"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Path of Harmlessness

The path of harmlessness must be practiced in our daily lives if peace is to achieve effective political expression. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "To practice ahimsa, first of all we must practice it in ourselves." The rebellion must begin within ourselves, the rebellion against the violence, against the world and the burden of self that we carry in our hearts. To make a false dichotomy between ourselves and our society, with our ego trapped as an unwilling victim and American society as the the trapper is to create an inner war that nourishes the violence which drenches this world.

Again, Thich Nhat Hanh: "If we divide reality into two camps - the violent and the non-violent - and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel responsible for wars and injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves."

We in the peace movement cannot move forward until we enter into this truth. We must become the peace we seek. The spirit of absolute condemnation is the spirit of dehumanization that is the enemy we seek to defeat with every breath we take. At the same time, we must be clear-eyed, we must not pretend that injustice is not injustice. This is the thin line along which many of those in the New Age movement stumble. Focusing on individual well-being, they lose touch with the larger world, overlooking social injustice since such awareness might impede their individual serenity. In fact, we are the perpetuators of the injustice of the world when we fail to act against social violence. The suffering of the world is not separate from our own suffering and God's.

Outrage at violence and knowledge of its basic internal and external causes must be continually cultivated by those who would be called peacemakers. The essential thrust of Christian practice is to grow seeds of resistance within one's spirit to the false values of empire. God is not the ultimate emperor validating empire's conventional values, but its Liberator who appears not as a power, but as Crucifixion. Christianity is not conformity to this world, but implies an inner transcendence of the social values that encapsulate injustice. To make Christianity into a support for conservatism as it is understood today - a mixture of virulent nationalism and boosterism for that organized banditry known as global capitalism - is to pervert its basic spirit.

God has been revealed in Jesus Christ not as an emperor, not the "ultimate power in the universe", as we might like Him to be, but "...as freedom, love, and sacrifice, where He suffers for man and strives together with man against the falsity and wrong of the world, against the intolerable suffering of the world. There is no need to justify, we have no right to justify, all the unhappiness, all the suffering and evil in the world with the help of the idea of God as Providence and Sovereign of the Universe. This is a hard saying. One must turn to God for the struggle on behalf of freedom, one behalf of righteousness, on behalf of the enlightening and betterment of existence." - Nikolai Berdyaev.

Christianity must not serve as an excuse to justify suffering. God exhorts those who would conform to His spirit to fight the causes of suffering in this world with all their heart, mind, and spirit. God is ultimate revolutionary struggling even in the souls of those who don't believe in Him. And He may be far more alive in such a one than in the church leader who confuses goodness with slavery to calcified injustice.

To pray sincerely not only leads to direct action against the violence of empire, but is itself a revolutionary act, for it invokes a power that contradicts empire. This is why empire seeks to destroy or absorb Christianity, depending on the political force-fields of the moment. In the past, Christianism was used as a totalizing ideology to justify social and political oppression and the empire may well be preparing a new and more encompassing use of this false ideology, or better, idol, which hides its true nature in Christian trappings.

The fundamental law of peace is that to harm another human being is to harm ourselves. And equally, to cease harming ourselves brings harmony to our relations with others. Every sincere act of peace strikes a blow against empire, so don't despair if you can't join demonstrations or direct actions, but do not neglect them if you can. It may well be that the word of love and reconciliation said to one who drives you mad will do more to end war than the cleverest shouted slogan.

Listen to Thich Nhat Hanh:


Rich said...

Another magnificent post. I get so much out of this blog. This post is a brilliant clarification of a conflict I have -- wanting to be effective at causing peace to break out, but feeling hopeless about having an impact (which places me inside the narratives of the war-makers).

Please keep sharing your insights. Your posts really help me think clearly about the world, and the meaning of engaged spirituality. (And it's also lead me to discover the work of David Solnit.)

Boyd said...

Thank you, Rich. Your response inspires me and has lead to a strengthening of my own insight as well, particularly what you say about hopelessness placing us inside the narratives of the war-makers. They have constructed a narrative in which "peaceniks" are marginal, ridiculous figures, easily dismissed with a cynical snicker. Behind this narrative is a fatalistic embrace of the hopelessness of peace.

I'm also glad to see you have found David Solnit. He's an inspiration to me as well because his theory of social action flows from constant practice.