In the previous post we considered the adage that ‘an enemy is simply a friend whose story I have not yet heard.’ In his book First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, Zizek critiques this, using the example of Hitler, questioning whether it would be right to befriend him:
“Is one then also ready to affirm that Hitler was an enemy only because his story had not been heard? Do the details of his personal life redeem the horrors that resulted from his reign?”
My arguement is that the adage does hold true, but pivots on the definition of friendship. Unless there is the possibility of empathy flowing both ways, then friendship cannot be a possibility. If it were possible to befriend Hitler, one would hope to be able to dissuade him from his actions. If there was no possibility of change within him (lack of regret or empathy is a hallmark of psychopatic behaviour) then friendship is not possible.
Connectedly, friendship is not possible unless there is some symmetry in power-relations. The soldier who is on duty to see a Palestinian home demolished may appear to be friendly in showing the family photos of his children, but cannot be deemed a friend if they then go ahead and carry out their duties.
Where does this leave this theologically? Clearly we are not framing God as enemy, but it is important to consider what we might mean if we are claiming ‘friendship’ with God. Is there any sense of symmetry in our relationship, and is there any possibility of a two-way empathetic flow? If God is unchanging, does this mean God displays sociopathic tendencies?
If we look at the list of symptoms, we get a pretty interesting picture:
Superficial charm, irrititable, impatient, prone to threats, angry, sense of extreme entitlement, child conduct issues, recurring difficulties with the law…
Doesn’t this read a little like the character we find in the early Old Testament? And if God is unchanging, why should this be any different now – as we see in the attitude in the picture above. We read Zizek’s comment again in this light: Do the details of his personal life redeem the horrors that resulted from his reign?
In the comments on the previous post, Clare wondered: suppose the Israeli soldier dumped his weapon and uniform and renounced his part in oppressing Palestinians. Would there be any chance of a relationship? It seems to me that this is the only way in which genuine relationship could occur, though this would be hugely personally costly to that soldier under Israeli law. This seems to resonate with the beginning of Philippians 2:
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
So the only possibility of friendship is if this stripping away of power occurs. But, as in the case of the soldier, this can only make sense if power is genuinely removed… Our enmity with God is thus not overcome through God’s anger or might, but only through God’s weakness. A weakness that not only lays down weapons, but ends up crucified for it.