This is nonsense. Wars are intentional actions that deliberately kill human beings. An enemy is a person serving a government. War is a political act involving the conscious decisions of moral agents.
A virus is a force of nature. It has no intentionality. A pandemic has no political agenda. There are no enemies here. There is no one to negotiate with. There will be no peace treaty.
The war metaphor makes us think in
nationalistic terms. But a pandemic is a
global problem. Nationalism prevents cooperative
action. We don’t need a wartime president. We need a global team of scientists and doctors.
The war analogy creates a morbid
fascination with body counts. This leads
to lame statistical analogies. People have
compared pandemic deaths to the numbers
killed in wars. The Surgeon
General said this will be “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.”
These comparisons are uninformative. Better comparisons would consider those
killed by other infectious diseases, say AIDS or Ebola.
This fascination with body counts implies
that that we “win” when the count goes down.
But each death represents an infinite loss. Dead people are not tally marks on some
perverse scorecard. Instead of counting
body bags, let’s talk more about grief, mourning, and resilience.
The myths of war, as I have argued elsewhere, make it seems that a soldier’s death is vindicated by victory and the justice of the cause. But in a pandemic, there is no justification or vindication.
The rhetoric of war also gets infused with patriot and religious language that becomes propagandistic.
When President Trump sent the Navy ship, Comfort, to New York,, he published a patriotic video and tweeted: “With the courage of our doctors and nurses, with the skill of our scientists and innovators, with the determination of the American People, and with the grace of God, WE WILL WIN THIS WAR .”
Again, the idea of a war to be won is absurd. Also absurd is the idea that the grace of God is involved in this, or in any battle. Hurray for the doctors and scientists. But the real work is about healing and mitigation, not about defeating an enemy. This is an unglamorous effort, conducted one person at a time in sick beds and hospitals. The American people don’t need to put on armor or steel themselves for battle. We need to stay home, wash our hands, and wear masks in public.
Unfortunately, our imaginations are
infected by militarism. Patriotism is
tightly woven around war. We cheer on
the war machine, despite morally problematic and endless wars. If the “war” against coronavirus is like the
war in Afghanistan, we are in trouble.
Nor do we think enough about peace-building. The pandemic calls for cooperative cosmopolitanism
and creative community transformation.
Public health is not war. It is
War rhetoric has led us astray
before. The “war on drugs” created a
punitive system of mass incarceration, while thousands continue to die. Drug overdoses killed 67,367 people
in 2018. The war on drugs failed because
it should not have been a war.
Instead of combat, we needed compassion. People turn to drugs because of pain, depression,
or a lack meaning and purpose. The
solution to the drug pandemic is a peaceful campaign of caring for those who suffer.
A similar rhetorical shift is
needed for the coronavirus. Let’s support
the care-givers by giving them the equipment they need. Let’s build inclusive infrastructure to
support social-distancing in a time of economic turmoil. Let’s provide compassionate care for those
who suffer and grieve. And let’s
encourage the wartime president to stay out of the way of cosmopolitan science
and the peaceful work of public health.
Rogers imagined a world in which peace and love triumphed over war and hate, a vision grounded in his own Christian faith. One recent book calls him a “dyed-in-the-wool pacifist,” highlighting the anti-war lessons Rogers delivered from Vietnam to the war on terror.
This may seem like something from the land of make-believe. But the path to peace begins with kindness to animals.
The key to this process is empathy. Empathy is the ability to sense what another creature is experiencing. Empathy can be developed with practice. One way to help kids develop empathy is to have them care for animals.
But empathy is only a part of ethics. We could care for animals and eat them, after all. We could also understand that other people are suffering but remain indifferent to their pain.
Empathy helps us see things from the other’s point of view. The moral question is what we do about what we see.
You can understand, for example, that the homeless man on the corner is suffering. This may move you to give him money. But you may worry he would spend the money on drugs. You might also think that his suffering is his own fault. Or you may have other obligations to attend to.
Moral judgment goes beyond empathy. This applies in thinking about animals. Once we see that animals can suffer, the moral question is whether their suffering matters and to what extent.
Most people think that animal suffering does not count for much. Even if animals suffer, most humans believe that this suffering is outweighed by human pleasures. We know that pigs are as smart as dogs. But we like bacon. Or we are unable to imagine a world without bacon.
But our thinking slowly evolves as we imagine things differently. California is leading the nation in new reforms aimed at alleviating animal cruelty. In October, California became the first state to ban fur sales. California also prohibited the use of bears, tigers, elephants, and monkeys in circuses, among other reforms.
