That Friday evening I was just beginning to lead a weekend retreat at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, when we received word about the terrorist attacks in Paris. Like everyone else, we were grief-stricken, but we regrouped and became even more determined to dive deep into our retreat.
Our topic was "Living Nonviolence, with Jesus, Gandhi and King." I had been planning it for months. Many of us around the world believe with Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that nonviolence is the world's only hope, the world's only solution to insane violence, the world's best pathway toward peace. As we heard the news from Paris, we turned again to the ancient teachings of nonviolence, and spent the weekend trying to deepen our own nonviolence so we could do our part to hasten a more nonviolent world.
We began by recalling the famous scene in the Gospels, when the nonviolent Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, after his long campaign of nonviolence, and broke down weeping:
"As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it saying, 'If this day you only knew the things that make for peace--but they are hidden from your eyes.'" (Luke 19:41-42)
I invited everyone to enter into the same spirit of Jesus who weeps over our violence and then takes nonviolent action in Jerusalem to resist injustice and proclaim a new world of nonviolence. We agreed that we would try to be people "who know the things that make for peace."
On Saturday, we studied the Sermon on the Mount, which Gandhi considered the greatest teachings on nonviolence in history. Gandhi read from Matthew 5-7, every day, for the last forty years of his life. In particular, he studied the great neglected commandment: "Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil." So we studied it too:
"You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you, Offer no [violent] resistance to one who is evil." (Mt. 5:38-39)
The Torah had tried to regulate fair punishment so that the punishment for violence would not exceed the injury. But here, the nonviolent Jesus prohibits any form of punishment or violent retaliation. The Greek word used in the text is "antistenai," meaning "violent resistance," or "violent rebellion against evil or one who does evil." Jesus explicitly forbids "antistenai." We are not allowed to resist violently. The days of violent retaliation are over. No one who claims to be a follower of the nonviolent Jesus is allowed to retaliate with violence ever again.
Jesus wants us to break the downward cycle of violence by refusing to practice further violence. Violence in response to violence will only lead to further violence, he teaches, so do not retaliate with further violence. Break the chain of violence. Stop the killing. Later, he calls us to become instead people of universal love and compassion.
Does that mean sitting back and do nothing in the face of violence? No, quite the contrary. Jesus also forbids passive resignation or indifference to evil. Instead, he demands an active, creative nonviolent response that will disarm our violent opponent without using their violent means. We resist violence but don't use the means of violence, so we do not end up becoming a mirror image of our violent opponent. Through our nonviolent resistance, we insist on the truth of our common humanity, until through our suffering love, the opponent's heart melts, scales fall from his eyes, he repents of his violence and agrees to treat us with respect as human beings.
When someone strikes you on the right cheek, Jesus says for example, turn the other one to him as well. As we ponder that teaching, we notice that it's not possible to strike someone on the right cheek. A right-handed blow in a right-handed world would land on the left cheek, so Jesus is talking about something different--about humiliation and oppression. The only way to strike someone's right cheek with your right hand would have been to use the back of your hand. This is what a Roman soldier standing over a subdued peasant would do. He would slap him with the back of his hand to humiliate him. But Jesus taught his disciples to resist such violent humiliation and top down oppression. Do not be humiliated. Do not be oppressed. Do not let others continue their violence upon you. Be creative. Take action. Turn the other cheek and show the Roman that you are a human being, that you demand to be treated as a human being, that you do not accept his violence. Then watch him back off in dismay.
During the retreat, we looked at Jesus' many teachings and examples of nonviolence. On Sunday, we studied Luke 10, where he sends 72 disciples on a campaign of nonviolence, "as lambs into the midst of wolves," to disarm the world and proclaim the coming of God's reign of nonviolence. Throughout the weekend, as we studied the methodology and spirituality of active nonviolence, we also read the words of Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi.
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy," Martin Luther King, Jr. taught. "Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
"Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world," Gandhi wrote. "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."
