The Path of Conflict

Last week my focus was on how Isaac didn’t really seem to get the same level of attention as Abraham or Jacob. This focus was based off the beginning of the “Isaac” story in Genesis 25:19-34. This week we’re going to be within the same passage, but the focus is going to be on Jacob, who the story follows quite a bit more than Isaac.

In many ways Jacob seems uniquely different than both Abraham and Isaac in his journey of following God. Jacob’s journey of following God seems to be marked by conflict. Walter Brueggemann goes so far as to title his section on Jacob, “The Conflicted Call of God,” in his commentary on Genesis.

This is not to say that Abraham didn’t experience conflict, but conflict was not a mark of Abraham’s life nearly to the extent it is in Jacob’s. In my mind Abraham’s life revolved around the promise of God and Abraham’s faith and doubt in that promise. Conflict, or at least external conflict, for Abraham tended to happen due to his own schemes of self-protection (pretending Sarah was his sister) and for the sake of Lot against the alliance of kings. The rest was largely focused on the conflict of faith and doubt regarding the son of promise.

Jacob’s story is quite different even from the very beginning. Even before Jacob and Esau are born, Rebekah feels them wresting about. This was enough to have her ask God about why this was happening. God’s answer was that the older was going to serve the younger. Esau winds up being born first, but even in the event of birth Jacob is holding onto Esau’s heel and in conflict. Of course we also realize through this that Jacob is the one who will be over Esau, even though Esau was the first born.

However, the story doesn’t let up in setting up the conflict between Jacob and Esau. It’s revealed that as they get older they are complete opposites. Esau is a “skillful hunter” and at home in the rugged outdoors. Jacob on the other hand is quieter and sticks around the tents. To make matters worse Esau is the favorite son of Isaac, while Jacob is the favorite son of Rebekah.

Now this information is probably not included to raise one personality over the other. These differences are presented to show the many ways that Esau and Jacob are very different. It is to deepen the contrast between the two and build the arena into which this conflict comes to be. All we have received is simple background information, but we then move into more active engagement between Jacob and Esau.

We see the first marks of active conflict when Esau came home from some expedition and found Jacob finishing up some stew. Esau was hungry from his trip and Jacob winds up getting Esau to agree to sell his birthright for a bowl of soup. It’s a gutsy move on Jacob’s part, but Esau agrees to it almost too easily, and the text declares that “Esau despised his birthright.”

This whole exchange has long been a story I have trouble sorting out. Not because it is complex, but because I have long wondered if Jacob’s actions here were good or bad. After, all Jacob was the one God promised to be over Esau. Was this simply part of the way that this was to go, or was Jacob wrong in pressing this rather unfair bargain upon Esau. I still don’t know the answer, but I wonder if it really matters.

Part of my problem is thinking that if God has called a person then it would be possible for them to achieve that calling without any conflict or resistance. Yet, upon reading Bruggemann’s commentary I came across this, “The narrative affirms that the call of God is not only a call to well-being. It may also be a call to strife and dispute.”

This is not a popular idea, but you also see Jesus speak like this. Jesus says that the world will hate us because the world hated him. He tells us to carry crosses, which I feel is about so much more than just dealing the annoyances we face during our day. Jesus seems to speak to this reality that following God doesn’t just lead to happiness and bliss, but that it will lead to increased conflict and dispute.

This is largely the path of Jacob. His path is one that both follows God and yet is filled with conflict. He has conflict with his brother Esau, conflict with his uncle Laban, there is conflict between his wives, and at some point he even wrestles with God. Jacob often doesn’t seem to help this conflict as his actions can often be a bit sneaky. However, despite the somewhat questionable actions of Jacob, there is little presented against him from God.

What do we think of this idea that God would draw us onto a path of conflict? I don’t feel that it is a very popular option. I think we often prefer an easy path, and know that I do. A path where we never experience any conflict or pain, but that doesn’t appear to be how God always works things out. In fact following God may invite more conflict to our lives.

