Ethereal Estate

eleven's picture
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 everyone wants land

THE other day, when visiting my friend the Imam, I questioned him about a detail concerning Islam which has bothered me. The problem was as follows: Moses advocated the Eye for an Eye philosophy in the Old Testament. Succeeding him, in the New Testament, Christ advised moving on from the “Old Times” and now turning the other cheek, blessing those who hate you, and so forth. If we are, then, to accept Mohammed as a further evolution – through the Koran – why is it that the prophet (peace be upon him) has seemingly gone backwards, reinstating the Eye for an Eye attitude?

   My friend the Imam answered firstly that Mohammed did indeed advocate forgiveness. The Koran, he explained, says that if you kill a single human, Allah will judge you as if you have killed all of Humanity. Likewise, if you manage to save one human life, He will judge you as if you have saved the Human Race. The prophet said it was preferable to forgive – however, the victim of violence still retains the right to Eye for Eye justice. This is because the attitude of forgiveness should come from him (the victim), not a law. If it were but a law protecting the perpetrator, and yet the victim still harboured feelings of hurt and resentment; the law would be causing continuing harm to the victim, who perhaps would have to see the killer of his family go free.

   So, the victim of violence has a choice between the Old or New Testament, I suppose. We might sum up that the Koran, then, is the wider viewpoint. The first two books expressing duality, the last resolving them in rhythm.

   Anyway, my friend the Imam then went on to cite some common senses. What if someone breaks into your home and intends violence upon your daughter? Turn the other cheek? My opposition to that was to attempt to restrain the bandit, while not going so far as to maim or kill him: for God would surely not hold either of his children as favourites. A death is a death, to Him.

   My friend the Imam nevertheless has a point, for to ‘restrain’ a bandit still may involve violence. U.N. Peacekeepers, for example, still carry guns.

   However, I found his last point the most interesting. My friend the Imam asked me, “Where did Jesus come to stay?”

   Jesus travelled around a lot, homeless. Finally, he made his home …

   “Nowhere, I suppose!” was my reply.

   And that was my friend’s point.

   Indeed, this is what came of Christ’s harmlessness. He owned no land. He was born in someone else’s stables and died without a possession. Moses had land. His sons and their sons, who fought and killed a good deal, had ever increasing estate. Mohammed, reluctant to fight at first, stopped fleeing and said Islam needs a home! They fought and got one.

   Does this mean that to be a true Christian means to own no land? The only other homeless spiritual leader who comes to mind is Buddha. He had a whole kingdom, of course, but he gave it up. Down the time line, Thibet’s army was pitiable. 

   This alludes to Tolstoy’s so called anarchic version of Christianity.

   Most of us want property. We reach a certain age, get a loan and a car and a partner and start raising children. It is of course, at around that time that we become far too busy to concern ourselves with the problems of humanity; the problems of the family eclipse it. Is the act of owning land endemically violent, even in the passive violent sense? Think of Murdoch and McDonalds and the Catholic Church. Remember the slogan, Ownership is Theft.

   The answer must be no – Christ advocated families! And families obviously need homes. (This musing is rampant with paradox.)

   Nevertheless, the Jews and the Arabs are still fighting to this day. (We cannot rightly say that the Christians are fighting too, because if they are, by definition they are not Christians.) It might also be noted that although Christ died landless, the very empire that killed Him, soon after became the first home of Christianity.

Moreover, in the end we can answer my friend the Imam’s question differently: Christ came to stay in Heaven, by His Father’s side. Which is to say that His real estate was not worldly. It was spiritual estate. Those who hammer their pickets into the Earth, tie themselves to worldly concerns. He hammered his picket in the Heavens.

   I’m aware, by the way, that in the end poeticising homelessness is neither making it desirable nor practical.  

verb's picture

conflict resolution

Interesting musings Lev.

Does ownership require a certain level of violence implicit in the need to retain ownership over others? If so, what violence there is perpetuated on the earth since everything is owned... Perhaps these notions are outdated and we need to work out ways to share?

The gnostic sages which Christ lived and studied with might have owned nothing, but they had each other. That is, until Christ was taken from them, but even then they didn't take up arms.  Buddha also owned nothing, and never had to fight for it,  but he was never crucified for his beliefs, and thats maybe because he chose a course of subtler ways to challenge power than challenging the money lenders in the church...

Does self defense act as a form of violence, and in the process of owning anything (including having a family) necessitate violence? Or is this more of a question of community development in which a strong harmonious culture undermines the violent nature of men so that it no longer needs to take place.

Nomadic cultures practised a form of non-ownership and non-attachment which belied the powers of greed and materialism, but occasionally fights would still break out over transgressions of law, lust, power and land. No human culture is perfect, but we have our moments, surely, where things do work - until that ego rises again and causes more suffering.

I would pull in here perhaps more Taoist perspective on the nature of martial arts as a discipline of power, and the honour code associated with it. While a studied master of Kung Fu could kill you with his bare hands, the honour code demands that he only use his abilities to defend himself or others.

As we learn to control our powers we must also develop our consciousness, otherwise we are likely to hurt someone, even if incidentally. The negative effects of globalisation and the violence of capitalism could be explained in this way. Consumers don't intend to hurt anyone, but through lack of consciousness and alienation from the power they support (such as Shell in Nigeria for example) they end up sopprting systems of violence.

I can understand why groups such as the Zapatista's need to use revolutionary means to declare the independence from Mexico's control, but also respect the way they utilised consciousness through words to declare their wish for peace the whole time. This is perhaps why Chiapas remains an autonomous region while other independence movements have not (the FARC in Columbia might be a good parallel, still fighting and getting more and more destructive as they do).

In the Middle East, Palestinian liberationists are desperate in their struggle for independence, and end up committing the same violence toward innocents that they claim they are victims of. Im not saying anyone is right or wrong here, just stating the events as I see them. All of these actions just create the cycle of violence that comes with the eye for an eye philosophy. This is because unless people on both sides of the conflict feel that the balance has been settled (which might never happen) they will continue to fight for payback. Eventually, the greater soul has to rise above it, to swallow the pain and anger for the sake of peace. That can be the only solution in the end, that or endless war (which is what we have been living under for the last few thousand years as a species).

In the end, there can only be respect for each others individual sovereignty that will prevent violence, and sometimes that must be fought for, other times it can be negotiated. You're right, there is no single answer that defines each question. We have to make up our own minds, as an individual, as a community, as a culture...

People might disagree with me on these points, but I don't want to fight about it.