Geweld, vergelding, toleransie en Paulus se appèl om moed te hou

[’n Tweetalige openbare gedenklesing gehou tydens die HTS Theologiese Studiescal se fees, 9 Junie 2008 (Senaatsaal, Universiteit van Pretoria), ter ere van die Eeufeesvieringe van die Universiteit van Pretoria.]

In die Bybel het die woord wat in Engels as “soul” vertaal word, in baie gevalle betrekking op die mens as geheel: a living being; the essence of life in terms of thinking, willing and feeling; a person as individual; the physical life Wanneer mense die woord “soul” hoor, dink hulle waarskynlik aan morele kwessies. Leiers – ook akademiese leiers – se legitimiteit word sterk aan moraliteit gebind. Geweld en teengeweld kweek egter onverdraagsaamheid en is immoreel. Geweld ontmenslik menswees in totaal: liggaam, psige, redelikheid en potensiaal. Geweld skep derhalwe ’n synskrisis.

The consequences of most types of violence are so incredibly dehumanising in nature and deprive people of both dignity and freedom that it is mind-boggling to reflect on the topic. Where does reflection start? Do we start with actual or implicit violence; or with violence that is harmful on a physical, psychological, emotional, mental or spiritual level?Not to mention violence with religious, political, ethnocentric, economic, sexual and gender connotations. The philosopher Fanie de Beer, extraordinary honorary professor in the Department of Information Science, refers to “modalities of violence”. He describes the impact of violence in terms of five categories

  • a crisis of being and existence (“synskrisis”), which amounts to the destruction of a person’s being;
  • a crisis of meaning and value (“sinskrisis”), which amounts to a person becoming a no-thing, a no-being, a worthless being, in other words it destroys his or her worth (“sinsverydeling”);
  • a crisis of language, referring to “cursing” which leaves people “speechless”;
  • an “us” crisis, which means the “loss of love” and a loss of the togetherness which binds people together in a social context;
  • a life crisis(“lewenskrisis”), which amounts to people taking their own lives in “utter desperation”.

Violence manifests in so many forms and degrees that reflection on the problem could leave one with a feeling of desperation. Crime, rape, the mistreatment of children and xenophobia are threatening not only to quench the soul of people trying to be a living being in South Africa, but also to extinguish the rainbow nation’s light. Addressing the problem calls for a drive that transcends the interests of political groups and requires multi and inter-disciplinary input from thinkers and doers from almost all scientific fields.

Dat vreemdelingehaat in dieselfde maand plaasgevind het toe Suid-Afrika ’n “geestelike renaissance” onder wit mans in die boerderygemeenskap op die platteland sien gebeur het, eis van my as teoloog intellektuele besinning en konstruktiewe kritiek.

Die “opmars” van wit boere na massabyeenkomste vertel die verhaal van ernstige nood en soeke deur boere na ’n wonderwerk in Afrika. Waarom word boere begeester deur die metarasionele praatjie van ’n self-erkende leke-prediker wat in Zimbabwe ontwortel is en nou weier om in Suid-Afrika slagoffer te word van óf droogtes óf geweld?

As humanis, teoloog en kritikus durf ek nie vrede maak met ’n fundamentalisties-gedrewe “geestelike herlewing” nie, maar ek word wel geïnspireer deur faith for/like Africa wat armoede en geweld met die soeke na oplossings kan uitdaag. Fundamentalisme het oor die grense van godsdienste die kenmerkende neiging om konflik met teenkonflik te wil bestry. So ‘n apokaliptiese “oog-om-oog”-mentaliteit (lex talionis) skep egter die spiraal van konflik op konflik.

To me, René Girard’s “scapegoat” theory offers a useful lens through which the dynamics of violence can be observed and exposed and possibly be addressed. This theory has as its point of departure the notion of mimesis. The success of the “scapegoat ritual” lies therein that the “sacrificial offer” is projected onto something or somebody that is replaced by symbols and in this way is invisibly transposed into the role of the “other”, detached from the “visible” conflicting subject and object. This process is also dramatically and theatrically presented in the form of novels, films, operas and other musical performances. In the process of partaking in these art forms participants are given the opportunity to identify those who do evil, have empathy with the victims, experience anger at the evil caused, thereby getting rid of their own anger – or it could leave them cold.

