Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The first CYA memo (that I heard of)

So some religious leaders had it in for Paul and started a, well, you can read about it:
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains.
Acts 21.30-33
Well, that's great. Forget "blame the victim"; this guy went straight to "arrest the victim"! And don't forget the chains.

Not only that -- when the crowd reacts to Paul's speech, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. (Acts 22.24)

This is some policeman -- arrest the victim, put him in chains, and then flog him.
As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?"

When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "This man is a Roman citizen."
The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

Acts 22.25-26,29

OK, so that's what happened. Later, a plot was uncovered to kill Paul. The commander heard about it and ...
wrote a letter as follows:
Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix:
This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen.
Acts 23.25-27
So what do you think of this memo? Is it self-serving? Hypocritical?

Some months back, our pastor mentioned in a sermon the "fallacy of attribution" or something like this. When I see you speeding, I assume it's because you're a reckless driver and a poor planner. But when I drive a little over the speed limit, I like to think it's because somebody else stuck all this junk into my schedule and made me rush!

So allowing for this fallacy, I guess I ought to say that well, in the same position I might write something similar.

What this reminds me of is... rfc 793 !! It's the TCP specification. For those who don't know what TCP is, it's a protocol -- a set of rules by which computers transmit data to each other. There's a famous principle in there, a principle that's full of grace. What it says is:
2.10.  Robustness Principle

TCP implementations will follow a general principle of robustness: be
conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from

To translate that into human terms, "be liberal in what you accept from others" becomes "be generous (merciful, gracious) in the motives you impute to others." It's an antidote for the fallacy of attribution.

I like to think that the commander wasn't that bad of a guy. He did rescue Paul from the mob, and he did save his life -- even sending him away when he heard about the assassins. There was a misunderstanding about the matter of citizenship, and maybe he'll have some suggestions for the next revision of the garrison commander's field manual.

And if I can be generous like that with the commander, how about with my wife and children, or the friend who forgot about our lunch appointment yesterday? Haven't I done similar things in the past? Well, I won't say here, but I hope the Lord helps me to be merciful and gracious to others, as I'd like them to be toward me.

posted 7/6

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