Is nonviolence a realistic solution to big problems in the world?
On Sunday the lectionary text was Matthew 5:38-48. This is the section where Jesus talks about turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and turning the other cheek. For many, this is text is written off because they hear Jesus saying that we should just let people walk all over us. Walter Wink would have the interpretation that, in reality, this section is a call to creative non-violent resistance. (I talked about this a little bit here)
While there was a lot that I could talk about, I mainly choose to give an example of what this might look like on an individual level by using the story of Julio Diaz. While Julio’s story is quite compelling, it does leave the question open, “is nonviolence realistic when talking about big international problems?”
I would ultimately say that while it is not a %100 guarantee, that yes, non-violence is important, practical, and a better option than war.
This morning Gene Sharp was on NPR’s Morning Edition. He is a political scientist that has been working with non-violence for his whole life. Early on in the Egyptian revolution, many of the activists said they used his ideas from Sharps book “From Dictatorship to Democracy“as a blueprint for their actions. I was struck by two things that Sharp said in this interview in regards to the practicality of nonviolence.
When he was asked why people should use nonviolence, Sharp replied, “Because it’s wise. Why should you choose to fight with your enemies best weapons. nonviolence is a kind of power, people mobilizing power, which dictators are not very well equipped to deal with.”
The other thing that struck me was when he talked about the three essential things that you need to know or do in order to really have a revolution.
1) Know the dictatorship system really well. – You have to know that any dictator is nowhere near as strong as they tell you and you have to know what the weaknesses are so you can exploit them.
2) Understand non-violence well. – You have to understand non-violence theory and what it’s main principles actually are.
3) Think strategically. – Successful non-violent resistance doesn’t just happen. These are things that are carefully planned and organized and that require a great amount of discipline and strategy.
Is this a guarantee of success? No. Of course not. But I would remind you that neither is war. Are there questions about how pure any non-violent action is? Sure. Sam Voth-Schrag has some interesting thoughts on the role of the military in non-violent actions here. Overall, I still have to say that using non-violence is an all around better option than killing people and blowing things up.
Listening to Sharp this morning, it was refreshing to be reminded that working through non-violence is realistic, practical and possible. The mythical lie that war brings peace was, once again, challenge with the truth of the Gospel.