Preach Water, but Drink Wine: The Two-Faced Morality

Posted on March. 26. 2019

BY Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Ph.D.

“In taking revenge, a man is
but even with his enemy; but in
passing it over, he is superior”.
—Francis Bacon

Most of us engage in venial sins now and then, but some of us nosedive into deadly sins, also known as cardinal sins or capital vices that entail damnation of the soul from a religious standpoint. As a brief refresher, the makeup of “the seven deadly sins” is a classification of vices within Christian teachings. Behavioral habits are classified under this category if they directly give rise to other immoralities.
Based on the standard list, the deadly sins are Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth (which are also contrary to the seven virtues, the antonyms of the deadly sins). These sins are characterized by abuses or excessive versions of one’s natural faculties, inclinations, and passions such as in gluttony that abuses one’s desire to eat.
While the seven deadly sins known today did not originate with the Greeks or Romans, there were a number of philosophers who dealt with the subject to some extent. For example, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics lists several positive, healthy human qualities or virtues. He argues that for each positive quality there are two negative vices that are found on each extreme of the virtue. Courage, for instance, is the human excellence or virtue in facing fear and risk. Excessive courage renders one rash, while a lack of courage makes one cowardly. His principle of virtue is found in the middle (the mean) between excess and deficiency in Aristotle’s idea of the “golden mean”. Aristotle categorizes virtues in the following manifestations as being courage, temperance or self-control, generosity, greatness of soul, proper response to anger, friendliness and wit or charm.
Of the seven deadly sins, wrath is the pertinent one for our discussion in this article. Wrath can be defined as “…uncontrolled feelings of anger, rage, and even hatred. Wrath often reveals itself in the wish to seek vengeance (underscore added).” In its purest form, wrath represents injury, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for a long time. As such, wrath manifests itself in different ways, including impatience, hateful misanthropy, revenge, and even self-destructive behavior through drug abuse or suicide.
Consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the neutral act of anger becomes the sin of wrath when it is directed against an innocent person, when it is long-lasting, or when it aims at excessive punishment. In the event, anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously harm or wound a person, it goes seriously counter ” charity and civil society”, then it is considered a mortal sin.
In this instance, hatred is the sin of desiring that someone else may suffer misfortune or evil, and is a mortal sin when one desires to bring a grave harm upon another person. Dorothy L. Sayers, in her introduction to Purgatory book describes wrath as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”.
In the landscape of Christian life, is vengeance a sin? Should Christians retaliate? Should one resort to “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” method in getting justice? These are fundamental questions which have been hashed and rehashed for centuries. The question of non-retaliation or non-violence is usually covered in Matthew 5:38-42. The preponderance of these verses serve to emphasis the point that a Christian, rather than avenging himself upon an individual who has done him a personal wrong, should resort to non-violent acts.
“Turning the other cheek” is a well-established phrase in Christian doctrine derived from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It refers to responding to personal injury without resorting to revenge and thus causing more injury. This passage is interpreted as commanding nonresistance, Christian pacifism, or nonviolence on the part of the victim.
One of Jesus’ sermons is often stated: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But i say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other, also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (MATTHEW 5:38-42).
In the above-cited verses, Jesus was making reference to the actions of “evil or malicious persons”. The principle of retaliation is common in Jewish as well as in other ancient Near Eastern law codes (e.g., The Code of Hammurabi). The judicial penalty of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is stated in Exodus 21:24 as a means of ending feuds. The purpose of all this was never a license for vengeance, but for equal justice. However, in modern times, revenge politics, or vengeance in general, is not an acceptable behavior. It is the work of an uncongenial, uncouth, and downright uncivilized person.
Let me begin by reminding us of what we already know: that violence is the ethos of our present time. Today, the whole world is in the grip of violence. It is the last resort in conflicts and it is increasingly becoming the religion of the world for solving problems. What moral principle can help the world prone on engaging in conflict, one may ask? The answer is, “Turn the other cheek”, according to our Christian religious and spiritual leaders.
. Drawing upon the religious interpretation of the concepts of wrath, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth measures of behavior are to be avoided by true believers of the doctrines of Christianity. Metaphorically, turning the other cheek (i.e., resorting to nonviolent measures) to solving interpersonal conflict is the only humane way to resolving differences.
