Great Souls and Universal Principles
by Reverend Mary Anderson
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Matthew 5:38-39
In the 17th century Quaker colony in Pennsylvania, there were no forts, no soldiers, no militia, and no arms. Amidst the savage frontier wars and the butcheries that went on between the new settlers and the Native Americans, the Quakers of Pennsylvania alone remained unmolested. William Penn’s colony eventually gave up the government of the state. War broke out, but only three Quakers were killed, three who, having been diverted from their faith, carried weapons of defense.
"The more weapons of violence, the more misery to mankind," Lao-tzu taught. "The triumph of violence ends in a festival of mourning."
The guiding principle of non-violence has been used successfully throughout history by men and women of courage. They have won, through what Gandhi called "soul force," great victories for humanity.
The life of Mohandas K. Gandhi, India’s great spiritual leader and liberator, exemplified the principle of peace through love for all mankind. In India he initially turned to nonviolent means to free India as much out of pragmatism as out of religious conviction. "Great Britain," he warned, "wants us to put the struggle on the plane of machine guns where they have the weapons and we do not. Our only assurance of beating them is by putting the struggle on a plane where we have the weapons and they have not."
Violence against another human being contradicted everything he believed about universal human dignity, even if the particular human might be a British officer firing into an unarmed crowd. You cannot change a man’s conviction through violence, he believed. Violence only brutalizes and separates, it does not reconcile. Gandhi records that he reached a turning point in his life when he came across Jesus’ admonition that his followers should turn the other cheek to their persecutors.
Martin Luther King, Jr., who studied Gandhi’s autobiography and teachings, brought these concepts home by fighting violence with nonviolence in the Civil rights movement. He and many others brought sweeping change in laws and attitudes through their courage and refusal to resort to violence. Here is one story told by James Roberson, who was thirteen years old when the parsonage of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed on Christmas night: "I was home in bed. The explosion was so powerful, I thought the world was coming to an end. The vibration was enormous—if you can imagine fifty times as much thunder as you normally hear…the explosion had knocked all the little ceramic things my mother used to collect, and everything was broken. The windows were out.
"I looked across to the church. The electric wires were still flashing from the explosion. You could smell burnt rags and gunpowder. People were screaming. The parsonage had collapsed on one side. Reverend [Shuttlesworth, a leader of many civil rights demonstrations] was in his bedroom, which was against the outer wall of the parsonage. Between that outer wall and the church was a three-foot walkway. They had put the bomb in that walkway right next to the bedroom wall. A rafter, one of those big ones, went right through the bed. The explosion had thrown Reverend out of bed.
"Reverend got up and came out. He had on an old, long coat, one of those topcoats preachers wear. He did not have a mark on his body, not a drop of blood. That dynamite had blown windows out a mile or more away, but he had no deafness from the sound. He had nothing physically wrong with him. Think about it. The police said eight to eighteen sticks of dynamite went off within three feet of this man’s head. He’s not deaf, he’s not blind, he’s not crippled, he’s not bleeding.
"People had come from blocks around to see what had happened. They had sawed-off shotguns and pistols. Any white man who had gone through there probably would have been hurt. The Reverend stood in the middle of this rubble and talked about nonviolence. He said, ‘Go home! Put the guns away!’ I never will forget him singling out one man. ‘You all get him and take him home. He’s got a gun. We’re not going to be violent. We don’t want that. This is not gonna turn us around.’ With the house leaning over, the sparking electric wires, the police on their way, and people gathered with guns and hostility, he gave a sermon."
Another account, by a sixteen year old woman attending a church meeting in 1964 to plan nonviolent civil rights activities in Selma, Alabama: "Then we went to a church meeting. It was as black as could be outside, but when that church door swung open and we went in, it was like a bright light. I could see a glow in that church. It was the most unusual sight. It was a s bright and fired up in that church as it was dark outside. Whatever these people are praying for, they got it."
"I am fighting for nothing less than world peace," Gandhi declared. "Nonviolence has come among men and it will live. It is the harbinger of the peace of the world."
When Gandhi was dying from the bullets of a crazed assassin, he lifted his hands in the traditional Hindu gesture of greeting, silently bestowing his forgiveness upon him. All the sacrifices of his selfless life had made possible that final loving gesture.
When Jesus was being taken away by the soldiers of the High Priest, he refused to allow his disciples to fight back. Matthew records Jesus admonishing them, "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
As we approach yet another cycle of war-like rumblings, with all the attendant rationalizations for violence, let us remember the timeless victory that has been won through humility by those who personified Peace on earth, good will toward all. The agony of the cross was necessary because mankind has too often chosen hatred and violence. A few "great souls" have demonstrated what can be done when the universal principles Jesus taught are really followed. Let us give the Master and this planet the gift of our own dedication to peace.
"This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." -John 15: 12-14
In acknowledgment to:
Autobiography of a Yogi
Freedom’s Children: young Civil Rights Activists Tell their Own Stories
My Experiments with Truth (Gandhi’s autobiography)
My Teacher, Rev. E.W. Blighton (Father Paul)
Rev. Mary Anderson is an ordained minister in the Science of Man Church. The Science of Man web site: www.scienceofman.org
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