We Do Not Want To Hear
in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon,
when the President is preparing for a mighty war, when over 80 percent
of Americans support him and want blood, whether in the name of
retribution or justice, now is the time to repeat the words we do
not want to hear.
have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth
for a tooth:
I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . .
have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor,
and hate thine enemy.
I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully
use you, and persecute you;
you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for
he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth
rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5: 38-39; 43-45.
is all you need to know if you want to do what is right in this
situation. We should not wage war on terrorists or the Taliban,
nor try to bring them to justice. We should, however, pray for them
and do good to them.
the 1800ís a small number of men, including the abolitionist William
Lloyd Garrison, spent a large part of their lives working out the
implications of this teaching and trying to spread the word to their
fellow man. Much of this good work might have been lost or buried
in oblivion but for the efforts of one of them, Leo Tolstoy, who
gathered it together in making his own case, still available in
the much ignored, The
Kingdom of God is Within You (1894).
to Tolstoy, the meaning of Christís command to "resist not
evil" is plain enough: it is wrong to use force or violence
to oppose evil. Since Christís command is unconditional, there
are no exceptions. Not for a "just" war, not for retribution,
not for justice, not even for self-defense at the time of the assault.
Further, the clear implication is also that it is wrong to participate
in any enterprise that employs force or violence against our fellow
man (even if only to oppose evil). Christís command thus renders
government illegitimate. The Christian who follows Christí teaching
in the Sermon on the Mount, then, will not be a soldier, or participate
in any of the institutions of government, the courts or elections,
and will not have any recourse to the authorities, the police or
teaching forever severs the question of what is good or evil, just
or unjust, from the question of the use of force, and pronounces
the latter wrong and evil under all circumstances. Regardless of
what is right, good or just, it is wrong, always, to use force or
violence to establish, uphold, vindicate or maintain the right,
the good or the just, and it is wrong to use force to punish or
"reform" the wicked.
the Christian "resists not." As Tolstoy notes, "To
submit means to prefer suffering to using force. And to prefer suffering
to using force means to be good, or at least less wicked than those
who do unto others what they would not like themselves."1
musters many arguments to demonstrate that Christís teaching is
the only true and lasting foundation of peace and brotherhood among
men, and to explain why violence cannot eliminate evil, but only
beget more violence. One of his more powerful arguments concerns
the impossibility of settling disputes by recourse to violence when
there is no universally accepted, unquestioned criterion for distinguishing
good from evil. In the absence of such criterion, the men who are
the objects of our violence do not perceive or accept their acts
as evil and do not experience the violence directed at them as just
punishment for their deeds, but simply as unjust violence and a
fresh insult that, in turn, prompts them to respond in kind. Thus,
we can expect that a counterattack upon the terrorists who attacked
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and those who harbor them
will kindle greater hatred in the Muslim world against us.
was no pie-eyed idealist blind to the nature of man. Although he
quotes other advocates of non-resistance who argue on prudential
grounds that refraining from the use of violence is, in the long
run, a safer course than using violence to suppress evil, since
it gives least occasion for the creation of ill-will, he did not
maintain that those who adhered to Christís command would soon cease
being the object of oppression or violence, or would be but rarely
the objects of such acts.
Tolstoy spends much effort addressing one of the strongest criticisms
of non-resistance, namely, that without government, the wicked will
oppress the good. It requires a strong disposition to follow Tolstoy
here for, to his everlasting credit, he does not endeavor to support
Christís teaching by prudential appeals to manís rational self-interest
through promises that adhering to Christís teaching will soon make
life easy or better for men, nor pretend that eliminating government
will end manís inhumanity to man.
champions of government assert that without it the wicked will
oppress and outrage the good, and that the power of the government
enables the good to resist the wicked.
in this assertion the champions of the existing order of things
take for granted the proposition they want to prove. When they
say that except for the government the bad would oppress the good,
they take it for granted that the good are those who are the present
time are in possession of power, and the bad are those who are
in subjection to it. But this is just what wants proving.
good cannot seize power, nor retain it; to do this men must love
power. And love of power is inconsistent with goodness; but quite
consistent with the very opposite qualities Ė pride, cunning,
the aggrandizement of self and the abasement of others, without
hypocrisies and deceptions, without prisons, fortresses, executions,
and murders, no power can come into existence or be maintained.
