On Trust: Book of Proverbs

Society is built on a network of social connections and these connections between people are secured together with trust. There are a great many liars, people who play social games to appear more moral than what they are and so it is easy for one to convince of their trustworthiness without any merit. Much like apologies, words like ‘you can trust me’ can be said, however trust itself is more than just words. It is tied to actions and built over a period of time, thus trust is practical and applied.

There are inherent risks when one trusts and these dangers are articulated in the preventative measures we take – such as controlling or watching movements – in order to mitigate the risk of betrayal. We do not have any way of guaranteeing authenticity of these connections and thus central to all of our interactions involves trust. We are vulnerable because we are removed from authority and the power to hold others accountable, which in ethical terms is a complex dynamic.

However, is trust merely an instrument that enables this implicit ‘cooporation’ where connections involve logical tests to confirm the trustworthiness of others, or is it possible to believe these connections are authentically true without holding to any evidential reason?

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Book Review: Ethical Writings of Maimonides

For centuries, from Aristotle to Confucius, Aquinas and Thoreau, moral philosophers have endorsed the idea that a balanced, moderate regularity of character is an important step towards genuine happiness, that excess or deficiency of any sort and the failure to attain a principled attitude toward guiding and cultivating the self toward this mean will lead to the reverse. Thus, one who leads a life attempting to walk down this dutiful path toward a balanced and constant frame of mind is demonstrative of a noble and even a superior person. As said by Socrates, “with his eyes fixed on the nature of his soul, naming the worse life that which will tend to make it more unjust and the better that which will make it more just… all other considerations he will dismiss, for we have seen that this is the best choice.”[i] This choice to lead a life of virtue and justice and abandoning all that is vulgar, vulgarity being interpreted as “the masses and the most vulgar seem – not unreasonably – to believe that the good or happiness is pleasure. Accordingly they ask for nothing better than the life of enjoyment,”[ii] will allow one to adopt a standard that will link them closer to what is beautiful, namely love and honesty.

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Evil: The Book of Isaiah

It is our society that shapes and dictates standards of morality and how we should behave, creating prohibitions based on ethical definitions often aligned with its own best interests. What one nation or community could view as grossly immoral may by another’ standards be considered moral, i.e., female circumcision, thus moral and ethical behaviour is a practice that is socially constructed and conditioned. However, the broader conception of evil includes offences such as vicarious negligence, poor leadership or ignorant decision-making that results in greater civil wrongs, or even physical illness and natural disasters that stand apart from an intentional motivation ascribed to individuals that knowingly and decisively act in a manner that endangers others. While ignorance is no excuse, intent stands outside of these socially constructed or conditioned evils and becomes universal in its condemnation of moral evil. The line of good and bad behaviour with moral agency could be blurred, so what are the conditions that can sufficiently explain the characteristics of evil? Read More

Moral Symbolism: The Book of Enoch

In 1077, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV remained barefoot and on his knees in the snow for several days to express an act of penitence following his ex-communication by Pope Gregory VII, this symbolic gesture followed the power struggle between Church and State during the Investiture Controversy where appointed church officials had aligned their interests with the ruling nobility rather than the church that led to decades of civil war in Germany. There is implicit power in a symbolic gesture, a subtle and pre-reflexive understanding of an abstract, ritual discourse or exchange that represents a feeling or idea expressed using a non-verbal form of communication. Floriography explains the symbolic language of flowers, for instance, where the Lily and other flowers are used as a symbol in the Song of Songs to describe the purity, passion and beauty of the protagonist. The flower becomes the instrument to communicate feelings – as a gesture of friendship and love, to celebrate or mourn and thus the medium to explain these emotions. It is an implicit discourse embedded in our language and how we communicate with one another and gives meaning and significance to our experiences and personal interactions. Read More

