Beginner's Guide to Peace - Going Off Road
“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If you can’t change your mind, you can’t change anything” – George Bernard Shaw
Going Rogue – Escaping the Mythos
NOTE: The following discussion of religion and the
The State Religion
On this journey of peace we have noted that libertarians as a group are generally very critical of the State and its unjustified use of aggression and violence. It should not be surprising, then, to find that many libertarians are also critical of religious practices that violate the
For millennia, the State and religion have been intimately linked, from ancient civilizations in Egypt and China to those of the Aztecs, Inca and others. In almost every case,
This practice did not end with the ancients, however, as the link between the State and religion has continued into modern times. The “divine right” of kings, for example, was used to justify the reign of monarchs in Europe, while
More Cultural Hijackings
While there are many cases where it is difficult to discern how the link between the State and religion originated, in some cases it is abundantly clear. There are times when the State intentionally hijacks cultural institutions such as religion in order to gain support for its policies and to use as a tool in its pursuit of power. In doing so it often corrupts the very heart of these traditions.
Not long after Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 12th century, certain elements of it were adopted by the samurai warrior class. They found the practice of finding inner calm to be particularly useful in preparation for battle and in the execution of skills such as archery. The tenant of selflessness and the belief in the impermanence of all material bodies made it easier to train warriors to overcome their fear of death while the concept of karma made it easier for them to justify the murder of others. The Buddhist concept of
Having been corrupted, the embrace of warfare by some schools of Zen in Japan continued for centuries and into World War II, though many practitioners tried to hide this fact after that war. The publication of the book "Zen at War" by Brian Baizen Victoria in 1997, however, made it impossible to deny the complicity of some Zen Buddhist schools in supporting the state of Japan and its imperial war. Even D.T. Suzuki, one of the most beloved popularizers of Zen Buddhism in the West in the twentieth century, once made the unfortunate quote that “religion should, first of all, seek to preserve the existence of the state.”
Another example of religious hijacking, centuries earlier, is the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire beginning with Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century. In the Battle of Milvian Bridge, after reportedly seeing a vision of a cross in the sky, Constantine famously ordered that the cross be adorned on all soldier’s shields. Whether Constantine’s conversion was genuine or whether he was catering to the popularity of Christianity among soldiers at that time can certainly be debated. The ability to use the belief in an afterlife to lessen his soldiers’ fear of death was certainly useful.
Ironically, after centuries of persecution, the Roman Empire had begun to embrace, at least superficially, certain elements of the Christian religion. As with Zen Buddhism in Japan, the more noble elements of the Christian religion were disregarded. Instead of focusing on
Perhaps even more ironic was the adoption of the cross as the symbol for Christianity. Rarely used before the fifth century , the crucifix, the cruel instrument of execution generally reserved by the Romans for those who challenged the State and the very instrument of death used against its founder, eventually became the symbol of Christianity for hundreds of millions of followers.
The State Destroys Religion with its Embrace
Over the centuries, the religion of the
A Glimmer of Hope
Despite this long history of horror and carnage, at the start of the First World War there was a tiny ray of hope that Christian love and charity could challenge the destructive force of the State.
Trapped by Culture
Pushing the boundaries and moving a culture into a new direction can be extremely difficult. Both Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became known as the Buddha, and Jesus of Nazareth, who became known as Christ, the Anointed One, were men of their times and cultural environments. While both pushed their traditions towards
Siddhartha Gautama was raised in a Hindu culture that believed in reincarnation, the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, and karma, the belief that the situation every being is born into is based on their actions in previous lives.