The fur ban is a policy that Rogers supported a few decades ago. Animal fur is no longer necessary for warmth. We have come up with other ways to clothe ourselves. Something similar holds for circus animals. We have decided to find other ways to entertain ourselves that do not involve cruelty to animals.
Now some skeptics will claim that animals do not suffer and that empathy for animals is absurd. A skeptic might claim that to think that animals suffer is misguided anthropomorphism — a mistaken projection from the land of make-believe.
Empathy begins with a kind of make-believe. When we project ourselves into the experience of another, we use our imaginations. Once empathy makes the connection, the next step is to imagine a world in which there is less suffering — a world beyond animal cruelty and a world beyond violence and war.
Peace-makers have always had very active imaginations. Fred Rogers explained his vision of the world in a commencement speech in 2002 where he said that the deepest part of the self is oriented around the following: “Love that conquers hate. Peace that rises triumphant over war. And justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
We don’t live in a world like that yet. Not everyone shares this vision of a more compassionate world. But we are making progress. The first step is learning empathy. The next step is teaching our children, as Rogers did, that they have the power to imagine a better world.
If we want to broaden our thinking, we must enlarge our vocabularies. Recent research shows how learning a foreign language changes the way we think about ethics. Experiments conducted at the University of Chicago indicate that non-native speakers tend be less emotional and more impartial in ethical decision-making.
Researchers confronted people with a typical moral dilemma. Imagine there is a run-away train headed for a group of five people. Is it morally correct to push a bystander in front of the train, slowing it down and saving those five people?
Non-native speakers are more likely to choose to kill the one in order to save the five. People are less likely to reach that conclusion when asked the question in their native language.
SECOND-LANGUAGE ACQUISITION TEACHES HUMILITY. OUR IGNORANCE OF OTHER LANGUAGES SHOULD MAKE US LESS PROUD AND SELF-ASSURED
This research is thought-provoking. Could international negotiations be affected by the choice of language? Or consider what this suggests about debates about immigration and multiculturalism. Immigrants may be thinking in more objective terms, while monolingual nativists are more emotional and driven by intuition.
This research also leads us to imagine that foreign language acquisition could help build a more peaceful world. Learning to communicate in a foreign language opens the door to a more cosmopolitan point of view. A new language helps you see the world differently. It also helps you understand the limits of your own language and worldview.
Second-language acquisition teaches humility. The easy conversations of children babbling in a foreign tongue are mind-blowing when you do not know the language. Our ignorance of their languages should make us less proud and self-assured.
Philosophers have long been interested in the language question. In the 17th century, the philosopher Leibniz—one of the inventors of calculus—hatched a plan to construct a universal language. This language would be used to transmit science. It would facilitate global commerce. And it would help create world peace.
In the 19th century, philosophers abandoned this cosmopolitan project in favor of an emphasis on national identity and the rich worldviews found in the depths of culture. The philosopher Hegel once said that we only truly possess ideas that are expressed in our mother tongue.
Romantics like Hegel celebrated the deep poetic resonances of life, language and thought. It is true that the overtones and connotations of the mother tongue run deep. But Romanticism can breed ethnolinguistic nationalism, which is divisive and undermines the cosmopolitan ideal.
These days the dream of a universal language has given way to the need for linguistic sensitivity and cultural pluralism. Instead of advocating a universal language, we need more and better understanding of other people’s languages and worldviews.
The philosopher Wittgenstein once said, “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” This implies that we can only think what we can say. If our vocabulary and grammar are limited, so too is our thinking.
WHILE SOME PEOPLE REMAIN WEDDED TO CLOSED-MINDED NATIVISM, THE FUTURE IS COSMOPOLITAN, MULTICULTURAL, AND POLYLINGUISTIC
This sounds abstract, so an example might help. Consider how the introduction of foreign words into English helps us think more clearly. In English, for example, we have one word for love. But there are three words for love in Greek: eros (sexual love), philia (the love of friendship), and agape (brotherly or universal love). Understanding these words can help us think more carefully about love.
Or consider how much the American vocabulary (and diet) has been enriched by the inclusion of foreign words for food, from burritos and croissants to samosas and tofu.
While some people remain wedded to closed-minded nativism, the future is cosmopolitan, multicultural, and polylinguistic. We benefit from being uprooted. Change causes us to grow. It is good to be forced to think about things in new ways – and in a new language.
If you want to broaden your mind, travel, eat new foods and learn a new language. This can affect the way you think about ethics. It can make you more humble. And it can also help you develop agape, the kind of love that is hospitable and welcoming to strangers.
Violence will always be with us. There is something in common between the street battles in Berkeley and Charlottesville and the saber rattling over North Korea. Millions also tuned in to watch Mayweather fight McGregor.
