Monday, December 27, 2010

Forgiving Hitler

The Desert Fathers personified a lot of temptations as demons. The demons try to prevent us from attaining true humility. The temptations are related to the deadly sins, which take different forms, but I want to focus on anger. Anger is a deadly sin if it involves judging another human being. Christians are not supposed to do this; instead they are supposed to love their neighbor. But what if someone is really bad? Isn't it necessary to judge him or her, so that they can be dealt with? The answer to this is NO! The demons associated with anger are very tricky, because they convince us that in getting angry and wanting justice, that we are in the right and even that we are making the world a better place. But, this is a lie. Unfortunately, Christianity does not have a clear theory about how to think about this (although it does have stories and examples). Buddhism, however, does have a clear explanation. It is that there is no self. Everyone is a momentary coming together of cause and effect. So, no one can be judged. Each action is the product of countless cause and effect chains coming together. Therefore, if someone does bad things we should pity them because they are trapped by negative cause and effect, and we should always forgive them. In this way of thinking there can be no blame, which means that everything is forgiven. Instead of justice there is the right action of reducing the amount of negative cause and effect (i.e., bad karma) in the world. This could involve strong and even violent actions, and it can involve a type of anger - that created by outrage at the suffering of others. But as soon as thoughts turn to justice and vengeance it becomes the deadly sin of wrath. Consistent with this, Christian sources distinguish between anger, which is an emotion, and wrath, which involves judgment and the desire for revenge. I have read that Dante described wrath as the love of justice taken too far, but this does not go far enough. Justice is a slippery slop covered in demons. It is best to avoid all thoughts about justice (or to label them as ignorant).

Taking responsible action is a better way to think about righting wrongs. I saw the Dalia Lama in Ottawa and I wanted to ask about anger but someone else asked, which was fortunate because it was unlikely that I would have gotten the chance. The Dalia Lama was clear that anger in itself is not bad, but it can lead to bad things. He emphasized that the world is not black and white but instead contains a lot of gray areas, so that it is often impossible to react in a perfect way, to create only good karma and no bad karma. Instead, he said we must make responsible choices with as much foresight as possible, and try to minimize bad karma and promote good karma as much as possible. He said that in his opinion, going to war against Hitler was probably the responsible thing to do, i.e., Hitler would have spread so much bad karma that it was the right choice to use violence to stop him, even though that violence did produce bad karma.

I also heard Hitler discussed at a Christian panel discussion at the university where I work. Someone asked if Christians believe in forgiving then should they forgive Hitler? The panel members all said no, that there were limits to forgiveness. I was going to speak up and argue that Hitler should be forgiven but I realized there were a lot of people there that could not hear this message and I didn't want to upset them more than they already were. But actually Hitler should be forgiven. He was just an unfortunate man who had his head filled with hatred and then through more cause and effect, ended up in a position where he could act on it. There are many confused people in the world who would do terrible things if they had any sort of power. Occasionally, through cause and effect, one of them gets into power and really bad things happen. But when you examine them you find that they are full of wrath, that they believe that they or their people have been treated wrongly, and they want revenge and justice. In the I Ching it says that demons tempt us by encouraging us to take up the instruments of evil for a righteous cause, referring not to weapons but to ideas about justice and revenge.

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year To You And Your Family Rob! Hope you will keep up your excellent posts in 2011.