A Discussion on Guns and Greek Synagogues
Recently I had an internet discussion with a good friend of mine, a man I deeply respect even if we don’t see eye level politically or physically, for that matter. He is much taller.
What follows below is my summation of the question at hand, guns being allowed in houses of worship in the State of Georgia. The suggestion was that if you are bringing guns to church, you need to ask yourself why you go to church, “and who or what you are worshiping.” I responded with the following question:
What if you are a Jew in Israel and are going to the Kotel or any synagogue over the green line, or to Rachel’s tomb? Given that G-d demands we protect our lives, it becomes a religious necessity.
To which he responded, reasonably, that there have been many Rabbis who have come out in opposition to the idea of guns in houses of worship. I do not dispute his claim, but I am curios about the rabbis’ point and its relevance. He further mentioned the he is
. . .sure there are Christians who support carrying guns in their churches, but to do so, they will need to act in contradiction to their own scriptures, especially the Sermon on the Mount. The entire Christian religion is based on the self-sacrificing love of its founder, not on a demand to protect our own lives.
I do not dispute this point either. Christianity has a theological foundation distinct from that of its predecessor, Judaism. And this discussion set me to thinking about it. How should Jews feel about self defense? What are the philosophical origins of our assumptions about the value of self defense? Are they Jewish, or are they Greek? My response , hopefully, answered these questions and I thought I would share it here.
My friend, I was not attacking the supposition that here in Georgia it is unnecessary and I do agree that the proposal is a belligerent request aimed more to produce a flagrant display of militancy. I should have been more clear. Apologies.
I was commenting, in my own Socratic way, on the general supposition that there is something wrong with one who arms himself when necessary, even in houses of worship, and the subsequent suggestion that this person needs to rethink their theological commitments. For example, in Israel there are more guns on display and carried by persons on and off duty than anywhere in the world outside of certain neighborhoods in Chicago and a few regions in Afghanistan. And there is a good reason for that, because Jews have a bad habit of being brutally butchered by their peace partners if they don’t have a surplus of guns at their disposal.
Briefly covering the Jewish idea about sacrifice, in Judaism, to take a Talmudic example, when traveling with another in a barren desert in possession of only enough water for one person to survive, the sages ask “who should live?” The answer, after many pages of argument, is “the one who carries the water at the time.” The sages taught that in matter of life and death, we have no right to change the status quo. We are not the arbiters of life and death. There is no prohibition against giving the water to the other, but there is no demand either. It is not a virtue in Judaism to sacrifice any life, including your own, to save another in circumstances of duress. There is, however, a demand to “Choose life!”, to protect yourself from an attacker and to arm yourself if you feel that an attack is imminent, and indeed, a Talmudic injunction, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him (first).” There is, of course, a number of restrictions on this dictum, but it is codified nonetheless. Though, there may be a slight contradiction. If we are not to change the status quo in the case of the water, what is it that demands that we change it while under attack? The answer: the wicked shall not flourish on earth because the righteous refuse to defend themselves in service of an abstract concept imparted on a first century Jew and the events of his life, about which their is still considerable debate. In Judaism, evil is real, and it needs to be faced, not run from. This sentiment warning of the excesses of abstraction and pacifism was once echoed by a great President of ours circa 1942; and thank G-d that the armed forces of Britain and France decided to uphold it on September 1, 1939. Otherwise, the world, sitting in languid obsequiousness, may have suffered a more severe destruction of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, communists and anyone else hated by the Nazi regime, and the rape of Nanking would have happened over and over again.
This, I believe, highlights the difference between Judaism and Christianity in a very literary, if not visceral, way. Christianity, having adopted many of the platonic concepts of the Greek idealism, has a tendency to relegate this life and its sacredness to a secondary position in relation to conceptual and more abstract ideas like love and sacrifice. And in this sense the early church acted like Greeks, bringing upon the world a universal demand to believe a metaphysical conjecture rather than obey a law or dictum and bring G-dliness to earth; and, with its devotion to love and sacrifice, killed thousands in its service just as the Great Macedonian who preceded it, allowing myriad antiquated and retrograde pagan beliefs about the insignificance of mankind to languish on, like a vestigial parasite, into modernity.
This bringing of heaven down to earth that Judaism seeks to accomplish, further, is the reason why Arthur Schopenhauer, himself an inveterate anti-semite, abandoned any Jewish influenced religion completely and absorbed himself in eastern mysticism, trying as he was to leave planet earth entirely, and is one of the reasons why the Bhagavad Gita was cherished by Schopenhauer, Hitler, and Himmler, even while they wrote the philosophical foundations for the holocaust, quoted it, and enacted it respectively. Judaism, as every anti-semite knows, is very involved in this world and is, indeed, the very inspiration for the idea of equality before the law and much of the moral features of the otherwise barren desert of conceptual human metaphysics and asceticism.