Good Friday is the day Christians commemorate the death of Jesus of Nazareth. More precisely, his death was a state-sanctioned execution by slow torture. The most powerful empire in the world at that time with an unrivaled military force carried out his death sentence.
A few weeks ago, just over two thousand years after Jesus’s crucifixion, a group of peace activists living in our current world’s preeminent military empire, the United States of America, gathered in front of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, to call for an end to war and for the beginning of a just peace. Though small in number, our group sought to disturb the complacency of a society that has become far too numb to its state of permanent war.
On this holy day, a day of remembrance of the horrific state execution of an innocent prisoner, we stood outside the cathedral to bear witness to the countless innocent victims of modern warfare. So many have been senselessly killed only to be euphemistically categorized as “collateral damage” by the masters of war. So many who did not die physically have been deeply traumatized by the raging insanity of war. Death and destruction are the immediate fruits of war, while the enduring emotional trauma of war become the seeds from which future wars emerge. This is the legacy of war.
If one seriously claims to follow the way of Jesus, his teachings and his example of how to live, one must regard all who are physically killed or psychologically maimed as nothing less than our full brothers and sisters. Their humanity and the sacredness of their lives cannot be diminished by labeling them with dehumanizing language, which happens all too frequently in the reporting of war.
The question can be legitimately asked: Why would anyone stand on the side of a city street with a banner proclaiming Peace Is Starting and handheld signs denouncing the madness of war? The pragmatists will ask: “What good will that do? It’s not going to change the minds of those in power.” If one sees our reality from a purely materialistic point of view, where reality is composed only of atoms randomly rearranged over billions of years, then the skepticism of the pragmatist is well-founded. Such protests, from this perspective, are a pointless waste of time and effort.
The answer to this question by those of us opposing war has everything to do with the rejection of that old story and its purely materialistic view of reality and of humankind. The old story of humanity is based on the mythology of “survival of the fittest,” where we are all expected to relentlessly compete with each to have access to resources that we all need. This view of human life holds that we are fundamentally separate from each other, and therefore declares that we must fight each other for the right to live. In this framework, those who are not “strong enough” or “don’t work hard enough” don’t deserve essential resources. Ultimately, this means that certain people are not as deserving of life as others.
Which brings us back to the problem of war and the need to resist war in all its forms.
War is nothing less than a trauma factory on steroids. It destroys, degrades, and deforms everyone and everything it touches. War must be opposed for these reasons, because ultimately war brings all of us closer and closer to suicide. We see this in terms of the epidemic of suicides among veterans and active military personnel that goes largely unacknowledged by those promoting obscenely bloated US “defense” spending year after year.
War is also suicidal in the form of the very real danger of nuclear annihilation, either by human or technological error or by the insane belief of any political or military leader that the use of nuclear weapons would somehow not be catastrophic for all life on our planet.
Finally, war is devastatingly toxic to the natural world. Military activity significantly pollutes the air, water, and land that all earthly life depends on. The carbon footprint of the US military alone is greater than that of many nations. This represents the “boiling frog” scenario in which humanity is the “frog” slowly but surely being boiled to death by the constantly increasing heat that Mother Earth is less and less able to mitigate for us.
Opposing war is opposing suicide. That is why we denounce it and reject it. It is not a form of “problem solving” or diplomacy. It is not a way of life. It is only the way to death.
So what is the alternative?
The alternative is based on the embracing of a new story of humankind. It is an updated and scientifically based understanding of human nature. This understanding proclaims that we prefer peaceful cooperation and coexistence far more than any inclination toward violence. This new story of humanity is based on a conscious shifting toward the power of love and away from the love of power. It expands our awareness to know that who we are is far beyond our mere biochemical physicality. We are not independent from each other, but instead we are interdependent with each other. What we do to another we ultimately do to ourselves. Whether we like it or not, we are all profoundly interconnected. This concept is hardly a new one. Spiritual leaders have expressed this notion for thousands of years. Many traditions have some version of the “Golden Rule” as a key element of their faith.
So we gathered on Good Friday in the long shadow of the crucified Jesus. We sought to make a most subversive statement to our present culture: Peace is possible, and war is not inevitable. However imperfectly, we attempt to follow Jesus’s instructions for us to become the human beings we were meant to be. We have been invited and encouraged to follow his lead and live the way he taught us to live. He told us to love each other the way he loved us, to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. He told us again and again not to be afraid. He asked us to follow him, then and now.
Every voice lifted, every loving action taken for the cause of peace with justice is never a waste of time or effort. These actions may not resonate in the surface realms of corporate capitalism, white supremacy, and militarism, but they resonate significantly in the greater depths of agapic love. Like anyone caught in the riptide of a powerful addiction, those whose drug of choice is the assumed power of financial, political, or military dominance will at first misperceive the notion of recovery as impossible or crazy. All who are addicted to the “bottom line” remain functionally blind until something happens, an ordeal is experienced that becomes “eye opening.”
Some have argued that such deep-level change happens only when we experience either great pain or great love. The first Good Friday was full of both. ♦
Paul Nyklicek is a husband and a father. He works in Farmington as a psychotherapist and is a member of the Campaign Nonviolence Central CT Group.