Monday, May 31, 2004

Thou shalt not kill

A quote on Father Jake's entry of May 29, "Repentance," over at his site, Father Jake Stops the World, has been nagging at me all weekend:

As Gandhi once quipped, "The only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as nonviolent are Christians."

Someone in my EFM class last year read a quote from Gandhi that I'll paraphrase, because I haven't been able to find the quote. It went something like, "I was attracted to Christianity until I met some Christians."

These are pretty stinging comments. Gandhi's experience of Christianity was colored by its association with British/Western imperialism in both Africa and India. He resented the attempt to westernize India and supplant Hinduism with Christianity, so he often flaunted Indian dress and manner to the colonialists.

Winston Churchill apparently despised Gandhi, and is quoted as saying, "It is alarming and nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a campaign of civil disobedience, to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the Emperor-King." (1931)

I'm embarrassed at how racist and imperialist Churchill sounds in a lot of these quotes. Go to The Guardian to read the article "The Churchill you didn't know."

No wonder Gandhi saw Christians as hypocrites and liars. And he hit upon a sore spot, that Western civilization, that pretends to practice the Christianity that Christ taught, often makes a mockery of it.

Gandhi actually admired Jesus. Like the Moslems, Gandhi considered Jesus not to be the son of God, but a great moral teacher and instructor on the ways of nonviolence. Gandhi is said to have had a picture of Jesus in his study, one of the few pictures Gandhi had. He wanted to tap the nonviolent resistance that Jesus taught.

Like Jesus, the nonviolent Gandhi died a violent death at the hands of those for whom he gave himself. After achieving independence from Great Britain, Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu, a member of a group that felt Gandhi had betrayed the Hindu cause in the issue of partition of Pakistan into a separate Moslem state.

Here's an interesting parallel. Both Jesus and Gandhi espoused a tempered, nonviolent response to imperial aggressors who had colonized their countries. They not only found themselves in trouble with the imperial powers, but with those who felt they were not supportive enough of the cause of their own people -- not "Davidic" enough, not willing to fight for the cause of their countrymen or religion. Each was betrayed by his own, who felt betrayed.

Because of the dichotomy in human nature, I suppose any religion that espouses peace and nonviolence can be accused of hypocrisy -- whether Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism -- all show a longing for peace and nonviolence, while having elements that see violence as a necessary means to its ends or survival.

We human beings are aggressive and territorial. We have a built-in flight-or-fight response that often leads us to defensive or preemptive violence when we feel slightly threatened or want something (no unintentional comparisons to the Iraqi war here). Any parent who has watched her children push, hit, shove and grab is aware of this unpretty side of human nature.

This is the depressing news about us human beings. Yet I am optimist enough to have hope for the future. The story of God's people is still being worked out, and there is less acceptance of aggression and violence as means to political and personal ends in our society than perhaps ever been before, perhaps partly because have the capability to bring death more efficiently and on a larger scale than ever before. Our eyes are open to our own failings, and realization is the first step to repentance and change.

I strive to find that pacifist within myself, the person who would never use violence, who would ask God's forgiveness for those who do. How far can I follow this? How far can I go in passive-resistantly turning the other cheek in the face of aggression? What if those I love are threatened? Can I find the nonviolent way to respond? To meet violence with violence is the easier way.

God's challenge is as meaningful to us today as it was when Deuteronomy was written:

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

1 comment:

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