As the tradition goes, Siddhartha, having lived the sheltered youth of a prince, was shocked by the reality of aging, disease and death he discovered upon his escape from the palace grounds. Greatly disturbed and moved by the suffering he saw all around him, Siddhartha at first tried to find peace by following the traditional practices of his culture such of asceticism and yogic mediation. Ultimately dissatisfied with the extremes of hedonistic luxury and self-denial, Siddhartha finally experienced an Enlightenment that provided the answers he sought. Establishing a moral system that called for
While millions of peoples have taken comfort in the teachings of Buddhism and have perhaps indeed escaped from much of life’s suffering, the Buddha himself was not able to escape from his culture’s traditions of karma and reincarnation. Whatever the truth of reincarnation, the idea of karma continues to be used to justify
In the New Testament, Jesus beautifully tries to encapsulate the essence of moral teaching in
Unfortunately, there are elements of the Old Testament that are morally questionable, if not downright repugnant. Within the supposedly sacred writings of the Old Testament we find passages supporting
Whether Jesus was attempting to build on existing cultural traditions (“I have not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it”) or whether he was trying to create a radically new ethical code from scratch (“Do not put new wine in old bottles”) is a topic that is still hotly debated among various Christian sects to this day. Thus we find denominations such as the Society of Friends and the Mennonites steadfastly
For an outsider, it is difficult not to notice the moral contradictions between the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Just as the Buddha was unable to move beyond his culture’s belief in karma and reincarnation, Christianity seems tied to some of the worst practices and beliefs of the ancient Hebrews.
For those Christians who embrace the State and the “necessary evil” of war, they should note the Biblical passages regarding the three temptations of Jesus. After Jesus had spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and preparing for his ministry, Satan tries three times to corrupt him. Among his temptations there was this (Luke 4:5-7):
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant
Death by State
In his time Jesus was pushing the boundaries of Judaic tradition and, because of his popularity, was likely seen as a potential threat to the Roman rule of Judea as well. Whether the Pharisees worked with the occupying forces to rid themselves of the troublemaking Jesus or whether the Romans “acted alone”, the end result was the same. In the Gospels the Christian tradition describes the brutal torture and execution of a man in a manner that States throughout history seem particularly adept at implementing. Witnessing this horror was his mother Mary,
Sacrifice Without End
Many Christians believe that Jesus was the final blood sacrifice needed to restore moral balance to the world. The State begs to differ. In its unquenchable thirst for blood and lust for power it continues to sacrifice tens of thousands and at times millions of lives each year to the false gods of nationalism, collectivism and democracy.
The State is not something to be honored or worshipped, whether it be the State known as the Roman Empire or the current leviathan, the empire of the United States.
A Radical Decision
Within any culture,
Sometimes, though, as mentioned in the previous chapter, a culture finds itself at a dead end. It is on these occasions that old ways must be abandoned and
To move outside one’s cultural heritage may appear to be a drastic or even radical decision, but to be radical merely means to
There is no doubt that
Additionally, because war is the health of the State, any challenge to war is a challenge to the State’s survival. Push against the State hard enough and you may find yourself in exile, as did millions of citizens in the Soviet gulags, in prison, as did the followers of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., or facing execution, as did Socrates, Jesus and unknown millions of others that refused to march in step with the State.
There and Back Again
One final note: When trying to push the boundaries of culture by entering new and unfamiliar territory,
The myth of the lonely explorer or inventor is usually just that, a myth. Many of the
-The entanglement of the State and religion often leads to the destortion of core religious values.
-Breaking with cultural traditions and institutions can be extremely difficult, even when they have become disfunctional or even deadly.
-To be radical means to return to the root or foundation.
The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy. Right from the start, Tolstoy explains why Christianity is incompatible with the State.
Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State by Lawrence M. Vance. A strong and consistent voice against the State and the militarization of Christian churches, Lawrence Vance lays out the Christian case against war.
The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. The Old Man lays down a richly dense work of 5,000 Chinese characters one afternoon on his way out of town, forever. I read it as being anarchic and strongly anti-war but others may have a different view. I have long enjoyed the black and white photos in the large format 1972 paperback translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, updated with additional photos in 2011.
Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton. There are several books available on the Christmas truce of 1914. I found this one to be particularly well done.
Photograph of Washinton Monument by Room237-Commons.Wikipedia.org
Photograph of the Buddha Statue by Nomo, modifications by Andrew Lesko-Commons.Wikipedia.org
Photograph of the Pieta by Stanislav Traykov, cut out by Niabot, modifications by Andrew Lesko-Commons.Wikipedia.org
Photograph of French Cemetary by Myrabella-Commons.Wikipedia.org