Violence is alluring. It attracts our attention. Our fascination with fire and fury is morally problematic. When a fight breaks out on a playground, kids rush to watch. No one really cares which side they are on.
Not everyone is enamored of violence. There are more anti-hate protestors than there are haters. But a few people are always itching for a fight. Others egg them on. And the rest of us watch awestruck and spellbound.
There is a whiff of transcendence in violence. Adrenaline, pain, and the risk of death are stimulating. The heart races and the senses focus. Like sex and extreme sports, violence can elevate and inspire.
Aggression is hard-wired in brain – especially the masculine brain. Buried somewhere in the male limbic system is the evolutionary residue of the mammalian struggle for mates and dominance.
But we are not animals. The world’s moral and religious traditions demand that we control aggression and limit violence.
Socrates suggested that it is wrong to return harm for harm. Jesus told us to love our enemies. The Taoist sages advised harmonious nonaction. South Asian traditions prescribed ahimsa or nonviolence.
Unfortunately the Paleolithic brain is often immune to the counsels of civilization. Anger and aggression are subrational. Young men fight without thinking about what they do.
Some people offer justifications for violence, making exceptions to moral commandments. Some think that violence can be productive. They view it as a tool to advance a cause. Terrorists often rationalize violence in this way.
But justifications of violence are morally flawed. An immoral tool should not be used to advance a noble cause. Morality requires a unity of means and ends.
Violence infects and discredits any cause it is associated with. When a riot breaks out at a political event, the riot becomes the story. Violence undermines political agendas and destabilizes political movements.
Violence can be effective, in the short-term. Intimidation and coercion do work to change behavior. Violence runs some people off, scaring them away. It also attracts thugs. But it does nothing to persuade people to change their minds.
Violence is stupid. It stupefies, stuns and awes. But violence makes no argument and gives no reasons. Violence is not intelligent, clever, or insightful.
As brute force, violence brutalizes. Violence dehumanizes because it treats persons as objects to be manipulated through physical power. Violence does not listen or respect human needs. Instead it pushes and pulls the levers of pain, seeking dominance and control.
Violence has no moral authority. The victors are not more virtuous than those they defeat. They are only more powerful. Victory depends upon physical prowess—and often on good luck. It does not depend on moral rectitude.
Violence feeds on itself. Bloodlust is stimulated by fear and the desire for power. Those appetites and emotions overwhelm our rationality. Thus violence incites more violence.
The tit-for-tat of violence slowly simmers. Hatred and resentment fester. A careless spark can cause quick and fatal escalation. Violence is chaotic, unpredictable, and contagious. It stimulates backlash and blowback. And it tends to spread.
Violence only creates lasting change when it becomes excessive and permanent. The logic of violence thus points toward totalitarianism and final solutions that eliminate all enemies.
Violence makes no argument, utters no truth, and cherishes no value. It cannot deliver liberty, justice, or happiness. Violence tears down, destroys, and destabilizes. But it cannot transform and uplift the human spirit.
Violence cannot give birth to a child, build a community, create justice or sustain a way of life. The work of birthing, building, creating, and sustaining is nonviolent. It requires love, patience, tenacity and wisdom. Those are human values that have evolved beyond the Paleolithic brain.
The good news is that most of us understand that violence is subhuman. We know that a human world depends upon rational argument, cooperative activity, love and justice. The challenge of the future is to further discredit violence. And to find ways to further sublimate the sinister impulses of our mammalian brains.
As Half Dome blushed in the setting sun, Yosemite’s granite gorges resounded with song. At dusk, a bat danced above the bassoons. After the last echo faded, a shooting star flashed into view. It quickly vanished into darkness.
Beauty is fleeting. It shines and echoes for a moment. Then it is gone. Youthful brilliance becomes old age. Summer sun gives way to winter winds. Music always returns into silence.
The fragility of beauty is a reminder of mortality. But beauty also soothes and reassures. Wonder and joy arouse our better angels. Natural splendor and human art make life worth living.
The concert at Glacier Point honored the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, whose work conserves the wild wonders of our continent. Some Park Service employees also play in the Mariposa orchestra. How cool for those rangers to serenade the park they love.
The arts and Yosemite
One might think it odd to stage a symphony at Glacier Point. But according to Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman, “From the signing of the Yosemite Grant to the present day, the arts have played a significant role in the creation and continued interest in preserving these public places.”
Yosemite sparkles in Ansel Adams’ photos. It is illuminated by John Muir’s prose. Yosemite has a new artistic champion in Les Marsden, the conductor of the Mariposa orchestra.
