Eye for an eye still?
There used to be a time when life was simply and mostly physical. When historians and anthropologists write about it today, they may use certain terms to describe life then, terms like primitive, prehistoric, ancient, elemental, and the like. For those who read and/or adhere to the Bible, that general period was life under the Old Testament.
Yet, the New Testament was supposed to have begun with the human life of Jesus Christ around 2,000 years ago. By today’s understanding and lifestyle, even the New Testament would be considered primitive, just as the New Testament must have considered the Old Testament primitive at their time.
I go back in time to understand how humanity lived and understood life then, at any point in the past, to get a better understanding of life today, and perhaps, guide us to life tomorrow. Recalling the past makes me realize how time can move so fast but human consciousness can move so much slower. It is true that much more information is openly available today compared to the primitive past, and consequently, life is more knowledge-based, more scientific, and less superstitious. Human health, human maturity, human wisdom, and human behavior, though, can hardly catch up.
Reviewing recorded history is like making a journey in a chronological sequence. We walk at a pace that dominated life at any past stage, and we can imagine how physical conditions forced man to react the way they did. It is easier to understand that justice could be as simple as an eye-for-an-eye formula. Why not? Even today, with just our personal lives, we can recall how many times we have said, and continue to say, “He started it first so I also retaliated.” That is as simple as I can describe the eye-for-an-eye principle. If you try to kill me, I will try to kill you first. Simple.
The entry of Jesus Christ and the teachings he shared with mankind totally upset the established apple cart then. More than that, the same 2,000-year-old teachings upset much of humanity today. When emotions are upset, especially when anger is provoked, the eye-for-an-eye formula is usually the first thing that we want to follow. But no matter how difficult to apply, the soundness and higher attraction of the new teachings, anchored on loving and forgiving, resonated enough to the first believers. Christianity was born, and not surprisingly, with a lot of blood – martyrs’ blood quietly sacrificed to the anger of others.
Fast forward to the 21st century.
After 2,000 years, what has changed? Definitely, a lot. Most justice systems have gone beyond the eye-for-an-eye formula to actual rehabilitation initiatives instead of just penalizing. Many countries have discarded the death penalty even for the most heinous of crimes. That is a serious shift in human consciousness, a clear choice for the more refined potential, a determined moving away from the instinctual animal tendencies.
Has it made life better? I believe so. At the same time, I see many examples, both individual and collective, that would argue the point. Let’s start with the greater death and destruction situations that defy the movement towards the more refined societal lifestyle. Let us go to Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq – to name a few. The violence index in those countries shows that when violence takes over, only survival and killing the enemy define justice.
On the individual level, I can only surmise that victims and their grieving families run in the millions, To them, the natural thoughts say, “I hope you get what you deserve – which is the horror you inflicted on the victim.” That is still the eye-for-an-eye response on the instinctual and emotional level. But if these victims and their surviving family members live in a more developed country, they will demand that justice according to their established system be fully applied. If not, retaliation is the intent if they have opportunity, and if they can get away with it.
Where is the Philippines situated in our acceptance, tolerance, or distaste of violence? Are we in the Old Testament or are we believers of the teachings of the New Testament? Are we about retaliation, or are we about rehabilitation? When we engage in dynamics where violence plays a necessary part, as in quelling armed rebellion, secession or a drug war, do we apply a win-at-all-costs principle even if it means killing the innocent to weaken the influence of the guilty? Do we follow the law in pursuing lawbreakers or do we disregard the law just to win?
The domestic controversy regarding extra-judicial killings has spilled over to the global stage. It must be that the movement of the more developed countries towards respecting human rights even in war conditions is the direction of most countries, including the United Nations. There are continuous violations of human rights standards, for sure, but there are determined attempts to address these violations and to apply human rights laws universally.
I cannot say what killings are done in active police raids where they meet armed resistance. I do not know what killings are plain murder – instigated or supervised covertly by agents of the State, or the natural activity of a naturally violent illegal drug trade. It is not my role to determine or investigate killings as legally justified or extra-judicial. I can only hope that the government and the rule of law will assert our fidelity to our Constitution and cherished cultural values.
But as a Filipino citizen, as a believer of Christian teachings, and one respectful of the beliefs of other faiths, I must express my deep sadness at the growing volume of unexplained deaths. Bloodshed among Filipinos grossly stain our collective soul, whether these are terroristic acts, extra-judicial, or simply criminal. Also, I see only one sustainable path for the positive resolution of violence – its exact opposite. Only good can defeat evil, and only a culture of caring and sharing is more powerful than violence.
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