Read it here in Scottish or English.

I was watching yesterday’s news coverage of Osama Bin Laden’s death, and found myself thinking, ‘A man’s a man, for all that’, and I knew it was a quotation, but I wasn’t sure where from, so I looked it up.  I was thinking it not to belittle a man and say he is dispensable, but to exalt him as a creature of intrinsic worth and nobility.  I was thinking it for Osama Bin Laden.  I was disagreeing with David Cameron and other world leaders who have expressed satisfaction over his death.  By extension I was also thinking it for the rest of us, including those of us who have found justification in holding the bitterness and unforgiveness that can allow us to say of a fellow human being, ‘good, he is dead’, rather than expressing regret that his killing was a necessary part, so we are being told, of bringing justice.

I believe that kind of expression of that kind of feeling brutalises and degrades us and makes us less than the ‘man’ that our own nature demands we should be.  The Bible says, in one of the Psalms, that we are gods, and that the big God gave His Son to die for our sins, while we were still sinners.  Jesus quoted that Psalm and said the scripture cannot be broken.

I have heard it taught that Islam was formed as a religion in direct opposition to Christianity and Judaism.  I think I heard that from Colin Dye’s platform.  I think we have to ask why.  Christians used to hold killing crusades.  Christians sided with Hitler in the killing of Jews.  Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ was one of my set texts at school.  It was about a Jewish money lender who lent money to a Christian on the terms that he forfeit a pound of his own flesh if he defaulted.  All the Christian’s ships were lost at sea.  A woman called Portia argued the Christian’s case in court, and he was reprieved because the forfeit did not mention the shedding of blood, and Shylock, the money lender, was mockingly and derisively invited to take the pound of flesh, but if in so doing he shed one drop of blood he would have a forfeit of his own.  I think it was his life, but I can’t remember.

The first line of Portia’s famous speech, ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’, is often quoted and held to be a thing of great beauty.  But earlier the Jewish money lender had a great and truly painful speech of his own, basically saying ‘I am a man like you’, and the one part I can definitely remember and that registers with me deeply on an emotional level is where he talks about being in the street and having people ‘spit upon my Jewish gabardine’.  And although the quality of mercy is not strained, it seems that, from his humiliation at the end, it was meant to achieve mercy for Antonio, the Christian, but to be a lesson, yet another painful life lesson, to Shylock, the despised Jewish money lender.  I would like to draw more points from this play but I am not familiar with it any more and would need to read it again.  Points about if Shylock had gained his money legally and honourably, why was he so despised by the people who borrowed from him?  Did they need to borrow, would they have needed to borrow if they had not been so greedy themselves?  So why despise their provider?  Shylock’s requirement of Antonio was probably meant only to express his own distaste at lending to a man who spat upon his Jewish gabardine, or represented people who did.  He never expected, in all probability, that he would be in a position to call for the forfeit.  It was probably meant as a verbal expression of hate for hate.  The fact he called for it is obviously inexcusable, but would have been an expression of his own sick feelings of hate and revenge brought on by the abuse and constant humiliation.  Antonio was a rich merchant.  Shylock was a rich money lender.  What was Shylock’s sin?  Without reading again, it must have been that he was Jewish.  Shylock the Jew did not kill Jesus any more than Antonio the Christian (by affiliation and Christian country ‘birthright’ or by life changing choice and conviction?) did.  But Shylock was hated.

I’m not sure what the point of that is in this post.  Maybe it is just a way for me to say ‘this is hurting me’, because I identify emotionally with Shylock in his feelings over the abuse he received, regardless of any consideration of business ethics and morality.  I started crying when I found and read the Robert Burns poem and found it so perfect and beautiful, and that feeling hasn’t left me while considering Shylock.

My church used to say ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’.  We are justifying hating both the sin and the sinner, and that degrades both us and the sinner.  We are justifying such hatred towards a man that we rejoice in his death.  He couldn’t have achieved anything without his followers, and even though their figurehead has died, passed through death, if they choose revenge rather than deciding to change track and work themselves for brotherhood and world peace, I cannot see how the death of Osama Bin Laden can be seen as an ‘important step forward’, or the similar words used by my own beloved and respected prime minister, David Cameron.  So I would want to appeal to both sides, in the name of God and in the name of love and humanity, to please cool it and stop the revenge and attacks and the seeking of ‘justice’.  I would want to ask that, as Christians, we love our radical Islamic enemies, enough to uncover enough humility of our own to consider what it is that has so filled them with hatred and be willing to apologise and actively pursue reparation and healing of relationships with them, to stop the self-righteous demands and invective, and to approach them with the love and honour and humility we should employ, according to the Bible, towards all men.  I’m not saying that I myself am good at that, but I hope the character of our leaders is made of such stuff that they might be different, and be so openly, and not try to ‘confound the enemy’ by presenting a different face publicly than the one they present privately.   Our enemies need to know and see that we are honest and open not only about our rights, but about theirs, and about our own failings, even historical, and willingness to make reparation.  I don’t believe it is true, for any human being, that violence is all they understand.  The Bible says that the desire of a man is constant love, and I think that goes for everyone, and we need to be braver in showing that.  Vulnerable love, not tough love.  Active and proactive vulnerable love and openness to others.  ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I understand’ and ‘yes, you’re right’ and ‘thank you, I hadn’t thought of that’, and even ‘I love you, are you OK, can I help you?’ love and pursuit of justice.

Love and concern for each other should flow from the top down and the bottom up and spread out and come in, and maybe then the right policies will be obvious and not take up so much time in our relationships, governmental and otherwise.  I want to see the leaders of my world loving one another.  Having therapy sessions and love-ins, most of the time, instead of arguments and policy formation.  If they can pass on the benefits of that to us and across international boundaries, it might change everything about our living and thinking and being in the world and with each other.

I believe all of this is part of our intrinsic worth and nobility which we abandon at our peril and that we need to rediscover, and part of what it means to be ‘A Man, for A’ That’.

In Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

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