Lasting peace requires forgiveness.
Forgiveness is called for if we are to achieve lasting peace. But what is forgiveness? The notion seems simple enough. However, when we conduct an inquiry, we discover that most people are rather unsure of its precise meaning - individuals who are most certain of its meaning have difficulty reaching an agreement about the proper application of the notion.
The clergyman Horace Bushnell remarked, "The matter of forgiveness by men is so indeterminately thought, or nearly so unattempted by analysis, that we really do not know what is in it, or how it comes, or what it does. We talk of it in a certain loose way, but we have really no moral casuistry by which we regulate our practice in it." (1)
Maurice Materlinck wrote, in a chapter headed 'The Forgiveness of Injuries', "Take, for instance, the word 'forgive,' which appears, at first sight, one of the most beautiful in the language: does this word still, did it ever possess the sense of almost divine majesty which we assign to it? Is it not one of the terms that best set forth the good-will of men, inasmuch as it contains an ideal that has never been realized?" (2)
To achieve an ideal such as universal love on Earth, perhaps we should continue speaking in loose ways regarding the means to achieve love, given the fact that people tend to hate each other and will even do violence to one another over the various dogmatic definitions put into practice by political factions and religious sects.
Krishnamurti was bold enough to say, "Violence is not merely killing another....When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind." (3)
With all due respect to Krishnamurti - he declined the appointment to be the Theosophical Society's messiah - our differences do not always result in violence: they are also the spices of life which make life more palatable. Therefore we do more than merely tolerate cultural differences. In fact, we actively appreciate them, especially the highest expressions of art that do, despite the differences in style and technique, beautifully express universal truths. The tragedy arises when men take some part for the whole and organize wholesale campaigns of terror against their counterparts. Otherwise there would be plenty of food and shelter and friends around, lovers embracing, kids playing safely in the yards and streets, and so on and so forth. The partiality is especially tragic when the part murdered for would be trivial if it were not for its symbolic significance.
For instance, the absolute, undivided control over a small piece of real estate, a hill or dome somewhere; better yet, say a holy rock under a sacred dome. And how ironic it is that both parties disputing the high place abjure idolatry! Jeremiah's warnings were in vain. Authors still declare, "There were no idols in the Temple," forgetting that the Capitalized Temple or Capitol Building itself has become the grandest idol or spirit-possessed fetish of all. Thus people with rocks in their heads bang their heads into the wall over the holy rubble, and weep because the wall no longer protects them, while their cousins hurl rocks from their slings. Each participant in this groundless hatred for one's own kind has a piece of the Rock in his unenlightened oyster; how irritating! Pearls of wisdom they are not; nor are they ideals: they are concrete idols. Alas, if only the rocks, since nobody wants to share them or move them, could be dissolved by some sort of acid, or by the magic potion of forgiveness.
Forgive ('let go'). Forgiveness, no matter how loosely the term is defined, is the letting go of hatred and the renunciation of revenge. We have a great deal of political and religious hatred and revenge-seeking in the world. Yet, the most glaring example for us all to learn from is the current episode of the perennial conflict in the Mideast. It is said that those who do not know history are bound to repeat their mistakes; sometimes we have more than due cause to wonder if those mistakes are repeated because everybody has been reading the same pages for too long and are, therefore, by virtue of the power of suggestion, going through the same violent motions over and over and over and over again ad infinitum - hence defining their insanity. In view of the vicious habit to repeat history, we can understand why some emperors and dictators wanted to burn the classic books and to bury the scholars alive.
People seem bound and determined to make a difference and get their identity by fighting over it; otherwise, they would have too much in common to make war over. Israel in its militant form is a regressive reaction formation to German imperialism, the ancient Roman imperialism revisited upon them in its most terrible aspects. When the modern Jews fought back and revolted against the remnant of British imperialism in Palestine, and proceeded to seize Palestinian land, they, like other budding nations in the past, adopted the very nationalistic attitude which the World War was supposed to have rendered obsolete. And their Arab enemies adopted the nationalistic techniques borrowed from the great colonial powers to claim independence from those powers, then employed them against their most admired enemy, the state of Israel. Thus do enemies define each other - in bloodshed. What a shame it is that the animosity of the Arabs is focused on the Israelis with whom they have so much in common, including their blood. Their 'races' are cultural fictions; the ethnocentric, genealogical idolatry is absurd. As for culture, are not Muslim Arabs frustrated Jews? Are they not even better monotheists than Jews?
After all, Muhammad did not want to start a brand new religion: he wanted to bring the Hebrew message to his people. The Jews, however, insisted on quibbling with Muhammad over religious folklore. Alas for unity, there happened to be a number of local variations of the same old stories - including the story of Gog and Magog elaborated by Josephus. A map was laid out for groundless hatred: the gate to hell was thrown open. Even closely related tribes became barbarian hordes to one another.
