I do not actually believe that one of the most important spiritual masters ever to walk this earth was an idiot, but some people apparently do. While singing the praises of the Prince of Peace, many people simultaneously believe that violence is the only way to deal with conflict. Still, Jesus did say stuff like:
“Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.”
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
But people are funny, and some apparently think that there are exceptions, as though after writing it down, Jesus came up to Matthew and said, “Ha! I was just kidding. Let’s go kill some Romans.”
Still, it is a hard thing to rationalize violence if you follow or at least respect the philosophy of a Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, or what have you. But the ego is the best rationalizer in the Universe, so people say things like, “I’m all for peace, but…” Or maybe, “Peace is a great idea, but it’s just not realistic, because they don’t want peace.”
In other words, Jesus was an idiot.
Only a real simpleton would advocate not retaliating after 9/11, right? We were attacked, so we just had to strike back and show them that we are not to be messed with. And strike back we did. We avenged roughly 3,000 deaths by killing or injuring nearly one million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yeah, I guess we really showed them.
Our literature is filled with tales of revenge. By the end of Hamlet, few are left standing. Njal’s Saga, written in the late 13th century, describes a blood feud between two families in which the killing of one family member is avenged, causing the other family to retaliate, and so forth, until Njal and his family are burned alive in their house. That was the end of the blood feud, because nearly everybody was dead. We know, as a race, that violence is a fire that is fed by more violence until it becomes a conflagration that consumes everything in its path, leaving nothing behind except ruin and dead bodies.
Violence is an expression of our anger, and we do it because we believe it will make us feel better. It will make the hurt or the “wrong” go away. But it doesn’t do any of these things. Instead, this “anger in action” only causes more hurt and more wrongs.
If the United States had, in fact, turned the other cheek after 9/11, the world would be a safer and more peaceful place today. We could still have taken measures to secure what needed to be secure. Taking precautions isn’t stupid. But by choosing to feed Al Qaeda’s hate with our own newly formed hate, we fed the fire. By doing so, we confirmed their worst narrative about us—that indeed, from their perspective, we must be a great satan to rain bombs upon their nations and take so many innocent lives. This fed their fury, and Al Qaeda’s fire was able to grow. But if we had chosen not to retaliate, that fire would be embers or ashes by now. We are reaping what we have sown.
Not retaliating was never considered, however. Violence has become such a habit that many people honestly believe that it is the only option we have. If we are attacked, we must hit back. If we don’t, they’ll just hit us again. But there is another option: choosing not to engage. When my son takes my daughter’s doll, and she gets upset, he keeps doing it. She makes it fun for him. But if she didn’t engage—if she ignored his behavior, then he would stop eventually.
Peace is always available to us as a choice. It is not the fashionable choice. It is not the Hollywood choice—no one would go in with guns blazing. It is not the easy choice, either, because it takes real courage to choose not to respond with anger and violence when provoked.
As the pacifist A. J. Muste said so eloquently, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Like Jesus and so many others before him, he was not an idiot.