Thursday, October 9, 2014

Teach-in on Nonviolence at St. Brendan Catholic Church

Thank you to the Christian Liberation Movement for hosting and organizing this teach-in on nonviolence.
Gathering here on Church property it seems appropriate to take a moment and pray an Our Father.
"Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen." 

Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, regularly read the Sermon on the Mount and said: "The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole. If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘Oh, yes, I am a Christian.’"
Reading an excerpt the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:38 underlines the nonviolent nature of Jesus's teachings:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 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.
Further on it explicitly calls on one to proactively care and pray for our enemies:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 
Nevertheless, the behavior of many who call themselves Christians led to the following observation by the leader of Indian independence: "It is a first class human tragedy that people of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus, whom they describe as the Prince of Peace, show little of that belief in actual practice."  
How many of us follow the Christ's instruction to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us? When we say the Our Father do we understand and internalize Matthew 6:14-15: 
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  
In a speech he gave in St. Augustine in 1964 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described both the kind of love referred to in the Sermon on the Mount and the impracticability of violence:
"Its difficult advice and in some quarters it isn't too popular to say it...Let us recognize that violence is not the answer. I must say to you tonight that violence is impractical...We have another method that is much more powerful and much more effective than the weapon of violence...Hate isn't our weapon either...I am not talking now about a weak love it would be nonsense for an oppressed people to love their oppressor in an affectionate sense I'm not talking about that too many people confuse the meaning of love when they go to criticizing the love ethic. ...I am talking about a love that is so strong that it becomes a demanding love. A love that is so strong that it organizes itself into a mass movement and says somehow I am my brothers keeper and he is so wrong that I am willing to suffer and die to get him right and to see that he is on the wrong road."
There are two fundamental elements for nonviolence to function laid out by nonviolence scholar Michael Nagler:
1. We approach our situation with right intention. We are not and do not need to be against the well-being of any person.
2. We employ right means. Wrong means such as violence can never, in the long run, bring about right ends.

Mohandas Gandhi observed that "To answer brutality with brutality is to admit to one’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy and it can only start a vicious cycle." It is not only the history of Cuba in the 20th century that demonstrates the truth of that statement but of the world in general. 

It was said that the First World War, that started a hundred years ago on July 28, 1914 and ended in 1918 with more than 16 million dead, was to make the world safe for democracy and that it would be the war to end all wars. Instead it ended up with the creation of the first communist state in Russia and with the humiliation of Germany gave rise to Nazism. Twenty one years later the Second World War started with more than 50 million dead. It ended with the United States using two nuclear arms over civilian population centers in Japan. In the long run violence can lead to the end of human life on the planet. It does not work.   

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas understood this.
 Teach-in on Nonviolence at St. Brendan's Catholic Church
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was one of the founders of the Christian Liberation Movement that came into existence on September 8, 1988, and had it become a national movement despite all the obstacles presented by the dictatorship. Oswaldo Payá explained the methods of this movement in December of 2002 while receiving the European Union's Sakharov Prize:
We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise. It is our wish that violence and force should never be used as ways of overcoming crises or toppling unjust governments. This time we shall bring about change by means of this civic movement which is already opening a new chapter in Cuba’s history, in which dialogue, democratic involvement, and solidarity will prevail. In such a way we shall foster genuine peace.
In the struggle against dictatorship in Cuba it was the internal opposition that first took up nonviolence as a method to resist injustice without becoming unjust. It was the nonviolent opposition that confronted a regime rooted in hatred without hating but were followed by other organizations in exile such as:
  • Brothers to the Rescue was a grassroots movement founded in May 1991 in response to the death of a fifteen year old named Gregorio Pérez Ricardo who had died fleeing Cuba on a raft only to die of exposure and dehydration. The movement was funded by the community through donations in order to carry out a nonviolent constructive program saving the lives of Cuban rafters before they died of dehydration or starvation on the high seas in small rafts. Brothers to the Rescue actively collaborated with both The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia and Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institution. Brothers to the Rescue conducted more than  2,400 aerial search missions.  These resulted in the rescue of more than 4,200 men, women and children ranging in age from a five day old infant to a man 79 years of age.
  • The Democracy Movement was founded in 1995 following the July 13, 1995 13-boat flotilla that paid tribute to 37 men, women and children massacred on the "13 de Marzo" tugboat by Cuban government agents a year earlier on July 13, 1994. Over the past 20 years it has carried flotillas, hunger strikes, and demonstrations in a obstructive program of civil disobedience challenging injustices not only in Cuba but in the Bahamas and the United States as well.
Jose Basulto played a crucial role in the formation of Brothers to the Rescue in 1991 and Ramon Saul Sanchez played an equally crucial role in founding the Democracy Movement in 1995. Unlike Oswaldo Payá both Jose Basulto and Ramon Saul Sanchez did not begin as nonviolent activists but came to it later. 

I want to conclude quoting Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas from the same speech of 2002 in Strasbourg mentioned earlier:
"The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’. This is the liberation which we are proclaiming."

One should not underestimate the importance of not having one's heart filled with hatred.   

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