. . . .
. . ruling means using force, and using force means doing to him
to whom force is used, what he does not like and what he who uses
the force would certainly not like done to himself. Consequently
ruling means doing to others what we would not they should do
unto us, that is, doing wrong.2
the good, by definition, cannot and will not wield power, "The
wicked will always dominate the good, and will always oppress them."3
Moreover, in holding up the specter of imagined future dangers of
violence and oppression by others, those who claim we need the governmentís
protection ignore or discount the magnitude of the actual existing
violence and oppression already practiced by their own government
against its own people and others. Tolstoy concludes that governmentís
ceasing to exist and to provide its "protection" may result
in a change in the men who subject the good to oppression and violence,
but will not, ultimately, change the overall lot of the good. Thus,
good men who see the true nature of their government and its actions
cannot be terrorized by specters of the harm that will befall them
in governmentís absence, because they realize that they already
are, ever have been and ever will be oppressed and exploited by
the wicked. A change in this state of affairs will come about only
after most men have learned, through generations of bitter and futile
experience, the inability of violence to put an end to evil, and
to accept the truth of Christís counsel.
also takes strong issue, based on the evidence provided by history,
with the belief that it is possible to subdue a nation, or improve
it, with violence: "And indeed how could nations be subjugated
by violence who are led to by their whole education, their traditions,
and even their religion to see the loftiest virtue in warring with
their oppressors and fighting for freedom? . . . To exterminate
such nations . . . by violence is possible, and indeed is done,
but to subdue them is impossible."4
of Tolstoyís energy in Kingdom of God is directed at answering
those who claim that Christís teaching cannot mean what it plainly
says, or that it is too idealistic for men, because it does not
agree with how men want to live, or would require too great a change
in "the existing order of things." Curiously, although
Tolstoy was apparently unaware of his work, the Danish philosopher,
Soren Kierkegaard, often dealt with this characteristic response
to Godís unconditional commands.
worship of God consists quite simply in doing Godís will.
this sort of worship was never to manís taste. That which in all
generations men have been busied about, that in which theological
learning originated, becomes many, many disciplines, widens out
to interminable prolixity, that upon which and for which thousands
of priests and professors live . . . is the contrivance of another
sort of divine worship, which consists in . . . having oneís own
will, but doing it in such a way that the name of God, the invocation
of God, is brought into conjunction with it, whereby man thinks
he is assured against being ungodly Ė whereas, alas, precisely
this is the most aggravated sort of ungodliness.
example. A man is inclined to want to support himself by killing
people. Now he sees from Godís Word that this is not permissible,
that Godís will is, ĎThou shalt not kill.í ĎAll right,í he thinks,
Ď but that sort of worship doesnít suit me, neither would I be
an ungodly man.í What does he do then? He gets hold of a priest
who in Godís name blesses the dagger. Yes, thatís something different.5
characterized manís unbelieving or unwilling response to an unconditional
demand of the Divine as manís "sensibleness." It is a
reaction that many who staunchly adhere to the Bill of Rights will
readily recognize. For example, scarcely is the command, "the
right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"
uttered, before learned law professors and judges hasten to assure
us that the words, despite their unconditional and categorical form,
do not prevent the state from enacting "reasonable regulations"
in the interest of public safety. All sensibleness consists in this
refusal to accept Godís unconditioned command as the binding ideal
that distinguishes right from wrong, to build maneuvering room into
it so that we can still think well of ourselves while pursuing our
own will. According to Kierkegaard, it is human sensibleness that
require the unconditioned of human beings is basically madness,
a ludicrous exaggeration that, like all extremes, as any sensible
person easily sees, takes revenge by producing an effect the very
opposite of what it aims at. All human wisdom consists in this
glorious and golden principle: to a certain degree, there is a
limit, or in this Ďboth-and,í and Ďalsoí; the unconditioned is
madness. The mark of mature earnestness is precisely this: it
insists that the requirement shall be of such a nature that a
person can with pleasure and satisfaction amply meet it though
steady effort. Obviously, what none of has done none of us, of
course, can do; and if none of us can do it, then the requirement
must be changed according to what we have shown we can do by having
done it Ė more cannot be required. Therefore, we insist on a Christianity
that can be brought into harmony with all the rest of our life,
corresponding to the change that has occurred in the human race
through increasing enlightenment and culture. . . .
