I was laid awake last night thinking about the horror unfolding in Gaza and Israel. I got up this morning and wrote down a few thoughts.
Although I see the discussion below as important, discussion isn’t meant to distract from the real human cost of this conflict or practical solutions in terms of humanitarian support and peacemaking .
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Human beings are complex creatures, possessing a profound duality within themselves. On one hand, they exhibit an innate capacity for love, compassion, and the bestowal of blessings upon their fellow humans. This capacity underscores our shared humanity and the ability to forge meaningful connections with one another. Yet, on the other hand, humans also harbor the potential for darkness, which can manifest in harm, cruelty, and even the perpetration of horrific acts of violence against one another.
As social beings, we transcend individual interactions to form communities, whether large or small. Within these communities, our capacities and inclinations are magnified and amplified. This dynamic means that while love and care can thrive within the nurturing embrace of a community, the potential for harm can escalate dramatically when groups of humans unite. In essence, communities, whether they are built upon principles of empathy and love or founded upon aggression and violence, wield immense power in shaping the destinies of individuals and even nations on a grand scale.
The darker aspect of this human predicament is most vividly revealed in our approach to bringing about change through communal conflicts, such as wars. These conflicts serve as tragic testaments to our capacity for violence and the profound and devastating consequences it can unleash. Astonishingly, the very same individuals and communities capable of acts of kindness, compassion, and love toward one another can, at the same time, inflict brutality and suffering upon others.
The transition from individual actions to collective endeavors is closely intertwined with the influence of myths. Myths are the narratives that weave together the social fabric of communities, imparting shared values, histories, and dreams. They form the cultural and ideological bedrock upon which societies are constructed. Myths provide a sense of purpose and direction that guides the course of history and shapes the ethical principles governing a society.
In the deeply entrenched and intricate conflict between Israel and Gaza, myths play a central and, at times, tragic role. These myths serve as the ideological fuel that, when ignited, leads to death and destruction. The shared imaginary—the myths—take on a life of their own within groups like Hamas and the Israeli armed forces. It is crucial to recognize that these conflicts are not solely propelled by immediate factors, such as the treatment and suffering of Palestinians in Gaza or the actual rocket attacks and kidnappings of Israelis. Instead, they are fueled by deeply ingrained myths that shape the collective identity and purpose of these opposing groups.
These myths encompass various elements, including religious and historical narratives, notions of nationhood, and ideas of exceptionalism. They also include an anthropology—a narrative about the worth and dignity of human beings, whether they belong to one's own community or to those beyond it.
In the midst of this conflict, it becomes evident that many Israelis and Palestinians, though not all, have embraced a particular myth—the myth of redemptive violence. This myth asserts that, at times, extreme violence is not only ethically justifiable but can also bring about redemption or salvation. It espouses the belief that violence, when wielded in pursuit of a higher purpose or cause, can lead to a brighter future. However, this perspective stands in stark contrast to an alternative viewpoint that recognizes the destructive nature of violence. From this perspective, violence is seen not as a path to redemption but as a destructive spiral, where one act of violence begets another in an unending cycle of suffering and retribution.
( You may be interested in my previous post on the myth of redemptive violence. )
In essence, the human capacity for both love and violence, the influence of communal myths, and the tragic outcomes of conflicts like the one between Israel and Gaza serve as profound reminders of the intricate and often perplexing nature of our shared human experience. Within this complexity, there lies both a challenge and an opportunity—to strive for a world where love and compassion triumph over the darker aspects of our nature.
Confronting this challenge calls for a courageous step toward challenging and transcending the destructive myths that perpetuate conflict and violence. It necessitates a collective effort to develop new mythical structures, or perhaps to draw inspiration from ancient mythic stories and structures that embody hope, peace, joy, and the cessation of war. As Jesus reminds us, "Blessed are the peacemakers." By embracing and promoting narratives that celebrate peace and reconciliation, we embark on a journey to reshape the cultural and ideological foundations upon which societies are built. These alternative myths can inspire us to seek non-violent resolutions to conflicts, promote understanding and dialogue, and ultimately pave the way for a more harmonious and compassionate world. In doing so, we acknowledge the human capacity for transformation, offering a glimmer of hope amid the shadows of conflict and despair.
Swales , Oct 2023