Marsden composed a complex cycle of four pieces to honor Yosemite and the Park Service. Marsden’s compositions are classically American, reminiscent of Aaron Copland. The music told the history of the national parks. It imitated wind, water, fire and animal life.
As Marsden’s dynamic baton came to rest and the music faded into silence, you could hear crickets chirping and birds singing. I was struck by the thought that human art is a response to nature’s call. The human imagination swells in the presence of Half Dome. Birdsong tickles our ears. Thunder quickens the heart. And Yosemite Falls provokes laughter and shouts.
WITHOUT HOPEFUL SPLASHES OF JOY, LIFE WOULD BE DULL AND MEANINGLESS.
Poetry, painting and music reflect the wonders of the world. Human art transcends matter. Without the soaring responsiveness of the human spirit the earth would be quiet and dull.
John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” Muir explained that gardens and parks satisfy our “natural beauty-hunger.” We plant flowers, tend our gardens, and visit parks looking for inspiration and consolation.
Muir claimed that natural beauty comforts “nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” For Muir, mountain parks are “fountains of life.” Their sublime wonder stirs the spirit.
Fountains of life
Art and music are also fountains of life. The arts encourage us to savor the world.
One of my colleagues, Thomas Loewenheim, the conductor of the Fresno State SymphonyOrchestra, has confessed his hope that music provides a path toward peace. I think he is right. Music, beauty, art and nature encourage us to transcend our petty differences. They lift us beyond ourselves and bring us together in awe, reverence and delight.
Stand on Glacier Point. Immerse yourself in poetry. Fill your lungs with song. Dig your fingers into the soil. Smell the wonder of flowers. Or simply listen to the birds. The aesthetic mood encourages us to breathe more deeply – to listen, see and feel.
In moments of beauty, anger melts, hatred dissolves and peace dawns. Winter storms will come to the high country. Fires will burn the hills. And madmen rage in the lowlands. But peace is found in beauty. And hope is found in the fragments of color, song, granite and water that we carry in our hearts.
Without hopeful splashes of joy, life would be dull and meaningless. Hallelujah for Yosemite. Hurray for Marsden and the Mariposa symphony.
And thank goodness for the men and women of the Park Service, whose work has preserved nature’s wonders for 100 years. Here’s hoping that the artists, rangers and natural wonders of our world will continue to inspire and console for another century.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/andrew-fiala/article98045307.html#storylink=cpy
You’ve seen T-shirts, posters, and even band-aids emblazoned with peace signs, hearts, and smiley faces. Bumper-sticker wisdom, building upon the idealism of the 1960s, affirms what we might call ‘the hippy trinity’: peace, love, and happiness. We suspect that if we were more peaceful and loving, we would be happier. And if we were happy, it would be easier to love others and live in peace with them. One source for this idea may be the Apostle Paul, who said in his New Testament letter to the Galatians that the fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, and peace. A more contemporary source is the blues and hip-hop artist G. Love. One lyric from his song ‘Peace, Love, and Happiness’ is:
“I got no time to worry
About troubles or misgivings
You got to let it flow, let yourself go
‘Cause if you’re hating, then you sure ain’t living
Give me some Peace, Love, and Happiness”
The Beatles made it simpler, asserting that “love is all you need.” John Lennon asked that we “give peace a chance.” Pharell Williams more recently sang that “happiness is the truth.”
Unfortunately, pop poetry can only take us so far. The optimism of San Francisco’s Summer of Love runs aground on the wisdom of Athens, Jerusalem, and Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment). The world’s major philosophical and religious traditions tell us that life remains tragic and difficult, and that peace, love, and happiness are never easily found. Peace, love, and happiness are also in conflict with other values, such as self-sufficiency, liberty, and justice. Smiles and hugs cannot end war, eliminate religious and ethnic conflict, nor cure psychopathology. Most of the world’s traditions therefore admit that the goal of uniting peace, love, and happiness creates a difficult and chronic, even eternal, project.
One difficulty, perhaps impossible to surmount, is the fact that the conjunction of peace, love, and happiness contains internal contradictions. Consider the fact that love may require violence: love may oblige me to fight to defend my loved ones. Indeed, love of country or of God may inspire war. Love may also lead to unhappiness: for instance, the lover suffers when the beloved dies. To love is to open oneself to grief and loss. And love easily becomes jealous and vengeful. It is no wonder that the Stoics advised equanimity and emotional self-control rather than passionate love. Tranquility is not easily cultivated when love inflames the heart.