Last year, on the day the United States started bombing ISIS, a group of friends and I were arrested in front of the White House for nonviolent civil disobedience. We opposed this latest U.S. war. I held a sign that read, "There is no military solution." That September, our action was part of a nationwide week of 237 protests across the nation called "Campaign Nonviolence." We organized another such week this past September, this time with over 370 demonstrations across the nation in every state against war, poverty, racism, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, and for the coming of a new culture of peace and nonviolence. We'll do it again next year. (See: www.campaignnonviolence.org)
Thousands, millions, of us believe that war doesn't work; that war cannot end terrorism because war is terrorism; that our warmaking is breeding a new generation of terrorists around the world. Millions want the killing to stop, beginning with our own killing sprees. We want a new nonviolent response to the violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. We don't want to keep on inspiring millions of oppressed people to join ISIS or Al Qaeda. We want to stop the killing, make reparations, and start the healing. We even want nonviolence here at home--toward everyone, beginning in the streets of Ferguson, Chicago and Baltimore.
ISIS is normal. It's the normal outcome of twenty five years of U.S. warfare on Iraq. We did not behead several thousand people; we killed some two million people, not to mention militarize the entire Middle East, fund the Palestinian occupation, and use drones to kill tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere.
What is needed instead is a new global nonviolent response to violence. As many others have said before, the United States should halt all its bombing raids and drone attacks everywhere and pursue immediate ceasefires everywhere. We should start a massive reparations program to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and every land we have bombed, on a scale greater than the Marshall Plan. We should cut off all funding to ISIS from all quarters, and fund nonviolent peacemakers throughout the Middle East. Creative nonviolence should become our new foreign policy, and the policy of every nation everywhere if we are going to have a more nonviolent world.
Of course, we are going to have to spend billions, even trillions of dollars, on nonviolence, just as we once spent that kind of money for war. That money is available. All we have to do is close all our nuclear weapons plants, disarm our nuclear arsenal, and allocate those billions of dollars for nonviolent solutions. We have spent some seven trillions dollars on nuclear weapons since Hiroshima. It's time we spent that kind of money on nonviolent conflict resolution.
Our greatest people have always advocated nonviolence. The greatest thinkers of the last hundred years all taught nonviolence--people like Leo Tolstoy, Jane Addams, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, A.J. Muste, Muriel Lester, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Thomas Merton, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Mairead Maguire, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, Pema Chodron, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Howard Zinn, and Leymah Gbowee. Furthermore, all the world's religions advocate nonviolence, even though their nonviolence is usually ignored.
But we now know that active nonviolence actually works, that unlike war and violence, it brings lasting, peaceful results. Erica Chenoweth's ground-breaking book, "Why Civil Resistance Works," proves through scientific data that wherever nonviolence was used in response to state sanctioned violence or violent rebellion over the last one hundred years, it led to lasting nonviolent transformation. Her book is one of the most important works of our times and should be read by everyone. She demonstrates that violence in response to violence only increases violence, but that nonviolent conflict resolution brings a more peaceful, just solution.
"An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind," Gandhi said famously. That sad truth is being played out every day now. We need to have the courage to stop the cycle of violence and use the methodology of creative nonviolence to end this madness and pursue a more nonviolent world. This is doable and achievable, but it requires that everyone get involved in building a global grassroots movement of nonviolence, like our "Campaign Nonviolence." We need to stop the warmakers on all sides who are intent on furthering the cycle of violence and war and become peacemakers.
"To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world," Martin Luther King, Jr. said. "Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives."
"When evil men plot, good men [and women] must plan," King continued. "When evil men burn and bomb, good men [and women] must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men [and women] must commit themselves to the glories of love. When evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men [and women] must seek to bring into being a real order of justice."
I hope everyone will stop listening to the voices of violence, listen to the voices of nonviolence as we did on that weekend retreat, and join the grassroots movement of active nonviolence in pursuit of peace.
