As an advocate of the healing manifested in the world through divine love – that is to say, as an apologist – the most painful apology is that offered by those that justify violence in the defense of received truth.
In modern America, those justifications are flavored with desperation. For many years, Christian culture was synonymous with the dominant Caucasian culture. The twenty-first century promises an end to that dominance, but that eventuality was clearly forecast in the last century. The misguided hope that change and accommodation can be avoided breeds irrationality, manifested in the religious extremism that spawned death-threats against doctors that prescribe chemical abortions or that drives parents to resist education in evolutionary biology. Fundamentalism bred in the military, where “Warriors for Christ” sometimes coerce religious conduct in their subordinates, and issue death threats against leaders in organizations (such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation) that oppose that unconstitutional practice. In each case, the instigators see the tenets of their faith as justifying imposition of their values upon others, and therefore implicitly justifying a broader defense of inherited social privilege.
In both Judaism and Islam, this tendency is heightened by the intervention of God in martial struggles against those seeking to subdue the faithful. It is only in Christianity that radical non-violence is upheld. That the bookends to Christianity both deny the divinity of Christ may be symptomatic of a pragmatism that makes violence inescapable.
In Islam and the Destiny of Man, Eaton explicitly upholds this principle. A Sunni scholar, his survey of Muslim history after the death of the prophet concludes with the observation that the practical realities of maintaining control of an Islamic culture meant at least paying lip-service to its theology, which was often solidified by investments in public works that facilitated its spread. Through that means, tyranny was turned to the service of faith. But it goes beyond that – Eaton makes a deep statement that truth cannot survive in the world unless evil is divided from it, and that division requires violence. Indeed, the hypocrites of the ruling class in the Umayyad and Abbassid dynasties were short-lived.
In discussion with my Shia colleague at work, I have been slowly establishing the validity of the contrasting proposition of Christian faith: Jesus demonstrated that the pragmatic truths of this world are dust in the hands of those that manipulate them. What is known to be “true” is far less meaningful than what is possible. While the common reaction is “good luck with that,” I keep on pointing out that far more power is available to us than is required to solve the problems we face. A billion times as much energy leaves the sun as reaches the earth. It is not allowed us for the same reason that parents don’t give matches to children – one selfish miss-step can destroy us all.
But, you see, it wasn’t a solar eclipse on Good Friday. It was the sun pouring its power through him.
I discovered Lauren Naigle through BJ out at The River Runs. The compositions on Lauren’s debut album don’t rival those found in the secular (and often profane) debuts of Ricky Lee Jones or Norah Jones, and subscribe to a simple lyrical formula. But they encapsulate the fundamental truths of Christian experience: it is the loving heart that bled for humanity that demonstrates the preconditions for true power. Surrender self-concern and trust that all those that you love ultimately will love you in return.
Lauren is young, and among her tracks are jingles that might be dismissed as overly exuberant. But she has not been without suffering, losing two years of high school to an auto-immune disorder and a beloved grandfather. In How Can It Be’s closing homage, she pleads for self-surrender:
There is victory in my Savior’s loss
In the crimson flowing from the Cross
Pour over me, pour over me. (Yes!)
Oh let this be where I die
My Lord with thee crucified.
Be lifted high, as my kingdoms fall
Once and for all, once and for all.
Oh Lord I lay it down.
Oh Lord I lay it down.
Help me to lay it down.
Oh Lord I lay it down.
Bad things happen to good people not because they are weak.
Evil walks in the world, and hungers for the power that originates from love, but love recoils from its grasp. In Richard Nixon, the great lesson of abused power was visible when he bade farewell to his staff, tears streaming down his face as he juxtaposed his experience of political life with the love he had received from his mother. That is another way of reading Lauren’s lyrics: “Be lifted high, as my kingdoms fall. Oh Lord I lay it down.”
There are those immune to these realizations – Beria, Stalin’s security chief, spat on the corpse just moments after his master’s death. But Stalin has already been forgotten by history, replaced by Vladimir Putin, a man who justifies his power by promising to allocate money for road repairs left undone by the local governments impoverished by the corruption he organizes.
Putin’s political aspirations were conceived when unrest in East Germany paralyzed the embassy staff. Stepping in with a firm will, he saw people galvanized to action. It is this strength of will that he relies upon, but the lesson that is demonstrated by history is that the will to power is no match for the discipline required of those that love unconditionally. Tyrants can concentrate spiritual power, but they cannot hold it in any confrontation with a wise and loving adversary. The tyrant simply serves as a dark well in which light shines more brilliantly into the spirits of the oppressed.
The mistake of religious fanaticism is to believe that the institutions of tyranny must be dismantled, for that strategy only justifies oppression. The truth found in Christianity is that we don’t need to destroy the institutions of tyranny. Instead, in service with he that died once and for all, we can dismantle the personalities of the tyrants.
Oh, Lauren, what an joy it is to celebrate your wise old soul!