"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.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The True Revolutionary Believes in God Alone

"At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide." - Times Online

In the words of Jesus, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." The sword is the god of death from whom Jesus came to save us.

So far, about 10,000 veterans have killed themselves as a result of what they were made to do in Iraq. This is currently happening at the rate of 120 suicides a week according to CBS news. What has been the response in the Christian community?

The words of Daniel Berrigan still resound in the current situation: "We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total -- but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. So a whole will and a whole heart and a whole national life bent toward war prevail over the velleities of peace. There is no peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war -- at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake." - Daniel Berrigan

Christians are not called to be silent in the face of war, to meekly bear its unjust burdens while attending only the personal details of their spiritual relationships. Christ did not come to redeem us as individual religious consumers, but as miraculous beings through whom he can work the redemption of the whole world, including power relationships.

One of the reasons we are so fearful of paying the price lies in a sense of futility, expertly reinforced by the corporate media, but having its source in our fundamental belief that external, visible success is the only measure of value. But the saints' lives testify to a completely different order of values. In the words of William James, "The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am...against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top." One could almost make it a social law that the greater the immediate success, the more hollow and ephemeral the ultimate result is likely to be.

Christians who wish to live out Christ's love of justice must adopt a completely different viewpoint from that of the world. At the same time, they must carry out a much deeper analysis of the revolution which is needed to embody this justice.

The first proposition of Christian revolution is, in the words Charles Peguy, "The social revolution will be a moral revolution or not at all." To say these words in the current conditions of social stagnation is to implicitly endorse that stagnation by asserting that only when all people become embodiments of Christian virtue will the conditions for real social revolution be present. On the Christian right, the emphasis is exclusively on individual virtue. Social virtue, except in minor and primitive forms that also focus on individual virtue or lack thereof, is not yet part of their spiritual vision. The New Age movement likewise, though more open to the social consequences of spiritual teachings, in practice focuses almost exclusively on the spiritual well-being of the individual and justifies the group because of the benefits it provides to individuals. Both are variations on the idea stated crudely by Marget Thatcher that society does not exist, only individuals.

Interpreted in this way, the statement becomes a pretext to avoid any effort at social transformation. Most of us are familiar with those who believe that all effort to preserve the ecological integrity of the planet is wasted because God will soon miraculously restore the world. The same applies to any social effort. What few comment on is the despair that lies in wait behind this apparent "faith."

Let us turn to an older and wiser tradition, "The meaning is you can only transform the social regime of the world by effecting at the same time and first of all within yourselves, a renewal of spiritual life and of moral life, by digging down to the spiritual and moral foundations of human life, by renewing the moral ideas which govern the life of the social group as such, and by awakening in the depths of the latter a new elan." - Jacques Maritain, Freedom in the Modern World.

Yet in practice, we Christians often despair of the power of our weapons and long to embrace the weapons of the world. In the words of Maritain, "If the Christian is not doomed to failure pure and simply, is he at any rate and especially in our time doomed to the appearance of failure? Are the arms of edification the only arms he is at liberty to use? In the face of the technique of of secular war that the modern world has elaborated, is he denied the use of these means of warfare?"

Does our lack of success mean that we are doomed to material impotence? "If any one ... is tempted to give way before the apparent ineptitude of the spirit in the things of time, let him go forward and enter into the very depths of the spirit, and learn its power not only in the things of eternity but also in the things of time; not only over the the soul but over the flesh also. There are other means of warfare than secular means."

"Great events of history and great revolutions normally result from a hidden process of growth, from the internal thrust of a new order which takes form and shape and fulfills its own ontological requirement within the heart of a given state of civilization." Ours is the slow, patient work of nonviolence, which, in the end, achieves a spiritual beauty and and the power to transform even stubborn flesh.

In the next post, we will examine why nonviolent resistance is the means that most accords with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

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