24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
What would you give in return for your life?
This is no idle question–it’s a query before every Christian and non-Christian in America today. An article from Tom Engelhardt puts this question in stark relief:
But let’s consider here just one recent incident that went almost uncovered in the US media. According to an Agence France Presse account, in a raid in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, the US military first reported a small success: four “armed militants” killed.
It took next to no time, however, for those four militants to morph into the family of an Afghan National Army artillery commander named Awal Khan. As it happened, Khan himself was on duty in another province at the time. According to the report, the tally of the slain, some of whom may have gone to the roof of their house to defend themselves against armed men they evidently believed to be robbers or bandits, included: Awal Khan’s “schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, who worked for a government department. Another daughter was wounded. After the shooting, the pregnant wife of Khan’s cousin, who lived next door, went outside her home and was shot five times in the abdomen…”
She survived, but her fetus, “hit by bullets,” didn’t…
Let’s for a moment assume, however, that our safety really was, and remains, at stake in a war halfway across the planet. If so, let me ask you a question: What’s your “safety” really worth? Are you truly willing to trade the lives of Awal Khan’s family for a blanket guarantee of your safety–and not just his family, but all those Afghan 1-year olds, all those wedding parties that are–yes, they really are –going to be blown away in the years to come for you?
We are so very good at obscuring the faces of those killed by American weapons. The cruelty of Tom’s article is that it restores those faces. Where initial reports said “armed militants,” we must now reckon with a schoolteacher, Nadia, Aimal, and his brother, and the unborn child shot dead in the womb. And these are just the non-combatants. As the followers of one who died for the love of enemies, we may not write off the death of actual “armed militants” as legitimate. To quote the bumper-sticker, “When Jesus said ‘Love your enemies,’ I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean ‘Kill them.'”
As scholar John L. MacKenzie said, “If we cannot know that Jesus was nonviolent, then we can know nothing of him. It is the clearest of teachings.” Expanding on this, Walter Wink writes:
The new reality Jesus proclaimed was nonviolent. That much is clear, not just from the Sermon on the Mount, but his entire life and teaching and, above all, the way he faced his death. His was not merely a tactical or pragmatic nonviolence seized upon because nothing else would have worked against the Roman empire’s near monopoly on violence. Rather, he saw nonviolence as a direct corollary of the nature of God and of the new reality emerging in the world from God. In a verse quoted more than any other from the New Testament during the church’s first four centuries, Jesus taught that God loves everyone, and values all, even those who make themselves God’s enemies. We are therefore to do likewise (Matt. 5:45; cf. Luke 6:35)…
The idea of nonviolent resistance was not new. The Hebrew midwives, the Greek tragedians, and Jainism. Buddhism, Hinduism, Lao-Tzu, and Judaism were all to various degrees conversant with nonviolence as a way of life and, in some cases, even as a tactic of social change. What was new was the early church’s inference from Jesus’ teaching that nonviolence is the only way, that war itself must be renounced. The idea of peace and the more general rejection of violence can be found before Christianity and in other cultures, says Peter Brock, but nowhere else do we find practical anti-militarism leading to the refusal of military service.
Jesus’ call to take up the cross–the way of self-sacrifice, the way of disobedience to the Domination System–rather than the sword is a call to put behind us any idea of self-preservation at another’s expense. It is a call fundamentally at odds with the demands of the State and the Crowd to kill the Other for the preservation of the Self and the Similar. Gandhi put this in a similar way in the 20th century:
Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for nonviolence…Violence does not mean emancipation from fear, but discovering the means of combating the cause of fear. Nonviolence, on the other hand, has no cause for fear. The votary of nonviolence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He recks not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life.
At odds with the teachings of Jesus are the teachings of the Domination System. Again, quoting Wink, from Engaging the Powers, p. 16-17, 26:
“This ancient mythic structure has been variously called the Babylonian creation story, the combat myth, the ideology of zealous nationalism, and the myth of redemptive violence. The distinctive feature of the myth is the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. …It is the basic ideology of the Domination System. The gods favor those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favor of the gods. Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. …Ours is neither a perfect nor a perfectible world; it is a theater of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war security through strength: thee are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion. …The myth of redemptive violence is thus the spirituality of militarism.”
This is the spirituality at work when we’re willing to trade the lives of a family for our own safety–the spirituality of the necessity of violence to maintain order and dominance and gee we’re ever so sorry that your loved ones were the ones who died to keep our loved ones “safe.”
But when you run into the arms of the Domination System, know into whose arms you go:
“I use the expression ‘the Domination System’ to indicate what happens when an entire network of Powers becomes integrated around idolatrous values. And I refer to ‘Satan’ as the world-encompassing spirit of the Domination System.”–Wink, p. 9.
The bargains we’re striking with the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are deals with the Devil.