Violence, Part I: Nature Devouring

I hope this to be the first of two not-so-focused essays on violence.]

In a vein not usually explored by people with normal jobs I’ve found an interesting parallel between a passage in Mencius and one in the Old Testament. The biblical passage is kind of obscured in this larger context of the Assyrians settling in Samaria, slipped in like the author was telling us the weather that day:

And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the Lord: therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them. (2 Kings 17:25)

This is reported to the king of Assyria, so he naturally teaches the people the law of god, and end of lions. Next story. I came across this in John Sullivan’s essay on animal violence (and by that I mean animal-on-human violence[1]). I don’t think I would have otherwise paid any attention to it; it is, after all, but one of many odd passages in Kings, although I have for a long time known about the two she-bears who came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the ‘small boys’ to death.

Anyhow, the other day I was reading Mencius and came across this:

If benevolence and righteousness are obstructed, that leads animals to devour people.

These are eerily similar. But despite Kipling’s ‘East is East and West is West and never shall the twain meet’, I actually get where Mencius is coming from a little more than the OT. The idea of benevolence & righteousness being central to everything functioning properly is a major theme, probably the major theme, of most of what Mencius taught, and this kind of fits into his overall project. It also has this sort of agnosticism toward religion & god that marks almost all Confucian works. It isn’t that god will punish evil; it’s just that this obstruction leads to the devouring and the social chaos or whatever, because that’s just the way it is. It’s the way it has been and the way it will be forever, because that’s who we are and that’s what nature does.

And that feeling is completely lost in Kings because you’ve got the Lord behind the actions, and it makes it sound absurdly casual, like another day at work, cleaning up messes. (I guess in fairness the Harper Collins Study Bible I’ve got [NRSV] says that the lions are “agents of divine judgment,” which makes sense.)

But there’s really something I find fascinating about all of this, about thousands of years of mistreatment finally taking its toll and the earth and all those belonging to Her finally taking revenge for the totality of all of the cruel and senseless acts. In a way it would be more terrible than (the much-loved-by-pop culture) zombies or vampires, because we were already supposed to have triumphed over nature, harnessing it & neglecting it until few understand its mysteries anymore.

Terryl & Fiona Givens wrote a book that came out in Oct. called The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. I haven’t read it but I’d imagine that it gets its idea from a book in the Pearl of Great Price where it says that God actually wept, much to the astonishment of the protagonist. But in that same chapter, kind of weirdly, it says that “all the creations of God mourned; and the earth groaned . . .” I guess a lot of this is supposed to be figurative or whatever, but I think it’s at least as interesting as the idea of God weeping—His Creation taking on its own human emotion, the animals and all of nature doing this collective pitiful groan under the weight of it all; of standing witness to the violence that we insanely carry out on each other; of the blood spilt from malice, much of it its own only to return back to its element.

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[1] When you Google ‘animal violence’ all of the results on the first page are of human-on-animal violence. But Sullivan’s essay is seriously entertaining. A large part of it is made up, but none of the accounts of animal on human violence are, and many of those are exceptionally absurd.

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