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Was the Sermon on the Mount About Geopolitics?

21 May 2010

Sooner or later, anyone who spends much time at all thinking about the halakah and Matthew 5 (esp. the latter half of the chapter) has to confront the question of scale, as in:  is Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence, with all of its many different hermeneutical bearings, to be applied to relations between nations as such, or is it a grassroots teaching that is intended to influence nations from the ground up?

Krauthammer is areligious, so he does not even ask that question.  But he is a perceptive commentator who does his homework on foreign policy, and this most recent column outlines a narrative that says, essentially:  whatever merit the ethics of nonviolence may have at the individual and community level where the concept of neighbor finds its most immediate and compelling manifestations, they simply do not work at the level of international policy, and in fact they give aid and comfort to highly oppressive regimes with nefarious, murderous ambitions.  If Krauthammer were a Christian or a practicing Jew, he might ask:  at what piont on an ascending scale of societal units do Jesus’ ethics of nonviolence cease to be relevant and workable as a guide to individual behavior and choice, irrespective of how relevant they may be as telos?


One Comment leave one →
  1. 24 May 2010 10:57 am


    I am not certain that your question should be phrased in either/or terms but some form of both/and. Your scale approach might be that effort, but I think such an effort is freighted with complexity. Augustine’s “City of God” makes an effort, but I think the two-kingdoms approach has problems as well: on earth as it is in heaven.

    Right now, I minister to a 90 year old World War II Army combat Veteran who personally helped liberate Dachau. He told me that he killed the enemy and every soldier he killed was (and still is) painful to him. But he confessed that Dachau haunts his nightmares more. “Bodies were stacked like cordwood. Those Jews who were walking about looked like skeletons. We killed in self-defense and so did most German soldiers. The Nazis could do that only because they thought the Jews were bugs.”

    Possibly the best approach is to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” Incarnating that at the national level is probably as utopian and limited as it is at the individual level. Do we ever truly get beyond the “civil war” Paul talks about in Romans 7? Or Jesus: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

    God have mercy.

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