Syncretistic Religions of Turkey

Alevis are a community of heterodox Muslims culture-specific to Anatolia [Turkey]. Similar syncretistic religious groups exist in Syria (Alawi), Lebanon (Druze), Iran (Ahl-e Haqq), and in Iraq (Yazidi). The Alevis of Turkey are a unique religious association and have a close relationship with Bektaşi Order who originated from the Balkans. Although there are no exact estimations of the population of Alevis in Turkey, the general consensus is that they make up the largest minority and total 10-20 million in population. Alevis are historically connected to the Turcoman Qizilbaş nomads who converted to Shi’i Islam and theology[1] while Turkish dervish institutions “[h]ad received their characteristic features in western Turkestan from Ahmad Yasawi (d. 562/1166); they had acquired an ever-increasing expansion in Anatolia, but at the same time they had adopted heretical tendencies.”[2] The etymology of the name Alevi is tied to a religious appreciation of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib – cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad – and only after the 19th century replaced Qizilbaş due to the derogatory label that the latter had established.[3]

Like Shi’ism, Alevis also believe that ‘Ali was denied his rightful position as successor to religious and political authority after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, rejecting Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman as legitimate caliphs. Conspiracies about the authenticity of Sunni Islam has often been suggested, claiming early Islamic representatives have intentionally removed religious passages that could have proven ‘Ali as the rightful successor, only justified with the murder of both ‘Ali and his children Hasan and Huseyn. The gradual obliteration of the ehlibeyt (family of the prophet) provided the room for political power under the banner of Sunni Islam, such as Mu’awiyya who later founded the Umayyad dynasty. “Ozet olarak, camilerde Hz. Ali’ye kufur ettirilmesi, once Hz. Hasan’in daha sonar Hz. Huseyin ve ailesinin –ki Peygamberin soyu onlardan devam ediyordu- acimasizca oldurulmeleri, Emevi hanedanina karşi muhalif bir inanc, duşunce ve siyasal temeli olan bir harekete yol acmiş ve cok kan dokulen isyanlara sebep olmuştur.”[4]

Alevism is multi-ethnic and linguistic and similar syncretistic religious are spread over a vast geographical are within and around Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent, the region incorporating Mesopotamia, the upper parts of Egypt and the Near East. According to David Zeidan, “[o]ther names include Tahtaci, Abdal, Capni, and Zaza, which signify specific tribal and linguistic identities.”[5] Tracing the historical genesis and development of Alevism remains controversial, as the region has contained many influential civilisations such as the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians, including monotheistic religions beginning with Zoroastrianism through to Islam and the Ottoman Empire. Numerous scholarly and traditional theories have been interchanged and differences between traditional interpretations by various ethnic groups have also been raised. “The PKK and other Kurdish nationalists argued that the Alevism has Zoroastrian origins, saying in fact that the Alevis are related to the Kurds,”[6] yet it is generally acknowledged that Alevis trace their beliefs to the beginning of Islam with pre-Islamic, Christian, Zoroastrian and Buddhist influences until Shi’a Islam spread its authority in the region during the Fatamid Empire. The Fatamid dynasty evolved into a Shi’a Empire beginning 900AD and spread throughout the Fertile Crescent and North Africa. Influenced by the Islamil’I (ithna-ashariyya) Shi’a faith, the Fatamid’s ultimately fell in 1171AD as internal chaos and invasions continuously disrupted the administration, splitting the region into various dynasties, in particular the Seljuq dynasty in 1037AD that was influenced by a heterogeneous combination of Mongol, Turkic and Persian cultures.

“[H]e (David Zeidan) defends the Alevis against charges that they are ‘not true Muslims’ (whereas in fact they are a split-away from Fatimid Shi’ism).” Zoroastrianism is first recorded by Herodotus in 440BC and gradually introduced monotheism (the belief in the one God – Ahura Mazda) in the region. The invasion of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire by Alexander the Great and the steady growth of the Roman Empire strained Zoroastrianism into a temporary halt, until it revived once again through the Sassanid Empire in 226AD when it officially became the State religion. The Sassanid’s made contact with the East (India and China) and produced a fascinating cultural revolution, particularly with Buddhism, while at the same time became acquainted with Christian theology through a series of violent contact with the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) who spread Christian monophysitic traditions particularly in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Arab invasions in 651AD and the growth of Islam in the region rapidly changed the structure of society, setting the foundation for the Ottoman Empire beginning 1299AD that eventually became one of the largest and most powerful empires in history. The Ottoman Empire allowed numerous religious and ethnic beliefs systems too remain imperforate.

