“‘Tis more noble to forgive, and more manly to despise, than to revenge an injury.” —Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
BY Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian
Among early man’s intertribal relations, revenge looms frequent and long-lasting. For instance, when a member of a tribe is harmed by another tribe, war of revenge begins. Jagged field stones in their hands, our early hominid ancestors menace to crush the skulls of their enemies as a way to wreak vengeance. Sometimes the war lasts a few days; at other times, it may last for years (e.g., Hundred Years’ War in Europe is an outstanding example of protracted war for revenge in the history of mankind). In Medieval times, family feud (aka blood feud) characterized the bitter hostility especially between two families, clans, tribes, and so forth, often lasting for many years or even generations. Rivalry and revenge were two major reasons for groups to engage in a feud. Then as now, revenge is considered “sweet” by the popular culture of various societies around the world (Sweet meaning it is a potent source of satisfaction and pleasure). A well known epic story woven around revenge is Homer’s poem The Iliad (750 B.C.), the sacking of the city of Troy. When Paris steals away beautiful Helen, her husband, King Menelaus of Sparta, cannot live with the injustice. He mobilizes to attack her seducer (Paris). King Menelaus brings an entire army to Troy, waging a protracted ten-year war that kills thousands. This tale of revenge is always bittersweet in the sense that at the end of the conflict many people die and an important city is destroyed. Revenge has been part of human behavior since his existence on Earth. Many people from every society understand the idea of getting mad and wanting to hurt someone who has harmed you. Early evolutionary psychologists agreed that revenge is a powerful emotional trigger that mobilizes people into action and the result is cathartic. On the other hand, many people from every society consider revenge to be the wrong choice of action. Forgiveness is the right thing to do. If revenge is an unacceptable behavior, why has not evolution eradicated that from man’s brain? Had evolution modified man’s instincts, perhaps we would have avoided the First World War and the Armenians would have been by now between seventeen and seventy million people strong, thriving on their ancestral homeland. Revenge is also practiced in the wild world of the animal kingdom. The male lion, for example, would pursue a hyena to death in order to avenge a crime (such as for abducting a lion cub or for stealing a kill) against a member of the pride. So, it would be safe to say that revenge is germane to all sorts of primates. What prompted me to explore revenge is because of a recent incident during which a clergyman, namely Primate Hovnan Derderian, retaliates to punish a well-known journalist for writing an editorial about his illegitimate act of forced retirement of a well-respected Pastor Rev. Father Datev Tatoulian at St. John Garabed Church in San Diego, CA. Briefly, the revenge incident is as follows: To prove his ability to retaliate, through proxies, Primate Hovnan Derderian writes to the Ellis Island Award’s Committee, requesting to have Mr. Appo Jabarian’s Medal of Honor revoked. This is a bone fide case of revenge. The fundamental question is that is it appropriate for a man of God to resort to vengeance? Let us explore and see if we can find an objective answer to this pivotal question. Over the years, revenge has been studied and explained in four major areas of knowledge:
Philosophy (the observational study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence —the mother of all sciences). Philosophically, based on conventional wisdom, it anecdotally explains revenge as being fair when justice is served, when one becomes even with one’s perpetrator. King Hammurabi’s code of law states an eye for an eye: “§ 196–201 – If a man destroy  the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye”. When justice prevails, it means that “good defeats evil”. Revenge is good; it is justice.
Religion (the belief in and worship of a superhuman being controlling power, especially a personal God or gods based on faith not science). Religiously speaking, revenge is considered a sin (one of the seven deadly sins). According to the Bible and some other holy books, revenge is not the accurate course of action, turning the “other cheek” (meaning no revenge, but forgiveness) is the right thing to do when one is harmed or insulted in a certain way. God will pass a judgment on the wrong doer. There will be a day of reckoning and the guilty man will pay for his sins. The Lord says: Vengeance is mine! That is mainly the Christian way of believing. Revenge is bad; it is a sin.
Psychology (the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context). It is the study of behavior to bust myths. From a Psychological perspective, revenge is rewarding. The upsides of revenge are a potent source of satisfaction and pleasure. People get happy when they wreak vengeance on their enemies and the brain functioning shows that kind of sentiment. Sigmund Freud knew well that revenge could feel cathartic to behave aggressively; however, the idea that revenge provides its own special form of pleasure has only been recently established. Revenge is great; it is sweet (rewarding).
Physiological Psychology (is a branch of psychology that is concerned with the biological basis of behavior (i.e., the brain), as opposed to the social influences on behavior. It is also known as biological psychology and is closely related to neuroscience. In this rather new discipline, there is a degree of paradigm shift: It concurs with the position of Psychology that revenge is rewarding, it is sweet, but it maintains that the overall effect is a mixed bag. Revenge is sweet in the moment; it is delusionary afterwards.
Many of us have at times imagined vengeance against those who had wronged us in certain ways. In the moment, the idea of revenge feels cathartic to do so. What motivates us to seek revenge in the first place, one may ask? Researchers are finding some answers and they are discovering that revenge has some unexpected upsides.
The evolving science of revenge is shedding new light on the dynamics of revenge. Let us review a recent study conducted by a group of Swiss researchers on revenge. They wanted to know what happens in the brain when someone reaps revenge or wreaks vengeance.