Peace may also result in unhappiness. Those who are defeated by cruel oppressors may lay down their arms. But forced submission creates an unhappy peace that conflicts with the value of liberty. Even apart from the ‘peace’ of the pacified slave, there is no denying that peace is often achieved by sacrificing other important values. We may choose to give up on legitimate claims for justice, reparation, or respect in the name of peace. Moreover, Nietzsche argued that peace was merely the pallid dream of the mediocre, while powerful men were inspired by danger, adventure, and war.
Happiness is also complicated. A certain sort of happiness develops from the single-minded pursuit of one’s aims. The creative joy of the artist, inventor, or genius often comes at the expense of those she loves. Although Aristotle thought that happiness included social virtues, he also believed that self-reliant contemplation was the highest form of happiness. The self-reliant individual finds happiness alone: he loves the truth, but does not necessarily love other human beings. And for some people, happiness is linked to competition, victory, and domination. We know for example that victory and domination give men a satisfying boost of testosterone. One source of war, conflict, murder, and misery, is the ugly fact that violence makes some people happy.
To resolve these difficulties we need to think deeply and clearly about the meaning of peace, love, and happiness. It may seem mean-spirited to spoil the buzz of the blissfully smiling hippy dreamer whistling Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. Life is hard, and if people find peace, love, and happiness in a song or a slogan, we ought not begrudge them their slice of heaven. But the demands of ethics should make it difficult to smile in a world of pain and injustice. Common sense reminds us that blissful moments do not last long, and a bit of reflection reminds us that our happiness to an extent rests upon the backs of those who slave in fields and sweatshops. Is anyone entitled to peace, love, and happiness in a world in which children are raped, where slavery continues, and where species go extinct at the hands of humanity?
The problem of the suffering of others is a central concern for both theists and Buddhists. Leszek Kolakowski once asked in an essay, ‘Is God Happy?’ He pointed out that a just and loving God must be incredibly sad to see the suffering of humanity. Kolakowski also argues that the Buddha would be deeply unhappy to know that most of the world remains bound to the wheel of suffering. However, contemporary Western images of Buddhism often portray it as providing a personal path to peace, love, and happiness. For example, Mathieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk of French origin, is touted as the world’s happiest man, and his books are marketed in such a way that they appear to provide a recipe for personal happiness and peace. Ricard himself, however, makes it clear that the key to happiness is practice, discipline, and compassionate concern for the suffering of others. We shouldn’t forget that Buddhism begins with the assumption that life is suffering! Or consider another popular Buddhist author, Thich Nhat Hanh. As Hanh explains, “the mind of love brings peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others” (Wisdom from Peace Is Every Step, 2005). This sounds simple, but it takes years of training to develop a mind of love, inner peace, and joyful compassion. Buddhist practice is not merely selfish navel-gazing. Indeed, it can lead to anguished engagement with an oppressive and violent world – as witnessed by the monks who immolate themselves in protest against repressive regimes in Tibet and elsewhere. The fact that a religion of peace, love, and happiness leads to suicidal protest in the face of oppression gives much food for thought.
Christianity provides a similar source of contemplation. The turmoil, sadness, suffering and cruelty of the cross are an essential part of the Christian story. We noted already that Paul imagined the unity of peace, love, and happiness in the life of the Spirit; but like Jesus himself, Paul was arrested and executed.
For Christians, peace, love, and happiness are ultimately found far beyond the tumult of earthly life, death, and politics. Saint Augustine argued in his book The City of God (426) that happiness and peace cannot be found in this life. He contrasts Christian wisdom with that of the earlier Greek philosophers, the Epicureans, Stoics, and Cynics, who maintained that happiness could be produced in this life by philosophical reflection. Augustine claimed that worldly happiness was insufficient, and that eternal happiness, lasting peace, and true love were only possible in union with God, only fully achievable in the afterlife. For Christians, the path to peace, love, and happiness passes through and beyond this world of wickedness, sin, and suffering.
Is A World Of Peace, Love & Happiness Possible?
The Greeks criticized by Augustine thought otherwise. Epicurus (341-270 BC), for example, taught that a simple life, withdrawn from the tumult of politics, and spent in the company of loving friends, could be peaceful and happy. Epicurus also maintained that to enjoy peace and happiness you must cultivate justice, since injustice produces social conflict. But, Epicurus added, if you want to be happy and find peace, you should avoid political life and its stressful and dangerous entanglements.
There are clear Epicurean elements in the hippy dream – especially in the idea that simple living apart from the mainstream is the key to peace, love, and happiness. The problem, however, is that Epicureans can be accused of free-riding. Is it right to retreat to your garden while the outside world is plagued by war, hate, and sorrow?
