And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh is coming before me because the earth is full of violence (hamas) because of them. Now I am about to destroy them along with the earth. (Gen 6:13, my trans.)
The Priestly authors of portions of the Genesis narratives of the beginnings of the human race did not clearly elucidate their understanding of humanity’s responsibility for “subduing” the earth, but they did include statements that rule out any notion that this responsibility could include exploitation. In the Genesis 1 creation account, for example, God explicitly assigns vegetation and fruit-bearing trees as the proper food sources for humankind. Later, after the Flood, God makes a concession allowing humans to consume meat, so long as they do not also consume the animal’s blood – the source of life itself (Gen 9:1-6). Apparently fearing that permission to kill (animals) in order to live could be perceived as a divine endorsement of killing per se, God quickly adds that killing a human being – created in God’s image – is absolutely prohibited, even for animals (Gen 9:6).
What accounts for the shift from God’s original intention to this concession? Hamas! Violence! God explains to Noah that God intends to send the Flood because of the human propensity for violence (Gen 6:13). The only account of violence in Genesis to this point is the story of Cain’s murder of Abel, which came to God’s attention because Abel’s life-blood cried out from the ground where it had been spilled, but the authors of Genesis obviously recount this first fratricide as a proto-type of the violence that characterizes human existence even today.
Hamas! Readers of this blog may have thought of the radical Islamic terrorist group bearing the name Hamas upon first seeing the title above. Ironically, because Hebrew and Arabic are cognate (Semitic) languages, they share the word for violence. Sadly, the terrorist group embraces as its philosophy that trait that motivated God to wash away a generation of human beings. Just as sadly, however, societies in the West, including the US, seem increasingly to embrace violence as a way of life, even as a value.
Recent events bear witness to this assertion. Polls suggest that Brexit supporters voted, not to leave the EU, but in protest against primarily Muslim immigration (which does not originate in the EU). It was xenophobic and violence (the assassination of a Member of Parliament, for example) accompanied it. Unnecessary killings of young black men in Minnesota and Louisiana last week not only prompted largely peaceful protests, but also provided an excuse for deranged people to ambush police in Texas and Georgia. A presidential candidate shamelessly advocates that the United States of America torture suspected terrorist in defiance of the Constitution’s protections, the Geneva Convention, and the sentiments of all the world’s major religions. Road rage, open carry frenzy, and even the population of survival-of-the-fittest, kick-them-off-the-island reality TV shows all evidence the undercurrent of hamas flowing through our society.
The sources of this readiness to do harm are surely complex, multi-faceted, and deep-seated. Nonetheless, I think that I can hear and see several powerful forces at work. Bringing them forward for inspection may be helpful – at least to our understanding. The first is fear, justified or not: fear of young black men, fear of an entire religious and of any brown person who might be an adherent, fear of losing one’s job to someone halfway around the world, fear of social change, fear that someone else’s program will necessarily mean loss for everyone else. This ugly fear causes people to behave irrationally, to react impulsively, to categorically, and to commit hamas.
This kind of fear breeds hatred. It is but a short step from fear of Islamic terrorists to hatred for all Muslims. In order to take that step, however, one must ignore reason. I am a white, middle-class, Christian male. White, middle-class, Christian males murder, rob, and rape everyday in this country. I do not therefore fear and hate while, middle-class, Christian males because in order to do so, I would have to hate myself, see myself as a murderer, thief, and rapist. I know that the actions of one, or even thousands, do not define the whole group. To encounter a human being is to encounter the image of God. One cannot experience such an encounter with hatred in one’s heart.
The one-defines-all error also plays a prominent role in the thirst for vengeance. An incident involving a police officer in Minnesota does not justify taking revenge in Dallas. Unfortunately, this drive for revenge is not limited to imbalanced cop-killers; our society at-large harbors vengeance at its core. Revenge justifies the death penalty in the popular mind; revenge justifies drone attacks on villages in Pakistan; some even advocate taking revenge in advance – bombing them before they can bomb us. As the Hatfields and McCoys, and Northern should have taught us, cycles of revenge devolve into never-ending absurdity.
What is the remedy? The popular axiom notwithstanding, it is not more violence. Even God, according to the Flood narrative, recognized that the decision to wipe the world clean of hamas by destroying its population – human and animal – accomplished nothing. With all the potential for good in any human being, all of us have discovered that we can resort to violence – even if only the violence of hateful and hurtful speech. The Gospel message speaks to this problem. It says that love removes fear, that love replaces hatred, that love knows no enemy. Jesus came not to conquer but to redeem. The will to dominate can only create imbalance. Violence never healed anything. A broken world needs broken-hearted ministers of reconciliation; it needs peacemakers, not enforcers.