Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pray for your enemy

This is decidedly one of the most contentious notions of the Christian faith. It is right up there with 'forgive them'. Naturally I'd personally rather sashimi my enemy and serve them up cold to to the fish. Most people feel less than solicitous about their enemies. Historically enemies deserved 'revenge' and revenge was the thing best served cold.

Yet theologically 'judgement is the lord's and ancients noted a set of spiritual 'rules' akin to gravity and the various laws of the physical world. One of these was karma or divine retribution. Hence the golden rule almost universal throughout the world and in every religion "do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

According to Dr. Jung we are all interconnected and share the 'collected unconscious'. Hurting another comes around to hurting ourselves and indeed in the act of revenge we must become like our persecutor. War begets war and the best warrior is the one most capable of devolution.

But why pray for your enemy? It just may be the best reverse psychology ever. I certainly don't like praying for my enemy. Yet if I think about my enemy and nurse my hatred I need to pray for them. Resentment has been described as a 'poison one takes hoping another person will die'. If I have to pray for an enemy I really would be best not to think of them and so this works to reduce the negativity and self pity that underlie psychosomatic illness.

If one prays for one's enemy too it works against the 'paranoid' tendency to see oneself always as the victim and forces one somewhat to 'walk a mile in another's shoes'.

Brilliant psychiatrist Jay Lifton demonstrated that psychologically in making an enemy an enemy one had to dehumanize them. Praying for one's enemy after the fact restores their humanity. As humans our similarities wholly outweigh our differences, as studies of DNA have aptly shown, yet in the paranoid mode we tend to see the other as 'all evil', 'all bad', and yet when we pray for them we necessarily find 'similiarities'. Once this occurs we open the possibility of reconciliation.

I recently read of Philo negotiating with Caligula to stop the killing of Jews in ancient Rome. I could only wonder how Philo could keep open the possibility that Caligula wasn't wholly the monster history depicts him as but might have some capacity for common ground.

Praying for my enemy helps remind me that they too are human. But mostly I don't like praying for my enemies so it really does help me to keep them out of my mind. That way I can use my precious time plotting the best revenge ever, ie good living.

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