In antiquity Aristotle began to utilise the role of imitation as a rhetorical technique and used the word mimesis in this context. In essence, imitation is part of socialising and also of how and what we know and how that is internalised. It is through imitation that we learn from others and idealise. Acceptable mimesis leads to the internalising of social behaviour which finds violence unacceptable and also rejects the notion that someone has to be sacrificed for the sake of someone else. The ideal of a conflict free life is identified by means of role models and is thus imitated.

Dr Richard Burridge, the Dean of King’s College at the University of London – a good friend and research associate at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Pretoria – published an exciting book on New Testament theology and ethics in 2007, titled Imitating Jesus: An inclusive approach to New Testament ethics.

Met hierdie gedenklesing sluit ek aan by Dr Burridge se appèl om die “nabootsing van Jesus”, of te wel imitatio Jesu the imitating of Jesus – ernstig te neem. Dié Bybelse skrywer wat as individu vir ons die meeste geskrifte nagelaat het, te wete die apostel Paulus, se etiese imperatief was ook op die “nabootsing van Jesus” gebaseer, hoewel Paulus self nooit die historiese Jesus persoonlik geken het nie. Paulus se mimesis-retoriek verdien daarom myns insiens sterk oorweging. Paulus het in sy ongeveer een dekade van briewe skryf in denke en pastorale vaardigheid ontwikkel. 1 Tessalonisense (geskryf vanuit Korinte) was hoogs waarskynlik sy eerste brief wat ons besit en Romeine (ook geskryf vanuit Korinte) sy laaste. Die mimesis-retoriek is reeds in sy eerste brief aanwesig is (dit wil sê in 1 Tessalonisense) en ons vind ‘n besondere diepgang daarvan in sy laaste brief (dit wil sê in Romeine).

When Paul implores the Christian church in Rome not to make enemies – but to show love, also for the enemy (Rm 12:9-21) – he brings us in closeness with the Jesus tradition (cf inter alia Mt 5:44).

Wat die aard van die interafhanklikheid tussen die etiek van die historiese Jesus en Paulus oor geweld en toleransie is, weet ek nie. Ek oordeel wel dat ons in Romeine 12:9-21 Paulus se “discourse on ‘genuine love’” (Robert Jewett) aantref. Ek verwys hierna as Paulus se versie op Jesus se “draai van die ander wang” en my kollega Robert Jewett beskryf dit as “the bravest statement in the world”.

One of the most subversive pronouncements to be found in the Jesus tradition is the one about turning the other cheek when struck on the cheek (Q 6:29 // Mt 5:39 // Lk 6:29). It is within such a framework of social and religious thinking that Paul’s version of “turning the other cheek” indeed has an air of subversion about it.

In the Mediterranean social context, according to convention, a person who considers himself to be someone else’s superior, would not strike his opponent with a flat right hand, but with the back of the left hand. Having to hit with a flat hand (in other words with the palm of the hand), would mean that the opponent considers his adversary as someone of equal honour. By hitting with the back of the left hand against the right cheek – the side of the jaw considered to be the more honourable one – not only increases the offensive nature of the violence, but is also indicative of an even greater arrogance on the part of the aggressor.

By turning the left (the “other”) cheek, it is assumed that if the arrogant aggressor ventured another blow, he would be forced to hit with the flat hand, that is with the palm of the right hand, on the left cheek. The implication is that in this way the aggressor has to acknowledge his opponent’s honour (not the right cheek any more, but the left cheek) and that the opponent is of equal standing (having to hit with the palm of the right hand and not the back of the left hand). As one of the experts on the “sociology of the Bible”, Professor Bruce Malina, states “Only equals can play the honor game of challenge and response.” An “equal” opponent does not “deserve” being hit with a flat hand, but should a fight be unavoidable, then his opponent should actually hit him with the back of the left hand on the right cheek! By implication, turning the other cheek would ring an end to the violence, because an “honourable” opponent does not deserve such an insult!