This is perhaps due to not only their significant expansion and lack of ethnically divisive borders all contained with a single administration, but also the jizyah tax or tribute paid by millets (community) for protection. The jizyah levy was economically profitable for the Ottomans, but the refusal to pay created internal division and stimulated violence in the region, particularly with the Mamluks (1250AD – 1517AD), Timurids (1370AD – 1526AD), Black Sheep Turcomans (1375AD – 1468AD), and the Safavids (1501AD – 1736AD). The Qizilbaş became another notorious militant group who refused to submit to the authority of the Ottomans. Flourishing during the late 13th century, the Qizilbaş had a tribal religious order similar (though not the same) to Sufism, while also being influenced by the heterodox religion of the Safviya mystical order dominant amongst the Safavids.[7] The Qizilbaş were known for their fierce military presence that earned them widespread veneration, particularly amongst the Ottoman Janissaries: “The basis of their fighting spirit, however, was their fierce tribal loyalty (ta’aşşup-I oymakiyyat; ta’aşşup-I kizilbashiyyat).” Similar to the Qizilbaş tribes in Anatolia, the Safavids originated through a Sufi order or tarikat in Iran and grew to become a strong military presence in the region, especially with the support of Qizilbaş warriors. “Finally, the armed help of the latter enabled the young Safavid Sheik Isma’il – who was venerated by his Qizilbaş warriors as the reincarnation of ‘Ali and as the Madhi (‘Redeemer’), bringing the reign of justice on earth – to capture the throne of Iran in 1501.” However, their independence and control of Mesopotamia was short-lived after their refusal to pay jizyah.  By violently rebelling against the Ottoman Empire, Shah Isma’ils reign ended with the victory by Sultan Selim in 1514.[9]

The violent revolt and gradual collapse of Safavid Persia consequently found many supporters of ‘Ali killed by the Ottomans, particularly during the reign of Sultan Selim II, and it is for this reason the Qizilbaş retreated to the mountains in Anatolia. Sources show that massacres dating from the sixth century and violent conversion of heterodox groups to Sunni Islam were implemented by the Ottoman Empire. Theological differences were nt the only source of the violence against the Alevis. “[T]he decisive factor seems to be the socio-economic tension between the rural population and the central power that intensified toward the end of the fifteenth century in the Ottoman Empire.”[10] The consequent persecutions thus isolated Alevis and created an independent religious and social community.

Alevi villages are patrilineal and patrilocal. Patrilineality is the succession of the male hereditary lineage that can include inheritance of both property and name, whilst patrilocal residence is a social system that involved married couples living with the husbands’ family if they are unable to afford their own property. There are clear hierarchies within Alevi communities that differ quiet considerably from Sunni villages as they are not only much smaller in population, but tend to take an individualist approach to land ownership and pasture; the village (mahalle) divisions only deliquesce during the summer. It is common amongst many Muslim leaders to claim that they are descendants from religious saints or other authority figures in order to obtain spiritual legitimacy, thus dedes often regard themselves to be descendants of a particular leading figure such as Ibn Arabi, while the effendi claim to be the direct descendants of Haci Bektaş Veli. “The ‘imaginations’ about a supposed common history in processes of ethnicization of suggest that the members of the community may be united by bonds of blood… The dedes claim descent from the Prophet through his cousin and later son-in-law, Ali (b. Abu Talib), his second grandson, Hussein, or others of the Twelve Imams or from Haci Bektaş Veli.” It should be noted that practices are very different between the Arab-Alevis of Turkey – for which my parents belong – and the Turkish-Alevis, and while both do not use a mosque, the latter uses the cemevi as a place of religious worship, something we never did.

Alevis believe in tensasuh (transmigration of the soul). They reject the five pillars of Islam – such as pilgrimage to the hajj or fasting during the month of Ramadan – and instead believe in the four paths to God.[11] The four paths or methods are used as a guide for their actions in order to attain a closer union with God. Tarikat, the inner law of the community closed to outsiders; şeriyat, rules arranged by outsiders such as the government or other religious body; Marifet, literally “knowledge” together with Hakikat or being one with God and beyond the physical world. There are theological works that they base their beliefs on which mostly contain collected sayings of Ibn Abu Ali Talib and others of the twelve imams according to Twelver Shi’i theology, although it inherently does not contain any codified religious law. Due to religious secrecy and in order to avoid persecution, the takiye was introduced and is practiced among Alevis in order to hide their faith from the community; Allah inancini saklamak zorunda kalan insanlar or those who have no other choice but to hide their religion and faith in God.