Rev. John Dear is the author of three recent books, "Thomas Merton Peacemaker"; "Walking the Way: Following the Nonviolent Jesus," and "The Nonviolent Life," as well as thirty others. He is on the staff of Pace e Bene, which organizes Campaign Nonviolence, a week of actions across the US every September. See: www.campaignnonviolence.org and www.johndear.org
Modern Proverb: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth - result: blind and toothless (1914 February 5)Garson O'Tooleadsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 18 01:42:59 UTC 2010
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. This quote (or a close variant) appears in the Yale Book of Quotations, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and the Quote Verifier. It is usually attached to Mahatma Gandhi. But YBQ has this note about the saying: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" is frequently attributed to M. K. Gandhi. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence states that the Gandhi family believes it is an authentic Gandhi quotation, but no example of its use by the Indian leader has ever been discovered. YBQ also notes that a 1950 biography by Louis Fischer titled "Life of Mahatma Gandhi" contains a version of the phrase. Fischer does not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his book. Further below is a citation for a 1947 work by Louis Fischer with the discordant title "Gandhi and Stalin" that contains the maxim. First, here is a 1914 citation that plays with both parts of the famous precept in Exodus: eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The quotation employs the trope to suggest that almost all the members of the Canadian House of Parliament will be rendered blind and toothless. Cite: 1914 February 5, Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada: Third Session - Twelfth Parliament, Mr. Graham speaking, Page 496, Volume CXIII, Printed by J. De L. Tache, Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, Ottawa. (HathiTrust full view) Mr. GRAHAM: Men are improving every day, and although we have the old enactment, if I may so call it, of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' and 'whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed,' these principles are giving way to the new thought of a new era. … We can argue all we like, but if capital punishment is being inflicted on some man, we are inclined to say: 'It serves him right.' That is not the spirit, I believe, in which legislation is enacted. If in this present age we were to go back to the old time of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' there would be very few hon. gentlemen in this House who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015068463267 In 1944 a version of the saying was used by Henry Powell Spring in his book of aphorisms, "What is Truth". The acknowledgment section indicates that Spring was a follower of Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. Cite: 1944, "What is Truth" by (Henry) Powell Spring, Page 10, The Orange Press, Winter Park, Florida. (Google Books snippet; Verified on paper) The Spirit and Beings continue unselfishly to maintain life upon our planet, restoring us nightly, and forgiving us our wilful blindnesses far beyond our spiritual or bodily capacity of repayment. If the Spirit, Who is Life, exacted an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, this world would indeed be peopled with the blind and the toothless. http://books.google.com/books?id=snxbAAAAMAAJ&q=toothless#search_anchor In 1947 Louis Fischer used a version of the saying that mentions eyes (but not teeth) that is often attributed to Gandhi today. Fischer used the phrase while discussing Gandhi and his approach to conflict resolution, but he did not attribute the words to Gandhi. Cite: 1947, Gandhi and Stalin by Louis Fischer, Page 61, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books snippet; Verified on paper) In any case, denazification affects only those who are brown enough to be recognized. What about the brown, or black, or red that entered the blood and soul in small quantities? This needs a gandhian antidote. "Denazify with Gandhi," might be an appropriate prescription. The shreds of individuality cannot be sewed together with a bayonet; nor can democracy be restored according to the Biblical injunction of an "eye for an eye" which, in the end, would make everybody blind. Any attempt to introduce democracy or to check totalitarianism must constantly emphasize the rehabilitation of personality. Freedom and responsibility help. Rigid authority hinders. http://books.google.com/books?id=p3rRAAAAMAAJ&q=%22eye+for%22#search_anchor In 1950 Louis Fischer used the saying while explaining the concept of Satyagraha. Cite: 1950, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer, Chapter 11: Gandhi Goes to Jail, Page 77, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper) Satyagraha is peaceful. If words fail to convince the adversary perhaps purity, humility, and honesty will. The opponent must be "weaned from error by patience and sympathy," weaned, not crushed; converted, not annihilated. Satyagraha is the exact opposite of the policy of an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye which ends in making everybody blind. You cannot inject new ideas into a man's head by chopping it off; neither will you infuse a new spirit into his heart by piercing it with a dagger. http://books.google.com/books?id=gQRuAAAAMAAJ& Ralph Keyes in QV discusses other later instances of the saying associated with Kahlil Gibran, Martin Luther King, and King's associate Harris Wofford. Keyes also mentions the 1971 movie version of the musical "Fiddler in the Roof". This production appeared on Broadway in 1964 and is based on stories by Sholom Aleichem. Here is an instance of the saying in a script published in 1970. Cite: 1970, "Best Plays of the Sixties" edited by Stanley Richards, Fiddler on the Roof, Page 322, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) FIRST MAN: We should defend ourselves. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. TEVYE: Very good. And that way, the whole world will be blind and toothless. Garson ------------------------------------------------------------ The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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