Pace e Bene is sponsoring the sixth annual Week of Nonviolence, with over 3,000 events planned. My house is turned upside down thanks to black mold, so I am not able to actively participate this year.
Every day I get an email from Pace e Bene with a quote about nonviolence. I think of myself as nonviolent; I don’t assault people, I brake for squirrels, I’m a vegetarian (about 90% vegan), I shop ethically, and rescue dogs and cats and any other critter in need. I give money to people who need it.
But I have come to understand that I am in fact violent in my thoughts. I have angry thoughts towards careless drivers, treasonous politicians and racist celebrities. I become deeply misanthropic towards humanity as I think about the environmental destruction we all participate in daily.
Even if I don’t run down Senator McMoscow or beat environmentally ignorant shoppers with organic produce, I do set my mind in a violent state and this informs my thoughts, words and deeds (hat tip to Zarathustra). As an Interfaith minister, I cannot help but look to the web of world religious wisdom on this essential topic.
I’m reminded of a teaching from the founder of the Konkokyo new religion, Konko Daijin (Kami here means God):
Though people say that they do not kill others, they do so with their hearts. This is a grave offense. They think killing someone means to shoot with a gun or to stab with a sword, but this is only physical, and the obvious. People often kill with their hearts, an offense invisible to the eye. Kami’s heart cannot bear such offenses. When one kills physically, the government punishes. When one kills with his heart, Kami punishes” (GII: Sato Mitsujiro, 27:1–2).
This sounds a bit violent-Kami will punish us. But the meaning here is what Sister Joan Chichester describes as “sin punishing us, not God.” Making our minds angry and hateful is not good for our mental or physical health. It is not pleasant. It doesn’t help us in any way. That is the punishment, or rather, the natural consequence of such a mentality.
Jesus goes further by telling us that if we are robbed, to not only give up our shirt, but our cloak also. While I don’t think he literally meant that, he does open us to think of a radical new way to orient our thinking-instead of returning violence for violence, what if we stopped to understand the needs of the other person? If someone has to steal my shirt, what must their life be like?
Violence is pervasive in human society. It’s profitable. It’s alluring. But it does not serve us in the end. The Hebrew Scriptures paint a picture of the future in which the lion and the lamb are friends, and our weapons are turned into tools.
One thing that is clear from myriad religious traditions, it’s unwise to be violent. It always betrays us. We can do better. We have to.
I’ll end with a quote from Michael Nagler:
We use the logic of violence itself in our attempts to control violence: the ‘war on drugs,’ the ‘war on crime’ — one researcher even referred to modern medicine as a ‘war on bugs’ . . . All this has led to virtually no useful measures for making violence a progressively smaller part of our life. We need a different logic.