will deny that the world has changed! For the better? Well, that
remains a question. . . . But it is eternally certain that nothing
so offends sensibleness as the unconditioned, and . . . the immediately
obvious mark of this is that sensibleness will never unconditionally
acknowledge any requirement but continually claims itself to be
the one that declares what kind of requirement is to be made.6
you are like me, it is sensibleness you will feel welling up within
you when you read Christís words to "resist not evil."
It is sensibleness that will question whether they really mean what
they seem to say, that will hasten to assure you that there are,
there must be, just causes for which violence and resistance are
righteous, that will not be willing to accept that we cannot avenge
our murdered citizens, or bring the men responsible to justice,
believing that somewhere, somehow, there must be maneuvering room
in Christís command to love oneís enemies sufficient to kill them.
is sensibleness that renders Tolstoyís work an obscure volume relegated
to the status of a curiosity penned by a great novelist who should
have stuck to writing fiction. People do not try to answer his arguments.
They are just sensibly ignored. When the Massachusetts preacher,
Adin Ballou, died in 1890, after spending fifty years of his life
writing about and preaching non-resistance based on Christís teaching,
his obituary in the Religio-Philosophical Journal made no
mention of this his lifeís work. Sensible, surely, for why malign
the man by pointing out how much of his life was spent in foolishness,
and why disturb readers by raising concerns over what can only be
an improper interpretation of the meaning of Christís command?
you are not likely to hear Matthew 5 : 38-45 preached this, the
next or any other weekend soon, though if the Christian religion
were supposed to have relevance to menís lives, it would appear
to be timely.
those who can accept and have the courage to pursue it, however,
the standard has been laid down. While we may admit (I admit) that
we do not (I do not) feel Christian love for our enemies, we can
at least partially act as required: we can refuse to go to war;
we can refuse to try to bring the perpetrators to justice. And if
we cannot quite bring ourselves to heed Christís counsel in full,
perhaps we can at least take George Washingtonís advice to avoid
foreign entanglements, bring our troops home from across the globe,
stop selling arms to foreign nations and cease meddling in foreign
affairs. Not, be it noted, because we hope or believe that we will
thereby gain release from further terrorist assaults. Those who
destroyed the World Trade Center hate us, and it is possible that
nothing we can do will change that, and that they will not stop
until they exhaust themselves in their hate. If it is to be done,
it must be done only because it is the right thing to do. And this
would be a good start: to not go to war.
is one other consideration that ought compel those of us who believe
in God to give this matter the thought it deserves. That is the
knowledge that, although God is longsuffering and of great mercy,
He by no means clears the guilty, but visits the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children, and the childrenís children, unto the
third and fourth generation.7 President
Bush is warning us that this war will not be over soon. But I wonder
how far his vision extends.
Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), translated by Constance
Garnett, Nebraska University Press, ©1984, at p. 243.
at pp. 241 Ė 242.
at p. 244.
Upon "Christendom" (1854-1855), translated
by Walter Lowrie, Princeton University Press, © 1944, tenth
printing, 1991, p. 219.
Self-Examination and Judge For Yourself!, translated
by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press,
© 1990, pp. 154 Ė 155.
34 : 7; Numbers 14 : 18.
Snyder [send him mail] is
an attorney who works in mid-town Manhattan. His website is www.nationofcowards.net.