Excerpt from The Only Alternative: Chiristian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America by Alan Nelson and John Malkin. Originally edited by Gabriel Constans.
Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the force of hate with the power of love.”
Throughout human history, violence has failed to create peaceful communities in which the world’s people can live, thrive, and interact. Though some interpersonal (behavioral) or international (systemic) acts of violence and war may temporarily interrupt violence in the short term, violence always perpetuates violence. There is no way to create pace and safety with strategies based on violence. Only through means that are themselves peaceful and non-violent can anger and fear be relaxed, compassion cultivated, and peace realized.
We have been taught to believe that a beneficial way to influence the behavior of people whose actions disturb us is to judge them and threaten them with various degrees of violence, or by actually inflicting violence upon them. Though these actions may stem from a compassionate desire to contribute to the well-being of another person, all of these use punitive strategies based on the idea that the best way to influence the behavior of another person is by inflicting physical or psychological suffering upon them, rather than by discovering a strategy that would compassionately meet the needs of all involved. This education that emphasizes moralistic judgment of others as right or wrong and good or bad is based in a system of reward and punishment that is applied to self and others. Jesus challenged this method when he urged people to give up revenge and war and to utilize the power of revolutionary love. He urged his followers to turn from retribution and the notion of “an eye for an eye” to a compassionate way of “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies” (Matt 5:39, 44).
The main strategies available for dealing with violence are to ignore it, to use violence, or to call on the soul force of nonviolence. Jesus and the peacemakers featured in this book are aware that ignoring violence does not facilitate peace. In fact, the more that people ignore the violence within and among us, the more that violence is free to grow. Virtually every spiritual tradition has offered the view that violence creates more violence, and that rather than trying to find a way to peace, peace itself is the way.
All violence – personal, interpersonal, military, and institutional – is the result of an alienation from self, others, and God. It is a manifestation of the anxiety and anger that is alive when we think that we are separate beings, and that our thoughts and actions do not affect others. We have been taught to think that peace and love are things to be found outside of ourselves, in the future.
Ultimately, whenever we participate in or enable violence against other people, we also hurt ourselves because we are all children of God, interconnected in one life. Like Cain, we are perpetuating violence against our own siblings. We are “one body in Christ,” inextricably linked, even with those who may want to harm or kills us.
The self-destructive dimensions of violence are especially apparent when we remember that all human beings have God-given potentials for spiritual growth and happiness, and that acts of violence done in revenge and hatred hinder any spiritual and emotional growth. Violence prevents our realizing who we are and who we might become on Jesus’ way to peace. Any violence against God’s creatures is violence against life itself that exacerbates the alienation that so many feel from themselves, from others, and from the love of God.