Imagination and the Real World
Imagine that we lived in a world where the six and a half billion or so people on earth all thought and behaved very similar to Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Thomas Moore, and Elizabeth Anne Seton.
These are real people who actually existed. There is nothing imaginary about the names. What requires imagination is picturing a world where we all act like these sorts of people.
I think it is obvious that a world inhabited entirely by people like this would be a better place to live than the world we currently know as reality.
All of these people were or are very happy people, and highly effective people. Most of their names are widely known, even after their deaths.
I intentionally threw in a couple of people, including Catholic saints, who had married here. I just wanted to highlight that I am not advocating that we all become celibate ascetics.
I also very intentionally named Catholics and non-Catholics, just to highlight that whatever these people have in common could be considered "natural law", rather than the revealed beliefs of a specific religious institution.
One trait that all these people have in common is that all of them were or are known as "spiritual" or "religious" people who seemed to have placed God or a higher power sustaining the universe at the center of their lives.
It seems that fostering habits of prayer and meditation and developing a deep and personal relationship with God is central to living a happy and highly effective life.
Second, and very closely related, all of them lived a life dedicated to service of their fellow human beings. Indeed, in some cases, it isn't clear whether God came first, or the cause of humanity.
Third, not a single one of them advocated violence during the period of their lives where they became most well known to us. Indeed, most not only did not advocate violence, but most of them explicitly renounced violence as a way of life.
Every single one of them faced risks, including premature death because of their life-style choices.
Francis of Assisi faced the threat of martyrdom when trying to speak with the Sultan during the crusades, but survived that threat, only to die from the effects of malnutrition from living in solidarity with lepers and the poor later.
Mother Seton was not murdered, but she did risk malnutrition and disease by her life-style choice. The same could be said of Mother Teresa and the Buddha.
Nelson Mandela was not martyred, but faced death many times as well as imprisonment. The Dalai Lama currently lives in exile, even if comfortably.
Jesus, Gandhi, King, and Moore were assassinated or executed.
Imagine a world where the six and a half billion on earth all thought and acted like this.
And imagine that in that unreal world, one single Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein exists.
How would a world of six and a half billion "saints" deal with one single disturbed individual who would cause harm to innocent people for reasons few of us can imagine?
If we assume in our imaginary world that we're dealing with an adult fully formed into the likeness of Hitler or Hussein, I do not believe that our world of saints would ignore the one individual threatening innocent people with harm.
That would be a pacifist and almost libertarian solution - live and let live.
Our world of saints would do what these saints actually did do. They would be willing to lay down their own life for others. The six and a half billion saints would surround the person and admonish him to stop causing harm.
If our Hitler or Hussein was armed, they might one by one or in groups approach him to take away his weapon. As he killed each one, they would keep coming until he ran out of ammunition.
At that point, they would bloodlessly restrain this violent person and get him into rehabilitation.
Of course, even before our fully formed adult Hitler or Hussein came to be, this world of saints would have been reaching out to the isolated and alienated young man who seemed to be suffering some sort of deep psychological malaise or demonic possession.
The Hitler or the Hussein would not be likely to form into an adult genocidal megalomaniac, because someone would have been able to reach the young person with love and change his heart.
In the world we are imagining, there would also be no human being who would die of starvation. In our real world today, there is already enough food on the planet for everyone alive to eat a three or four thousand calorie per day diet.
In our imagined world of saints, that food would get distributed as it is needed, with no hard feelings towards those on the receiving end of charity.
Last week, I made some posts quoting the Gospel teachings on non-violence, imagining what life would be like if the reign of God were breaking into our world today, inviting everyone to embrace non-violence and the notion of diverting federal funds from military spending to international development and poverty alleviation.
The responses are typical. I am accused of living in a fantasy world, denying the reality of sin, and coddling criminals and appeasing terrorists.
Inevitably, when I bring up the idea of active non-violence, someone says something to the effect "How can you argue that we sit idly by and let a rapist or serial killer harm an innocent person."
I've stated this only about maybe a thousand times, and I'll state it again. I am not a pacifist. I never have been a pacifist. I am a believer in active non-violence, which is not passive and is not pacifist.
In order to understand my point of view, one has to get it entirely out of one's head that there are only two moral options for Christians - those two options being pacifism and just war theory.
There are at least three morally acceptable options for a Christian: pacifism, just war theory, and active non-violence. Maybe there are some other options too, but I'll highlight just these three.
The pacifist avoids all conflict, and refuses to wage war or form a police force or employ any sort of violence.
The key point of pacificism, however, is conflict avoidance.
