Do Not Turn the Other Cheek

A woman abused by her husband should not “turn the other cheek,” nor should a child molested by a loved one. A person robbed should not let themselves get robbed again, “turning the other cheek” or other pocket in their wallet. Always cooperate to begin with, but when the other party betrays or harms you, cease to cooperate. Compassion must be balanced with wisdom, mercy with severity.

Dialogue Based on this Idea:

Harold O. Koenig: To resist, even to fight back, can be done justly, mercifully, lovingly and holily. That then would be “turning the other cheek,” rightly understood. it is not for nothing that Aquinas’s treatment of war is part of his treatment on Charity.

Adam J. Pearson: I appreciate the sentiment you express, Harold, and also think that mercy must be balanced with justice if it is to be wise. I simply do not see how any form of resistance or fighting back can be derived from “turning the other cheek.” How are we to “rightly understand” it such that such a ready is possible? It seems to clearly say whenever we are attacked, we are to passively allow ourselves to continue to be attacked rather than take any form of resistance whatsoever.

I sympathize with just war theory, but I do not see how it derives from this principle. It seems that Christians tend to derive it from principles of justice and the conflict of good versus evil, etc., rather than from “turn the other cheek.”

Harold O. Koenig: Well, to clarify, I didn’t say that just war theory derived from the injunction to turn the other cheek. (Why does that one get so much air play and the one about adultery in the heart get so little?) I suggested that Thomas Aquinas saw the just waging of war as NOT incompatible with the law of love.

And as far as “tempering justice with mercy” goes, in the stand I am incompetently advancing, mercy is not against justice, it is rather its perfection. (Of course, this involves a re-thinking or refinement of what we think justice is.)

To nibble around the edges of that, try this: You, competent and armed, are asked by the innocent and weak victim of an assault for help. Are the innocent and weak ‘due’ defense?

If they are, are YOU the one do ‘render them their due?’ If not, who is?

If things go badly, you could get killed. If things go well, you will be investigated, you may be charged and have to show in court that you acted properly and legally. Even if you are acquitted, you may be sued. Even if you win, you will have great inconvenience and expense.

Therefore, I maintain it is an sometimes act of mercy to render the innocent their due.

Further, it would be outrageous to say to the victim, say, of an ongoing rape attempt, “Hey, ‘resist not evil;’ have a blessed day,” and walk on. The evil you are “resisting not” is the adrenaline dump, the sleepless nights, the emotional turmoil, the risks I have outlined, and more. So far are you from resisting that you are diving in.

And I can tell you from experience that merely being ready and willing will mean that people look at you funny, mock you, suggest that you have, um, concerns about your, um, endowment, tell others you are given to violence, and so on and so forth.

I view the vocation of Law Enforcement Officer or of military person as FORMALLY a position of mercy. The individuals may not be merciful themselves, and of course armies can be deployed in wars unjust in cause or in execution. That’s why I put “formally” in big letters.

I forget your personal situation. But now let you be a husband and father. Now let you be the one attacked. Do you want your widow saying to your orphan, “I’m sorry we have to pull you out of school, pay for less expensive medicine, move house, etc., but Daddy resisted not evil, and he was killed.”

Adam J. Pearson: “I suggested that Thomas Aquinas saw the just waging of war as NOT incompatible with the law of love.”

I fully agree.

“Therefore, I maintain it is an sometimes act of mercy to render the innocent their due.”

True, and we could argue that “rendering their due” is the basis of justice, the fair return of consequences for actions in equal proportion to the type and severity of the actions.

Your examples of the attacked father and the witness of the ongoing raped attempt are very apt and, I think, convincingly show that if we are attacked ourselves or walk by as another is being unjustly harmed, it is better for us to do something than to passively “turn the other cheek.” The action that we take may be both an expression of mercy and justice, and I think you make a fairly convincing case for this claim, however, the important thing for the informal argument I advanced above is that something is done, some resistance is taken, and we *do not* practice turning the other cheek.

A support for the effectiveness of this strategy comes from practical experimentation: in his Prisoner’s Dilemma tournament, Axelrod found that a strategy of “tit for tat” (that is, cooperating until others cease to cooperate and then ceasing to cooperate yourself) proved far more successful in the game than any other strategy including a strategy equivalent to “turning the other cheek.” A strategy of intelligently limited cooperation was shown to yield the most positive results both for the the individual and those around him or her.

Another supporting argument comes from Mahayana Buddhism, which centers on the practice of compassion balanced with wisdom. Several Zen masters have asked questions analogous to this one: walking by, you see a woman in the process of being assaulted; what is the most compassionate thing to do? The answer that I have heard given is, if it is safely in your power to do so, to intervene and do something, even perhaps punching the attacker in the face. Why? Because this turns out to be the most compassionate thing for both the assaulter and the victim; the action responds to the suffering of the victim, but also is a compassionate act for the assaulter, which checks their bad behaviour with a ‘positive punishment’ (in psychological terms). It is better for negative consequences to follow a damaging and immoral act than for it to be reinforced and therefore perpetuated.


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