Thursday, January 7, 2016

Loving Our Enemies

By John Stratton

When Jesus challenged us to love our enemies, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to carpet bomb them.

It is tough to love people we fear, our enemies. Do we even know what the word love means in this context? Are we required to like our enemies? Are we being asked to buy them cotton candy at the county fair? 

Certainly we are not required to be “know” them in the Biblical sense, in the current version of the word “love.” So is this love some kind of Agape love, a distant god-like love?

It’s all very nice to quote Jesus hypothetically, but it is tough to consider what “love our enemies” means when we are talking about actual people and actual fear, people who actually want to hurt us.

Jesus spoke two thousand years ago. The words have been translated many times from manuscripts that have been copied and recopied. So maybe this is not what Jesus said. Maybe he actually said that we should like the people who like us. Maybe he really meant that we should buy cotton candy for our friends at the county fair. 

But here’s the pragmatic reality: carpet bombing doesn’t work. Think about WWII and England. When Germany began bombing London, the British got angry and began bombing Germany. Then Germany expanded its bombing of England. Studies of morale done after the war say that the Allied bombing did very little damage to German morale.

During the Vietnam war politicians demanded we bomb the North Vietnamese back to the stone age. We dropped more tons of bombs on Vietnam and Indochina than we dropped on Germany in WWII. Then we used Agent Orange. The North Vietnamese should have been devastated, but they weren’t.

We defeated Saddam Hussain’s army in a matter of hours. Ten years later we still have not won the peace.

Killing the families of terrorists will work the same way. People will become angry, their resolve will strengthen, they will want to hit back. More terrorists will be created.

Why don’t we understand this simple playground fact? Punching someone in the face makes them want to hit back. And if they can’t hit back now, they will hit back later or their friend will hit back and feel justified and full of righteousness about doing it.

At the end of WWII the US chose to treat the enemy humanely, in contrast to the end of WWI. We helped feed them, helped them rebuild their cities, and helped them reestablish their industries. We don’t always agree with Germany and Japan, but we have had a stable and fruitful peace for seventy years.

The idea that we should love our enemies acknowledges that violence creates more violence. Violence does not build peace.

Supposedly we have been working on this lesson for two thousand years. But we seem to prefer to punch someone in the nose rather than to explore the possibilities of love.

No, I do not have the answers to the complicated problems of terrorism. I do believe that Jesus’ words tell us what kinds of things to try and they help us realize what does not work.

For me it means to connect with the humanity of Muslim people in general. Together Muslims and non-Muslims can encourage cooperation and smother the flames of hatred that grow when groups of people demonize each other. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly, but it is the way that love provides.

John Stratton is executive director emeritus of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.

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