justice, then peace (I)

~ or onward to part two ~

Radiant In Joy by Paul Gilk
Quaker Universalist Fellowship


There are lots of evangelical Christians (not all aligned with the political right) who insist that just as Jesus was persecuted and killed by "the world," so he is soon to come again and return the favor. This is a doomsday view of divine retribution lightened (only for believers) by a prospect of life after death in a wonderful, special, very long-term place. This world is going to end in irreversible disaster. Earth is destined for the same fate as the unsaved. And is it not a striking irony that the human tradition which clings most strongly to this view— Americanized Christianity, primarily Protestant— is also the governing agency which has made the prospect of irreversible disaster plausible?

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Thomas Merton quotes Gandhi as saying:
[Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander]

"Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness. Indeed, lying is the mother of violence. A truthful man cannot long remain violent. He will perceive in the course of his research that he has no need to be violent, and he will further discover that so long as there is the slightest trace of violence in him, he will fail to find the truth [for which] he is searching. . . . The mother of all other lies is the lie we persist in telling ourselves about ourselves. And since we are not brazen enough liars to make ourselves believe our own lie individually, we pool all our lies together and believe them because they have become the big lie uttered by the vox populi, and this kind of lie we accept as ultimate truth."

So we need to look behind the curtain of myth, behind "the lie we persist in telling ourselves about ourselves." It is in its mythological alignment with civilized values, with civilized weaponry, that End Times Christianity becomes so dangerous and deadly. Which is to say: the myths that cloud and fog our consciousness are not simply religious; they are profoundly and even more importantly civilized. Many people are prepared to throw off or deflate the biblical blimp. That's the easy part. But don't imagine for a moment that the task is finished there. Penetrating the mythological sanctity of civilization is next, and even harder.

What led me to my current conviction was a process begun by a simple, sincere question I began asking of older, smarter people in the early 1970s. "Explain to me," I said, "why small farms are dying, why small-scale agriculture is getting hammered." I was then a young man living in a large city, but with unexpectedly strong longings for the small-farm life and the countryside of my youth.

The answers did not satisfy. In fact, they seemed trite and shallow. So I began to study and read in earnest— from Martin Buber to Lewis Mumford, E. F. Schumacher to Wendell Berry, Elise Boulding to Carolyn Merchant. Over my own reluctance and anxiety, perhaps even over religious dread (I hadn't exactly been raised a fundamentalist, but religious indoctrination had virtually made me one), an answer slowly congealed. Civilization, I realized, came into being with the armed and deadly expropriation of the agricultural abundance of the pre-civilized agrarian community. Institutionalizing both militarism and slavery, civilization has lived by expropriation ever since. It produced the underlying structure of class. The explicit pattern of aristocrat and peasant may have (except for token remnants) ended with the industrial revolution, but elite prerogative continues to saturate all civilized societies.

To live by what Gil Bailie calls "gospel" [Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads] is to enter into a world where justice comes first, then peace. Getting there means facing and overcoming the avoidance, evasion, and denial that myth enables and encourages. To penetrate myth and repent of it in favor of the lucidity of truth means to disavow any further alignment with the economic advantages that come from institutionalized violence and systemic inequality. It means taking the ethics and morality of the Gospels in dead earnest— servanthood and stewardship— as we trust that the world so configured will be radiant in joy. I do not say that this is the fully articulated reign of God; I do say it is a critical step in the right direction.

To love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor, including the neighbor who is your enemy, as you love yourself, is to enter a divinely nonviolent revolutionary world of stewardship and servanthood.

As Merton puts it:
[Peace in the Post-Christian Era]

"The tactic of nonviolence is a tactic of love that seeks the salvation and redemption of the opponent, not his castigation, humiliation, and defeat. A pretended nonviolence that seeks to defeat and humiliate the adversary by spiritual instead of physical attack is little more than a confession of weakness. True nonviolence is totally different from this, and much more difficult. It strives to operate without hatred, without hostility, and without resentment. It works without aggression, taking the side of the good that it is able to find already present in the adversary."

Continue to part two. . .

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