Nicholas Poussin, Le Massacre des Innocents
Between December 27th to December 29th many Christian churches remember the massacre of innocents which, according to the gospel of Matthew, was ordered by King Herod to eliminate the just-born Jesus.
Whether hagiography or history, the proximity of infanticide to what the author claims as the incarnation of divine love rectifies any inclination to sugar plum banalities. A mix of fear, power, and pride surges across human history with tidal force.
One person’s — or nation’s — search for security can seem to another only murderous rage.
In Newtown and Syria we see a suicidal logic reaching its conclusion. The Taliban assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai and the killing of children by US drones each demonstrate the outer limits of intention. In Matthew three wise men — empirically-skilled and well-intentioned — inadvertently motivate the massacre.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted and pure love without power is destroyed.” We are poised between chaos and cosmos. Forsaking goodness or love or power will not lessen our vertigo. But by embracing the perpetual paradox of our situation it is possible to lean purposefully into the present moment, our standing sustained precisely in tension with the challenge.
Homeland security unfolded from our encounter with unexpected calamities and as an earnest effort to prevent or mitigate future encounters. We are still preoccupied with exerting power to prevent fear and protect pride. But haven’t we learned — paradoxically — the most effective ways to prevent and mitigate emerge from expecting and embracing the recurring reality of disaster?