In Paul’s case we are dealing with a process of “psychological development” – and his “success” can be explained in terms of how the scapegoat rite had a positive influence on him and changed him. Paul’s version is that when your enemy strikes out at you with fire and you respond with love, that love becomes like a fire that burns the enemy with shame (Rm 12:20; cf Proverbs 25:21-22). Matthew is the one who specifically mentions that the attacker hits the victim on the right cheek (Mt 5:39). And it is because of this preciseness that it can be assumed that the victim’s counter act resulted in preventing the violence from spiralling out.

Paulus se versie van om die “ander wang te draai” hou verband met een van die belangrikste verskuiwings wat in Paulus se denke plaasgevind het. En dit raak Paulus se retoriek aangaande vergelding: aanvanklik word dit skerp in terme van ‘n apokaliptiese artikulasie in 1 Tessalonisense aangetref, en dan neem hy daarvan afskeid deur in sy brief aan die Galasiërs self-krities te reflekteer oor “geloof wat in liefde werksaam moet word”, terwyl hy hom in hierdie brief – dit wil sê in sy brief aan die Galasiërs – nie kan losmaak van sy vroeëre “woede-herinneringe” nie. In die plek van apokaliptiese vergeldingstaal volg nou ‘n retoriek van toleransie in sowel die Korintiër- en die Filippense-korrespondensie as in sy privaatbrief aan Filemon, totdat hy sy eie versie van Jesus se bekende uitdrukking van “draai die ander wang” in sy laaste brief (dit wil sê in Romeine) nie net artikuleer nie, maar ook geïnternaliseer het.

In die Jesus- en Paulus-tradisie kry ons etiese riglyne in ‘n nie-apokaliptiese vorm oor hoe Jesus-volgelinge in die antieke en in vandag se tyd op geweld behoort te reageer. Dit is nou maar eenmaal so dat geweld en teengeweld een van die kentekens van hoe apokaliptiek die oorgelewerde, soms ongeskrewe, gemene reg in die Midde-Ooste in die na-Babiloniese ballingskapperiode sedert die derde en tweede eeu voor en die paar eeue tot ongeveer die vierde en vyfde eeu na die geboorte van Jesus Christus, gevorm het. Volgens die apokaliptiek sal dit die wrekende, oordelende God self wees – en nie die lydende regverdiges nie – wat ongeregtigheid op ‘n katastrofale wyse aan die einde van die tyd sal beëindig en die lydende regverdiges dan met die goeie sal beloon. In so ‘n apokaliptiese raamwerk bly mense bloot slagoffers vasgevang binne ‘n spiraal van konflik.

Volgens Aristoteles (Rhetorica) is dade wat vergelding oproep, daardie optredes wat iemand anders as sonder “waarde” (dit wil sê, “waardigheid”) ag. Aristoteles, meen daar is drie tipes, naamlik veragting (katafronēsis), kwaadwilligheid (perasmos) en belediging (hubris). Om iemand te verag, beteken dat so ’n persoon se waardigheid weg geneem word, want hy of sy word as waardeloos gereken. Om kwaadwillig te handel beteken dat struikelblokke so in die weg van ’n ander persoon geplaas word, met die bedoeling dat die persoon gedwarsboom word. Om iemand te beledig is om iemand anders skade, seerkry en ongemak aan te doen, waardeur hy of sy onteer word deur ‘n boosdoener wat hom-/haarself meerderwaardig ag.

