While digging through a small box of books that I was intending to give away to the local library I discovered a small book that I must have bought years ago intending to read but having never actually gotten beyond the first page. I could see that it would be a fast read so I sat next to the box and opened the book.
It was a very short story written by one of my favorite American authors, Mark Twain, possibly written during or prior to the American Civil War. The title– “The War Prayer”.
The story, almost a poem, told of the patriotic fervor of war, the over romanticized version of going to war of being victorious over those who thought, acted, and believed differently. It described the cheering, parades and speeches from both the politicians and the ministers from the pulpit. Those people who acted as a rational counterpoint were demeaned and threatened until their anti-war point-of-view was suppressed and silenced.
At the height of one minister’s war sermon an old man walked down the aisle and announced that he had been sent by God. He told the congregation that their God had heard their request for victory against their opponents, but that they needed to know the other side, the unspoken side, to their request that only God would know.
He then spoke of the pain, agony, starvation and devastation to their patriotic opponents, their children and their families. He spoke of the shredding of their bodies, their wills, their homes, and the oceans of spilled blood of those who were virtually neighbors and in many cases family that would have to happen in order to claim the victory the congregation had asked for in their prayers. He said that their loving God was ready to grant their request if they realized the full cost of their prayer. They sat in silence, stunned by the old man’s words.
In the end they determined that the old man was a crackpot and cheered their soldiers on.
I’m writing of this story because I have out of fear and misplaced patriotism found myself cheering the destruction of those that don’t agree with me, or my way of life. Instead of searching for a means toward tolerance, I find myself secretly wishing for an end to the conflict through any means including violence even though I know that violence only begets more violence and that over the long haul has never really kept us safe, safe enough to not need our armies and technologies of suppression and death.
Within every violent fanatic is someone who fears loss, the loss of importance, position, meaning, control or safety. They fear not having a voice in the living of their lives. Though their means for preventing the loss or in gaining a voice is abhorrent, immoral, ungodly and inhumane, their need is not alien to the rest of us.
It is in that shared need that the answers to ending violence of all kinds1 resides. Do we have the courage to look for it or is it just too easy to kill what scares us?
The answer resides with us all. What are you really doing to bring about peace?
1Violence can look like oppression of any kind e.g. against children, against women, against one belief over another, one culture over another. It can look like the suppression of any person’s expression of who they are or restricting opportunities for some while enhancing them for others. Oppression can also look like a rigid adherence to only one point-of-view as though any human could actually speak for the intentions of God. What arrogance!
Violence also comes from well meaning people who are dedicated toward ending such things as racism, feminine harassment, or wage disparity. It shows up in the indiscriminate demeaning of our police forces, hate rhetoric, and the tearing down and defacement of statues.
This violence is more subtle though just as destructive as the bloodletting kind. For many zealots of social-change the attitude toward dissent or a different approach to the one being propagated is one of “your either with us or against us” or that a different kind of hate will dispatch the old kind of hate. NOT SO, hate is hate and always, always, always breeds more hate!
These well-meaning soldiers of fairness then demean any comments or positions that aren’t in alignment with their positions. For example, I belong to a group that has dedicated itself to end racial disparity but anyone who suggests a way of doing that that’s different than the so-called leadership is called old or too unconsciously “white” to truly understand what’s at stake or what needs to be done but if they follow the leaders then they will become ‘woke’ and be of some use to the cause. Never mind that they are shutting down dialog, never mind that they are exhibiting the same kind of prejudice they are trying to eradicate i.e., making unsubstantiated judgments about a person or group of persons based on a lack of understanding and then acting upon those judgments as though real to suppress those with alternate points of view or being.
This is how movements fail because they become what they are resisting and start tuning out the other voices that don’t sound like theirs.
It’s about time we start listening to the voice of God and not the voice in our heads, the one that’s dismissive, angry, afraid, arrogant, and judgmental then ‘together’ we may have a chance to bring about justice.