The pacifist may very well argue that when we see a rapist, we can do nothing but pray or possibly verbally exhort the offender.
Pacificism can lead to withdrawal from the world - like a hermit or a monk.
The Roman Catholic Church has long supported this option as a possible life-style style choice and God given vocation that is morally praiseworthy, though not for everyone. It's certainly not for me.
Some denominations, like the Amish, do encourage all their adherents to embrace this option.
If we had six and half billion pacifists on earth, and one Hitler or Hussein, everyone might ignore the lone evil-doer while he went about systematically killing people and reloading ammunition as needed until he gets to the last one on earth.
Whether this position is morally acceptable or not, I am not a pacifist. I am willing to intervene to try to stop a maniac before he kills us all - especially our children.
Those who embrace just war theory do not avoid conflict like the pacifist.
They engage in conflict under strict circumstances using violence to oppose violence. This theory holds that we can use violence in defense of other people, such as shooting the psychopath threatening an innocent person with rape and murder.
The principle of double effect applies. When one action has two direct end results that are proportionate to one another, one may act with the intention of the good, even if it is known that the act will produce an evil effect. One can kill an aggressor to save an innocent human life.
The Roman Catholic Church and many other Christian bodies embrace this option as well, though there have been a number of attempts to try to clarify that it applies in very limited circumstances with certain specific means.
This theory does not imply that just war is obligatory, as though monks must abandon their pacificism to fight in a just war.
The theory merely holds that in extreme cases, taking up arms and dealing a deadly blow to an aggressor is not necessarily a sin.
I can buy that modest moral claim, though I think there is another option that is more effective.
A world of six and a half billion just war advocates might kill the Hitler or the Hussein when he acts with violent aggression.
But things can hairy here, as we see in every just war debate.
If we are all just war advocates, and I witness you in the act of killing a man you believe to be like Hitler, but I do not know what evil this man has done, I may feel compelled to deal you a deadly blow in defense of this man - even though you felt you were waging a just use of deadly force.
Thus, entire groups form of those who think one man was evil, and should have been killed, and those who think the same man was unjustly murdered. And these groups can wind up killing each other.
You killed a man you believed was doing evil. Even while you are in the act of killing the offender, I kill you because I don't believe the man was evil, and besides, he was my father. Your brother rushes forward and kills me because I was killing you. My brother kills your brother. Your cousin kills my brother.
Soon, we have a feud between two families.
Both sides feel they are fighting in a just war against the other side. Eventually, nobody even remembers how the war started. All that matters is winning against the evil foe - by any means necessary. Soon, we're all acting like Hitler to some degree.
Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who did grave and intrinsically evil acts that repulse all decent people, even those who are not as saintly as Mother Teresa.
Yet, few people in America stop to think about why a Saddam Hussein came to power in a country like Iraq.
When we look at the sectarian violence occurring in post invasion Iraq, is it any wonder that a leader trying to hold these people together might resort to some very heavy handed means?
Even the most just of leaders would seem to need to resort to violence.
Thus, we have Dick Cheney advocating that we occasionally walk on the dark side and employ torture to win this war.
There has to be another alternative.
Active non-violence is not like pacifism, because those who embrace it do not try to avoid conflict. Indeed, we sometimes try to stir up conflict!
I've been arrested protesting nuclear weapons. I have also risked arrest protesting abortion at Operation Rescue events too. (I'll offend both right and left stirring up conflict).
I've worked in inner-city neighborhoods where I've been mugged while trying to assist the poor.
On a much lesser scale, I confront employees who are not meeting expectations. I try to talk through conflicts with my wife.
I am not speaking from a dream world here.
Active non-violence tries to stir up conflict on occasion, and then resolve it. Just as our imaginary world of saints would have reached out to the lone Hitler or Hussein, the practitioner of non-violence knows that we need to reach out to people tending towards violence before they actually become violent.
This is "confrontational", because it means invading someone's personal space sometimes, not leaving them alone to cultivate their distorted thinking, challenging their distorted thought patterns early on, and so forth.
It also means confronting our own distorted thinking in dialogue with others. It means admitting that we are all sinners capable of evil.
If conflict cannot be resolved, precisely because of sin, we believe in active non-violent resistance to the most manifest evil. This is not a withdrawal from the violence of the world - but facing evil with the same courage that lead Jesus, Gandhi, King and Moore to lose their very lives in service to humanity.
I once stood face to face with a drug dealer telling me that I cannot walk down his street to get to the day care center where I was working. I looked him in the eye, which was literally about three inches from my own, and said, "You have no right to tell me where to walk." At one point, I marched my kids through his corner chanting "Say no to drugs!"
