all in situations where we have choices whether to be kind or cruel to others, where we can use our power to take actions, usually quite legally, that hurt other people.
How do we counter fear? How do we avoid violence? Attempts to stop violence – or any behavior – in others ends in violence – mild or strong, physical or mental. It is a truism that we can only change ourselves. So to stop fear and violence, we can only come to insight about our own inner evil, our own fear and tendency to violence, and try to learn compassion and to rest in the world as fundamentally good.
We don’t learn without practicing as well as reading or listening. When we are learning anything, we have to constantly talk to ourselves, reminding ourselves of the steps, the technique, and the goal. We might be able to list all the steps, hum ta tune or even write it down, and still not be able to play it. We must both remind ourselves and actually do the steps to become fluent at anything. Studies have shown that just thinking through the steps – mental practice – improves our performance, but in the end we also have to do it.
So – how can we practice not-fearing and non-violence? We can be ever-mindful of what we do, and what we are being told, practice good intentions and examine our thoughts and actions, in meditation or prayer, and learn about the other by truly trying to see the God – the good – in them and putting ourselves in their shoes.
In this way, we all can work toward enlightenment, when love and compassion become natural.
Through the force of his or her compassion, a Buddha spontaneously does whatever is appropriate to benefit others. He has no need to think about what is the best way to help living beings – he naturally and effortlessly acts in the most beneficial way. Just as the sun does not need to motivate itself to radiate light and heat but does so simply because light and heat are its very nature, so a Buddha does not need to motivate himself to benefit others but does so simply because being beneficial is his very nature.
Responsive Reading 449(HCL)
Force and the Way of Life – Tao Te Ching
Those who have power in the government of the world, and who follow the way of life, will oppose the use of armies for conquest.
Those who use weapons will have weapons turned against them.
The places where armies are encamped will become a wilderness of briars and thorns.
Raising a multitude of men for warfare will be followed by years of scarcity; bad times and disorders follow after war.
The wise ruler will curb his ambitions and refrain from using force.
His only aim will be to relieve the needs of the land; he will not exert his power over others.
He resolutely fulfills his purposes, but not for glory.
He does what must be done, but not for show.
He makes use of his power only as a last resort.
He prefers to achieve his goals without the use of violence.
It is the nature of things to grow to their full strength, and then to fall away.
Force and violence are not the way of life; those who do not live by the way of life will soon perish.
Tao Te Ching
Joys and Sorrows
Song: This Little Light of Mine
Benediction 558 (HCL)
From the murmur and subtlety of suspicion with which we vex one another, give us rest.
Make a new beginning,
And mingle again the kindred of the nations in the alchemy of love, and with some finer essence of forbearance, temper our minds.
Sam Trumbore on Rejecting Redemptive Violence
John Shuck on The Myth of Redemptive Violence
Walter Wink on Redemptive Violence
Albert Bandura on Moral Disengagement