Here is a recent example to elucidate the point. Let us assume that Mr. Appo Jabarian, the Executive Publisher and Editor of the USA Armenian Life, has committed a sin by publishing negative stories about the Armenian Archbishop Hovnan Derderian. With due respect, don’t we expect from Archbishop Hovnan Derderian not to engage in deadly sins? Answer would be a resounding YES! But he has asked the Ellis Island to revoke Mr. Jabarian’s Ellis Island Medal of Honor in retaliation. In other words, he committed one of the deadly sins for his attempts at wreaking revenge on Mr. Jabarian. Is this an act of wrath, a sin of preaching water, but drinking wine case? I give you the result of my analysis, and let you be the judge by drawing your own conclusion as to who has committed a deadly sin in this situation.
I have no proof of Archbishop Derderian’s wrongdoings, but I know well what a warrior activist is Mr. Jabarian who rises to the challenge whenever Armenian interests are at stake by anti Armenian agents or coalitions. He has been an army of one activist to be honored and not trampled by false accusations about his character. That I definitely know –out of my long-standing interactions with him in the area of publishing articles and in serving on the same organizing committee for establishing a transnational supra-structure to represent the Armenian community worldwide.
A true believer, a genuine Christian, a spiritual leader is supposed to turn the other cheek instead of running into a rage of retaliation to avenge for Mr. Jabarian’s columns about his allegedly inappropriate practices. Instead of committing the deadly sin of wrath, the ultimate in revenge, an extraordinary act for a religious leader, who is also supposed to be a spiritual leader of the Diaspora, Archbishop Derderian had to turn the other cheek. But has he? These events or periods are marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. They mark a watershed in the history of the Armenian Church.
Let us analyze the recent feud between Archbishop Hovnan Derderian and Appo Jabarian further. Based on numerous articles published in the USA Armenian Life, I can conditionally state that the Armenian cleric Hovnan Derderian has been accused of a number of wrongdoings as a clergyman. Let us further assume that these were true. I have read that Archbishop Derderian’s supporters have also blatantly threatened Mr. Jabarian with violence to silence him through death threats. Another deadly sin (wrath) has been committed in this case as well.
Moreover, I have read that Archbishop Derderian had retaliated through a proxy to have Mr. Jabarian stripped of his Ellis Island Medal of Honor for publishing his editorials pertaining to Archbishop Derderian. If this were true, then Archbishop Derderian has committed the deadly sin of “wrath” which stands for revenge in violation of an eye for an eye, it stands for not turning the other cheek. Don’t you agree that this sort of “behavior” goes squarely against the church teachings not to engage in revenge, not to commit the deadly sin of wrath? Considering Archbishop Derderian’s actions, would it be consistent to state that that our clergyman in question is preaching water, but drinking wine? In other words, it is a thousand pities to attempt to renounce an innocent person such as Mr. Jabarian for carrying out his press duties to report the good and the bad news to his constituent readers?
According to scriptural references, rather than taking ‘an eye for an eye’, Jesus Christ encourages us not to resist evil, because pursuing evil would invite more evil into our lives. In the same vein, if someone should strike us, rather than retaliating and becoming embroiled in a battle, Jesus encourages us to “turn the other cheek”. This should not be interpreted that an assailant may strike the other cheek, but indicates that we should do our best at turning and walking away from the potential conflict. Taking none-revengeful measures is the only way to get a desirable outcome for violence begets more violence. Please remember, I am not preaching religion here, only speaking the language of a true clergyman in logically arriving at a conclusion regarding the feud as to who is committing a deadly sin in this confrontation.
Numerous passages in the Book of Mormon make it clear that the Lord requires us to “forbear, forgive, and seek reconciliation when we are offended”. Of the many verses, here is one or two: “And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.. I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other, also”. Most of us do not follow these principles; however, we expect our religious leaders to observe them since they teach us to do so.
Again, to preach water, but drink wine is to demand one thing without yourself committing to it, to not practice what you preach. In other words, do not be a hypocrite in your dealings with other people. The circle of vengeance sets the wheel of violence into virtual perpetual spin either in action or ill feelings. Preaching water, but drinking wine is a glaring stain on the religiosity and spirituality of a clergyperson’s character and personality. It is akin to driving a nail into one’s own coffin. As Will Rogers once said:”People who fly into a rage [wrath] always make a bad landing”.
People do not trust hypocrites when they preach one thing and practice another thing. They would see this as a two-faced morality. I hope and pray that these are not the potholes on the road to religiosity and spirituality by our church leaders, because an “eye for an eye” principle will only render the Armenian nation blind. Instead of engaging in self-destructive feuds, Armenians need to see their way clearly in order to be able to make our Homeland Hayastan survive and grow in a hostile environment where existential peril looms on the horizon by this very moment.

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