Turn the Other Cheek?

Turn the Other Cheek?
by Dennis Prager
Additional Remarks by pragerfan

May 1, 2008

Transcription of Dennis Prager's radio program:

Caller: Now my [second] question for you is with regard to this non-negotiating with our enemies. It flies in the face of every religion on the planet, it flies in the face of what we tell our children in the playground, to talk things out with your enemies, as human beings on this earth, how can we survive if we do not have dialog with our enemies? Is this idealistic? Am I a dreamer? Talk to me.

[Dennis then answered another question from the caller, went to a commercial, and is now back.]

Dennis: You're listening to the Dennis Prager show and I'm on speaking with Wilson in Portland, Oregon. And your second question to me was are you a dreamer on this issue of, well of course we should talk to our enemies, what do we tell kids, what does every religion teach, but to talk to your enemies? You know, a kid has an enemy on the playground. You're saying you tell your kid to talk to him.

Well, as it happens, it depends on the nature of the enemy, Wilson. If there's a kid on the playground who's going around beating up kids who are weaker than him, I don't want to talk to him; I want to beat him up. You're asking the wrong guy. I think that the evil needs to be dealt with forcefully. I think that talking to evil people increases evil. Now, that's why the word "enemy" obscures the reality. We're talking about bad people, not people who happen to oppose us. When the French and we differ, of course we talk to the French because we have shared basic assumptions about what is valuable in life. We share nothing with the heads of North Korea. Nothing! We share nothing with Hamas. Hamas believes in death, we believe in life. That's their motto! They say that! "We love death as much as Americans and Jews love life." That is the motto of Hamas. What are you going to talk to them about? Their love of death?

Caller: My question then Dennis, and I appreciate you mentioning that, my question to you then is why then do we so subjectively interpret the teachings of Jesus in the Bible to fit our own political and our own belief systems as opposed to, you know, the actual meaning of them and what I would like you to do

Dennis: Which meaning are you thinking of then, turn the other cheek?

Caller: Well, yeah, maybe you had(?) addressed this and I haven't heard it.

Dennis: I have addressed this but it doesn't matter. Everything needs to be addressed often so don't feel bad. Let me quickly do it because of the time factor here. Jesus is speaking in the micro. In general, I could not agree more, that in your daily life and the people in your life, of course you want to reconcile with your personal enemies, of course you do! Of course every time you're smacked you don't want to smack back. Of course, that's...for the people in your life this is profound advice. But if grand evils are coming in - would Jesus have said to America in 1941, "Well we gave them Pearl Harbor now let's give them Manhattan." That's in effect what you would be saying. That's not what Jesus was advocating. No religion advocates that except the religion of suicide, or the non-caring about evil and suffering.

This view comports with the character of the God of both the Old and New Testaments, Who is one unchanging God. The idea that Christ was talking in the macro - that is, that we should "turn the other cheek" when great evils threaten, is simply absurd. It is also immoral because a leader who makes that kind of decision is gambling with the lives of those whom he leads. So I can't imagine Christ teaching that we should "turn the other cheek" for example, to an attack on America such as 9/11. Extending this to the micro, I would not hesitate to say to my daughter that if - take a girls' scenario - my daughter sees that a girl who is a "schoolyard bully" constantly picks on and harasses other girls younger than she, my daughter ought to at least know that it is morally right to confront the bully, using force if necessary.

Now obviously there are pragmatics about whether the bully is too big to take on and whether she should go and get help, of course; but those things are secondary to the moral question at hand which is, you don't let evil go unchecked whether the evil is done to your nation or on your schoolyard, or to your neighbor.

What accounts for the relative rarity of this discussion (much less teaching) in Christian theology? Confrontation of evil is a Jewish teaching, and Jesus whilst He was on earth was in fact a perfect Jew (He kept every one of the 613 points of Jewish law perfectly). So how is it then that our moral obligation to confront evil is largely forgotten within modern Christendom?

Is it because of the New Testament's general emphasis of the transitory life here on earth? We are reminded so many times in the New Testament that we are "not of the world." Christians are described as "sojourners" and life is described as transitory in nature. It is almost as if our highest duty were to completely retreat from engagement with the world. For a few, such as monastics, this is indeed a valid calling.

For the rest of us, let's recall that the LORD prayed not that we should be taken out of the world, but that we should be protected from evil. As Christians, we do not forfeit that shared responsibility with our Jewish friends that we ought to try to improve the lot of mankind - that we ought to try to make the world a better place than it was when we entered it. Christianity is not JUST feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving alms to the poor. It's not just about being a wonderful spirit-filled person. We must also proactively fight, using force if necessary (whether it be personal or military) evil in the world.

Here's why.

Vanquishing evil makes the world a far better place than clothing the naked or feeding the hungry. In many areas of the world, it's just not possible to feed the starving or to clothe the naked without first confronting and defeating pre-existing evil - Darfour is an example.

But there are those who will argue, should we not follow the example of Christ, who offered no resistance to evil? That's problematic. Jesus Himself said that He could call down 12 legions of angels to assist Him before Pilate, but He did not. Had Jesus wanted to, He could have turned Pilate into dust with a thought. But He did not. Jesus didn't come to this world to put angels on display or to turn people to dust. He didn't come to this world to fight evil arising from human free will. He came to this world to fight spiritual evil. He came to this world to vanquish sin, death, and the Devil, which we could not overcome. Therefore, His was a different office. His earthly mission prevented Him from fighting human evil because He was here to do the will of the Father at that time, which was to reconcile us unto Himself.

Dennis Prager