In response to this problem, the Stoics maintained that we have a duty to serve society. So Stoics sacrifice their own peace, love, and happiness for the good of the many. For instance, the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161-180 AD, would have preferred to stay home with his loved ones and develop himself as a philosopher, but his political obligations led him to sacrifice his health and tranquility for the good of Rome.
Building upon the political perspective, we might note – as Steven Pinker has argued recently in his book,The Better Angels of our Nature (2011) – that peace, love, and happiness are the result of civilizing processes, including military and police power. In other words, Westerners can enjoy peace, love, and happiness because our borders are secure, our homes are comfortable, our economies run smoothly, and our institutions are stable. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many others across the globe.
The peace, love, and happiness celebrated in counter-cultural songs and bumper-stickers may rest upon European and American military, economic, and social power. Nonetheless, many advocates of the peace-love-happiness trinity are critical of police power, military force, and obedience and conformity. Some argue that the structures of imperialistic and militaristic civilization are internally contradictory – that they create the very ills they claim to solve. So peace is undermined by preparation for war. Love is destroyed by oppressive hierarchies. Happiness is subverted by the demands of work, conformity, and bureaucracy. But it may be that military power, obedience, hierarchy, and conformity are essential for peace, love, and happiness. It may be that best place to find peace, love, and happiness is in Epicurean gardens nestled safely in the heartland of an empire.
These and other disquieting thoughts arise when we begin thinking about peace, love, and happiness. While a simplistic faith or naïve fantasy can satisfy some, the moment you begin thinking, you wonder whether the beautiful dream of peace, love, and happiness is ever a real possibility for fragile, mortal, thinking beings who live in a cruel and tragic world. It might therefore be that those who philosophize recognize that peace, love, and happiness are nearly impossible to achieve. And yet one can’t help but imagine that John Lennon was on to something when he sang of his dream of “living life in peace”:
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”
It might help to recall that disputes about Christmas have a deep history. There is no consensus about Christmas, even among Christians. Eastern traditions celebrate Christmas on January 6. The manger scenes we see around Christmas take liberties with the story. Jesus was most likely born in a cave, not in a stable. The animals are also a later addition, not found in the Bible. The Gospels themselves contain different stories.
This is not surprising for people who study religion. Religions and religious stories evolve over time. This helps us gain some perspective on the so-called war on Christmas. Christmas and Christianity itself has never been just one thing.
But the point of Christmas, it seems to me, is to find a way to look beyond our disputes. We celebrate peace, love, hope and joy during the Christmas season. It would be great to focus on those shared valued and leave the divisiveness for the rest of the year.
In our diverse world, not everyone accepts the exclusive theology behind Mr. Graham’s interpretation of Christmas. But we can all benefit from peace and love, joy and hope. Indeed, it is those values that allow us to coexist despite our deep theological differences.
You don’t need to take the nativity story literally to understand values celebrated at Christmas. We can all understand the dramatic moment when Mary and Joseph are turned away from the inn. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that this story shows us the need for hospitality and that giving birth is momentous joyous and mysterious.
I corresponded with Mr. Haynes about this. He pointed out that schools should be free to teach about Christmas, while also teaching about other holidays in an academic fashion. Such teaching might include historic debates over the meaning of Christmas among Christians themselves. The colonial Puritans, for example, banned Christmas because they viewed its pagan elements as un-Christian.
While Christmas is inextricably linked to a celebration of the birth of Christ, the holiday is much more than that — it includes Santa and his reindeer, jingle bells and evergreen trees. These later additions have no connection to the Bible story. Christmas has evolved to be a secular — and universally accessible — celebration of joy, peace, love and hope.
The First Amendment guarantees that conservative Christians like Mr. Graham have a right to point out that Christmas originates in stories about the birth of Christ. Atheists also have a right to argue against Christmas and Christianity, if they like. But the Christmas spirit is more inclusive and welcoming than any exclusive religious or anti-religious diatribe. The values of Christmas encourage us to be warmer, gentler, kinder and more friendly. Inclusivity, hospitality, peace and love are important values for all of us.
The deep and universal message of Christmas is the hope that in an inhospitable world, we might find a peace, love and refuge. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that. Christians layer theology onto the nativity scene, directing hope beyond this world. But the magic of Christmas is found here on earth in the joyous love of mothers and in the peaceful and hopeful faces of children, who have not yet been hardened by the world and its divisions.
I recently attended a conference in Lancaster, Pa., focused on forgiveness and peace. Amish farms dot the countryside and Amish farmers in horse-drawn buggies roam the hills under turning leaves. What a great place to discuss forgiveness and peace.