Given more cooperation and less groundless hatred, today's Muslims would be Jews. Of course Jesus presents a crucial obstacle to unity, for Muhammad recognized Jesus as a prophet, not as a god. Still, Muhammad began his religious and secular career as a lover - during his travels, he overheard a great Christian preaching the love religion and was taken in by the message. We must not think that Islam had its origin in hate. We recall that Muhammad's tribal relatives persecuted him and his followers for years before he took up his first militant jihad. He was not the ruthless caravan robber he is made out to be; in fact, he was the manager of his wife's trading business. He was approaching fifty before the militant jihad began in earnest. He had tried unmitigated Christian love, but there was just too much groundless hatred. Love, alone, did not work. Since there was no emperor to save his faith, Muhammad became his own Constantine.
Muslim and Jew, Arab and Hebrew, the further one goes back in history and into the desert with his camels, the closer one comes to the common origin that spawned a rather iconoclastic and revolutionary lot of noble ('arab') tribes. Why do they not join forces now and provide a better example to the neo-liberal, imperialist infidels who have lost touch with the source of the spirit of freedom?
The old leaders of Palestine and Israel served their purpose with the revolutionary violence of their youth. As natural death draws near, some of them would leave the world in peace; they do not want their young sons to have fingers bigger than warring thighs of the old patriarchs. But it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Still, the young must passionately take up love-making.
What must be done? There are many positive steps that can be taken to resolve conflicts, such as making laws and obeying them. 'Thou shalt not kill' is a good place to start. Some teachers insist the relevant word is 'murder', not 'kill', and proceed to stretch the law to justify the state murders of war and the death penalty. It does seem downright immoral and foolish to forgive and to love criminals - that might encourage crime and lead to the extinction of all those who forgive and love their enemies. Thus the vicious cycle continues, and war on domestic and foreign enemies is justified as necessary for the evolution of morality: then war is the father of all good things.
Nevertheless it is wise to examine the alternatives to violence no matter how extreme; for instance, the 'foolish' pacifist approach of the radical Christians. Of course Christians did not invent love and forgiveness and pacifism. Jews have long had a pacific philosophy or doctrine of non-resistance, not only in the interest of self-preservation, but also because of their altruistic love for humanity.
The effectiveness of primitive survival techniques diminished with technological advances in the hands of ruthless sociopaths. High technology, low morality. is a terrible combination. We are familiar with the tragic scene: Jews standing in line waiting for a place by the trench; a family standing nude before the trench with eyes uplifted, praying even with smiling faces; the Nazis moving down the line slaughtering them. The younger ones wanted to fight, and some fought heroically to the death, for example, in the Warsaw Ghetto. When it became evident that modern technological methods of warfare and execution could destroy the Jewish culture, violent resistance seemed absolutely necessary.
But now the militant response has gone too far. The state of Israel has inherited the brutal features of the very nationalism so many died fighting against in the world wars. Now when we see the tanks rolling around in the rubble of Palestine (and more U.S. tanks rolling around in the rubble of its Palestine - Iraq) we cannot help but think of Hitler and to compare the Shield of David with the Swastika. Palestine is not Nazi Germany. The Palestinians are certainly no threat to the Jewish 'race', as former Prime Minister Sharon once claimed; he does not represent the Jewish world culture, and if the secular state of Israel were lost yet again, that would not destroy the Bride of the Lord or the Jewish culture.
Even if Hitler's forces of evil were running rampant again, even if Heaven were a gross hoax, absolute pacifism might be a viable approach. If it is better to suffer an evil than to do one, then to die heroically on the cross would be a great honor. We have heard soldiers say, "A life not worth fighting for is not worth living." But some philosophers say, "A life that must be killed for is not worth living, even if it means the extinction of the human race." That is the extreme faith of foolish people. Ironically, soldiers have defended the fools inside that faith provided they remain pacific. If everyone joined this faith, there will be nobody left to defend - a small ceremonial guard would suffice. Everyone would drink from the loving cup then.
Again we ask, What must be done? We want a reasonable answer, not a foolish one. I think Israel should unilaterally declare peace, pull out of Palestinian territory, defend its border, bolster internal security, let the Palestinians apply for security clearances, and, if the bombers slip through and kill thousands of Israelis, take no retaliatory action whatsoever. This would require forgiveness. It would not be the forgive yourself, feel-good or therapeutic forgiveness of popular psychology, the forgiveness that, for example, allows one to forgive a criminal before executing him. No, it would be the forgiveness of something given, something sacrificed, something suffered for peace, in conjunction with reasonable self-defense. And that would be a Moral Beacon unto the world.
(1) Bushnell, Horace, FORGIVENESS AND LAW, New York: Regina, 1975
(2) Maeterlinck, Maurice, THE MEASURE OF THE HOURS, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1913
(3) Krishnamurti, J., FREEDOM FROM THE KNOWN, New York: Harper & Row