It’s hard to get people to kill other human beings—unless we can convince them that the enemy is not really human. The history of war shows us over and over the campaigns countries wage to dehumanize their enemies so that it will be possible to kill them without sadness, remorse or shame.
Most of us would say we would never fall prey to that tactic. We would never dehumanize. But because political identification has come to be our sole/soul definer, we have learned how to interject a crafty but. “I would never dehumanize another person, but Hamas and the Palestinians have been brutally subjugated” or, “but Israel has a right to defend itself.” That little caveat allows us to condemn killing when their side does it, but artfully justify it when our side does it. We all do it.
But we don’t have to. In fact, if we seek to walk a spiritual path, we can’t. If we are to become more and more conformed to the image of God, we will have to stop choosing sides. The Old Testament story of Israel is all about the chosen people coming gradually, painfully to understand that their chosenness doesn’t exclude other nations. Unlike us, God, it seems, can love and embrace the opposites! (Read, for example, the book of Jonah.) And the New Testament of course tells the same story all over. Jesus’ critics reserve their worst vitriol for the moments when he declares a gentile more faithful than a Jew. (Read, for example, Matthew 8:10.) God is always saying, “I choose you…and the one you cannot abide. I choose you both.”
Living a spiritual life—that is, a deeply human life—means having our categories of chosenness broken apart. Our old wine skins must burst open with the new wine of universal love—and it is an explosion! It shocks us, challenges every synapse in our lizard brain.
When I find myself making allowances for the death of children as the collateral damage of our good cause, I return to Wendell Berry’s haunting poem, “Questionaire.” Here is the final question:
5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.*
*If you’d like to read the entire “Questionaire,” click here.