Why not call the cops?
In this inner-city area, there was a human chain from corner to corner for miles of voices that cried out "Five - Oh" as a police car headed down the street. There wasn't a chance of the cops catching the dealers, because of the network.
So you try other means. But I didn't shoot the guy, and never even got into a fight with him.
Active non-violent resistance to evil in the real world - the world we all know today - can take the form of a employee strike or some other mass demonstration aimed at obstructing those who do evil. It is very effective when it hits the financial bottom line of those doing evil. There is definitely strength in numbers.
On an individual level, confronted by a person even suspected of being a serial killing rapist, we're going to ask the hard and probing personal questions to uncover whether this person is in the psychological danger of committing rape and murder or not.
Indeed, many of us criticize the bishops on the abuse scandals precisely because there are not structures of accountability that aim at uncovering abuse earlier and taking appropriate action to stop it.
If we see the perpetrator in the actual act of murder, we strive to act in a manner to stop him or her. The only difference between us and the just war theorist is that we will try every other means we can imagine short of causing physical harm to the perpetrator to stop the act of aggression.
The human mind is capable of imagining so much more than just war theorists allow.
If the same ingenuity that designed a hydrogen bomb were put to use strategizing non-violent means of changing the behavior of aggressors, there would be peace.
This active non-violent resistance may involve throwing our own body between the perpetrator and the victim. It may involve using something as simple as a net. It may involve verbal exhortation like the pacifist, but we do not limit ourselves to this means. We also advocate prayer, like the pacifist, but also action.
We might even resort to restraining a violent person with a wrestling move or a net or a rope or something in extrme cases - though we prefer to win the heart over gaining physical control. But no matter what, we will not strike him or her with a club, a rock, a knife, a bullet, or a bomb.
If you stumbled upon us trying to stop the aggressor, you will know who the good guys and the bad guys are. The good guys will not kill the other or cause bodily harm, and the bad guys will kill the other or cause bodily harm.
We do not deny the reality of sin in the world. All of the physical violence in our real world is a sign of sin.
All physical violence is a sign of sin. There is no such thing as good violence. Violence never promotes the good. It always involves evil, even if the evil chosen is not always a personal sin.
Indeed, just war theory admits this. In the criteria of "proportionality", the evil effects of military defense against aggression cannot outweigh the evil effects of doing nothing. This presumes that even a just war has evil effects!
Active non-violence is not "doing nothing". It is doing something to oppose and resist evil. I would argue that the criteria of "last resort" in just war doctrine requires that active non-violence has been exhausted and aggression is already in progress against innocent people.
Even in such a situation, those who can still imagine a non-violent alternative should be encouraged to put it into practice!
Let's step back into our imaginary world for a moment. We already saw that if the six and a half billion people in the world believed in just war, we could still wind up in a global confrontation. A simple mistake in judgment could escalate to a world war over time.
My father was giving my sister the Heimlich maneuver, and you mistook it for an attack on an innocent little girl. I mistook your armed attack on my father as a crime in progress and deal you a deadly blow. Your brother comes afterme. Soon, we have a family feud lasting generations and becoming enmity between nations.
If we had six and a half billion saints, one the other hand, and only one Hitler or Hussein, we can imagine that the evil doer would be stopped by non-violent means eventually.
My father giving the Heimlich maneuver would not have been confronted by an armed defender of little girls. He would have been confronted by a person well trained in non-violent conflict resolution and non-violent resistance.
Can you even imagine Mother Teresa packing a pistol?
Mother Teresa might take action if she thought my father were attacking a little girl, but the action she would take would not likely be to shoot him.
If my father truly was a brutal man who beat up little girls and was willing to annihilate the whole world if opposed, our six and a half billion saints could stop him without violence.
Even a smaller number could do it with prayer, training, and imagination.
As I say, the aggressor will eventually run out of ammunition, if nothing else. At that point, we might throw a net over the guy, take him to a safe cell, and attempt rehabilitation therapy.
The trouble is that we don't have six and a half billion saints with only one Hitler or Hussein. Instead, we have a mix of saints like Francis of Assisi, evil doers like Hussein, and those in between who cling to just war theories - sometimes fighting one another in error.
But think of it this way. According to the Judeo-Christian world view, in the garden of Eden, we had a world of saints prior to the entry of sin into the world. At some point, things went awry.
Maybe you think the story of the garden is a myth. Maybe you take it literally. It doesn't really matter. What matters is what you think our human nature was originally intended to be by the creator.
We can also look forward to heaven to try to discern what God intends here and now. What does God intend of us?
