Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Nonviolence

It has been a while since I last blogged about our family faith formation efforts. We still participate in GIFT, including the home curriculum, and we still do family prayer almost every night. Usually this involves reading the day's Gospel and then having a very short, impromptu lesson about it. In the past few weeks, we've also had the opportunity to talk a lot about nonviolence.

I suppose a warning is in order here -- we're about to wade into my strongly held opinion, boldly stated. Not so many cute kid photos here, although I will touch on the kids again in a moment.

Nonviolence is a theme we have really emphasized in our family, because nothing (IMHO) is quite as blasphemous as the idolatry of violence -- making violence into a god by depending on it as the solution to our problems. Believing that violence is sometimes a "necessary evil" seems to me to deny the reality of the resurrection. If we really believe that God has conquered sin and death, and if we really believe in eternal life, and if we really believe that our focus should be on becoming good and holy people rather than controlling the time and circumstance of our death, and if we really believe that we should not fear anyone or anything because God is with us, and if we really believe that we become more fully human by loving others and less human when we hate others, then people, why should we believe in violence?

I admit that all of us, me included, sometimes resort to violence out of habit, or because we can see no other solution. There is something to be said for being gentle on ourselves when this happens; just as we don't hold a small child fully responsible for his actions because of his lack of maturity, wisdom, discretion, and self-control, I think there is reason to be patient with ourselves and our society when we resort to violence. In a lot of ways, I don't think most of us are strong enough, smart enough, or mature enough to fully embrace nonviolence. Unfortunately, too often we don't even try. We see the alternatives as "too difficult" or "too complicated" or "too costly," and we wimp out. Violence is always the shortcut solution; as the Church repeatedly tells us, violence is never necessary, even if we're too dunderheaded to see or to pursue the alternatives. And like all shortcut solutions, we're the ones who get cut in the end.

So, as I was saying, the past few weeks have offered several opportunities to talk to the kids about nonviolence. First, obviously, there's the protests in the Middle East, which are a great "live" example of nonviolent resistance in action. Of course, it's been pretty basic nonviolent resistance; the people are unorganized and untrained, and as we have seen, some of them are only committed to nonviolence as a pragmatic tactic as long as it appears to be working, rather than as a principle worth sacrificing for. Still, we have watched the protests on television and talked about the politics of the situation and also talked about the principles of nonviolent resistance.

Last night, I pulled out an old book I have documenting the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines. In that case, the people were both well-organized and (in the case of the leadership) well-trained in how to resist evil nonviolently, thanks in large part to the organizing efforts of the Catholic Church under Cardinal Sin. (Yep, that's his real name.) The kids were fascinated by the story as we flipped through the book. There were lots of pictures of people praying with rosaries in hand, statues of Mary, nuns kneeling in the streets, young people handing flowers and food to the soldiers, and so on, so we were able to discuss the direct connection to our faith. One picture showed a priest kneeling in prayer in front of an armored personnel carrier. I asked: "Do you think that because he's praying he won't get run over?" Bear and Mouse shook their heads solemnly. "That's right. If Jesus was killed, we could be, too. But what is more important is how we live, not how we die." We also talked about the nonviolent revolutions that brought down the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe -- how the United States and the Soviet Union were ready to fight World War III, pouring trillions of dollars into armies and weapons . . . and yet, in the end, it was ordinary people who brought down the wall. The churches were instrumental in that peaceful revolution as well, beginning with Pope John Paul II's famous exhortation to the Polish people: "Be not afraid!" Violence and submission to violence are both rooted in fear. There are many other successful nonviolent revolutions; over time, perhaps we'll discuss more of them.

The other opportunity we've had for discussing nonviolence was the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. We had hoped to shield them from this difficult topic until they were older, but once they started asking questions (prompted by what they were hearing elsewhere), we told them the truth. Boy, kids do not like abortion. It breaks their hearts; in Mouse's case, she was actually quite scared by it. Even before they knew about abortion, we had pulled out the classic book, A Child Is Born to show them pictures of the developing baby. (This was when we were expecting Jaybird and Mudpuppy.) Young children need no prompting to recognize those pictures as a human being. Nor, we're discovering, is it such a logical leap for them to believe that all human beings deserve all the rights of a human person.

An essential part of this discussion is always the larger context for abortion -- especially how we talk about it in public. We're very clear with them that there are issues involved in all this that they are too young to understand, and that we need to be very mindful of the fact that many women have had abortions, including some of our friends (we haven't told them who exactly). We emphasize the need for compassion and understanding. Bear and Mouse wonder why people get abortions, and we have explained some of the reasoning to them. "But that's what adoption is for!" Bear exclaims, throwing up his hands in exasperation.

We have also mentioned the fact that they could make some people very, very angry if they bring the subject up in public. Not that we should avoid hard subjects because someone might get angry, but they're too young to deal with that. This year, we showed them this YouTube video of a young girl who entered a school speech competition on the topic of abortion. Her teacher threatened to disqualify her if she stuck to her planned speech, but she went ahead with it anyway. The panel of judges disqualified her at first, but later reversed its decision, and she ended up winning the contest.



Occasionally we get raised eyebrows from people who think our kids are too young for all this. It would definitely be ideal if they were not exposed to the reality of violence in our world until they were much older. Unfortunately, our society is steeped in it to the point where it is unavoidable. Worse, our society is very aggressive in teaching kids (brainwashing would not be too strong a word, I think) that violence is "sometimes a necessary evil." Just think of the countless hours that our kids spend playing video games in which the only way to win the game is to kill opponents. I don't worry so much about such games conditioning our kids to be violent as much as I worry about them conditioning our kids to accept violence as the only solution. And that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

Why do we teach our kids nonviolence? Because violence -- and the acceptance of violence as a solution to social problems -- is toxic to the human soul. And because our hurting world needs people who are strong, and brave, and clever, and patient enough to follow the difficult path of love and forgiveness.