Tomorrow, March 20, is the sixth anniversary of the invasion of the war of Iraq. So here’s a meditation for pacifists….

Jesus of Nazareth allegedly said:

“Don’t react violently against the one who is evil: when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. Give to the one who begs from you….” [Scholar’s Version, Matthew 5.38-42]

All these suggestions are, of course, absurd. If someone slaps your right cheek, why wouldn’t you just walk away from that person? — and how does this advice apply if someone slaps you on the left cheek? Absurd, absurd. As for that business about the shirt and coat, you have to remember that in a society where people only owned two garments, wouldn’t that would leave you standing around naked? Absurd. Carry a Roman soldier’s pack for an extra mile? Absurd. Give to the one who begs to you? — also absurd.

OK, maybe these things are absurd. But the alternative is the old eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth morality, e.g., when “Axis of Evil” kills some of our people, we automatically go and kill some of their people. Isn’t that old eye-for-an-eye morality just as absurd, in its own way?

Now I tend to be a pragmatic guy, and if someone slaps me on either cheek, I’m going to just walk away. For that matter, I’m not going to give away all my clothes and be naked, I’m not going to carry a Roman soldier’s pack. But as a pragmatist, results matter, and I don’t see that my pragmatism has done much to bring about world peace, either.

I don’t have the answer. But I am drawn to the clarity and elegance of Jesus’s moral philosophy. I’m not sure I want to try everything he suggests, but I do wish I had given money to the beggars I passed on the street today, just to live out his absurd teaching in a small way.

Rewritten for clarity. X-posted.

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