The takiye was introduced as a way to keep their religious and cultural practices secret, particularly since Alevi religious faith is seen to be an internal mechanism practiced in the heart. Alevis consider themselves to be Muslim and claim to contain the batini (Islamic revelation) although they reject shari’a and the five pillars of Islam (alms levy, daily prayers, fasting, hajj and the profession of faith) which is merely the zahiri (external faith). The main source of their faith lie in Ali whom they view as seceşme (main source) and hulul (incarnation of God in man). The Alevi also interweave the tarikat ideals into their position vis-à-vis Islam as a whole, so that their religion might be summed up as ‘mystical Shi’ism’. Briefly, they maintain the twelver Shi’ite tradition; that Huseyin and Hasan were murdered at the Kerbela, that the rightly-guided caliphs succeeded them until the twelfth, mehti, disappeared and will ultimately return.[30] Alevis are known for their visual depiction of ‘Ali and representation of him in song and ritual, which sharply contrasts with the Sunni requirement to hide the personage of any revered prophet or saint, particularly Muhammad. ‘Ali’s famous spine cleaver sword (zulifiqar) is worn on necklaces and is often used as a religious symbol, similar to the cross in Christianity.

As the Alevi community is multi-ethnic and linguistic, language plays a predominate role in the construction of identity; there is, therefore, a manifest schism between Turkish and Kurdish Alevis. “Kurt Alvilerin bir dernekleri vardi (federation); fakat, Alevilerinkilerden ayridir.”[12] It cannot be denied that Kurdish communities have maintained a respectable level of cohesion by adopting multiple forms of identities, including language (different dialects), political orientation and ethnicity, while certain communities consider themselves to be Alevi-Kurds and others as Qizilbaş or Zaza-Qizilbaş. Although religious and cultural practices are similarly practiced and appreciated, many Alevi do not consider themselves to be ethnically Turkish. “Both the Kemalist elite as well as the Kurdish national movement are trying to stress what each believes to be an ‘organic relationship’ between Aleviness and either Turkishness or Kurdishness.”

Alevis are prone to secrecy with no accessible scriptures and it is for this reason that conspiracies have been raised and spread with the intent to reduce their religious legitimacy. Tales like the 1922 Nur Baba by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu – a short story describing Alevi debauchery in a ritual ceremony – is one of various fictitional themes that ultimately justified bigotry and eventual discrimination against the community. This can also be seen by academic G.R Driver (1922) who [in all likelihood reiterated what he was told] wrote about the Qizilbaş with the same derogatory stance. “There, after prayers noteworthy only for revolting cynicism and an invocation of the deity of fecundity, the lights are extinguished and the sexes intermingle without regard to age or the ties of kinship.”[13] Driver falsely clams that this “very degraded superstition” worships a large black dog and only call themselves Muslim to receive the same civil rights as other orthodox Muslims. Similar conspiracies about sexual deviance were circulated about the Arab-Alevi community. “Thus, the theologian al-Ash’ari (874-936) held that Alawism encourages male sodomy and incestuous marriages, and the founder of the Druze religious doctrine, Hamza ibn Ali (d. 1021), write that Alawis consider ‘the male member entering the female nature’ to be the emblem of their spiritual doctrine.”[14]

The secrecy of their religious doctrines led to these suspicions, and what better way to dehumanise and justify repression than by fabricating tales of sexual perversion. Consequently, Alevis have long been persecuted and this violence continues even in secular Turkey today, such as the Sivas massacre where on July 2, 1993, 37 Alevis were killed by radical Islamists who set fire to their hotel. Although the Turkish government is attempting to open the door for a better understanding of the Alevi community, such abrogating themes amongst the uninformed populace remain and have led Alevis to re-consider their social and political position in Turkey. This can be seen by the establishment of various organisations such as the Cem Foundation, which distributes information through journal articles, radio and other forms of media circulation. Thogh it can be said that the end of the Cold War and the economic and political crises of the early 1980’s led to an increased desire for recognition, the attacks on Alevis during the 199’s and the current fear that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are gradually and quietly implementing Sunni Islamic values has only amplified suspicions and led to an intensification in political, academic and social activism.

