Saturday, April 5, 2014

What Rebel's Dark Lady Whispers in our Ears

And fortune, on his damnèd quarrel smiling,
Showed like a rebel’s whore.  (Macbeth I ii 14-15)

Shakespeare here personifies Fortune (chance, luck) as being a whore, enticing the rebellious by giving them what they want, not out of devotion to any principle behind the rebellion, but for base reasons (selling out, whoring).

There is something in the nature of rebellion itself that has this sinister quality, this sense of pandering to a secret urge within us, even as we fight what we tell ourselves is a good fight.


Earlier I posted on Amnon and Tamar.  This Biblical tale gives us insight into what might be called the psychogenesis of rebellion.

We begin with the fact that King David has sinned.  He has committed adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers, and then murdered the soldier.  David repents, and God forgives him, but two consequences of David's sin remain - the child born of the adulterous union dies in infancy, and rebellion afflicts the house of David.  God is very clear that these will be the consequences of David's sin.

The rebellion that comes about is also the direct result of another of David's sins.  David's son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar.  Instead of bringing justice to his violated daughter, David tries to hush the whole thing up.  Like every dysfunctional family, the wound of sin is hidden and left to fester.

Absolom eventually manages to bring something like justice to the situation - although he does it by killing his brother, Amnon.

Absolom is banished for a time, but David eventually reconciles with him and allows him to return to Jerusalem.

But once he's back, Absalom pulls this trick ...

Absalom would get up early and stand by the side of the road that went through the city gate. Whenever anyone had a lawsuit to bring before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him, “What city are you from?” When the person said, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel,” then Absalom would say to him, “No doubt your claims are correct and valid, but the king won’t listen to you. If only I were made a judge in the land,” Absalom would continue, “then anyone with a lawsuit could come to me, and I would give them justice.”
Whenever anyone came near to Absalom, bowing low out of respect, he would reach his hand out, grab them, and kiss them. This is how Absalom treated every Israelite who came to the king seeking justice. This is how Absalom stole the hearts of the Israelites. (2 Sam. 14:2-6)

But this is probably not entirely a trick, or (at least at first) a conscious strategy on Absalom's part.  Even though he will eventually mount a full-fledged military rebellion against his father, and even though this is a kind of preparation for it, it's easy to see how Absalom can justify this kind of behavior to himself.

 After all, David does not seem particularly interested in justice.  If he had been, he would have done something about Amnon and Tamar.

"But that was left for me to handle!" Absalom must be thinking.  "I had to mop up my father's mess!  He didn't have the backbone to take care of that son of his, but I did!  And then I languished all that time in exile, and it took all the finagling I could muster to get me back in Israel where I belong.  So how could this old man, who is clearly derelict in his duty as king, be expected to give justice to these poor pilgrims who are coming to him for help?  If only I were king, I'd set things right!!!"

This is no doubt what Absalom was telling himself, and it is all quite true.

The problem is, this is Rebel's Whore whispering in his ear.


And what of us when we say, "Look at what the bishops have done!  Look how derelict they've been in their duties!  Dolan is an idiot - Francis is causing trouble.  Hardly any lay Catholic is catechized, and the priests cannot be trusted.  We have spent all that time in exile, and now we're supposed to sit by and let them get away with this?"

You see, it's not just that even proper criticism of bishops must be made within a right understand of ecclesiology, as Fr. Geiger writes, it's also that there is that near occasion to sin that all rebellion becomes, even righteous rebellion.  Most of Shakespeare's tragedies and history plays deal with this subject.

Thus Rebel's Whore makes sinners of us all.

  • Does your wife not understand you?  You're justified in seeking attention elsewhere, then, aren't you?
  • Is the government taking too much of your money?  You're justified in fudging that tax return, then, aren't you?
  • Are Planned Parenthood workers killing babies?  You're justified in lying to them, then, aren't you?

The devil is more than willing to use the wrongs we see around us to corrupt our souls.  He uses our great love for justice and fairness to bring us to a point where we sin against justice and throw fairness to the wind.

We start out as rebels with a cause.

We end as simply rebels - the mirror image of the original rebel, Satan.

The end of Absalom.

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