A guiding idea for the Amish is the concept of Gelassenheit. This German word means “letting things be” or “letting go.” This idea guides the simple and modest life of the Amish, who avoid vanity, pride and the temptations of the modern world.
A recent book on Amish spirituality by Donald Kraybill explains that Amish Gelassenheit is the opposite of the “bold, assertive individualism of mainstream American culture.” The Amish encourage submission, humility and simplicity as well as forgiveness, peace, love and community.
Our bold and assertive individualism may be the root of many of our problems: crime, war, ecological disaster and social dislocation. Mainstream culture does not encourage us to be yielding or to be humble. Nor are we content to go easy in the world. Would you exchange your car for a horse and buggy, your cell phone for a simpler life?
We fill our lives with gadgetry and we charge down the freeway at breakneck speed. We celebrate heroes who impose their will upon the world. We are rarely encouraged to give way, to yield, or to simply let things be. We are too busy asserting ourselves, defending our rights and expressing our outrage.
But a yielding and gentle spirit is the heart of peaceful human relations. Consider forgiveness. To forgive is to give up on resentment, revenge and the right to retaliate. If I forgive you, I let you get away with what you’ve done. I forgo the right to punishment or compensation. Forgiveness leaves the injury behind, lets go of the past and allows the future to unfold anew.
Love is also connected to letting go. Loving human beings relinquish their egos in communion with others. We want those we love to flourish and grow, to become fully themselves. Loving parents guide their children gently, encouraging development with an accepting spirit.
Some may worry that peaceful yielding and loving forgiveness undermine discipline and order. Some still believe that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. But peaceful and harmonious communities do not need coercive force. Obedience based upon cruelty is superficial. True moral communities develop when people are patiently persuaded to discover natural affinities and common good.
My contribution at the Lancaster conference was a talk on Taoism. The Chinese philosophers also celebrate the spirit of letting go and letting be. Taoist wisdom encourages us to let things be the way they are. The Taoists emphasize living naturally, spontaneously, without conniving or contriving.
There are huge differences between Amish Christianity and Chinese Taoism. The Amish emulate Jesus and submission to God by saying, “Thy will be done.” The Taoists emphasize finding balance and harmony in nature. They are inspired by natural metaphors, encouraging us, for example, to emulate water, which flows, yields and conforms to the world.
Despite this essential difference, the Taoists and the Amish are similar in advocating retreat from the aggressive world of competitive culture. The Taoists retreated to the mountains of China. The Amish retreated to the hills of Pennsylvania.
Our fast-paced competitive world does not have much room for Gelassenheit. We tamper and tinker, judge and manipulate. We celebrate innovators, entrepreneurs and explorers. The bold individualism of our world is quite different from the quiet agrarian life of the Amish. It is also quite different from the life of the Taoist wanderer, who prefers nothing better than to peacefully fish in a mountain pond.
There is profound wisdom in the slow corners of the world, where letting things go is a way of life. Some of that wisdom should be allowed to influence the contemporary world. Gelassenheit is a concept that ought to enter into our moral vocabulary.
We ought to learn to say, “Thy will be done.” We ought to learn to flow like water. We ought to learn the wisdom of leaving things alone. When people complain about stress — when they are angry, resentful or aggressive — we ought to say to them, Gelassenheit — let it go, leave it be.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/10/17/4184601_simple-spirituality-can-teach.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
Thirty years ago the United Nations declared Sept. 21 as an International Day of Peace. We’ve still got a long way to go.
Human beings are the most violent animals on the planet. No other species kills its own members in large numbers on a regular basis. And yet, no other species reflects upon its own behavior or loves itself as much as we do. Hope for peace can be found in our capacity for reason and our ability to love.
Quite a few people claim that love provides the path to peace. Bumper sticker wisdom proclaims, “No love, no peace — know love, know peace.” Martin Luther King explained that love cuts through evil and hate. He said, “Love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.” Love moves us to sacrifice and care for others. It connects us to each other in a way that should promote harmony and peace.
But love without reason is blind. Love usually stops at the front door: we love our family but not our neighbors. Sometimes we do “love our neighbors.” But love rarely extends beyond borders. We may love those who share our ethnic, national or religious identity. But it is difficult to love humanity as a whole.
The best teachers of love want to extend it broadly, even maintaining that we ought to love our enemies. That is a radical idea, which may be impossible for mere mortals. But reason does tell us to extend love in a universal direction. A moment’s thought tells us that we are all members of the same species, despite our differences. Reason tells us that racial and ethnocentric biases are unjustified. It points toward an impartial and universal point of view.
