Monday, November 12, 2007

Remember, Remember

Blogging was suspended for last week while I was in Salt Lake City, but apparently I missed Treason Week. Both November 4th and November 5th are memorable for infamous acts of treason - I'll attempt to remember them both here. The two events are separated by some 390 years, but both demonstrate the danger of moral certitude, and the trouble we open ourselves up to when we believe that God supports our particular political agenda.

On November 5th, 1605, a Catholic zealot named Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the British Parliament building and was caught in the act. The plot was hatched by Catholic agitator Robert Catesby, who died three days later. Catesby had earlier attempted to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I; had Catesby's plot succeeded this time, King James I and a fair portion of the English government would have been killed.

It was not a good time to be a Catholic in England. It was during the time of the wars of religion, and James I was a Catholic. One wonders, however, whether Catesby, Fawkes, and company were really fighting for "Catholics' rights," as some maintain today. Recall that a generation earlier, Queen "Bloody" Mary had ordered the execution of hundreds of Protestants on behalf of the Catholic Church. It seems to me that this was a case of one group of murderous zealots trying to fight another group of murderous zealots - I don't buy for one moment that Catesby would have failed to persecute Protestants if he had been in power.

Fortunately, the plot was discovered and tragedy was averted. This would, unfortunately, not be the case 390 years (minus one day) earlier.

Since it was a Saturday, I was watching college football with my family on November 4, 1995. I think we were watching Penn State-Michigan State, but I'm not sure - some details get fuzzy. But anyway, I remember when the newsroom interrupted the game mid-play - never a good thing. And I remember being absolutely shocked to hear that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. Worse, this horrible act was committed not by a radical Arab bent on Israel's destruction but by a Jewish zealot, Yigal Amir.

With things as they are now, it's tough to remember how hopeful American Jews were about the prospects for peace under Rabin. It appeared as though Rabin had somehow gotten Yasser Arafat to swear off terrorism and work with Israel. After Camp David, things honestly looked good. Rabin had even managed to keep the peace after Baruch Goldstein's horrific massacre in early '94. And in an instant, all that changed.

No Israeli leader since Rabin has been able to convince both Israelis and the PLO to go along with a peace process. Some, like Netanyahu, never tried, but those who did try simply didn't have the powerful personality and political ability Rabin possessed. By 2000, relations had deteriorated so much that Ariel Sharon's simple act of praying on the Temple Mount was enough to set off a full-scale murdering spree by the Palestinians. The peace process, in effect, died on November 4, 1995 with Yitzhak Rabin

Amir's motive for murder was simple - he felt that God had promised the Jews the entirety of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and that Rabin was going against God's plan for the land. It is impossible to argue with such people, just as it would have been impossible to argue with either the Catholics or the Protestants in 1605, just as it is impossible to argue now with those who believe God tells them they should fly planes into buildings.

Perhaps this is the lesson of Treason Week - we should be very careful about our dedication to right and wrong. Pain is too often caused by those who believe with great certainty that they know what's right and what's wrong. Put differently, when you absolutely know what's right, you're usually wrong.


In other Treason Week activities, Jefferson Davis was elected to preside over the Southern rebellion on November 6, 1861; a bomb blew up in the Senate on November 7, 1983; and Adolf Hitler began the Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt to violently overthrow the Weimar Republic, on November 8, 1923. Hitler later would instigate Kristallnacht, the first major violent anti-Jewish riot in Nazi Germany, on November 9, 1938. I could rant about the moral certitude behind these actions too, but you can insert your own rants here.


And to commemorate Treason Week, I attended a BYU football game... and actually rooted for the Cougars. The reason is that the team BYU was playing, TCU, had five wins, and should Vandy pick up a sixth win, we will need as few other six-win teams as possible on the college football landscape if we are to get to a bowl for the first time since '82. Since I'm a Utah fan, this is absolute, unforgivable treason - imagine being an Alabama fan and rooting for Auburn.

Oh well. I'll have the last laugh on the 24th when the Utes go into Provo and take BYU down.


Mike said...

And on November 10, 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps was born - so Treason Week was capped off by tremendous patriotism, leading wonderfully into Armistice Day.

Ben said...

Okay, I gotta say I think you're making a common fallacy. You're equating moral certitude with murderous intent.

I'll give you another example of a person who was absolutely convinced that he was right and that God was on his side: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So what's the difference between King on the one hand and Fawkes & Amir on the other? Not moral certitude. Not even a belief in divine sanction. No, it was a willingness to murder for their cause, plain and simple.

King's moral certitude and belief that God was on his side actually fueled his non-violence.

So, I argue, it's not THAT you believe. It's WHAT you believe.

Jeff said...

Good point, Ben, but I still maintain that moral certitude is a sword best wielded with great care, especially when it comes to religion. Only in the hands of rare souls like King and Gandhi does moral certitude fail to lead to the willingness to do violence. The moral certainty we all tend to possess - that killing people is wrong - tends to get clouded by other moral certainties when wielded by the less remarkable. Especially when God is involved - it's a lot easier to kill for God than it is to kill for an abstract political cause, however righteous.