Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Thursday, November 26, 2009

“Love Your Enemies…”

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a certain Bible verse: Matthew 5:44 – "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." These words were attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which I believe is one of, if not the, greatest talks on nonviolence or ahimsa in history. (Of course, that's from my western perspective and limited knowledge of non-western texts and teachings.) I got to thinking about it partly because I got into a rather unpleasant debate regarding feminism and gay rights on another blog, because for several months I've been studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and because I want to be the most effective force possible in my activism for LGBT rights, and I believe this is the way to do that. And I've been thinking about it because so often I fail to achieve my goal of doing just that – I want clarity about how to love my enemies – those who oppose equal rights for LGBT people.

So what does it mean, to "love your enemies?" That's a pretty strong statement, and the follow-up is no weaker: bless, do good to, pray for, those who hurt you. Turn the other cheek. How radically different is this from most of what I see in the world.

It's clear that "love," in this case, is a verb. It requires positive and proactive action on our part, a conscious decision, and determined persistence. In an essay titled "Love Your Enemies," Mrs. Eddy said, "We must love our enemies in all the manifestations wherein and whereby we love our friends; must even try not to expose their faults, but to do good to them whenever opportunity occurs." That raises the ante a bit, taking it to a new level. Certainly we must counter lies and misconceptions, and assert our own truth with determination and persistence. How do we do this without exposing the faults of our enemies? Perhaps by keeping our statements as completely impersonal as possible?

This gets really challenging in the heat of, so to speak, battle. How can you do good to and love someone who has just said words about you intended to wound and destroy? How can you not feel anger, and fear, and the hate that rises so easily from them? Once again I found some pretty useful words from Mrs. Eddy: "Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them;" "The mental arrow shot from another's bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it. It is our pride that makes another's deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another's self-assertion;" "Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? Is it a creature or a thing outside thine own creation? Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception? What is it that harms you?" Hannah More said, "If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody."

In this context I want to take my activism to this new level; active love of my enemies, even more than just passively eliminating the anger and fear from my own heart and wishing them well while still opposing them. It means finding ways of doing good to them, while simultaneously holding unconditional love in my heart, completely without rancor or judgment, and while also resisting the injustice. Indeed, it makes my resistance stronger.

I don't expect to be perfect at this; it is a goal to strive for, but I'm still completely human, subject to pride, anger, ego, misjudgment, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, mistake, and all the other foibles humans are subject to. I'll make mistakes. But I am convinced that returning always to this guidepost will lead me to a more effective activism; this seems to be the guidepost that directed Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. And if I'm not successful, at least I'll be happy doing it. After all, "'Love thine enemies' is identical with 'Thou hast no enemies.'" (MBE)

I'm not a Christian Scientist, but I wish that The Christian Science Church would put Mrs. Eddy's essays, "Love Your Enemies" and "Taking Offense" online, and I could direct those of us who fight for equal rights for LGBT people to read them. Regardless of the religious undertones, these are strategies, I believe, for effective action. Our anger, justified as it may be, benefits no one; indeed, it does active harm to our own side.

If there are any activists out there who access my blog, I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this post.


David Carrel said...

Such a difficult task.

Such difficult words.

I really do not think that I could succeed in loving without learning from the love of God that He showed so clearly through Jesus His Son who, "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philipians 2:6-11

This is probably my favorite passage of the Bible, because it shows Jesus' attitude and a little picture of the great sacrifice He made in coming and dying for even His enemies. And it shows us what example we should follow. And we all have that opportunity to allow Christ to control our lives so that we can love our enemies like He did.

Seda said...

You have to find the inspiration where it connects with you. Jesus is cool, and it's good you've found that inspiration in him. But I don't think the source matters much. But then, I'm not a Christian. Gandhi was a Hindu. I'm actually helped more along this line by things like the quote from Hafiz at the bottom of my page - and Hafiz was a Sufi, which is a form or sect of Islam. Or by Mrs. Eddy. Because they make it clear that there is only one flesh to wound. We have no enemies. "For ye are all one in Christ Jesus." A wound to your enemy is a wound to yourself. All you have to do is look beyond your knee-jerk reaction, the lie about who that person is, to the truth of who that person is - beautiful, pure, child of Love, perfect and indestructible, your own brother or sister - and how can you hurt him? Or even feel anger, or fear? Only sorrow, compassion, and love.

It helps a lot to be clear on who he is before a confrontation.

The irony is that the great spiritual leaders of all religions say the same thing. There is no special dispensation of truth; it's available to all. But the political leaders of all religions - who are far more popular, and far more commonly believed - say the opposite; that those of other religions or creeds are "other," that they are going to hell, that God hates them, and it's good to kill them. "An eye for an eye, and make that two eyes, just to make sure." I saw it in the aftermath of 9/11, when the whole country was gripped in manic fear of a small group of ragged Muslim terrorists and a desperate, weak, and pathetic Iraqi tyrant. I used to see it all the time in my kids, when they were six or so. Thank God it's become a lot less common since Trin turned nine and started to learn self-control.

anne said...

Hi girl,

Well, the Buddhists are extremely keen on the "love the enemies/no enemies" thing. The Dalai Lama is a living example, being so glad for what Mao did to his country. In their perspective, there is no independent action, there is only the cycle of actions rooted in other actions. So you enemy is not something that arises out of nothing, but is someone with which you have a history. Thus, to break out of the cycle of fighting this person, you need to become aware and to stop the buck, so to speak. It takes two to make an enemy.

Compassion is the message. Empathy. The Buddhists talk about everyone having a basic heart of goodness and the Sufis talk about everyone being a splinter of Him and a path back to Him. If Jesus died for all our sins, then we can sin no more, and there is no sin, so we must forgive those around us who are now in basic goodness due to His sacrifice.

Every message is similar. Hermann Hesse says that we can only hate that in others that we hate in ourselves; if we do not recognize it, it doesn't bother us. Men talk about an intimacy with an enemy as if they felt a great empathy for someone merely on the opposite "side." But what is a side? Doesn't that imply that if the situation were different, your enemy would be your friend? So change the situation.

Even the Nazis did not arise from nothing. The other European Countries were so keen on making them pay for WWI that they were bankrupt, and felt spat upon for something not entirely their fault. Pushed into a corner, no wonder they listened to Hitler. It is common to despise bankers and lawyers, but what if they were all Jews as they were in Catholic Europe?

The animal thing is to make an enemy because they are not your group. As soon as we make groups of ourselves, enemies arise.

I think that the first thing you can do is to know that the people that you might want to argue with are setting up sides, or groups. If they make of you an enemy, then you do not have to make of them enemies. Compassion is the refusal to take sides, but the desire to take a stand. Here I stand in the middle of conflict and I will not take a side in it.

Even if they aren't Ducks. Sorry, couldn't resist that one. :)


Fannie said...

Excellent post, Seda. I struggle with these issues constantly. Especially the idea that we are all one- for, if we are all one, it means that we are also those who hurt us and who hate us.

Spiritually, I lean towards Buddhism and, as anne notes, many Buddhists recognize the inherent goodness or Buddha nature within every human being. Even when I encounter those who are very aggressive and hostile online, I try to remember that. That goodness is in there somewhere. Sometimes, it's just difficult to access.

Thank you for the Mary Baker Eddy quotes. Do you know of a good biography of hers that is available?

Take care.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our