Peter M Howard ::

Rethinking Judas

03February2006 [myth]
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I’ve been thinking a lot about the myth of evil, and of evil characters. My general feeling though, is that attributing someone’s actions to evil simply lessens their humanity, and their responsibility. The best modern example is Hitler: whenever he is described as a monster, it is as though there was nothing he nor anyone else could do about his actions. It both lessens his responsibility, ascribing his actions to evil, or to fate if you will, and lessens our wariness of people like him. It is assumed that we, now, could spot another Hitler, simply because of the evil that would emanate from him, rather than spotting his actions, or the circumstances that would allow for another Hitler.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking about Judas, the original, and for Christians, the greatest traitor. (Adam and Eve and the Serpent are a whole ‘nother topic). There are a few different ways of looking at Judas, but lately I’ve noticed the use of a rather insidious one: seeing Judas as an instrument of fate. The explanation is that he had to betray Christ, in order that He might die to save us. But of course, it can’t be that simple. And I don’t believe in Fate. It is absurd, and not particularly educational, to lessen Judas’ humanity, to ascribe his actions to Fate, or to the will of god(s). I suspect that Judas did what he thought was necessary. Certainly self-interest played its part; the 30 pieces of silver are important. But why would Judas think he should betray Jesus? I see two possibilities: either he wanted to make Him a martyr, or he no longer agreed with his methods. It could also be a combination of the two. What if Judas, like many Jews at the time, thought the promised Messiah would bring His Kingdom by the Sword? He is then disappointed to find that Jesus talks of Peace and non-violence, and of submitting to one’s masters. He believes that the Jews need to be galvanised into action; perhaps he joins the same faction that are responsible for Barabbas’ liberation when Pilate offers freedom for him or Jesus. After the Crucifixion it appears that Judas realises he’d made a mistake. And indeed, Paul’s condemnation of Judas comes not because of his betrayal, but because he despaired, killing himself.

In any case, I find it curious that there are such strong taboos on entering the mind of the monster. But I believe it is important. Even the Greeks didn’t have simple black and white characters in their myth. The gods had human characteristics; human heroes can do wrong, and the bad guy can be redeemed. When our myths are black and white, they are disconnected from reality, and we cannot learn from them. We are not driven by fate, we are not born Good or Evil. We are responsible for our own actions. And indeed, we can be fooled. When a Monster rises, we will not recognise him as a Monster. But teaching that Monsters are Human will help people recognise when other Humans do wrong.

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