Problems with pacifism, and prayers for a land without prayer
I was just reading Thomas Merton's diary "Dialogues with Silence" and one of his prayers really struck me:
Lady, the night has got us by the heart.The whole wide world is tumbling down.Words turn to ice in my dry throatPraying for a land without prayer,Walking to you on water all winterIn a year that wants more war.
It made me think about a video a friend shared earlier criticizing pacifism, showing that Ghandi and King were only successful because there was a real threat of armed insurgency against colonialism and global white supremacy during their era and the rulers knew they were better off dealing with the pacifists than the insurgents. In other words, nonviolence was used to co-opt revolution.
I am tired of liberal pastors, the American Friends Service Committee, and other organizations that preach nonviolence and then preach that we should go and vote for Democrats who are presiding over American Empire's war machine, which tortures and kills mercilessly as the recent leaks of classified war documents have further confirmed.
I'm tired of nonviolence being presented as a tactic that can stop this kind of mass slaughter. It clearly can't . We marched in the streets for years and hundreds of people chained themselves to federal buildings to stop the Iraq war and it didn't stop. It will only be stopped through revolutionary struggles, which are going on abroad right now and could erupt here if things keep getting worse.
That being said, I've heard people say they can only imagine dying fighting, they can't imagine living in the new society after the revolution, they wouldn't know what to do there. I think this happens to quite a few revolutionaries. We need to remember that the goal of revolution is life, not war. Sometimes it is necessary to fight to defend your life and your community. But the point of it all is not the fighting itself, it is life.
I actually have more respect for people like Thomas Merton than I do for the liberal pastors and nonviolent "activists" who claim to be for nonviolent "revolution". Merton was just sitting there in his monastery cultivating inner peace. That's not gonna change the world but at least he wasn't stopping others from changing the world or trying to co-opt their movements into ineffective and hypocritical "nonviolence."
Actually, I think Merton and other monks do make a small, humble contribution to the revolution. They show us one side of what life could be like after the revolution is won. They are so impatient for the new society they try to catch a glimpse of it now by separating themselves from the capitalist world, and they are willing to put up with all sorts of obnoxious church hierarchy and bureaucracy just to live free from alienated labor where they can at least partially live the lifestyle Karl Marx described as Communism,
where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
It seems to me that folks like Merton live in the spiritual desert, the wasteland at the edge of capitalism. They know they aren't separate from it, they know their existence on its margins is a result of their privilege and they know that like the rest of us in America, they live off the spoils of empire and capital, ill gotten and covered in blood. They're not pretending to be innocent or above it all... as Merton expresses directly in the title of his book "Conjectures of a guilty bystander." But in that spiritual desert they spend their time prefiguring the life Marx describes and praying for a world where we can live it, "praying for a land without prayer", or rather for a land where prayer is not a separate sphere of activity divided from work, play, and life itself. By living, and praying that way, they make a small, humble contribution to the revolution by helping remind the rest of us what we are fighting for, by reminding us what life looks like so that we don't start thinking it is only war.
What we need is to overcome the capitalist division of labor between scholars and soldiers, ministers and militants, prayer and labor, life and struggle. We need to be like the ancient Israelite armed prophets or the Wu Tang warrior-monks who combined the intellectual and the martial arts. Soldiers follow directions given by commanders. Warriors are creative and self-governing in their battle, and fight for life and a broader vision of society. They take the best virtues of the monastery (virtues Merton hints at) and deploy them in the streets.
God forbid that I become a solider who lives only for war
God forbid I become an old burnt out former revolutionary preaching nonviolence and telling others not to struggle valiantly, to simply give in and attempt to reform the Empire.
My prayer is that if I ever get burned out, and if I don't die fighting first, that I retire to some place where I'm not in other people's way and pray for a land without prayer.
But my real prayer is that I fight courageously as a warrior with others and that we build a new society together so that we can all live together and pray/play together in that land. There will be no prayer in that land because capitalism will no longer divide prayer from life... the revolution should make life itself our prayer.