Exploring Pacifism, Pt. 3

It has been a bit since I have really had the chance to begin exploring pacifism here on Pisteuomen again but there's no better time than now to get going again. I had mentioned in Pt. 2 of this series that here, in Pt. 3, I would speak about power. That is still my aim. In particular, I want to talk about power in relation to violence (the topic of my Pt. 2) and explore some of the ways they are or can be connected or disconnected. Let's start with the latter.

I need to make it clear that power and violence are not the same thing. This should seem obvious enough, after all, they are two different words. As Arendt has pointed out, when we move beyond the individual to the group or society, one difference between power and violence is that power relies on numbers whereas violence can, up to a point, be managed by a single entity. On a different note, but just as well, since I am coming at this from a Christian perspective, I can say that in my tradition, we believe that Jesus' understanding of power had to do with strength given by the Holy Spirit and worked out not in "lording power over people" but rather by serving them. Here, we get into the relationship between power and willful submission. So, there are a couple of different ways to illustrate that power and violence are indeed different things.

However, beyond some of the more simplistic contrasts like those above, too often, power and violence go together like hand-in-glove. It was Voltaire who said, "Power consists of making others act as I choose." Whether or not we agree with this definition, it does lead us into a discussion about power and obedience. This even leads us into thinking not just about the power of one human to exact obedience from another but even more the power of a law or doctrine that desires obedience from persons. It is at this juncture that I think I begin to actually draw some theological distinctions.

In my estimation, there is a stark contrast between the institutions of power that states and governments have constructed versus those which Jesus himself espoused and set as the foundation of his life and "kingdom." For example, democracy, at its root has the connotation of being a plan or system developed by a community of humans is different than the ethics of Jesus' Kingdom, which was initiated by Jesus Christ himself. Do not hear me incorrectly at this point, I am not speaking of a Theocracy. All I am wanting to do is show some distinction between the two. One major difference between these two systems of thought has to do with voting. In a democracy, the majority vote wins. Not so in the Kingdom of God; power is not found in numbers! Yet, even the corollary could be true that when the minority loses, there could be such a small margin between the two sides that violence might be used to coerce the other side to reign in the power at stake. Again, this is not how the Kingdom of God functions.

At this point it may be premature to get into discussion about "God's Kingdom." So, we might just say, for the sake of discussion, that in Jesus' view, instead of vying for power to "lord it over" persons, in this world, true power is found in willful submission. And this is the crux of the matter; this is where Christianity becomes tough and even undesirable! Yet, in many ways, this is the very heartbeat of Christianity. Jesus' understanding of power stands radically opposed to the world's ideas of it. For the world, wherever there is a government or a legislative group or some kind of political party, they are not simply imbued with power just because. Instead, as in any democracy (or even communist regime), power needs to be legitimated by a clan or community of people. That group may even use violence to bring about the peoples' legitimation of the state's power. But that is exactly where the ethics of Jesus regarding power are different: They need no legitimation!

For the Christian, the teachings of Jesus are inherently legitimate in and of themselves. This is essentially what we mean we say that Jesus needs no defending or that his teachings need no defense. Jesus' views are not legitimized based on how many people accept and/or agree with them; they are already legitimate! This is why fundamentally, Christianity is at its very core, is espoused as a faith of choice!!! Whether many or few agree or disagree with Jesus and his teachings does not matter; his teachings do not fall under the umbrella of human democracies, instead they transcend such things.

And this, I propose, is why all Christians in all times and in all places should take seriously--utterly seriously!--what Jesus teaches about power and violence. One of Jesus' last commands (Mk 14) to his follower Peter was to "put down the sword." Had Jesus wanted a revolution to blossom through violence, he could have called a legion of angels to help him fight. Had he wanted to establish a kingdom based on violence, he could have incited riots, as Mark's gospel alerts us, he had every opportunity to do so. Yet, Mk also records Jesus saying that he was in the temple teaching daily and never once did he intimate violence or intimidate with force. The question must be raised, then, why do we not take that word or command seriously to "put down the weapons"?

And what about the Beatitudes, why do we shove those to the side too when discussions about violence and force surface? Why do our beatitudes, especially in American culture trump those of Jesus? Why have we essentially created anti-Beatitudes? In his book, John Dear has illustrated this well in showing what our modern-day American Beatitudes really read like:

* Blessed are the rich; the reign of the world is theirs
* Blessed are those who make others mourn
* Blessed are the violent and invincible, the proud and powerful, the domineering and oppressive
* Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for injustice
* Blessed are those who show no mercy
* Blessed are the impure of heart
* Blessed are the warmakers
* Blessed are those who never stand up for injustice, who do not rock the boat

The truth is, the current generation has no guarantee that there will be a succeeder to it. With nuclear weapons and warfare promised to us, the future is questionable and therefore, at stake. What, then, is our option? Is it to continue to push-back against what the founder of our faith taught us? Is it to continue to reject and redefine his most basic and fundamental principles concerning violence, force and power? What about value, faith and life? King and Gandhi only reiterated the truth that Jesus had already spoke many years before when he made that call for Peter to put down the sword because "If you live by the weapon, you die by the weapon."

It is not guns and bombs and armies that keep us safe. Likewise, it is not the military or anyone else that makes it possible for us to believe. In fact, if you think this, then you really have no "faith" at all!!! If it takes someone creating a context where you must feel comfortable to believe to actually believe, then that is not sincere belief because when the threat of death comes knocking, you will not lean hard on your faith, you will turn back to weapons, violence, force and whatever else it takes to protect yourself, even if it means killing another. This, then, is why pacifism begins to emerge, in my view, as not only the most viable option for the whole human race but the only true-to-fact option for those who claim to follow Jesus and his teachings.

I hope that for those of you who are keeping up with this series, you will ruminate on some of the points made here. Again, with a topic like this, there is almost bound to be disagreement and/or heated debate. Whether such talks happen here or elsewhere, I plead with you to have those discussions in all peacefulness and graciousness. Please, continue exploring this topic with me as I value your thoughts and opinions.


No comments:

Post a Comment