We might supplement King’s enthusiasm for love, then, by claiming that reason is also a creative and transformative power in the universe. Reason’s virtue is its demand for objectivity and justification. Reason directs us away from nepotism, ethnic chauvinism, jingoistic patriotism, narcissistic pride and other malfunctions of love.
If we admit that love without reason is blind, we should also admit that reason without love is heartless. Warmongers often make cold-blooded arguments to support their violence. The same is true for murderers, torturers and the rest of violent humanity. Explanations and rationalizations have been employed in defense of all sorts of brutality.
Some arguments in defense of violence are better than others. But things go horribly wrong when callous arguments and cold rationalizations ignore the common beating heart of human experience, which is love. The tragedy of reason is its tendency to become cruelly inhuman and unloving.
A further difficulty is that violence is often justified in the name of love. Reason tells us that we ought to defend those we love against our enemies. But those enemies are also motivated by love and by arguments of their own. All human beings love their families, friends and ideals. Even the suicidal terrorist thinks that he’s justified. The deepest difficulty of violence is that it can be fueled by love and reason — the very things that should prevent violence.
The good news is that many of us are increasingly skeptical of traditional justifications of violence. Domestic violence, for example, would have gone unremarked upon in previous generations. Recent outrage about highly publicized cases of domestic violence is a sign of progress. There is similar outrage about war crimes and military aggression around the world. A growing number of us believe that violence is an irrational remnant of the youth of humanity.
To make further progress we have to link the objectivity and impartiality of reason with the passionate motivation and empathic connection of love. We need universal and reasonable love; and we need benevolent and compassionate reason. We need to love better and think more carefully.
Violence — like hatred, stupidity and ignorance — is easy. Thinking and loving are harder. It takes persistence and patience to love, to think and to build peace. Humanity has slowly worked its way toward a global society, through millennia of horrors. We are making slow progress. But piles of corpses and oceans of tears litter the way. The hard work of the next 30 years — and the next millennium — is to make ourselves more loving, more reasonable and more peaceful.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/09/19/4133666/theres-still-a-long-road-ahead.html#storylink=cpy
Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In December of 2011, the Peace Prize was awarded to three women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia; Leyma Gbowee, a peace activist from Liberia; and Tawakkol Karman, a leader of the Yemeni version of the Arab Spring. These women represent the power of women’s movements for peace in Africa and the Middle East. In their Nobel Prize speeches, they each cited Martin Luther King as a source of hope and inspiration.
Gbowee’s speech recounted the terror of war in Liberia, which included rape and sexual abuse. Despite the horrors she had witnessed, she remained hopeful that nonviolence can improve things. She quoted King’s words: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem; it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”
Sirleaf spoke of the need for continued expansion of democracy and women’s rights. She said, “I urge my sisters, and my brothers, not to be afraid. Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace.” And she cited King’s optimistic idea that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Karman is the youngest person, and the first Arab woman, to be awarded the Peace Prize. In her speech she said that King’s idea of “the art of living in harmony” remains the most important thing we need to master. She expressed her hope as follow: “Mankind’s feeling of responsibility to create a decent life and make it worth living with dignity has always been stronger than the will to kill life. Despite great battles, the survival of the human race is the clearest expression of mankind’s yearning for reconstruction, not for destruction, for progress, not for regression and death.” Despite obstacles in Yemen and elsewhere, she foresees “a humane, prosperous and generous history full of love and fraternity.”
The spirit of hope in the face of violence and injustice is central to King’s message. In his last sermon in Memphis on April 3, 1968, he acknowledged the threats against him. But he explained that the struggle for justice was more important than his own life. King concluded: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” He was killed the next day at age 39.
In that last sermon, he explained how moral courage works by retelling the story of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ original parable, two people—a priest and a Levite—walk past a wounded man on the road to Jericho. Only the Samaritan stops and helps.
King suggests that the first two men were too afraid to stop. The road to Jericho was dangerous—a prime place to be ambushed. The priest and the Levite may have been concerned about their own safety, possibly worrying that the injured man was faking it in order to take advantage.
King explains that they may have thought, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
This reversal is the key. When we stop asking, “what will happen to me?” and start asking, “what will happen to him?” our perspective is changed. Suspicion is replaced by care. Fear is transformed into hope. And self-interest becomes compassion.
It is hazardous to help others and to speak out against injustice. Evil dictators crush resistance; and bad guys do take advantage. But people who risk doing good, tend to experience the world in a hopeful, optimistic way.
In his own Nobel Prize speech, King admitted that “those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms and painful threats of death.” But in the end King says that it is possible to see “a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of despair.” The fact that this message is being shared in places like Yemen and Liberia is good reason to remain hopeful.