I have a Solomon-like fascination with great quotes that sum up truth in a pithy, often humorous way (all other comparisons with Solomon I deny!). I will try to post my favourite ones from time to time and encourage others to do the same and comment on them, if they wish). Here is the first:
"I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed." (Nelson Mandela)
Mandela's, 'Long walk to Freedom' has been my summer reading this year and I've certainly enjoyed it. While reading it, I was constantly aware that this is only one side of the story, but it is, nonetheless, the most important and fascinating side of the story. Mandela was, without doubt, a great leader, always breaking new ground.
Mandela inevitably draws comparisons with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but there are two glaring differences between Mandela and these two great leaders. Unlike King and Gandhi, Mandela was not religious and was not committed to non-violence - the two were no doubt connected.
Mandela regarded himself as a Methodist and noted, in his early years, if anything good was being done in South Africa it was invariably done by the church. However, religion did not appear to play a significant part in his life or in the motivation for his action. In fact, no ideology controls Mandela. He comes across as a pragmatist. He does not think in universal terms - peace and justice was certainly his goal, but this could mean violence and injustice might be necessary in the process. This is evident in probably the only paragraph in the book I found distasteful. Writing about the killing of nineteen civilians in 1983, he said,
"I felt profound horror at the death toll. But disturbed as I was by these casualties, I knew that such accidents were the inevitable consequence of the decision to embark on a military struggle. Human fallibility is always a part of war, and the price of it is always high. " (p.617-618)
Mandela was, in my view, a man of peace. He held South Africa back from the brink of civil war, but was willing to use violence to achieve this peace. The reason, he said, was that there was no constitutional outlet for non-violence,
"I told them [reporters] that the conditions in which Martin Luther King struggled were totally different from my own: the United States was a democracy with constitutional guarantees of equal rights that protected non-violent protest... South Africa was a police state with a constitution that enshrined inequality and an army that responded to non-violence with force. I told them I was a Christian and had always been a Christian. Even Christ, I said, when he was left with no alternative, used force to expel the moneylenders from the temple. He was not a man of violence, but had no choice but to use force against evil. I do not think I persuaded them." (p.620)
I don't think he persuades me either! A great leader he may have been, a theologian, he certainly was not! Whether Christ was "left with no alternative" is a moot point. He certainly didn't kill nineteen people! What's more, Jesus was confronted by a regime much more violent and oppressive than South Africa's, with absolutely no outlet for non-violent protest, and all the evidence suggests he did not advocate violence. Strikingly, King in his sermon on 'The Meaning of Non-violence' shared the view that violence is sometimes necessary in less constitutional contexts than the US. I remain undecided.
Leaving aside the universalism of King and Gandhi, simply on the pragmatic question of whether violence worked in South Africa, I also remain to be convinced. Did it bring the peace closer or hold it back? It certainly added to the lack of international support for Mandela.
Despite these reservations about Mandela's support of violence, I heartily recommend the book as inspiring and thought-provoking, if you've got the time to wade through it.
I thought this speech by Chris Hedges was excellent. He mentions Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Abuelaish shot to notoriety when Israeli TV had lined him up (a Palestinian doctor) to talk about the situation in Gaza. I guess he was a safe bet as he worked with Israelis and Palestinians. However, on live TV he tells the audience that his home has just been hit by a tank shell and his three daughters killed. (see here) He has since only spoken of forgiveness and reconciliation. He has a book out in January I'm hoping to buy.
On 6th August the church celebrates the Feast of Transfiguration. It reminds us of the story of Jesus climbing a mountain with his closest friends. There was a dazzling light, a cloud that overshadowed them, and they were terrified by the cloud, and a voice.
6th August is also the anniversary of a less auspicious event. On 6th August 1945, someone climbed, not a holy mountain, but into the cockpit of a plane - and dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 150,000 people were killed. Other people later died from the effects of atomic radiation. 75,000 buildings were destroyed. The world has never been the same.
There was a voice booming from heaven. Here, too, was brightness, brilliant as burning magnesium. Here, too, a cloud that has come and has covered us all with its shadow. Truly, under the shadow of this new cloud, we are right to feel afraid.
Look at the shape of that cloud. It is the new tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have eaten of its fruit and we shall never be the same again. Our good knowledge of the workings of God's beautiful creation has been turned to evil and annihilation.
We should pray and work for a nuclear free world. As Britain, inscrutably, renews its nuclear arsenal, let us protest, conscious that Jesus would say today: "you have learnt that nuclear war is evil, but I say this to you, do not war at all, do not hate, do not harbour a grudge, do not envy, do not bully, do not gossip for all these are the seeds of which the bomb is but the fruit".
We commemorate Hiroshima day, world peace day, by telling again the story of another climb, another light, another voice, another cloud. Jesus was speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. The cloud of evil hung over Jesus, just as it does us, but he was not overcome by it. Evil does not have the final word, and so it is today. Let us not be overcome by evil – either in ourselves or in the world.
engage…open, exploratory, voluntary, not just a talking shop but a springboard for action, moving towards something rather than just protesting against things, starting from where we are with our own perspective, discussing real life questions, no hidden agendas, a dialogue rather than monologue, a safe environment, nobody telling you what to believe, requires nothing of you, except what you want to contribute.