First, they scanned the brains of experimental subjects who had just been wronged during a game in the laboratory. Secondly, the researchers then gave the wronged subjects the opportunity to punish their tormentors, and for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brain was recorded. Thirdly, the researchers immediately noticed a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus (the part of the brain to process rewards). Conclusion: This study found that revenge, in the moment, is very rewarding. However, they wanted to know further if revenge keeps rewarding? In other words, what are the long-term effects of revenge?
People have always believed that exacting revenge is a form of emotional release and that getting retribution will help us feel better toward healing our wounds. Hollywood often portray the act of revenge as a way of gaining closure (satisfaction) after the person pays for his or her wrong acts. Research results show that revenge has the opposite effect.
Physiopsychologists have found that even though the first few moments feels rewarding in the brain, instead of subsiding hostility, revenge prolongs the unpleasantness of the original wrong (offense). Namely, instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation. Almost 400 hundred years ago, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) said: “A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.”
So, what can we do with revenge? Revenge re-opens and aggravates one’s emotional wounds. Despite being tempted to punish a wrong, one ends up punishing himself because one is unable to heal. The healthy way to deal with the intense emotional feelings of retribution, the intense need for revenge, is to allow one’s brain the same amount of rewards without the negative consequences of wreaking vengeance by concentrating on one’s own success in life.
Interestingly enough, this idea is also presented by the late crooner Frank Sinatra who said: “The best revenge is massive success.” What this means that the next time one feels the urge for revenge swelling in one’s soul, is to take that intensity and put it towards one’s goals, family, growth, to cite a few ways. In so doing, one would let the reward center of his or her brain pump by thinking about how sweet it would feel when one meets personal goals. The shift on focusing onto oneself and mission would make one’s perpetrator redundant, irrelevant, unworthy of their time for revenge. In other words, one would tell oneself: Do not waste your perfume on the desert wind!
Backed by scientific evidence, the next time one is plotting revenge against someone who has wronged him, realize that the anticipation of revenge may feel great (sweet) in the moment, but not to expect these hidden positive sentiments (upsides) to last for long. We can say that revenge is sweet at the first bite, and then you realize that it is rat poison in your mouth. Its satisfaction is delusionary. Instead, one should understand that this feeling is there for a reason and it could have protected many of our ancient ancestors from being overcome by others. Revenge may have been used as a self-defense mechanism for existential purposes.
In sum, here are the latest research findings: revenge is sweet, but its sweetness does not endure long. After the pleasure wears out, remorse sets in. Then what to do? No one has better answered than what Frank Sinatra had philosophically said: concentrate on achieving a massive success in your life! In this way, one would channel one’s energy on accomplishing something positive which would make his or her detractor green with envy and suffer from jealousy.
Let us now, answer the question we raised earlier: Is it appropriate for a clergyman to resort to revenge? Philosophically yes, but religiously no for an eye for an eye would be a sin; psychologically, it is sweet; and phisiopsycholigcally revenge would be sweet, but inappropriate for it is delusionary.
Now that we have well-rounded background information about revenge, I would rather leave the conclusion implicit to the reader without insulting his or her intelligence. Based on your moral compass, upbringing, you be the judge in this situation and determine whether it is appropriate for a clergyman to engage in a feud and to seek revenge actively against an innocent man simply carrying out his professional duty.
Remember, we are not talking about an ordinary man, but a man of God. A clergyman who resorted to retaliation to avenge for an editorial written by Mr. Appo Jabarian, the Executive Publisher and Managing Editor of USA Armenian Life Magazine and Hye Kiang. Where is a clergyman’s piety, devotion to his religion when for him “Revenge is Sweet” and when he fails to turn the other cheek in obedience to his religion, you may ask?
Let us not forget, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the founder of the Armenian Apostolic Church, was detained in the Khor Virab pit for 13 grueling years in seclusion and yet he showed nothing but love toward the king (Tirdat III) who had persecuted him on account of his religion. Being a true spiritual man, he did not harbor hatred against the king, but shared the love of Christ, instead. Upon his release from the dungeon, God ordered Saint Gregory the Illuminator to build a house of worship. Thus, Etchmiadzin graced the Christendom as the first world cathedral for the believers to gather together in that house to engage in religious fellowship.
A church is not a mere building used for public Christian worship as you would agree. It is the house of God entrusted to the people and their clergymen to keep it virtuous worthy of the Lord’s house. Any deviation from its spiritual purpose would go counter the tenets of true Christianity. The people are all responsible for its upstanding.
As you very well know, hordes of barbarians have invaded the Armenian Highlands, cruel conquerors have decimated their population, and empires tried to annihilate their kingdoms, but the Armenian nation stood steadfast in remaining true to the religious faith introduced by their beloved Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Now that we have a rich legacy, every faithful of the Armenian Orthodox Church should strive to safeguard the sanctity of the world’s oldest official Church of God. This will be achievable only and only when the Armenian community comes together to protect the reputation of their most Holy Church.
As a loyal member of the Armenian Orthodox Church, I would like to hear the following liturgy from our only genuine spiritual clergymen:
“Oh Heavenly King,
Preserve thy Church unshaken
and the worshippers of thy name in Peace!”