That's how we discern natural law. Were we intended to be more like the saints I mention? Or more like Hussein and Hitler? Or is there some in between state that is actually the ideal?
When we all get to heaven, will we practice just war doctrine inside of the pearly gates? Are there cops in heaven?
If, like me, you believe that we were created to be more like the saints, then the question is why you do not personally strive to live that way - all the time - starting now.
You will fall short sometimes. Heck. Less than three years ago, I'm ashamed to admit, but I got into a heated debate with my own biological brother that turned into a little shoving match. We apologized and reconciled quickly. Yet, my point is that we all fall, but let's admit it's a fall. Resorting to violence is always a failure of imagination or a weakness of will power.
More and more parents are realizing this with child rearing. Teachers are being forced to embrace the point by the law. The ways our grandparents sometimes disciplined children was not the only or the best way to teach children to behave. The violence adults used in by-gone eras with children was actually due to an incredible lack of imagination and a lot of ignorance and not a little sin.
If the whole world were made up of saints, except for one Hitler, we can imagine what we collectively might do, especially with the strength that comes from encouraging one another. Six and a half billion people would easily find a non-violent way to stop a single Hussein.
We're called to act like the saints, even if there is a Hitler in the world. A Hitler cannot kill six million people by himself.
What if there were two evil doers - a Hitler and a Hussein? What if a third? What if a fourth, and so on....?
Is there some critical mass of evil doers that changes the way you are personally called to behave?
I don't think so. We're all called to be saints - all of us and all of the time. When we fall, we acknowledge our failing and get back up and try again - praying for the grace to do better next time - and rehearsing how we will do better in our mind.
If we can imagine six and half billion people non-violently restraining one single evil doer, at what critical mass does it kick in that we must all, to the last one, embrace just war doctrine - even if we think that this doctrine could lead otherwise good people to kill each other, instead of killing evil doers?
In the end, the choice between what we can do in the world we can imagine, and the what we actually do in the real world we experience tells us where we are headed. It tells us how we think God intended us to behave from the start, and how we think we'll be in heaven.
A proponent of just war should have no admiration for Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Thomas Moore. All three men should have violently revolted against their evil oppressors.
A proponent of just war should be troubled by Jesus.
When Peter pulled out the sword to defend Jesus against the soldiers coming for his arrest, why didn't Jesus allow Peter to defend him? Why did he say that we are to turn the other cheek? Why wasn't he more clear that there are just wars?
I do not believe that Jesus was a pacifist.
He confronts people and pisses them off way to often to be a pacifist. He seems far more concerned with reaching people and changing hearts than the pacifist trying to withdrawal from the world of conflict. He even turns over tables in an act of prophetic protest - though the texts indicate no harm to human persons in this act.
Yet, in the end, Jesus was willing to lay down his own life, rather than take up the sword to fight for his cause and the cause of the poor.
Embracing active non-violence in the real world we all experience is not a denial of the reality of sin in the world we all know.
We fully expect that if one embraces a life of active non-violence, one is likely to be physically hurt or murdered because of that choice.
The devil is going to use a human being or group of human beings to cause you bodily harm if you decide to live a life of active non-violence. This is not something that might happen to a few. It is something that will happen to most who choose this life-style. Active non-violence is not to be embraced by cowards.
And none of us are called to cowardice.
Active non-violence is to be embraced with those who have the courage of a Thomas Moore who would say, "I am the King's good servant, but God's good servant first." - right before his head came off.
When we say that active non-violence is more effective than the most just of all just wars, we do not mean to imply that the lion is going to lay down with the lamb in our own life-time, or before the second coming of Christ.
We simply mean to imply that it will lead to a measurably greater peace than any military solution could ever hope to achieve.
Look at the fall of the Soviet Empire when faced with Solidarity, or the fall of Apartheid, or the lone man who stood up to Communist tanks in Tiananmen Square, or the fall of Pinochet, or the civil rights movement in America, etc....
Active non-violence works better than war.
Because active non-violence aims at changing the heart of the aggressor, rather than the behavior. We're out to convert the Hitlers and Husseins of the world - not just kill them.
While there will always be violent people in the world, if we can change the hearts of half them, that will have greater effect than killing half of them.
The reason is simple. When you kill half the aggressors, the other half becomes more hardened and crafty, and they recruit some allies from among the friends and relatives of those killed. Often, those who join the evil doers are believers in just war who either rightly or wrongly believe your side unjustly killed their guy!
The American troops in Iraq have been seeing exactly this for four years now. You kill an insurgent, and all of the sudden, you've made an enemy of his cousin, who wasn't interested in killing Americans before that. You can't kill 'em all faster than they recruit.