It would seem that rejecting Islam to adopt a more Christian outlook is a big problem for many people to understand and indeed when so absorbed into their own culture and beliefs, they become immovable in their worldview that difference or change is a threat rather than a difference. However, I am going through a transition at the moment to try and solidify my own understanding, independent of any denomination, of what is the most righteous way to view and understand the world at large and I believe it is essential to look at the past, to anaylse the present and read all the scriptures without prejudice or bias to gain enough knowledge to make your own decision. It comes at a price, but it is worth it as you are honest with yourself and living in the present.

Further reading:

[1] Qizilbaş literally means “red head” which is attributed to Ali who told followers at the Battle of Siffin (657CE) to tie a red cloth around their heads so that each can distinguish one from the other.
[2]C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960), 1162
[3] The Qizilbaş were detested by the Ottomans and thus the name became known to refer to those who supported the Safavids.
[4] Nihat Cetinkaya, Kizilbaş Turkler, Tarihi, Oluşumu ve Gelişimi (Istanbul: Kum Saati Yayinlari, 2004) 72
[5] David Zeidan. “The Alevi of Anatolia” Middle East Review of International Affairs 3:4 (Dec 1999) 1
[6] Paul J. White and Joost Jongerden, Turkey’s Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview, (Boston: Brill, 2003) 82
[7] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 243
[8] Ibid., 20 The Battle of Chaldiran (1514) occurred between the Shah Ismail of the Safavid Empire in Iran and Sultan Selim I of the Ottoman Empire. According to Karin Vornhoff, the Safavid Battle of Caldiran brought the Bektasi and the Kizilbas closer.
[9] Tord Olsson, Elisabeth Ozdalga, Catharina Raudvere, Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives (Stockholm: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 1998) 154
[10] Paul Stirling, Culture and Economy: Changes in Turkish Villages (Cambridgeshire: The Eothen Press, 1993) 52
[11] Michael Stewart, “Modernity and the Alevis of Turkey: Identity, Challenges and Change” Journal of International Relations Vol. 9 (Spring 2007) 1-19
[12] Irene Melikoff, Haci Bektas Efsaneden Gercege Ceviren: Turan Alptekin (Istanbul: Cumhuriet Kitaplari, 2004) 328
[13] G.E Driver “The Religion of the Kurds” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, (University of London, 1922) 5
[14] Michael H. Van Dusen, “Political Integration and Regionalism in Syria” Middle East Journal 26:2 (Spring 1972) 128

Forgiveness: The Book of Jonah

It is incredibly difficult finding forgiveness that sometimes even the suggestion can be so unsettling it can arouse hate or anger and indeed those emotions can empower a victim, making it far easier to cope with the pain. When one is hurt, the value of their identity and humanity is taken away from them by the perpetrator and it becomes very difficult for the victim to find themselves present as though trapped in that terrible moment. This violence tells a person that their life, meaning, who they are, their identity and place in the world is worthless and so feelings of emptiness can haunt the victim and the longer they remain in that abyss, the more the abyss becomes their new identity (qua Nietzsche) that every thought and decision becomes consumed by it. To forgive would leave that person in a very strange place. It requires an absence of pride, selflessness and understanding during a peculiar time when one has no obligation to do so and it undermines all the time lost and the pain felt that it can feel like an additional blow. Forgiveness can make you feel small, vulnerable and lost.

An apology can usually initiate a move out of that haunted abyss of the past and toward the present as it acknowledges and re-affirms by the very person who took it away that you are in fact valuable, that the time lost and the hurt felt was mistake and you indeed have worth. It is a joint, re-conciliatory effort to make the bad experience past-tense and work together towards the present. However, apologies and repentance is not a common occurrence and surprisingly it is for the very same reason that the victim has difficulty forgiving; to feel guilt is to admit that one is morally mischievous and our identity is mostly developed on conditioned behaviour that is socially acceptable. A mother teaches a child that some things are acceptable and rewarded while others are unacceptable and therefore punishable, teaching young children to navigate through this network of automaton responses most of their life. It becomes their identity, where value is socially constructed.