Teenoor sulke geweldaksies en -gesindhede staan die enkelvoudige begrip “vriendskap” (filofronēsis). Paulus kwalifiseer egter wat hy met “vriendskap” bedoel. Dit is nie hyself en sý vriendskap wat as aansporing dien vir mense wat fisies en/of innerlik ly as gevolg van veragting, kwaadwilligheid en belediging nie, maar die teenwoordigheid van die Here in hulle lewe (vgl veral 1 Tess 4:13-18). Juis hierdie spreekwyse vorm die agtergrond waarteen Paulus sy etiek oor geweld in toleransie transformeer.

Met die begrip “toleransie” het ek nie mense- en burgerregte sedert die Franse Revolusie in gedagte nie, maar Paulus se gebruik van die woordgroep “lankmoedigheid”, oftewel “geduld”, as ’n Christelike waarde deur hoopvol “aan te hou te midde van en ten spyte van swaarkry”. In Latyn word hierdie Bybelse begrip vertaal met naamwoorde soos sustinentia, sufferentia en die werkwoord tolerare – almal terme wat op sigself semanties veelseggend is en wat sprekend in Engels endurance en ’n continuation to remain trusting despite opposition tot uitdrukking bring. Wat in Paulus se briewe gebeur, is dat hy deur middel van retoriese tegnieke by die konsep “vriendskap” aansluit. Vriendskap jeens sy eie “binne-groep” verander hy egter in toleransie ook jeens die “buite-groep” (1 Tess 3:12); en uiteindelik het hy by die punt uitgekom het dat sy etiek geen verskil vertoon ten opsigte van óf die “binne-groep” óf die “buite-groep” nie.

Dit kom daarom as geen verrassing nie wanneer Paulus in sy laaste brief, dié aan die Romeine, die etiese gedeelte daarvan inlui met ‘n beroep op die lesers om hulleself aan God te gee as lewende en heilige offers (Rom 12:1-2). In ‘n neutedop saamgevat, kan ons Paulus (Rom 12:9-21) se verstaan van wat die Christelike lewe behels, soos volg weergee: om te seën en nie te vervloek nie (vs 14); om eensgesind te wees (vs 16); om nie kwaad met kwaad te vergeld nie (vs 17); om nie wraak te neem nie (vs 19). Veral bekend in verband met die liefde is Paulus se woorde in Romeine 13:8-10 waarin (soos in Gal 5:14) die hele “Tien gebooie” (die dekaloog) – net soos wat ons dit in die Jesus-tradisie aantref – in die gebod van die liefde saamgevat word. En wat hier in die besonder tref, is die woorde waarmee die paragraaf begin, naamlik dat ‘n mens aan niemand iets verskuldig behoort te wees nie, behalwe om mekaar lief te hê (vs 8). Volgens Paulus is gelowiges altyd aan mekaar en aan alle mense liefde verskuldig – in die hede en ook in die toekoms. Hulle liefde vir mekaar en vir almal spruit voort uit ’n spontane dankbaarheid jeens God voordat en sonder dat hulle gebied hoef te word om lief te hê.

To summarise: It has to be borne in mind that when Paul thanked God in 1 Thessalonians for the faith, love and hope of his readers, he did so with only his own group in mind (1 Th 1:3). Here Paul linked the concept of “tolerance” to future hope – as he also did in his last letter to the Romans (Rm 5:3ff). But in his last letter, also writing from Corinth, but almost a decade later, his thoughts on the matter were radically different to when he had written his letter to the Thessalonians a decade earlier, also from Corinth. At that earlier stage his thinking had been that the love for one another within the inner group would earn the respect of the outside group, those outside the Christian faith community (1 Th 4:12). However, he found it impossible to show love to the outside group, those who were so murderous and who had shown so much violence and hostility towards his people, to himself, the earlier prophets and also towards Jesus (1 Th 2:14-16), but to deliver them unto the apocalyptic vengeance of God’s wrath!

During Paul’s “spiritual” life journey a change in attitude set in as far as the initial undisputed distance between an inner group and an outer group was concerned. What has happened here? It appears as if tolerance was given a new definition, because hope for the future had been internalised.

