Turning the cheek, turning the back

Turning the cheek, turning the back

In what I think is a very nice illustration for extreme (anarcho-)pacifists, Genevieve Kineke posts an excerpt of an anecdote about Teddy Roosevelt when he was a young man:

“While at college [Roosevelt] taught a Sunday School class. One day one of his students came to class with a black eye. He owned up that he had got it in a fight and on a Sunday at that. He confessed to his teacher that during the morning service a boy, sitting next to his sister, had pricked her all through the hour, so after church he waited outside and they had a good ‘stand-up fight,’ and he ‘punched him good,’ although he got a black eye in exchange. ‘You did exactly right,’ said his teacher and gave the lad a dollar. To the class it was ideal justice, but when the church authorities heard of it they were scandalized. Young Roosevelt was dismissed and took himself and his ideals to another Sunday School.”

Genevieve adds that the author of article doesn’t see this as a “turn the other cheek” moment “… because a man cannot turn his cheek when those who are entrusted to his care are abused.” Or to put it in a pithy form, When you’re not the one under attack, then it’s not turning the other cheek, it’s turning your back.

She goes on to point out that patriotism, like all virtues (natural ones and supernatural alike), must be combined with other virtues in order not to become a vice. Patriotism turned into extreme nationalism is no virtue. But is that the normal danger we face in this day and age? No, I think it’s the opposite. And as another Roosevelt quote says:

The man who loves other countries as much as his own stands on a level with the man who loves other women as much as his own wife.

So the overarching question is what does a man do in the face of evil that threatens the innocence? Just who is a man charged to defend? How does a pacifist deal with a threat to those who is honor and duty-bound to protect? Good questions all.

I think I know what Teddy Roosevelt would say. I think he’d say it was a damned fool society that even had to ask.

(Yes, I know old TR is not a Catholic saint and so I don’t look to him as the last word in moral theology. Yet there is plenty of natural sense in his words.)

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  • Those “obvious” answers are clouded by education and formative experiences sometimes. It’s always good to be reminded. I’m still devastated when I’m confronted with an actual LIE.
    These “old-fashioned” stories can be particularly relevant to our young, who are surrounded by a culture that denies the existence of evil and whose parents (if they are like me) struggle with a moral dilemna when confronted with blatant injustice. IE, after my weekly clean-up of my neighbors unbagged garbage should I have washed those dirty clothes they plopped on the basement stairs? I wish I were kidding.

  • He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by non-violently facing death, may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden.