God is an Anarchist
Turn the Other Cheek
Written by Darrell Anderson.
For many years I accepted the traditional churchianity teaching about Jesus of Nazareth’s suggestion to “turn the other cheek.” To summarize, the teaching is that Christians should be meek and humble and basically put their tails between their legs. Christians always should obey figures of “authority,” and do so without question and with a smile. A logical conclusion is that all Christians never should resist.
Over the past several years as I migrated toward liberty and anarchism, I spent much time reconciling various Christian teachings and interpretations with the simple and straightforward concepts of liberty and anarchism. I came to believe that Jesus was an anarchist and the core of his message was about liberty. Yet, I also believe Jesus was a realist and understood how the world turns. Thus, the traditional teachings about turning the other cheek do not reconcile with what I have since learned about life, philosophy, religion, and what I now believe to be the teachings of Jesus.
Exactly what, then, do I believe that Jesus taught about turning the other cheek?
The story of turning the other cheek is found in Matthew 5:38–42:
You all have heard that it has been said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say unto you, that you all resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other [cheek] also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away.
A similar teaching is recorded in and Luke 6:29–31:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smites you on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that takes away your cloak forbid not to take your coat also. Give to every man that asks of you; and of him that takes away your goods ask them not again. And as you all would that men should do to you, do you all also to them likewise.
Looking at these stories with property rights in mind provides a different perspective from the modern statist teachings. Notice in Matthew that Jesus prefaces his instructions with an acknowledgement of the Mosaic Law. Recall that elsewhere Jesus declared he had not come to destroy the Mosaic Law but to fulfill. Thus, Jesus established a foundation that property rights are a sound doctrine, and expecting restitution is rational and reasonable. Then, before asking people to turn the other cheek, Jesus qualifies the statement by stating not to resist evil. In other words, Jesus is acknowledging that the other individual is acting wrongfully.
Cheek slapping is intended to provide two results: 1) to embarrass and insult, and 2) establish a hierarchy of relationships. Little has changed through the centuries regarding that act.
Yet, remember too that in the times of Jesus, and in some places of the world still today, the left hand was considered unclean. For many people, to slap another individual on the right cheek means using the left hand. Although people could use the right hand to back slap, most use the left hand. Thus, in Jesus’ time such a slap on the right cheek was doubly insulting.
Remember too that the Romans occupied Israel. Often Romans would conscript local natives into short-term labor services. One method used to initiate conscription was to use a glove to slap an individual on the cheek to establish illusionary superiority.
Jesus was addressing a current issue, one containing much emotion. Yet, remember that at the core of Jesus’ message is the simple and straightforward teaching that every individual is free, that no other human has any standing or right to rule other humans.
In essence Jesus was teaching that everybody is free, nobody can rule you, but there exists in the world some jerks who refuse to acknowledge this natural law of human action. Because such people attempt to enslave other people, such acts are evil — an aggression against another human.
Why then, would Jesus instruct people to turn the other cheek when another individual tries to rule by fiat?
There are several possible lessons. First, each individual should acknowledge that occasionally he or she cannot control some situations. Sometimes people will find themselves physically overpowered. Jesus is merely telling people to be practical in certain situations. He is asking people to willingly submit, not as a slave, but to avoid unnecessary conflict. Submitting does not mean groveling but pragmatically accepting. These Roman acts of conscription were short-term and by complying with the bullies the Jews would tend to hasten the end of the conscription. The Jews were in no position to physically resist the Romans.
Jesus also was acknowledging that sometimes these bullies prevent liberty of action. Yet, that an individual is unable to control the situation does not mean losing liberty. Liberty is an attitude. Jesus asked people to submit physically, but not mentally or emotionally.
To turn the other cheek, give your coat, or walk the second mile, is a peaceful way of telling the bully that you choose to accept his evil. The message is, “Look, I am free. You have no standing to rule me. However, today you have more swords than I do and I cannot win this battle. So I submit, not because I have to or because you are something special, but because I choose to. I also want you to know that I still can refuse. Of course, if I refuse you might harm me or even kill me. Yet, I have the right to choose that outcome because your standing is illegitimate. To prove to you I am submitting willfully, I now offer you my other cheek that you might slap that one too; and I’ll carry your load a second mile, not because I have to but because I choose to. You see, you can temporarily enslave my body, but you cannot enslave my mind.”
Perhaps there is another reason why Jesus asked people to turn the other cheek. Recall that his core message is one of liberty. That includes being free from within. Humans tend to enslave themselves with their own emotions. The natural reaction toward a bully is an emotion of resentment and hatred. Without control people easily tend to enslave themselves with such emotions. Thus, people are no longer free.
Therefore, Jesus asked people to turn the other cheek because by committing such a bold move, people not only acknowledge temporary loss of physical control for the situation, they not only declare that their spirits are always free, but that they also choose not to mentally enslave themselves.
How does this different perspective apply to the real world?
Suppose you decide that you do not need to travel with the statists’ permission and you choose to travel in your personal conveyance without a politically issued driver’s license. You could travel in such a manner for many years; perhaps if you are fortunate, your entire lifetime. However, the law of averages, and the statist interventionist mindset teaches that eventually you likely will find yourself confronting a statist “law enforcement” individual who believes you have no right to travel without “proper” permission from the statists.
If you study court procedures and statutory law, you might be able to thwart any adjudicative action against you. However, the process is hit-and-miss, and unless an individual has time to pursue such actions, more than likely you will find yourself in a tight situation. You then can continue traveling without a license, stop traveling publicly in your personal conveyance, or obtain a license. The choices are rather straightforward. Nobody knows “what would Jesus do.” He probably never would find himself in that situation by choosing to always travel by foot or donkey — even in today’s world. Or perhaps hitchhike. The message, however, is similar. Do what you know is right and proper, but if the statists flex their muscles, do what is right and proper to move on in life. Do not imprison yourself with emotions, and do not do something stupid to lose your liberty or life. Statists care only about their political power, not about your liberty.
Likewise with taxes. The Bible provides only a glimpse of how Jesus responded to illegitimate taxation. The stories tend to indicate that Jesus did not pay any taxes, but notice in the story about the temple tax that Jesus paid only to avoid conflict, not because he thought he had any duty to pay. Thus, a similar attitude should guide everybody. Do not participate in any statist activities whereby you willingly seek statist protections, and you then at least provide yourself standing for not paying taxes. Then, when possible just don’t pay. However, over a course of a lifetime, there will be times when paying is unavoidable. So just pay to avoid the conflict, not because you are a slave or have any duty to pay.
The message of turning the other cheek is to ignore statism. That is not to declare that an individual has no right to self-defense. Everybody possesses that right. Sometimes you need to exercise that right. Ignoring is not the same as resisting, however. Resisting often means fighting evil with evil. Ignoring means you make no effort to validate or legitimize a statist’s illusions. Thus, when prudent, turn the other cheek and walk the second mile because you choose to. Be free.
Next: Render Unto Caesar