In some ways I feel that I could stop there, but there is a thought bugging me that I feel I must add. While I don’t think conflict and strife is the popular path for many of us, I do feel that there are those out there who use this idea to support their own rightness. They view disagreement as a sign that they are ultimately correct, especially if that disagreement is with someone viewed as a person of power.

I think there is a difference between experiencing conflict for following God and using the existence of conflict as a means to place yourself superior to another. After all in the Jacob story, like most conflicts, there were two sides. Jacob experienced conflict due to his following of God, but Esau also faced this conflict, but was on the other side of the matter.

The existence of conflict in our lives is neither evidence that we are not following God or that we are following God. However, I do believe that it shouldn’t be a surprise that conflict is a part of following God. As long as we also understand that simply having conflict isn’t somehow proof of superiority.

Sometimes I Just Want to Give Up

Is it wrong to say that sometimes I just want to give up?

I feel like giving up on holding an opinion on anything because it is so easy to see people dismiss the opinions of others in a smug arrogant dismissal.

I feel like giving up because even people who agree with each other on large issues still seem to go for the neck when they disagree over details.

I feel like giving up because there are those who say I’m just another person writing and that I probably have nothing to say.

I feel like giving up because there are others who say that everyone has a voice and should be able to use it.

I feel like giving up because it often feels like you can never do anything right. People talk at each other, but rarely seem to talk with each other. People give their own view of how things are and ignore or put down the views of other. It seems like division, disrespect, and line drawing are the standards of how our culture communicates.

All that matters is if someone is on your side or not. Even if people have reasonable hesitation against going all or nothing the line is drawn, you are found wanting, and viewed as an enemy of the cause, whatever that cause may be. We pick through the actions, words, and images of everyone we get the chance to in order to criticize and oust, even those whose actions are not very controversial and their intentions seem to be for the good.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing about all this is that I know I do the same thing at times. It seems to be a human trait. It is easy to try to give people one size fits all labels that we make up in our head, that in reality are often worthless and do a poor job describing most of the people we run across. My aversion to labels and needing hivemind-like agreement tempers this quite a bit, but I still do it. It’s a lot easier to argue with and be condescending to a label we make than a whole person.

So often I want to give up on people. I tire of all the unwavering certainty, the us vs. them mentalities, and I don’t really know what to do about it. It’s frustrating enough when people you don’t agree with do it, but it is even more frustrating when people you tend to agree with do it too. You worry that some aspect of your thoughts on a particular issue doesn’t line up and the exile will begin.

I feel like giving up sometimes, but I don’t think that is really the right thing to do. My opinions may be considered wrong or even worse things by others, but they’re still mine. I don’t even really view my opinions or the things that I write about as unmoving boulders set in place for all eternity either. They are simply a reflection of where I am, just like other people’s opinions are a reflection of where they are. My guess is that over time views will change and/or become more developed over time.

It may be very odd posting something like this the week of Christmas. This sentiment feelsĀ  very anti-Christmas. To want to give up on humanity and any idea of striving to make the world a better place at all. At the same time I also wonder if this is not the most fitting time to put forward thoughts like this. The last few months have been fraught with conflict, tension, tragedy, and a multitude of opinions about those things. It just wears you out as you try to sort through it all, especially when you see people criticize other people just for trying to sort it out.

Yet at the same time, those who are Christians are celebrating the coming of Christ into the world. The incarnation of God into a messed up world that always seems to have its share of conflict, tension, and tragedy. I’m also sure critics are not just a product of our age. God didn’t give up on the flawed humanity that we are. If I am to embrace the coming of Christ and seek to follow that, then giving up doesn’t seem like a viable option no matter how tempting it may be.

So I keep hoping that people will become more understanding, even when they disagree, instead of divisive. I will keep striving to be more like that myself as well. I’ll also keep writing my thoughts and opinions, as flawed and in progress as they are and will probably always be. As much as I may want to give up sometimes seeing how messed up the world is, I’m pretty sure people giving up would only make it worse and not better. So we move forward day by day and hope that we will make progress.

