Religion 101: Revenge is not sweet, not like turning the other cheek….

An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth,” is probably the most misunderstood phrase in all human history, its modern implications suggesting—no, NECESSITATING—revenge, at any and all costs. We modern Westerners especially like to accuse Islamic cultures of this, suggesting that they are violent from the get-go, and obsessed with revenge. Now I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find it in the Qur’an, considering that it is already present in the prior two editions of the Great Abrahamic Monotheistic Trilogy: the Torah (Old Testament) and the New Testament…

This doctrine of vendetta is probably better expressed by the Spanish ‘sangre se paga con sangre’: “blood is re-paid with blood”. Yuk. That is truly a sad commentary coming from what was once the heartland of the Christian diaspora, leaving little doubt as to its intents, blood suggestive of life itself, with little subtlety or nuance as to what the actual loss is, and the extent to which someone has suffered damage. This is blood feud, ethnic cleansing, to the victor belong the spoils. ‘Spoils’, indeed. Under this system of escalating violence, all will surely be lost, later if not sooner…

That is EXACTLY what the law of ‘Eye for an eye’ was originally intended to prevent, as first enunciated by Hammurabi in ancient Babylonia. Actually the best translation would be “ONLY an eye for an eye, and ONLY a tooth for a tooth.” I had this explained to me long ago, and assumed that it would soon become de rigueur in the marketplace of ideas, but no, the concept is still bandied about as the Muslim approach to eventual world brutalization and domination. True, the ‘jihadis‘ don’t help by cutting off the hands of thieves, but that is something entirely different, and truly barbaric…

Yet, a Google search quickly verifies the original intent (‘quick’ means fifteen minutes, not five :-). The reason that this is not more widely known could be to more easily denigrate the Islamic religion and its Muslim adherents, but there is another possibility: the intent to limit liability is clearly inherent to this system, i.e. limit to no more than actual damages. This is not good news for Western lawyers and bankers, but is clearly specified in ‘Sharia law’, which doesn’t even allow the charging of interest (aka ‘usury’), much less punitive damages…

That ancient Babylonian code got standardized into the lex talionis of the classical Roman age, particularly in order to prescribe appropriate punishment for known offenses. It is only recently that the connotation has changed to one of blood-lust. Regardless of intentions, it is certainly not of Islamic origin. Even the Qur’an itself ascribes it to the Jews, their acknowledged religious forebears. Most importantly, it is not designed to make one feel good about revenge.

Revenge is the worst of guilty pleasures, worse than sangria wine or hamburgers—with everything. It only feels good for about one long moment, before the guilt and self-recriminations set in. This is the pleasure of adolescence, school-yard shenanigans and alpha-male bullies. This is the pleasure of rape and pillage, best left to morality plays and cautionary tales, not the 21st Century.

But so it is, in this the age of anti-social media, internet bullies and chat-room trolls hiding behind silly-screen avatars and daydream ego-pumps. If FaceBook is mostly the icky-sweet fawning of

grandma’s house and emotional finger-food, loving dear old dads for the sake of childhood friendships, then anonymous forums are the opposite: vicious back-biting and epic epithetic name-calling simply for the sake of the bite, y tu mama tambien. Is it not possible to be honest yet polite, critical but still respectful? It depends on who you know, or not. It gets worse.

I recently offered what I thought was a mild affectionately playful rebuke to a friend who I thought could use an up-date to her writing format, and she almost bit my head off in return. Yeow! I wanted to (again, playfully) one-up her on the rebound, but to what end? Will I lose a friend? Isn’t that one-upsmanship a mild form of revenge? It’s not that I don’t know how to debate, mind you; I can hold my own, I assure you…

But holding one’s tongue offers its own pleasures, the pleasure of adulthood and parenthood, knowing that kids—and others—need positive role models to follow and a pleasant atmosphere in which to learn. Teachers can’t lord it over students any more than policemen can lord it over citizens. This is the pleasure of orderliness and chivalry. This is the role of government in the garden cities of the future. That’s enough politics for today. Live long and prosper…

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