Friday, April 21, 2006

wisdom from Tom

" we all know, violence and a failure of the imagination are closely bound up."

No, not Aquinas; this is a different Tom. Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor Who, in an interview discussing one of the more controversial episodes of his tenure as The Doctor, in which he slugs it out in a fistfight with another Time Lord antagonist.

This pretty well sums up how I think about the issues of violence and pacifism. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to respond to a slap in the face with a punch of your own. As a child, I often resorted to petty violence against my constant antagonist (you know which sister you are!) simply because, and I remember this well, I couldn't think of anything else to do. So I hit her. It never worked out well. Pretty much, it turned everyone against me: my sister, predictably, and also the parents, who would punish me for being violent.

In recent discussions on other blogs on the topic of pacifism, it seems that the trump card of just war proponents is the question, "well, what's your big idea, what's your answer, you idiot coward pacifist? how are you going to stop Hitler/Saddam/the dude breaking into your house trying to rape your wife?" When the pacifist admits that there doesn't seem to be a ready solution to the problem of violence--whether in its political manifestation of war, or the more homey oft-trotted-out scenario of the robber--then the assumption is, obviously pacifism is dumb and ridiculous because it has no answer to the trump card question.

What gets ignored is that no one has the answer to the trump card question. Those in favor of the use of force (because those in favor of this don't use the word violence to describe what they do, only what they react against) to defend self or family or country ignore the observable truth that this doesn't end the problem of violence either. The problem is not that the pacifists have no answer. The problem is that no one does.

I get tired of the implicit double standard in these conversations.

Pacifism, for me, is a stance which resists yielding to the despair and lack of imagination inherent in the violent response. It is hopeful. It is eschatological. It is brave. It is unconcerned with looking foolish. It is, in short, faithful.

In the prayers of the people at Trinity Episcopal, there is a beautiful line, penned by one of the priests there:

"let us seek even that reconciliation which we, in our frailty, fail to imagine is possible."



Anonymous said...

Outstanding. Thank you for this insight.

Sloane said...

More proof that science fiction holds the answer to many of life's problems.

Well said.

pat said...

Did Jesus ever strike out at anyone that was attempting to do him personal harm? I don't think so. Would he have if someone were trying to attack say, his mother? I guess we'll never know.

I personally would want and expect your Dad to protect me if someone were trying to do me harm. However, I view him as a pacifist. Does the one contradict the other?
While it is true it is no solution to the matter, it does serve in the immediate to protect the weaker party...something the prophets chastised the Jews for not doing.

Anonymous said...

Lately I've been thinking about the actions of the Apostle Peter in the garden the night Jesus was betrayed. When Jesus was about to be arrested, his followers yelled, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" Just then, Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest. Jesus then cries to his followers, "No more of this!"

As you said, it is the innate nature of every human being to beget violence with violence. When you break it down, many times it's out of fear, or anger, that we do this. It's a basic animal instinct.

However, Christ has called us to be counter-cultural, counter-instinctive. To lay down our swords, take up his cross and follow him. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself.

Odd as it may sound, my husband and I have talked a little bit about how it's for Christ's glory that we are here, not for relieving the pain of each other (although generally they're not mutually exclusive events). We pray that we're never in a situation where we would have to choose whether or not to act violently against someone who is hurting our spouse. But we both know that we'd both be leaning on the Lord during that time, knowing He would guide us in what we are to do.

(I also think about the example of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. He was violently killed by the Aucas in Ecuador. So what does his wife do? She returns to these people and brings many of them to Christ!)

Anonymous said...

I think I might have to watch Doctor Who again. The last time I saw an episode I was four years old and it scared me.

That said, I think this link to imagination is crucial, with its implied action. For many Quakers, as well as for King and Ghandi, those icons of nonviolence, pacifism is not passivity, but rather is about choosing strategic, morally ambiguous, action to alleviate injustices without replicating them. As one of my profs remarked, if you consider the amount of time and money that has historically globally been put into nuclear arms development, and imagine it re-oriented toward non-violence, there's reason to consider that humans are capable of some pretty incredible things through some strategic imagination.