This interaction can sometimes become displaced, even pathological as one can see through paternalistic cultures that congratulate the bad behaviour of men as a signal of masculinity, these very men who require feelings of reward and so attach themselves to women who comfort their ego, women who in turn believe that this attachment is a signal of love and so encourage them in this odd cycle of falsely created value. It is also why people can become rather ferocious when you point out an error in their character, anxiously attempting to discredit you and gather as many other people to agree with them in order to avoid entertaining the possibility that something may actually be wrong with them.

The Book of Jonah epitomizes these various emotional layers both at a deeper, spiritual level but also at a political and social level where people ignore the very laws of their own religions that they practice knowing that it places them in a position to show mercy and forgiveness even to their enemies. As a prophetical canon it is incredibly unusual since – unlike other minor prophetic books in the Old Testament – there are no actual predictions, on the contrary the central moral concern is the prophet himself who symbolises a dilemma we each experience within a fable that teaches us a little about ourselves.

Divided into four chapters, the story begins when God commands Jonah to Nineveh to prophesy their demise should they not abandon their wicked ways, for which Jonah himself decidedly ignores and intentionally runs away into the direction of Joppa before riding a boat towards Tarshish. God then sends a powerful storm that even the heathen mariners are convinced of the Hebrew God and after throwing Jonah into the sea on his request, he is swallowed by a large fish. There he remained for three days and three nights (together with the number seven and forty, three is regularly used in biblical literature) where he repented and promised that he will do as requested. The fish vomited him back to dry land to begin the journey back to Nineveh.

There, humorously, Jonah only says a few words of prophesy that the city will fall:  “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” It appears almost as though he is indifferent to the society, or perhaps even unwilling to really tell them anything in the hope that the prophesy would be fulfilled. To his utter dismay, the King of Nineveh, his nobles and even the livestock repent in sackcloth and ashes and so God shows the city and the inhabitants mercy. This frustrates Jonah who perhaps believes this mercy to be unqualified and perhaps even a form of injustice that he instead prefers to die then to witness this act of forgiveness. Indeed, when Jonah attempted to escape the word of God for Tarshish, he made it clear later in the story that the reason for this was because he was aware that God was merciful and he felt uncomfortable by it.

“And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”

Despite repentance of the Assyrians who were at the time of Jonah the most vicious and cruel empire and notorious for extreme forms of violence, Jonah was frustrated that God did not punish them and instead chose to forgive. His brief proclamation that he preached was perhaps intentional because while he uttered the Word of God, underlying it remained a hostility and a desire for punishment since he felt that the Assyrians deserved it, that it would be just and moral. With a bitterness, he sat outside the gates of Nineveh wishing to die and using a plant to shade him for one day, he is taught one final lesson by using a worm to destroy the plant, a lesson or punishment to teach him compassion. The complex ending attempts to explain that a city as large and as violent as Nineveh has nevertheless within those walls many innocent people who will suffer, but by this act of forgiveness are now comforted by the change in the King and his nobles following such repentance. It is to see the bigger picture outside of his own personal affliction, his own desires for revenge.

I love this story!

Jonah erred mostly because what he wanted was revenge and not justice by holding onto a past resentment. He believed that the people of Nineveh deserved to be punished and repentance cannot change what has been done. Indeed, ignorant people who are told that they are wrong tend to puff up their ego and immediately charge and attack and so one often desires that such people are punished to deflate this ego, to bring them back down to earth and humble themselves. Hence why when the King did repent he fell down onto the ground in sackcloth and dirt as guilt would make one look down in silence and shame. Is that not what we want? So the moment that they repent, the moment that they express guilt is the moment that we are required to let go of the past and to reconcile toward a better future – to forgive – and sometimes we fail to believe in this repentance or that we do not really trust it. We remain caught in the past abyss.

Jonah is still caught in the past and his value remains determined by this past, on the unsettling feelings of hatred or anger that keeps him motivated. When God forgives, Jonah is caught in a strange and depressing position where he no longer has his old identity neither does he have the hatred or anger that motivated a desire for punishment since he is required to forgive that left him feeling empty and so wanted to die. He could  not understand beyond his own selfish emotions the broader possibilities that the repentance offered.

