Jesus, Gandhi, King point the way
By JAMES W. DOUGLASS
It almost looks like a nuclear bomb.
That was the comparison many of us made from the carnage and destruction from the attacks on the World Trade Center. However, the explosion of a single nuclear weapon in Manhattan would be truly a quantum leap of violence, once again reducing the towers of our ambition to rubble and the land of our dreams to a horror beyond all horrors. The next stage of this unfolding scenario will make the enormous tragedy we are experiencing now seem tiny by comparison. Yet a nuclear explosion in our country and our hearts is the logical next step in response to the policy of retaliation we are unthinkingly pursuing.
Nuclear weapons, which represent the end of not only New York City and Washington, but the end of our world, have already become accessible to small groups of people. Nor will any billion-dollar missile shield stop a suitcase holocaust weapon from being carried into downtown Manhattan. We are living literally at the end of the world. Will we recognize that state of the question? Or will our talking TV heads take us blindly to Armageddon?
Our greatest prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., understood our situation profoundly. He summed it up in his prophecy for the rest of human history: Nonviolence or nonexistence. King knew humankind had passed beyond the imaginable limits of violence at Hiroshima. God and history have therefore challenged us to pass equally beyond the imaginable limits of nonviolence. King, like his master, Jesus, and Mahatma Gandhi felt there was in truth no limits to nonviolence.
As were the prophets before him, King was a realist. By nonviolence he did not mean a world without conflict. He meant a deepening, widening commitment in humanity to meet every conflict with unflinching compassion, non-cooperation with evil and an effort to see through the eyes of ones opponent. Jesus said, Love your enemies. Gandhi and King learned to interpret this as a command to see through your enemies eyes while resisting all evil. In the nuclear age, these are not counsels for perfection but ground rules of survival.
So what do we do when our opponents are willing to advance their cause by the suffering and deaths of tens of thousands and millions once they possess that nuclear weapon?
Jesus, a realist if there ever was one, said that we had better settle our conflicts. As a Jew in a corner of the Roman Empire, Jesus of Nazareth knew what the center of power was capable of. He saw precisely what Rome would do to Jerusalem and the Temple if his countrymen did not understand and think beyond the spiral of violence. The end of that world 40 years later, in the leveling of Jerusalem, prefigures the end of our own world, which we seem equally incapable of imagining.
Kings prophecy, like that of his master, is the vision of a complete realist: nonviolence or nonexistence. King knew that the relatively unexplored reality of nonviolence, the lived reality of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, was infinitely more powerful than any bomb on earth.
Nonviolence is the unshakable belief, as Gandhi put it, that everyone without exception has a piece of the truth. Let the voice of even Osama bin Laden and the alienated millions he speaks for be heard by us, not assaulted by our missiles in a totally blind act of vengeance.
Let those among the living, who we think may have conspired with the dead hijackers to mass murder, be brought to a fair trial, just as we if so accused would wish to be tried by the standards of international law and our own Constitution.
In response to unimaginable violence, let there be the inconceivably more powerful response of impartial justice, a concern for the truth, and nonviolent non-cooperation with a counter evil.
Either that or let us recognize what we are now choosing: the end of our world.
Nonviolence or nonexistence.
James W. Douglass is the author of four books on the theology of nonviolence and is co-founder of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action next to the Trident submarine base in Seattle. His latest book is The Nonviolent Coming of God (Orbis Books).
National Catholic Reporter, September 28, 2001