Is daar ’n moontlikheid dat ’n Christelike lewenswyse die skynbaar onbreekbare spiraal van geweld in Suid-Afrika kan breek? In Suid-Afrika het Apartheid mense se bestaansmiddele teen hulle sin ontsê en rassisme het mense se waardigheid diep aangetas, sodat die fisiese en emosionele pyn wat berokken is, denke in der waarheid oorstyg. In so ’n konteks is ’n spiraal van konflik natuurlik. Nou is die opbou en handhawing van sosiale kohesie van groot belang. Hierin vervul moraliteit ’n belangrike rol. In vandag se neo-koloniale en post-koloniale Suid-Afrika behoort Apartheid egter nie meer as “die sondebok” vir alle sosiale destruksie verklaar te word nie. Hiervan is die afgelope voorvalle van vreemdelingehaat ’n voorbeeld. Om Apartheid steeds as die “sondebok” te beskou, sal die spiraal van konflik nie breek nie. Inteendeel, die resente Suid-Afrikaanse ervaring is dat, juis deur dít te doen, die opgeboude sosiale kohesie vanweë die suksesvolle program van versoening en rekonsiliasie in post-Apartheid Suid-Afrika skade kry en dat opponerende fronte van vyandigheid weer opgerig word.

Paulus kan ons help om die “sondebok”-teorie anders aan te wend en dit kan moontlik tot versoening bydra. Christene in Suid-Afrika wat erns met die Jesus-tradisie maak, kan in hulle eie lewe iets realiseer van dit wat iemand soos Paulus gedoen het. Hy het die “ander wang begin draai”, nie omdat voorwaardelike resiprositeit hom weer ten goede sou kom nie; nie omdat hy gemotiveer was deur gewoontes van tradisie of goeie maniere nie; dit wil sê nie as gevolg van konformasie met die samelewing nie, maar as gevolg van transformasie van die self – omdat ’n transformasie van rolmodel plaasgevind het.

Within the Pauline paradigm faith, love and hope are gifts from God – and when you have internalised those in such a manner, you would unlimitedly grant life to others, and as God, the Spirit and Jesus did, you will begin “to turn the other cheek” rather than to take revenge through violence and murder. What is the appeal? Perhaps love can conquer hubris! Strong moral leadership – by the President and the people of South Africa – can make a difference when Christians truly internalise tolerance and hope for the future. No argument acquits leaders to comply with the commitment to combat extant or potential violence. “The RDP of the soul” asks that we should take the following remarks of Dr Allan Boesak in his “Open Pastoral Letter to the Zimbabwean Churches” to heart:

“I was part of a South African Council of Churches delegation which … had a two-hour meeting with President’s Mbeki and his mediation team on Zimbabwe … In short, I do not think we as a church should have a romantic view about these matters and of the players involved … As mediator, Thabo Mbeki has to take into account both sides, even though it might be clear to the rest of us that one side is lying … The situation of the churches, however, is different. Our mandate … comes from God … We must speak for those who have been deprived of the right to speak, even if it goes against ‘protocol’. Whether Mr. Mbeki wants to or not, we must indict those who perpetrate injustice, who cause suffering … whoever they might be. Our respect for protocol can never stand in the way of truth … The promises of politicians are always subject to, and suspect because of, the promises of God. We can never argue that the suffering of people is the price to pay ‘for the sake of the greater goal’. Which goal, whose goal? We ask. We are always aware that behind every ‘goal’ are powerful interests that are served, and those interests do not often take justice for the powerless as the main criterion … Politics can allow the lie to live, with a view that the lie is necessary in order to make politics possible. The church knows that the lie covers the truth that people are dying … Therefore the church will continue to speak up, to stand with those who are wronged, to rise up in outrage and compassion against injustice and suffering, even if it causes embarrassment to those in power … And as we had to say to ourselves the words with which the Confession of Belhar ends, we say also to you: ‘We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only Head, the church is called to confess and do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence’.”

I thank you for your attention. Ek dank u vir u aandag.

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