In a piece for Huffington Post about nonviolence, John Dear included the following:
“Nonviolence means avoiding injury to anything on earth, in thought, word, or deed,” Gandhi wrote. “I am certain that if we want to bring about peace in the world, there is no other way except that of nonviolence. One person who can express nonviolence in life exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality. My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”
I’m a huge fan of the Mahatma. As I said in an earlier post, Gandhi was a better Christian than most Christians. His practice of (and teaching about) nonviolent resistance was a great influence on Dr. King, who used them with great success in the American civil rights movement. The noncooperation movement Gandhi started in 1920 was among the first steps on the path to Indian independence. I love what the man said and did but, the quote above is tough to swallow. I don’t doubt that it’s true, I just don’t think I could do what he says.
The very first sentence is a hang-up for me. If I’m going to avoid “injury to anything on earth, in thought, word, or deed”, that means at the very least I’d have to be a vegetarian; to really put this into practice I’d have to be a vegan. And, I promise you, that’s not going happen. Why? Because I like meat way too much. In fact, I like meat so much that when I eat vegetables, they’re seasoned with meat. If you’ve ever sat down to pinto beans with great big chunks of country ham floating in them and a mess of collard greens, liberally seasoned with fatback, you see my dilemma. If not, you’ll probably never understand. I guess it’s a southern thing.
I like the idea of non-violence, but considering the current fucked up state of affairs I don’t think it’s possible to actually be non-violent. Not right now, at least. Sure, I can make the commitment to be nonviolent in my own life (and I have…, pretty much), but what about the bigger picture? Would pacifism have stopped Hitler? Is it be an appropriate response to atrocities like the ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina? What about the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur? Would pacifism have stopped those from claiming the lives of thousands of innocents? As long as we live in a world as broken as this one, is nonviolence really possible?
There is a part of me that says no, that a truly nonviolent world isn’t possible. That as long as human beings in the picture, there will always be some who think it their right to do violence to their fellow humans. And, that the only way to stop people truly dedicated to violence is violent action on our part. Therefore, as long as such people exist, there will be a need for someone to take that violent action against them.
That’s not to say I don’t think a nonviolent world isn’t a goal we shouldn’t work toward. On the contrary, as a follower of Christ, I believe it is key to the Kingdom of Heaven (as in a world where there is no want, everyone is valued and love is the true law of the land, not an actual kingdom). In the last sentence of the quote, Gandhi says “The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.” My question is what do we do until that happens?