On the other hand, if you converted half the evil doers without killing any of them, that half may make recruits of their cousins. Your own side will grow in numbers.
I'm not speaking of a conversion of one religious faith to another. I'm speaking of a conversion from the myth of redemptive violence to embracing the possibility of non-violent conflict resolution.
Even in the case of a clear military victory over evil-doers, if hearts are not changed, all that is accomplished is a temporary curbing of public behavior. The enemy can lay low until the victor is weak, and then rise again. We see this in the way a group like the IRA went on for decades despite various British crack-downs.
What about the victory over evil such as the end of World War II? Surely, this proves that war can accomplish good results, doesn't it?
I would argue that it was the post war reconstruction of Europe that did more to change hearts than the actual surrender of the Nazis. It was our effort not to repeat the mistakes of World War I, where Germany was left shamed, punished, and weak, that prevented a hypothetical World War III with Germany.
Peace is more than the absence of war. The cold war between America and the Soviets was not a true peace, though there has never been an open war between Russia and the United States.
Peace is harmonious relationships between nations. This is achieved through good communication, shared goals, respect for the human person and human rights, human development, economic justice, rational dialogue, diplomacy, and a genuine concern for the international common good.
We should be working for these goals at all times with a certainty that this is what peace is.
The first step of active non-violence is to surface conflict and attempt to resolve it. Many wars can be avoided - meaning that even before atrocities like genocide break out, we could be preventing the genocide from occurring.
We must openly challenge one another across the globe to respect human rights and international law. We must promote the cause of humanity and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, free the captive, heal the sick, and bury the dead.
This can include root cause analysis of why poverty exists, and advocacy to change those root causes, as well as direct service.
The spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant, bear wrongs patiently, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, forgive the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and deceased.
Basically, active non-violence is a choice to make one's self so busy about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that one doesn't have time for war, even when evil doers do go out of their way and come knocking on your door - which is what evil doers do.
Here's another way to think about it. Why play the game of evil doers by their rules? The evil doer threatens you with death, and you show no fear as you continue to go about promoting the sanctity of human life. That's very confusing to her or him.
Your very actions mock his threat and reduce the threat to nonsense. Even if he carries through on his threat - which some will do - you revealed the threat as powerless.
By acting like the threat of violence has no power over your life, the threat of violence will have no power over your life!
Embracing active non-violence is incredibly freeing. Nobody can stop you from doing what you want to do once you begin acting as though violence has no power over you.
This does not mean you will not feel fear. Everyone feels fear, whether a pacifist, just war theorist, or practitioner of active non-violence. Jesus felt fear in the garden.
But when you can imagine acting without fear even while feeling fear, it is a freeing experience. When you actually do practice what you imagine, it is even more empowering.
This is why I keep saying that Jesus did not say "Blessed are the peace wishers". He said "Blessed are peace makers". We have to do something - not just wish something.
Act with confidence in non-violence as best you can as close to always and everywhere that you can, and it will have an effect on yourself and other people.
And when the evil doers come knocking on your door with violent threats, your willingness to lay down your own life for others may convert the killer, which is the ultimate goal.
According to the Gospels, the man who ran the lance through Jesus' heart said, "Surely, this is the Son of God."
We do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for many reasons, and among those reasons, we know that some among those we help would have been Hitler or Hussein had we not helped!
By reaching that lonely or hurting child today, we prevented World War III tomorrow.
Of course, we also do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy simply because of human compassion. We do them with an awareness that each person is made in the image of God, and that by honoring that image, we show honor to God.
We do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy even when confronted by evil doers because we know that some of the evil doers will be converted by our non-violent witness, even if not all of them are converted.
The spiritual works of mercy do include instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, and admonishing the sinner. There is room for non-violent confrontation with evil in these acts.
The corporal works of mercy include liberating the captive and oppressed.
Challenging structures of evil and caring for human bodies and being concerned for political realities is consistent with the works.
We are not advocates of escapist withdrawal from the world that ignores evil. We simply chose in freedom to combat evil more effectively than violence can do.
We are simply confident that doing something positive for human persons even in the face of death is more effective than meeting the those threatening death with an equal threat of death.
How do we restore the world a little more today to the state God originally intended than it was yesterday? It certainly can't be through more violence. The cycle of violence must be ended. It is by producing more and more saints that we decrease the awful violence in our world - including terrorism.
We can encourage others to act like saints by acting as saints ourselves. As difficult as it is to put into practice, embracing active non-violence is the surest way to end the global war on terror. As an important benefit of equal importance, combating terrorism through active non-violence also will alleviate poverty.