Celebrate Peace Starting on September 11

Posted by on 07.30.08 | 2 Comments
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The Unity Church here in Spokane is sponsoring an eleven day “Celebration of Peace” starting on September 11th. On that day, and for the ten days thereafter they will host a series of forums with guest speakers and panels, and hope to spread this celebration throughout the city. All of that is local, and so it is tough to participate unless you are here. There is however a part of this celebration that can be exported all around the world, and I want to pass that on to you all. They are asking all participants to employ a different way of making peace each day. They offered eleven suggestions, all of which are very common, and valuable ways of living, but they are also saying that anyone who wants can make up her own way of making peace and live that.

For myself I have very tentatively concluded that interpersonal peace making comes down to two things; first, keep a very firm grip on the truth that everyone identified as an enemy is a full and complete human being who lives and loves and has the same needs, hopes and desires as we. Propaganda works the same in every culture. In times of national stress and danger it is essential to dehumanize those people identified as enemies. I cannot think of a single war in which this did not happen. Today, for example, we are fighting “terrorists” and “enemies of freedom.” They are never identified either from the White House or the mainstream media as “human beings” or “people” or “parents of children.” Some of them are undoubtedly pretty horrible people, but that isn’t actually the point. The crucial issue is to hear over and over again that these enemies are somehow different, somehow not what we are. That is the absolutely essential component of turning the horror of warfare into a virtuous and noble enterprise. Beyond this we must also note that it is emphatically not that “we” are the ones who do this to “them.” For “they” at the same time are busy doing the same thing to “us.” The cycle of dehumanizing others works both ways and without it warfare is not sustainable.

It works at the level of individuals as well. If I am dealing with a “jerk” instead of a human being, then I can very quickly, very smoothly, believe that this is someone other, different, less than me. I then become virtuous as I belittle, whether alone to myself or in public to others, this…. whatever he is. Once I admit that I am dealing with a real human being, regardless of his interpersonal skills, I find that my attitude is forced into a different place.

So here is my first rule of living in peace. Never ever dehumanize anyone. The person who just cut you off in traffic or in line at the farmer’s market may indeed be a complete kneebiter, a total jerk, but if your desire is to be at peace with yourself and the world do not forget that he is also a human being with wants, desires, needs, hopes, fears that are remarkably similar to yours. He may be a rude human being, a nasty human being, but he is a human being nonetheless. Knowing this does not make me happy when I encounter people who don’t honor my humanity, but it does help keep me centered as I deal with them, and gives me the additional ability to express my own needs in such situations without apology.

My second rule is just as important to me, mostly because I am a professional religious person. That rule is do not worship a god who wants you to kill people. When you hear that Almighty God desires us to rid the world of some scourge or another by inflicting violence and death on other people, please do not believe it. When you hear people quoting one sacred scripture or another assuring us that the One True God is all in favor of our dropping bombs on people, do not believe that either. Human beings do not become violent because we believe God is; we believe God is violent because we are. If by some chance you should find yourself persuaded that the god you worship really does want you to kill people, then my advice is to get yourself another god. Frankly it isn’t that hard; a lot of us do it all the time without realizing it. I happen to be a Christian, and historically we have been really good at convincing people that God wants us to wipe out one sort of person or another. The irony in that has always struck me, but I am even more struck by the idea that a lot of us don’t see it as ironic. In any case at some point in my life I fired the god who wanted me to kill people and began to worship the one who would rather die than kill, who lives not in the planes that drop the bombs, but in the people on whom those bombs get dropped. It really wasn’t all that hard, and made life make a lot more sense. But be that as it may, the tendency to imagine that God is as angry as we is quite often well nigh irresistable, but my point is simply that we need to resist that idea nevertheless. If we are to live in peace, then we need a God who critiques our violent tendencies, not one who vindicates them.

I am hopeful about the Unity Church’s celebration of peace, and I encourage you all to join in during that eleven days starting on September 11th. I don’t believe it will change the world, I don’t believe that it will bring us closer to a world without the kind of violence that we face every day. I do believe it is an opportunity for real self examination, and a chance to discover for ourselves what living peacefully really means. The Unity people are looking for suggestions from others as to what such a life would look like, so if you have ideas just either reply to this blog with one or let me know directly and I will pass them on.




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