Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mixing it up

Today over at Crooked Timber we mixed it up a bit with the ongoing discussion of what the Danish cartoon crises is all about. I see this as a continuation of the issues raised in the Torah, simply stated, a clash of cultures or societies: honor-based society vs morality-based society.

Over two thousand years ago the Hebrew Bible settled (for Jews and later Christians) the ‘problems’ of subjective notions of honor and face with objective rights and wrongs. In other words, the Hebrew Bible is full of stories of imperfect individuals who do foolish things and in the end must ‘fess up to their foolishness (become dishonored). But in honor-based societies, one who is dishonored can restore his honor (and face) by seeking revenge on those who wronged him.

It is odd to say that ‘blaming others’ and ‘honor’ are somehow equated with each other. But in these honor-based societies, ‘honor’ takes on new meaning. A good example is ‘honor killing’, the UN statistics puts the figure at 5,000 ‘honor’ killing each year (those that are reported). If a female member of the family ‘shames’ the family, then it is up to the males to preserve the honor of the family, by doing what? Killing. In a morality-based society, one may ‘feel like killing’ a daughter or sister for having a sexual affair with some ‘outsider,’ but ‘morality trumps honor’ and ‘killing’ is not an option. It is against your law, and against your morals.

Up until lately, Western civilization has been rooted in Judeo-Christian values, which are rooted in the Jewish belief that God is just, so too we are expected to live justly. Jesus raised the standards even higher, to the ‘impossible’ standards of loving our enemies. It becomes a daily struggle, we wrestle with what we hold to be truth. Even when we fail to live up to these 'impossible' standards, we still believe God holds us to them.

Bro. Bartleby

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