I've had this laying around on my hard drive for some time; I believe I wrote it sometime around Veteran's Day, during which I had lengthy back and forth about pacifism with some online friends.
I hate having stuff lying around my hard drive, and today, in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who at least tried to practice what he preached... I post about pacifism.
First, let's get this straight: I am an American. I am proud of that. Although I've been to most of the Western democracies and a couple of the non-western non democratic ones, I like this one best. Furthermore, I like my state of California best of all the states, and my city of the Los Angeles best of all cities. I take off my hat at sporting events to sing the Star Spangled Banner, though I will not sing the the line glorifying bombs. I pay my taxes diligently and on time -- though I think I should pay more. I watch football on Sundays (and even more on Saturdays), and I shout U-S-A when we win gold medals in the Olympics. I esteem our Founding Fathers. I am not a Communist.
But to quote Glenn Beck, "I fear for the survival of America as we know it," because such a broad portion of it refuses to look honestly at itself in the mirror.
I would like to agree with those who say that even if America is a secular nation, it is grounded in Christian values, but I do not. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be, or couldn't be, but simply that it isn't, for one reason. Jesus Christ was, first and foremost, and at all times, a pacifist. And America is not.
There are many who argue the former as a point of theology. I've read their arguments, and I don't buy them. The first quote brought out by many Jesus-wasn't-a-pacifist commentators is from Revelation (a tale told by a madman, but that's another story:) "Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." The imagery is not that of a pacifist, you might think. But note that the sword comes from his mouth. Unless he's a sideshow entertainer of some sort, it is not a literal sword he wields. It is his WORDS that will subdue his enemies. This, to my writer's mind, is as clearly metaphorical as the suggestion that he is going to spend his time stomping on grapes.
True, Jesus says: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." But he clearly states in 2 Corinthians that "Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world."
Of course the devil may quote Scripture to suit his purpose, but the most compelling evidence of Jesus' pacifism is in the larger story of his life and death. Though unjustly accused, and cruelly mistreated, he allows himself to be put death in the most painful way imaginable, without struggle, while forgiving his attackers and refusing to allow his own followers to stay the attackers' hands. That, my friends, is the very definition of a pacifist, and utterly in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of the Sermon on the Mount. " If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well... Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
Christian America does not do these things. America at best distrusts pacifism and pacifists, and at worst, despises them. And this willful dichotomy, I do not understand.
If America was grounded in Christian values, it would not have gone to war in response to 9/11. Not in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, not ANYWHERE. It would have turned the other cheek. Some say that this would be giving up on our way of life, submitting to terrorists. So: choosing to turn the other cheek would be to give up on... our... Christian... way of life? Really?
This is the real world, some say. Aside from the fact that the Christian Jesus is supposed to have lived in the same real world, let's look at workings of the real world.
How, in practice (and for a Buddhist that word has a very specific meaning) might we have turned the other cheek in response to the slaughter of thousands of our citizens by angry and murderous terrorists? There are many answers, but the one that is clearly NOT the answer to a Christian nation is, "by going to war." What America could have, should have, might have done is respond by "loving thy enemy." Love the terrorists? Love Al-Qaeda? Yes, Christian America, this is what your Saviour preached.
"Today, we are all Americans" was the most common international response to 9/11. Yet the support was so fleeting. What did we do wrong? What could we have done, what should we have done, what might we have done to make that "today" into a lasting respect, a lasting peace, a lasting position of world leadership and admiration? I know that the one thing we should not have done was lash out. The opposite of turning the other cheek is hit back, and hit hard. That's what we did, and in doing so we betrayed our values. We should have been sad. We should have mourned.
And we could have examined what we could have possibly done to bring this hatred upon us.
Even if, after reflection, we could find nothing we had done wrong and for which we might be repentant (and curiously, the Christian right seems very suspicious of American "apology," a near-synonym of the Christian doctrine of "repentance"), if we held ourselves innocently victimized, we still should have simply loved our enemy. We might have spent every dollar we spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on humanitarian aid to those countries. On schools to counter the ignorance and hatred taught in the Islamic fundamentalist madrassas. On economic aid, to counter the Arab arguments that we are economic imperialists. On education programs in our own country, to increase our understanding of the people who attacked us, and of their motives. On securing our borders and ports against further attack, absolutely. We could have spent money and intellectual and emotional capital on anything - ANYTHING - but attacking those who attacked us. I wonder, what dividends would that have reaped? Where, ten years later, would our economy, our position of world leadership, be now?
But that is not what we did. We retaliated. In every sport we play, hockey, baseball, basketball, that's a penalty and worthy of fine or suspension. The instant we retaliated, we lost. We lost dignity. We lost respect. We lost capital. We lost the world's esteem, and our position as a beacon of freedom and democracy in the world.
Nearly everyone, right, left, center, Christian, Jewish, secular, tells me that we "live in peace" because of the brave soldiers who fight for us. But that ignores the real truth: we live in war, wars which we and our children and grandchildren pay for daily and will continue to pay for until long after we are gone. There is only no war in our daily lives because we pay others, mostly people less fortunate or knowledgable than ourselves, domestic mercenaries or our undereducated young, to kill others so that we in our "Christian" nation don't have to ask ourselves these questions: "Will I love my enemy and turn the other cheek, or KILL, right now, here, at my front door? Will I kill? And if I do, how will I reconcile it with my faith?" Instead of facing this greatest of questions for ourselves, we pay off violent men or our young people to do it for us. We ask them to do that which we would not. And they end up scarred, maimed, insane, dead. And then we solemnly "honor their sacrifice."
I submit that this "practice" is not only not Christian and not good, but will, unless we summon the genuine courage of true pacifism -- the willingness to die for the sins of others -- be our downfall.
No. Despite protestations to the contrary, America is the among the least-Christian nations I can think of.
I consider myself, as Dr. King did, a patriotic American working to change that.