Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Fighting the War...Within
At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves...It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consiously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.
It was just over 50 years ago that Martin Luther King prophesied that the United States' addiction to war was making her "approaching spiritual death." He ended that sermon in New York's historic Riverside Church with the triumphant "I ain’t gonna study war no more!" and he was fatally shot exactly one year later. He penetrated the uniquely American unquestioned "patriotism" and unflinching "duty" to Vietnam before it was considered chic (and safe) to do so...and it was costly. But Vietnam was a war with a huge price tag and a military draft that made human costs widely (but not equally) distributed among social classes. No doubt King's voice continues to ring into our latest imperial adventures of which Christians (and all "people of conscience") simply cannot remain silent.
Today the United States has found itself cemented in an unwinnable war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond with a price-tag now exceeding $1 trillion. In addition, the inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the American government has shamefully included a withholding of habeas corpus, torture and, yes, even human experimentation. And this week's Wikileaks extravaganza revealed the overwhelming secrecy of the US government, trying to hide facts that are embarrassing, but certainly not a danger to national security: a plethora of civilian deaths, corruption in the US-back Afgan government and Pakistan's support of the Taliban. These themes make the Afghan front an even less likely region for success (no matter how it is measured). Yet with social and economic issues (unemployment, abortion, national debt, immigration, tax policy, same-sex marriage) a priority, the voice for peace is either seldom used or rarely heard.
Perhaps we can listen to the voice of another prophetic Christian leader who suffered an untimely death in 1968, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton who called for followers of Jesus (and, yes, all "people of conscience") to look not to the Dept of Defense nor to the killing overseas, but within our own hearts and minds. Merton posited that fear is at the root of all violence and that our own self-hatred, buried deep within us, is conveniently and deceptively masked by what we project on our enemies.
The temptation is, then, to account for my fault by seeing an equivalent amount of evil in someone else. Hence I minimize my own sins and compensate for doing so by exaggerating the faults of others.
Merton's monastic brand of self-reflective faith was rare in the 50s and 60s, and even more rare in a 21st century of non-stop entertainment and distraction. He knew that true world peace must start with each and every individual commitment to unearth the ugly hateful, judgmental bitterness lurking in us all, as well as our own counterfeit definition of "peace:"
To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace menas the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.
Ultimately, we can only pursue that the Dream of a "peace that transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) by intentionally journeying towards a love of God and others while we seek and destroy the shit in our own souls.
So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed--but hate these things in yourself, not in another.
When we read the statistics and studies about this war on terror, we can really only conclude that it is a joke--one where no one is laughing at the implications or even taking the alleged justifications for war remotely seriously. But if we are really going to "transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood" (MLK) then we'll have to start...with ourselves.