Customer Review

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read, January 4, 2007
This review is from: Honor: A History (Hardcover)
The book is very readable and I learned a lot from it. The concept of honor has indeed become almost alien to those of us in the West. But it is a large part of what fuels the men and women of those societies we find ourselves at odds with in the Middle East. We must try to understand the honor which motivates our enemies and our potential allies, and it should be required reading for the policy-makers and major writers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bowman points out that there are still honor cultures in America, such as in some ethnic groups and in the military. His own accounts of his later guilt from avoiding service in Vietnam are especially poignant now. Iraq has resurrected the ghost of Vietnam, both for those who served, and those who did not.

I really appreciated the way the author disentangled the concept of honor from Islam. Many of those strictures we find harshest in Islamic society actually predate Islam. However, as Bowman points out, Muslim countries do not have a history of divorcing their culture from their religion.

The reasons for this are simple. Jesus stood against much of the honor code of the Middle East. "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword," and "Turn the other cheek," were invitations to step off the honor-driven cycle of persecution returned with persecution, and violence returned with violence. We Christians have largely not lived up to these ideals, but they have influenced the history of Western law and our political philosophy nonetheless. There is a built-in distrust of honor for honor's sake in our society. Part of this is due to disillusionment with past wars, and part is due to our Christian philosophical heritage.

Bowman posits a return to honor, so that we can effectively interact with the rest of the globe. I am not so sure I buy into this. I take Christ's invitation seriously, and think that it probably offers the only way out of the cycle of violence in our world. But is unlikely that this utopia will come about short of another or a final divine intervention. For now, we must at least educate ourselves and understand honor as a motivator for friend and foe alike.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 23, 2008 7:04:38 PM PST
I suppose one might argue that the point is to contrast honor with dishonor, not honor with saintliness. If all men were saintly, honor would take care of itself. As they are not honor serves as a policing mechanism.
As far as "turn the other cheek goes", that is held to be a command for individual relations. Otherwise the soldiers would not have been told by John the Baptist to "be content with their wages" as that would be scamming their employers if they were unwilling to fight, which is neither virtuous nor honorable.
Be that as it may the exact relationship of honor to Christianity seems rather vague. It does seem clear that avenging insults to oneself is forbidden.
One thing that might be noted. If I recall the example first given was of a child upset at getting hit by a snowball and told, "You can't do that without expecting to get it back." That at least is perfectly correct. Refraining from retaliation is the victims choice. The aggressor cannot demand that his prey turn the other cheek.
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