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loving your enemy

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Yesterday I saw World War Z. I found it to be a very good movie and won’t spoil most of it, but if you’ve seen the trailer, it won’t surprise you to know it involves a zombie apocalypse set-up and an effort to fight back against it.

As part of that, our intrepid hero travels to various countries who have research on what caused the outbreak, including Israel. Building on their history of suffering disasters no one believed could really happened (the Holocaust, the Munich Olympics, etc.), they’d taken a conscious effort to pursue all possibilities, even ones that seem incredibly outlandish. Meaning tht when they start to hear rumors about Indian soldiers fighting zombies, a small portion treat this, not as code for something more believable but as literal zombies – not really believing it, necessarily, but as a precaution. So they take measures to get ready for a zombie upraising, stockpiling supplies and finishing walls to create safe enclaves. They’re one of the very few areas that are able to keep the zombies out.

The truly remarkable thing is, Israelis let in everyone who comes knocking. Not the people who have been turned into zombies, actually, but certainly if you’re historically an enemy of Israel – Arab Muslims are obviously present, for instance – you’re welcome there. The Israeli scientist(?) we meet says this is self-motivated because every human they can save is one less zombie they have to fight. And at some level this isn’t entirely surprising. Israel has received a lot of criticism for its treatment of the Palestinians, and as far as I can tell, this is well-deserved criticism. But there’s also a strain in Israeli thought that if you’re a Jew you have the right of return to Israel. This has included some stunning displays of humanitarian aid, like the work with Ethiopian and ex-Soviet refugees. I could rightly criticize its current application as just being there for ethnic Jews, but imagine a global crisis situation where the Israelis recognized they had this same duty to the whole human race. It would be an impressive moment. In the movie, the Israelis are willing to put aside old animosities and accept pretty much anyone into their own gates, even their deepest enemies. In the movie, as I said, this is billed as expediency and self-interest.

But as I watched, I found myself wondering if that was really the whole picture. Were there some in Israel who felt a moral obligation to help their neighbors, even if those same neighbors had been generational enemies? I could see it coming pretty close to the Christian ideal to love not just your neighbors but your enemies. And compared to the other situations we’ve seen, it feels almost like an oasis. Not just in the material sense, which it is, but also in the spiritual sense. Up until this point we’ve seen a lot of fear, a lot of vicious protection of what’s yours. And you can’t really compare the mindset between the two places, anymore than you can fault a Gondorian for not maintaining Lothlorien-like serenity. Still, the juxtaposition here was powerful, and really had a feel of loving and being loved, at least for me.

I’ve been thinking about loving your enemy lately. A lot, actually. I posted lyrics to that old song, “Where is the Love?”, partially because those questions were on my own mind. So much of our politics these days seems driven by finding scapegoats, people of such pure evil that they make us good just by not being like them. Or there is a sense of wanting to protect what we have. There isn’t much listening to other people and really reacting to them rather than the stereotype they come closest to.

I had this impressed on me a few days before the DOMA decision when some conservative think-tank accidentally released the three memos they’d drafted in response to that decision: one if they upheld DOMA, one if they struck it down, and one if it was more of a draw. I wasn’t surprised that they had three memos, and I don’t doubt my favorite progressive thinktanks had their own memos. And even releasing them was clearly a mistake, and I don’t hold people responsible for being stupid or careless, at least not in the same way I would hold them responsible for being careless. But still, something struck me as deeply wrong about this situation. The more I think about it, it’s the idea that you could react to something that hadn’t even happened yet because whatever happened would be pigeonholed into one of a few discreet categories.

I’m often pretty hard on conservatives, and part of why I’m not a conservative is the ideology seems driven mostly by fear, and a need to hold on to what you have. (That may or may not be true, and I won’t defend the thought just now. It’s a my experience, but maybe nothing more than that.) But I don’t always

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
frenchpony
Sep. 2nd, 2013 11:53 am (UTC)
The truly remarkable thing is, Israelis let in everyone who comes knocking.

What's even more remarkable to me is that the entire country agreed on something like that. It sounds like an incredibly optimistic view of Israel, a country whose issues about access run far, far deeper than just its national borders. But maybe that's one of the great things about zombie movies. Maybe the secret that makes them so appealing is the optimistic hope, buried deep within, that there is in fact something that can make people work together, even if it is a zombie.

But there’s also a strain in Israeli thought that if you’re a Jew you have the right of return to Israel.

Not just a strain of thought. It's actual Israeli law, passed in 1950 and amended in 1970. It currently covers pretty much anyone who would have been persecuted under the Nuremberg Laws, including people of paternal Jewish descent and non-Jewish spouses. It does not cover Jewish converts to other religions.

Were there some in Israel who felt a moral obligation to help their neighbors, even if those same neighbors had been generational enemies? I could see it coming pretty close to the Christian ideal to love not just your neighbors but your enemies.

This is an interesting set of statements. I'd love to see you expand upon them a bit more. There are moral obligations to help others in Jewish thought as well as in Christian thought, but they stem from different places and concepts. Love is not a big part of the Jewish "help your neighbor" thing -- justice is. It even comes down to the words used to describe it. Christians use the word "charity," which is derived from Latin caritas, which is used for situations with an underpinning of love and friendship. Jews use the word "tzedakah," which is derived from the root "tz/d/k," which is used for situations with an underpinning of justice and righteousness. It's not so much a system of "love your neighbor" as much as it is "let's see that resources get distributed fairly." Same effect, different philosophical origins.

Up until this point we’ve seen a lot of fear, a lot of vicious protection of what’s yours.

Well, yes. That's pretty much been Israel's thing since before it was Israel. Not that you can really blame them, considering.
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