Assassin’s Creed II, Religion, Power, and Control

A common sentiment that I’ve found is the idea that we’d all be better off if there wasn’t religion. This view believes that religion is the cause of much of the evil and conflict in the world. You see this sentiment appear in video games too. Too often if there is a religious order they are usually intentionally or unintentionally part of the problem. Assassin’s Creed II seems to follow this at first glance, but I think that there is more going on with it than that. Dealing with a theme like this will mean that I will be dealing with spoilers to Assassin’s Creed II. The game is four years old at this point, so I won’t be spoiling anything from a new game, but if you’re like me and behind on your games, this serves as a warning.

As I said, at first glance Assassin’s Creed II looks like it echos the complaints against religion. The Templars who are the antagonists of both the first and second game are associated with the Catholic Church. This is clearer in the first game as the Templars are associated with the religious order of the Knights Templar. Assassin’s Creed II picks this up as a number of the men involved in the plot that killed your father and brothers are established in the Catholic Church. Involved in the conspiracy is an archbishop, a monk, a friar (in downloadable content for the game), and even the Pope himself (he actually becomes the Pope after being the mastermind behind the plot, but still you seriously have to fight the Pope in this game).

With this kind of evidence it could be clear that Assassin’s Creed has a dim view of religion and would chime in that religion is the root of all the conflict and evil in the world. Hold onto that judgment for a bit though. In a conversation that takes place while fighting Rodrigo Borgia, the man who became the Pope, Ezio (your character), basically asks how Rodrigo could do what he’s done when it goes against the teaching of the Bible. The Pope simply says that he doesn’t believe in God or the Bible and that it was all just a show to be able to achieve power. You see, actual religious belief had very little to do with the whole thing. It was the mask to be worn so that one could achieve goals and gain power and control.

Now this may not get religion off the hook for many people. After all many believe that religion is a sham and just used to control people, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t really help that. The question that may be needed is, what about the people who are actually believers in a religion, are they to be written off because some who wield power are just playing the system and wanting as much control as possible? This is a question that isn’t important in the world of Assassin’s Creed because Ezio finds out the truth of human creation, he meets a recording of Minerva, a member of a more advanced civilization that created the human beings. So ultimately religion isn’t really true in Assassin’s Creed so it isn’t a game that promotes religion, but it isn’t necessarily out to blame religion for all the evil or conflict in the world either.

What leads me to say that? Well how about the fact that in the modern day story line the Templars have abandoned any sort of religious affiliation. They are instead connected to what is probably the largest power structure in modern day, a multi-national corporation, Abstergo Industries. I think this leans towards the idea that the Templars are more interested in power and control and will use any system it can to gain it. So while the Catholic Church was strong and wielded a fair degree of power, that was infiltrated and propped up by Templars. When it became less powerful, it was then abandoned. Once that structure was abandoned a new power structure had to be developed.

So why is this important at all? Maybe it isn’t, but I think it is important because power and control are not just facets of religion, despite so many people insisting it is. Assassin’s Creed II just gave me an illustration of this truth and made me think about the topic a little bit. The truth is our history is littered with conflict over a number of different reasons. I would be lying if religion wasn’t one of them, but it is not the only one. Many other things have been used to gain power and control over others. Many other items have been a cause of conflict. Land, money, politics, nationalism, ethnic superiority, resources, all of these have been used to claim power and control.

Honestly, more often than not it is hard to isolate just one of these as the only reason for conflict. Even events like the Crusades are so mired in religious, political, and nationalistic issues it is hard to isolate just one issue that was the cause of them all. It is just more complicated than that. There will always be people out there who want power and control over others. Some have used and will continue to use religion as a means to do that. Others will use wealth, nationalism, politics or some other way to gain power or control over others.

I could probably go further with this, but I think that is enough. Do you think this makes sense? Agree? Disagree? I’d like to hear what you think. Thoughts from anyone who’s played the game? Thoughts on drawing themes like this from games?