Thursday, August 23, 2007

The power of the enemy

The need to have an enemy is, I suspect, both seductive and addictive. It is so for both individuals and community. Having an enemy, especially one that can be de-humanized and demonized, gives us, a sense of place, a sense of moral superiority, and a way to more clearly define our own identity and that of our community. Living in a world without enemies is very difficult. It demands a high level of humble self-confidence, something most of us lack. It demands a high level of responsibility for our own actions and their consequences. It demands an accountability to our neighbors for the welfare of our neighbors. And all of this is mixed up in a jumble of complex relationships with competing and sometimes conflicting interests. A clearly understood enemy relieves us of so much of that. We can subordinate all those moral demands to the expedient need of fighting our enemy. In that way we can delude ourselves into thinking that enemies help us keep our bearings. If you and I were the only ones who suffered from this weakness, we could do something about it and all would be right with the world. But as it is, this seems to be a widely shared human trait and a characteristic of almost every culture and government. As a Christian, I believe that God in Christ Jesus has an answer for that, but it’s a very hard sell because it takes us back to the very things we tried to escape by having our cherished enemies in the first place. Nevertheless, because I think that is God’s answer, it is the one I must stick with and work on for myself and those whom I serve.

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