A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Pacifism of Jesus

I don't know the New Testament well, but there is enough in the Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew for me to conclude that Jesus was a pacifist. In the Beatitudes he says that the meek "will inherit the earth" and the merciful "will be shown mercy" and that peacemakers "will be called the sons of God." None of this is said lightly and it has to give us pause as to what kinds of people he was encouraging to come forward. To be meek is the opposite of being assertive. Was he saying all assertive behavior is wrong? No, I don't think so but he's stressing that gentleness is the preferred quality. He certainly wasn't saying that aggressive behavior would be blessed. He certainly didn't say blessed are the warmongers. To be merciful is the opposite of being cruel. Was he saying that all cruelty was wrong? Yes, I think he was saying that. To be aggressive, to be cruel is to go against God. Is war aggressive and cruel? Well, absolutely.

A bit further on Jesus cites one of the ten commandments: Thou shalt not murder. But he takes it much farther and says one should not even hold onto anger but should reconcile with others and "settle matters quickly with your adversary". So first we have blessed are the peacemakers and then we have don't even be angry with others, ALL others. He doesn't say, well, in some cases it is okay to murder, no, not even anger will be tolerated. This is powerful language and a powerful sentiment. But it doesn't stop there, then he says that retribution, an "eye for an eye", is no longer acceptable: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." What would President Bush make of this I wonder? Would he understand that Jesus meant no return attack? Not only, no return attack but incredibly generosity instead.I think many Americans would call what Jesus suggests cowardice but I see it as beautiful strength. The strength not to submit to violence by becoming violent oneself.

Ah, but still he persists: "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." His logic is anyone can love their friends and family but "what reward will you get?" That is, being like everyone else will not get you to heaven, you have to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." I think this is absolutely extraordinary. Love your enemies? Can you imagine President Bush saying that he loves Osama Bin Ladin? And yet that is just what Jesus would say. Jesus is no wimp here, he is very strong. He is demanding nothing less than perfection and perfection in his eyes is to step away from the crowd and actually love your enemy and then encourage others to follow you. I would say it's hard for most Americans to even imagine that each terrorist is loved by someone, that each terrorist is still loved by God, let alone even considering the idea that they could care about them personally. We shut our minds and hearts down. But Jesus says No to that, no to the easy response. No to tit for tat.

But he still doesn't stop there: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged....Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?....You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Refrain from saying you know enough to judge others and focus on yourself (or your own country) and your blindness. Only once you have done your work on yourself will you be able to help another (not murder him). So what is Jesus saying? Be meek, be merciful, be a peacemaker, do not murder, do not even hold onto anger, no more "eye for an eye" retribution mentality, love your enemies and do not judge them.

There are so many Christians in the world but how many really listen to what he's saying here? He says it extremely plainly and very forcefully. How many people are willing to risk further attack? How many are willing to forgive their enemies and treat them as brothers and sisters? What kind of world would it be if we did? Jesus walked the walk and he was crucified for it. That's how brave he was and that's how strongly he believed in peace. He didn't fight his accusers and he didn't run away and he died. Are we willing to risk what's most precious to us, our lives and our homes to follow Jesus? I'd have to say, as a whole, no, we are not willing. We are not willing to love our enemies and we are not willing to forgo war when we're attacked. We are not willing to be meek or merciful (think of the children killed and maimed in Iraq). We are not willing to stop murdering. We are not willing to let go of our anger at enemies. We do believe in retribution and we do judge others.
Two thousand years have passed since Jesus gave his sermon of the mount and what a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.

I know about violence, the worst kind, violence from someone you love. And I learned through the violence that it is possible to turn the other cheek, that it is possible to love your enemy and that it is acceptable to walk away from the violence. To not engage, to not fight back. I could have mirrored Brendan's hatred but I chose not to. I saw how very sick he was and now see all forms of violence as varying degrees of mental illness. But this is not the mainstream view. The mainstream view is that violence is acceptable. What would Jesus do if he were alive on earth now? I don't think he would be a nationalist choosing one country and culture over another. And I don't think he would support war. Would he be killed for that again?
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