It raises the question that when one has been wronged, can we find the possibility to transcend beyond our desire to see punishment and whether we can trust and accept remorse in the hope that it may change and improve? Can we forgive our enemies and show them mercy despite being hurt by them? While Jonah was a prophet selected by God, his responses are indicative to a very human reality. He attempted to escape from his responsibilities through sheer self-deceit and fear, who felt anger towards God and though displaying some kind of submission to His word nevertheless secretly hoped that the injustice by the inhabitants of Nineveh would be exacted.

Taking the Book of Jonah as an example of the human in all of us, repentance at individual or personal level is an expression that returns and acknowledges our value and so when one does not repent or apologise, we are left with a choice. Either we stay in that past abyss where anger and hatred remains perpetual and so our identity becomes that, or do we learn to move on or let go of that abyss and start re-creating our own value? ‘Moving on’ – which is to say moving away from the past toward the present – is not forgetting the experience (i.e. “just move on!”) as that only undermines the harm experienced, but rather finding that value for yourself without relying on others to tell you that you are valuable. This empowerment is authentic and transcends beyond your own individual pain towards something bigger than you and your emotions – like the case of those inhabitants in Nineveh who are actually innocent and undeserving of any harm – and so one should direct their attention toward those innocent, toward righteousness and justice rather than remain trapped in the abyss of anger, revenge and hostility.

If one finds forgiveness, it confirms that they have found their own identity, their own independence, their own value.

A greatest flaw in human thought, in my opinion, is making ourselves an exception to the moral obligation we have to be kind and compassionate, that we think we need to treat others with kindness, respect and affection erstwhile set very little value in ourselves. It is true that ‘self-love’ has become a buzzword that is actually indicative of narcissism and vanity, synonymous with immorality and an expression of pride and arrogance, as said by Erich Fromm:

“Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable. In pursuit of this aim they follow several paths. One, which is especially used by men, is to be successful, to be as powerful and rich as the social margin of one’s position permits. Another, used especially by women, is to make oneself attractive, by cultivating one’s body, dress, etc. Many of the ways to make oneself lovable are the same as those used to make oneself successful, to ‘win friends and influence people’. As a matter of fact, what most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture between being popular and having sex appeal.” 

Fromm rightly differentiates between self-love and selfishness, or the difference between knowing how to give love with wanting to be loved and so shows that to authentically love yourself is to be capable of self-reflection and genuine honesty, someone capable of experiencing the present. Desire and lust, anger and hatred, playing games and self deceit, these are merely obstacles that tempt us to escape from our responsibility and why it more or less often leads to hedonism or a crippling depression that borders the pathological. People who care about their physical appearances, who physically hurt themselves with facial or bodily alterations in order to be accepted or be a part of a group do not respect themselves, people who over or under eat, who smoke, drink and take drugs is an expression of wanting to be loved and who they show love to is often aligned intentionally with this narcissistic mode of being or around people who only encourage them in this odd cycle of falsely created value. There is no real substance or honesty.

Forgiveness is therefore an act of real love, it is one who has found their own value, who is capable of respecting themselves and of honest self-reflection that they are capable of giving love (hence why it is called for- give -ness). It is indicative of one who is capable of self-love. The process is not easy, on the contrary the reason why the Book of Jonah ends without an actual result and does not define forgiveness is because the experience is uniquely individual. It is an expression that can only be understood by personal reflection.

When value is given to you by society and by the people closest to you, it can be taken away. Forgiveness is confirmation that you have found your own identity and it becomes concrete, fixed in present reality rather than caught in the determined landscape of the past. It is to accept that the past cannot be changed, that it may very well be that those who have wronged you will continue to do wrong and your place is now to help educate why it is wrong – like how Jonah should be thinking about the innocent inhabitants of Nineveh – and work hard to prevent that behaviour from being tolerated. It is to fight the good fight.

I have only just found forgiveness through the Book of Jonah and I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It was a painful transformation that left me feeling bitter towards God and wishing to die, but I learnt that I cannot force people to understand. All I can do is fight the good fight, do good in a world where there is so much wrong and focus on those who are innocent in between all of that. I am learning how to value myself through God. Thanks Jonah. 🙂