Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Vengeance is Mine, I will Repay, Says the Lord" — Works for Me

Different cultures deal with the ideas of vengeance and forgiveness in different ways.

I've been told that when Japanese comics, or manga, are translated into English, particularly for American audiences, it's difficult to retain the impact of certain words and phrases. For example the statement, "This is unforgivable!" Folks in contemporary American culture might say that - but a week or a month later have put the issue, whatever it is, behind them, or at least on a back shelf of their mind.

In Japan the statement is more likely, at least in the context of a story, to be taken at face value. And represent a central motivation for that character for the rest of the story.

Japan's not alone. Western culture's approach to resolving personal disputes used to result in situations like Njal's Saga. The last act of Hamlet, although dramatically exaggerated, represented fairly normal procedures not all that long ago. Then there's the domestic dispute involving Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar: We're still dealing with the aftermath of that. I've discussed it before, too, in another blog.

Forgiving? Me?!

I am not by nature a sweet-tempered man of the flower-sniffing and gently unassuming sort. When my sense of right and wrong is offended, forgiveness is not the first thing that comes to mind.

But I'm working on that.

Judgment, being 'Judgmental,' and being Catholic

Back in the sixties or seventies, as I recall, the idea that we shouldn't be "judgmental" found traction in American culture. For folks coming out of the mental straitjacket of post-WWII conformism and McCarthyism it made a great deal of sense.

Since then, being 'non-judgmental' came to mean supporting gay rights, abortion-on-demand, being terribly upset over the latest and-we're-all-gonna-die crisis - and shouting down those 'hateful' traditionalists who didn't agree. Which is another topic, sort of.

I've noticed that today many Americans assume that being Catholic means being conservative. Some others think that 'Jesus was a pacifist.' I've been identified (labeled?) as "some conservative guy:" But I'm no more conservative than I am liberal.

I am a practicing Catholic. (November 3, 2008)

Another American - possibly Western - assumption is that 'those religious people' are very 'judgmental.' There's something to that. The Catholic Church makes a point of teaching that there is good, and there is evil, that there's a difference between the two, and that we're supposed to learn how to discern that difference.

That's where it gets - if not complicated, then counter-cultural.
"...although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861)
I've quoted that before.

Religious People Always Say Others are Going to Hell, Right?

'None are saved save me and thee: and I'm not so sure about thee' is an attitude I've found among quite a few groups. Change the wording, and there are precious few communities and subcultures where I haven't run into that sort of self-righteousness.

That attitude is one of the reasons I gave non-Protestant belief systems a certain amount of attention, starting in my teens. I figured that God probably wasn't quite that narrow-minded.

At least, I hoped not: because if they were right, that crack about 'Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company' was probably true.1

I had pretty good reason for hoping that the sort of malignant virtue I ran into wasn't on God's 'preferred' list of attitudes:
" 'Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."
(Matthew 7:1-5)
Okay: So we're not supposed to judge other people. And we are supposed to discern what actions are good, and which aren't. No wonder "vague" is one of the nicer things that today's serious thinkers say about Catholics and Catholicism.

It's not vague, though: more along the lines of 'hate the sin, love the sinner.'

'Never Mind Justice: I Want Revenge?'

Justice can be described, somewhat simplistically, as controlled vengeance. I'm not at all sure about embracing that as a definition.

I can, however, be quite sure that taking vengeance into my own hands is not a good idea:
"Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' Rather, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.' Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good."
(Romans 12:19-21)

"We know the one who said: 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' and again: 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
(Hebrews 10:30, 31)

"The vengeful will suffer the LORD'S vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the LORD? Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins? If he who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?"
(Sirach 28:1-5)
Maybe that seems a bit like the sort of thing you'd expect from one of those 'commie pinko left-wing bleeding heart liberals.' Or like sound advice from my Lord, who took out the cities of the plain, obliterated a crack military unit of pharaoh's army, and arranged for His Son to be tortured to death on my behalf. (April 7, 2010) God is not the sort of person I want to defy.

Okay, He's three Persons, one God: and no, I do not understand the Trinity. I don't expect to. I'm not God. Not even close. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 253)

Bottom line? God is pretty clear on the matter of our taking vengeance into our own hands: and doesn't seem to encourage self-righteousness.

Works for me.

Related posts:

1 Mark Twain is supposed to have written that, or Sir James Barrie: or maybe it was quoted in a collection by Barrie.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.