Finding Peace

John Dominic Crossan has written a most interesting book entitled, God and Empire. In the book he premises that although individuals may not always be violent, societies almost always are. Countries have land and resources to guard and the welfare of the people to protect. Then too, there is always the issue of territorial expansion. Look at history – the Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Spanish, French and British empires were all created through conquest and violence. The same thing was true in ancient Africa, Egypt and much of the Orient.

The modern age has seen America involved in two World Wars, the Korean conflict, Viet Nam, and recently wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of these conflicts was about territorial and/or philosophical domination. These conflicts express the traditional approach to expansion and its natural response. This is the expansion of political philosophy at the point of a gun. Crossan refers to it as “peace through violence.”

The Peace Through Violence is an international expression of a domestic philosophy that has been in place in our culture for centuries. We practice peace through violence by way of our laws, police power, the courts and prisons. The approach is simple and straightforward – “Break the law, go to jail.” It doesn’t really matter what drove you to act as you did. To traditionalists, “Good people don’t behave like that,” and we segregate “other” i.e., “questionable” people from good people, physically in ghettos and also socially and economically.

Author Crossan contrasts the concept of Peace Through Violence with the “radical nonviolence of Jesus.” On the surface, both approaches claim similar goals, but there are significant differences. As Abraham did before him, Jesus sought peace through inclusiveness and compassion. He created a large tent into which everyone was welcomed with love and respect. It was a supportive environment with room for diversity and differences. Because people were respected and accepted, they were disinclined to violence

The Peace Through Violence philosophy is significantly less embracing. It is notably self-centered and fear based. It says in effect, “You can come into the tent so long as you agree not to threaten me or the rest of the group.” It is an uneasy peace where power is achieved through violence and everyone has a gun. This approach does not respect the individual, it coerces him. The authority sets the rules. It is the Catholic nun in fourth grade coming down the aisles and rapping knuckles with a ruler. It is an approach guaranteed to create a negative reaction.

Jesus honored and respected the individual. He recognized that people could do bad things, but that this did not make them inherently bad. This moved Him to compassion and created the desire to reach out and help others, rather than shut them away in prison or shun them to live under freeway overpasses, as we do.

Conservatives in every society typically exhibit a strong reaction to the advocacy of inclusiveness. They have theirs and they are generally not interested in sharing it with the “unwashed.” The fear and violence of white Southerners toward the emancipation of slaves and later to their legal equality, gave rise to beatings, murder, church burnings and lynchings. It speaks to the knee jerk fear reaction conservatives frequently exhibit toward the “big tent” philosophy. Recently, the politicization of the 9/11 ground zero “Mosque,” vandalism and opposition to other Mosque building projects, the proposed burning of Korans, resistance to equality for gays or the entry of Hispanics or other ethnic groups into the country – people we used to call “guest workers” that are now referred to as “illegal immigrants,” expresses the exclusivity of the conservative perspective.

The most famous conservative reaction in history was that of the Sanhedrin to the teachings of Christ. The Sanhedrin was so threatened by the loss of position and power represented by Christ’s radical philosophy, that they pressured the Romans to crucify Him. The Sanhedrin was not alone in their fear of Christian compassion. The Romans themselves were sufficiently threatened by Christ’s teachings that they engaged in genocide against the early Christians.

A friend of mine, we’ll call him Mark, hired a young man, a former addict, to do odd jobs around an apartment building Mark owned. Things went well until Mark went out of town and the young man fell off the wagon. Mark returned home to find his television set, bicycle and stereo missing. They had been sold by to buy drugs.

It would have been easy to have this troubled and troublesome young man locked up and “punished” for his sins. But Mark knew this would solve nothing. Instead, he worked with this kid, got him help and support from former addicts. Mark encouraged him to enroll in a treatment program. Rather than exclude him from his tent, Mark chose to bring him in, as Christ taught, to “turn the other cheek.”

It wasn’t easy, and it took a good deal of time and effort and it was a risk on Mark’s part, but today the young man is back at work, clean and sober, and making wonderful progress toward being a contribution to society instead of a hard core, prison system recidivist or street junkie.

That’s how we change the world, one person at a time. Somewhere in your block, or in your town, is someone who needs your help. How many things in life are more important than that? When is the last time you volunteered at the local soup kitchen, or gave the old lady down the street a ride to the store? A friend of mine makes baked potatoes and distributes them to the homeless in his town. He says it does wonders FOR HIM! What it comes down to is, “How large are you willing to make your tent?”

The world does not change by politicians passing laws, it changes when you realize that you can make a difference in someone else’s life. When that does not happen, then we have to use Peace Through Violence.

copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016

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