Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Self Preservation

A consistent theme has popped up in two movies I have seen recently. The first film was The Counterfeiters, a German film about Jews in concentration camps forced to produce counterfeit money for use by the Nazis. The second film, Cassandra's Dream, follows two brothers down a dark path of justifying their own violence in order to save their own hides.

The theme that I saw most vividly in these films was the theme of self preservation. In The Counterfeiters, one man being forced to work as a counterfeiter was sabotaging the work because he couldn't contribute to the success of the Nazi regime. His wife had been killed in a concentration camp and he simply couldn't assist in making fake money so the Nazis could sustain their tyranny and kill more Jews. In this film, another character wanted to live, and creating fake money in order to preserve his life was the decision he had made.

The need to survive and to preserve oneself isn't destructive or evil in itself, but what was evident in both films was the danger of self preservation in excess. Self preservation in excess leads to a mentality of, my life at all costs. In Woody Allen's film, one of the characters exemplifies this when he becomes willing to kill his own brother to preserve his own life.

Much violence perpetrated in the world is justified because our "own lives" are to be protected, even if that means killing another human being. As Christians, our view of self-preservation is dramatically different than that of the world's. We are called to lay down our lives and take up our cross. Taking up our cross isn't crazy and it's not suicide, because Christ conquered death on a cross, death isn't the last word.

Self preservation was clearly offered to Jesus in the desert. The temptations were offers for Jesus to save himself, and to assume a position of security, wealth, and power. The road towards self preservation was avoided by Christ in the denial of the temptations and further when Christ condemned Peter for attacking his arresting Roman officer.

Self preservation in excess ends up justifying violence. It also assigns certain lives more value and worth than others. Christ shattered this need for preservation in the resurrection. Fear of our own death doesn't hold us. As John Howard Yoder says well, "personal survival is for the Christian not an end in itself."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The folks you're with would agree with you. Self-preservation is secondary to The Greater Cause. That's why they can strap on their bomb-vests without hesitation and take out a busload of civilians.

Just drink the Kool-Aid, folks. It'll be all right. See you in Paradise . . .

Samuel Nichols said...

Now don't post something ignorant and hateful like that and remain anonymous. That's shameful. How many Palestinians have you met? And how many of them were suicide bombers?

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