Where Are the Peace-Makers?
Recently I had a very pleasant conversation with a self-avowed pacifist. I was reminded of the lovely anecdote told about President Calvin Coolidge, who was asked what that Sunday’s sermon was about. “About sin,” he replied. “And what point did the preacher make?” “He said he was against it.”
We are all against war, I suppose, but it doesn’t seem to do very much good to record that fact unless either one can do something to mitigate the results of war or, alternately, elaborate a general theory accounting for war, accompanied by a theory as to the best way of creating circumstances in which wars shall be less frequent. I suppose it’s nice to think that we can do away with human conflict; but meanwhile there the superficial undulations lie, and who knows if the straight trajectory of the pacifist cause isn’t aiming directly for some fantastic denial of humanity?
I agree that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the portion of the Gospels with perhaps the greatest amount of substance ever put into words. But I don’t really believe that the ethics of Jesus are taken seriously today, even by professing Christians; and in fact I know of very few New Testament ethical maxims that cannot be broken ad libitum. Thus as a gesture of “good will” toward the Iraqi people we are now preparing to bomb their neighbors in Iran. How awful people are! I am sick about this; but it must be.
I think my pastor summarized it very well yesterday in his sermon when he said that we’ve been fighting and murdering each other since Cain and Abel, and it’s highly unlikely that that is ever going to change. I see nothing depressing in this attitude. On the contrary, it is liberating, since it demonstrates that life can go on and can be lived satisfactorily – in spite of our warmongering. Hence I approve the idea of pacifism, though I always have the feeling, when I read history, that even if we knew the right way to go about it we would still do things contrary to peace-making. It’s our nature, I suppose.
As a peace-maker, then, what can I do? Well, there seems to be nothing much to be done beyond, of course, doing one’s best to prevent the complete mental sclerosis of society, to keep one’s own mind open to the truth, and to make what little contribution one can to the betterment of the matter – making oneself into a tiny window through which at least some light can be admitted. There is just a chance that others may take an interest in what you say or, better yet, in what that preacher said so many years ago on a rugged Galilean hillside.
March 31, 2008
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.