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- TOTUS TUUS MARIA----- Original Message -----From: ValsonTo: Babu PaulSent: Saturday, March 02, 2002 7:23 PMSubject: from valson
BROTHERS AND KILLERS
�Where is your brother?� God asked at the beginning of biblical history. God has had no respite from asking the same question ever since. The original context was that of bloodshed: brother killing brother, which is what every murder really is. Within the vision of vasudaiva kutumbakam, can anyone, even the most abhorred enemy, be less than a brother?
Two insights in the Cain-Abel story are of special significance to the current tragic scenario in our country. First, it is in the context of religion that brother kills brother. The issue at stake here is the very purpose of religion, which has been at all times perversely misunderstood. Religion is meant to master the ambivalence in human nature. We can be either the keepers or the killers of our brothers. The purpose of religion is to enable us to be keepers rather than killers of each other, protectors rather than predators of life and nature. The ascendancy of vested interests in religion, however, degrades it into a license for murder and mayhem, as has happened in the history of all religions.
All through history, the most sanctified form of murder has been the killing of the enemies of one�s God. Yet God is the giver and defender of life, who confronts every human being with the absolute Commandment, �You shall not kill�. The Commandment does not entertain any excuse or extenuating circumstance. It is an absolute imperative, not only to desist from murder but also to protect life. We are not to kill under any circumstance; for no twist or turn of events can nullify the truth that God alone has authority over life.
What has degraded religion into a theatre of cruelty and barbarity is the �ownership� mentality of the devotees vis-�-vis their gods. Yet, the truth is that a god owned exclusively by a segment of the human species is no God. Hence it is that we have two contrary images of God in almost all religious traditions. The first image is that of a tribal god whose affinities and concerns are limited to a designated group. The alternate image is that of a transcendental God who has no favourites and whose concerns are non-partisan. This God insists on an absolute adherence to universal values, especially the value of cherishing and defending human life and the integrity of creation.
There is a remarkable instance in the Bible when the tension between these two views on God come face to face in a dramatic fashion. It happens in the Garden of Gethsemene in the course of Jesus� arrest. The most intriguing thing about this event is Jesus� enquiry of Peter as to how many swords he has. To Peter�s reply that he has two with him, Jesus answers, �They will do.� At the point of Jesus� arrest, Peter strikes with his sword at a member of the hostile crowd and slashes off his ear. Upon this, Jesus reprimands him with the words, �Put down the sword. He who takes the sword shall fall by it.� If it were not to use the sword against their enemies, why in the world did Jesus want Peter to take the swords with him to Gethsemene?
The spiritual drama in Gethsemene engages the seminal temptation in religion: the temptation to turn the sword into the foremost expression of one�s zeal for God. Both in Gethsemene and on the Cross, Jesus unequivocally rejects the option of the sword as a symbol of religious loyalty. But, for the most part, the message has been lost on Christendom. Crusades and inquisitions, the bloody ritual of �devotion-through-sword� continued for centuries thereafter, corrupting the Christian witness to a bruised world most lamentably.
In the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus instructs Peter on how to use the sword and, even more importantly, how not to use it. He leaves Peter in no doubt that loyalty expressed through the sword is utterly unacceptable to God. If these swords are not to be used against the enemies of his God, how is Peter to use them?
The answer is writ large over the symbolic resonance of the Gethsemene event. Peter that day understood that sword number one must be used against himself: especially against the all-too-human tendency to use the sword against others in expressing one�s religious zeal. The first spiritual use of the sword is against oneself. Or, in the words of Jesus on an earlier occasion, the first spiritual sword is the sword of self-denial, which is a pre-condition for discipleship. Religion stands in peril of degenerating into a blood bath when those who lack the spiritual strength of self-denial wield the sword. The sword can be an instrument of justice or injustice, compassion or cruelty, depending on who wields it. The tragedy in religion has all along been that swords and trishuls are in the hands of those who know no self-control. The only mission of those who cannot control themselves will be to control and terrorise others.
The second spiritual sword, or the second spiritual use of the sword, is against one�s own religious community; to cleanse and purify it. If the first duty of a spiritually enlightened person is to be vigilant against his own impure motives, his second duty is to be vigilant against the egoism and aggression of his own religious community. This is so because religion, like politics, is a domain of power and power stands in danger of degenerating into corruption unless it is purified of all vested interests. There are only two sets of options in religion: the reformation of the self or the coercion and subjugation of others. The reformation of oneself and one�s religious community catalyses and motivates the reformation of others. The coercion of others to conform to one�s own standards serves to cover up one�s aberrations and ensures that the process of decay is neither exposed nor arrested. Sadly, today everyone is busy reforming and coercing everyone else, mainly because the zeal to reform people of other faiths is politically and materially profitable, whereas the mission to reform one�s own community is fraught with personal risk and loss.