Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Scott Horton

A crowded schedule of work and friends will make for light posting this week, so I'm taking this chance to direct you to one of the best and most important blogs I read. Scott Horton, an international human rights lawyer, used to send a daily e-mail roundup of news, drawn from the major international dailies, and commentary, drawn from his impressive knowledge of history, philosophy, and law. Recently, Harper's brought him under its umbrella, and Horton converted the daily e-mail to a blog. The historical depth--and passionate belief in the duty we all bear to preserve human rights--that Horton brings to his coverage of the news clarifies and locates the stories better than any other commentator I read; when Horton writes about daily events, he reveals how the whole of Anglo-American legal history, with its glorious victories and ignominious setbacks, lies behind and brings us to the present moment. Put it in your google reader; it's the best fifteen minutes a day you could spend on a blog.

When I look to ground my view that every individual deserves equal protection under law, that every human deserves to be protected against violence, coercion, and outrages against their person, I return to, of course, the Constitution. But when I take it one step further, when I think of our responsibility as individuals and as a society, to ensure these rights, I also return, in a way that their authors would most likely not have approved, to the Bible and to John Donne. Even stripped of their specifically religious content, Matthew 25 and Donne's Meditation XVII carry powerful reflections on our interconnectedness and our inherent duty to one another as free, thinking beings.

Matthew 25:34-46
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
I think you can understand the force of this injunction without believing in any divinity or eternal reward. The same for Donne's Meditation XVII, which reminds us more directly that we are all connected:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Though the part of Meditation XVII that everyone knows is "No man is an island," I find myself much more drawn to Donne's following thoughts. The realization that no man can stand alone could, after all, be a simple acceptance of need, born out of self-interest. It's only when Donne reaches, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind," that we reach a truly disinterested understanding of common humanity, a radical openness to the separate reality of others and their claims on us.

"I am involved in mankind," affirmatively stated, almost as if it is a choice, an obligation assumed rather than required. For Donne, that obligation is assumed because we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. For this nonbeliever, the interconnectedness Donne sees needs no supernatural foundation to have active force; acknowledgment of our common humanity is sufficient to make a moral imperative of the avoidance of heedless violence, torture, and precipitate war--and the bringing to justice of those who advocate such abominations. Common humanity demands that we insure unbroken continuance of the long line of history and thought that have wrought the idea that all are equal under law, and that we abhor and punish those who, acting in our very names, try to subvert that founding ideal.

1 comment:

  1. About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You